Category: Books

Cryptonomicon: No, I think you’ll find that I’m right.

Take this, Shamus!

It proves something.

You may recall, if you’re one of my three regular readers, what I had to say about Cryptonomicon. In fact, if you’re one of my three regular readers, you’ve already responded to it, either internally or on your own site. Mark bit first, and now Shamus has had a crack at it.

It’s nice to see that not everyone thinks that Cryptonomicon is the greatest book ever, but I never set out to dispel that; what I particularly like about this is that everything I stated is actually in the text proper – and liking it is simply a matter of interpretation. What makes it the best ever to some people makes it unfathomable for others. It’s an interesting examination of opinion, because it ultimately proves that one man’s novel full of digressions is another man’s novel full of digressions – but that Man A might be allergic to that while Man B bathes in it, and Woman C thinks “Dangit, Snow Crash was so compact, what went wrong?”

Which brings me to my next point (wait, I’m making points here?). Twenty Sided Reader dishuiguanyin states the following:

Even Snow Crash, while it has a wonderful racy plot, great ideas, and ancient near-Eastern mythology … also contains terrible dialogue and huge great infodumps from the librarian. So, yeah, tis a pity, but still hugely enjoyable.

The Librarian is great because the internet is reduced to goggles, and Hiro Protagonist can be doing whatever – speeding through the vast blackness of cyberspace, because they didn’t bother putting addresses on those bastards; fighting Raven; raving with avatars that all look alike – and he can still be being fed exposition! Snow Crash is awesome not because it’s got equal opportunity rapist pirates in it, but because it’s the literary equivalent of this comic:

Hacking revealed!

Sometimes all we require in life is goggles and fishnets, rather than eight page treatises on stockings and furniture. Goggles and fishnets delivered at HYPER SPEED while BYPASSING THE COMMON MAN to fight an ALEUT (like you’ve ever heard of them) with MAXIMUM HARDCORENESS. EXTREME!
Perhaps Snow Crash differs from Cryptonomicon in that it’s not afraid to be silly, whereas Cryptonomicon equates graphs with silliness. I think it hinges on Stephenson’s use of “badass”. You can see it in Snow Crash and say “fuck yeah!”, but you get a rather different, more selfconscious vibe from the later work.

Finally, as to XKCD:

Hacking revealed!

I think that says it all! Wait, it doesn’t. I just thought it was funny if you know the original strip.

Graph provided by Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal
XKCD parody courtesy Nobody Scores

Book Log I: White Teeth, The Beach & Mort

I figured that it can’t hurt to have a bit of a book log going on. I suspect that the book writings will be even briefer than your average movie outing, because I’m not that certain of literary criticism save knowing that I’m not a big fan of Imperial pints of semen. So here we go, our first adventure: all of the books I’ve read post Cryptonomicon! (I suspect I may have left some out, in which case I will attack them in future instances).

First round: White Teeth, The Beach and Mort!

Cryptonomicon, or: Randy Waterhouse’s Incredibly Convoluted Quest for Nazi Gold

I realise that a good few of my few good readers are big fans of Neal Stephenson. I do realise that if I say anything against him I’ll never be allowed to release any fiction of my own. I’ll start with some personal background for you:

I get through two or three books in the average working week. Snow Crash took me maybe a day and a half, and I had a good, brief time. Cryptonomicon took me in excess of two weeks. I had a mighty uphill struggle reading this book. You can’t say “But Alex, Snow Crash is only 230 odd pages, to Cryptonomicon‘s 918!”. Indeed, they are very different beasts. By the logic stated here, it should have taken me merely four times as long to read Cryptonomicon. Length has nothing really to do with the speed of reading; in the week after Cryptonomicon I read somewhere in the neighbourhood of 1000 pages.
No, friends, Cryptonomicon is dense. It’s dense and many things happen in it while, at the same time, nothing happens at all.

The Coen Brothers’ next movie: No Country For Yiddish Policemen

Variety reports that the next movie from the Coen brothers will be an adaptation of Michael Chabon’s The Yiddish Policemen’s Union. Now, you probably wouldn’t know it from the amount that I’ve written, but I like books and I like movies. I saw No Country For Old Men for the third time last night, because it’s just that awesome. I read The Yiddish Policemen’s Union in December.

I guess that The Yiddish Policemen’s Union is not that obscure a book, but I get trapped in my judgement of such things because, outside of my family, I don’t really know anyone who reads. I’m interested in seeing how it gets translated into a movie because the book is really written in an entirely different world. In theory, every one of the characters is speaking Yiddish, unless they swear, in which case they’re speaking “American”. Obviously that’s an easier concept to get across in a book than on screen.
The idea of the novel is that, after World War II, the Jewish people were given a settlement in Alaska, and the lease is about to run out. There is no Israel, and if there is, it’s one that’s somehow more dangerous than the one of today. Stranger still is the way Chabon has written it: in third person as if it were the first. It took me quite a few pages to get into it.

Still, the story is sound, and it would be amazing if they could bring Sitka to life as it is in the book. Really, this has all of the makings of a great detective story – with cows! – and I look forward to it, despite there being an intervening movie for the Coen brothers.

Post Script: It will be interesting also to see if there will be an attendant controversy as there was in the book: Jewish organised crime? That’s Anti-Semitic, Jewish Author Michael Chabon! You hate your own kind! How dare you write villainous Jews into a book populated entirely by Jewish characters! Oh.

Turtles All The Way

December 31st, 1997: My father tells me “Alexander, for your crimes against humanity, you shall not be permitted to play Nintendo for a week.” No Nintendo, thought I. That means no GoldenEye. Searching for something else to keep my twelve year old self otherwise entertained, I located a book entitled Soul Music and somehow managed to devour it in the space of a day – no small feat for twelve year old boy who had struggled with Lord of the Rings for about eight months.

I managed to read all of the Discworld books in whatever order I could find them over the course of my first year of high school, a feat that was rendered easier by the fact that I almost never showed up at school. When The Last Continent was released, so too was Terry into Australia. I went and met him, had my book signed “Nullus Anxietas Sanguinae”, and went forth and read. I own each book released since then in hardcover, and have had four of them signed. The other two times (my mother got one book signed, you see, as she is a fan as well), Terry spoke out and was highly entertaining, but I was sadly towards the back of the signing lines, by which time he was understandably irritable. For some reason, he never insists on signing only one book, so some people feel free to bring a bag. When you’ve published in excess of thirty works, it’s not unreasonable to place a limit on the abuse of your hand.

In 2004, I began full time employment. For whatever reason, I chose this juncture to begin reading the Discworld series again, this time in order. About eight books in, I realised that maybe it’s not the greatest idea to exclusively read the books of one author, so I moderated myself: for every Pratchett book I read, I would read a book by someone who wasn’t Pratchett. It took me roughly a year.

When I reread The Bromeliad in 2006, there were tears in my eyes at the end. Terry Pratchett and Amy Tan, among others, taught me the importance of profundity in a conclusion. Last week I saw The Wit and Wisdom of Discworld on the shelves of Borders and thought “Maybe it’s time to start again”. Certainly I haven’t been the biggest fan of the Wee Free Men or the likes of Thud!, where nothing seemed to happen until the last few pages, but I like to see things as an adventure. This has been in the back of my mind, particularly as I chose to reread The Ninja, which is incredibly worse than I remembered it.

So I am not very happy to discover that Terry Pratchett has been diagnosed with early onset Alzheimers. I am, in fact, incredibly displeased. I had thought I had somehow missed it until today, but it was in fact only announced today.
Going back through the archives of the news indexes for the year on the Paul Kidby site, it’s warming to see Terry posing with Brian May and mentioning his great admiration for him. Pratchett and Queen are inextricably linked in my mind as I spent a great deal of my Reading Summer of ’98 listening to A Night At The Opera (the rest of it was spent listening to Roxette, but their work isn’t quite so in tune with Discworld for me), and “’39” in particular has always struck me. I’m glad that my link wasn’t as tenuous as I thought.

In the days when my brother and I did not get along so well, and soon after Douglas Adams died, he claimed that no one would care if Terry Pratchett were to die (I’m pretty sure that Philip, in his mellowed older age, no longer believes this to be the case). Well, Terry’s not yet dead – I’m predicting thirty more years of peak mental performance, which will not see his work degenerate into increasingly depraved sex scenes (I’m looking at you, the remainder of the fantasy writing world) – so I say keep on rocking, and I will embark on that rereading jaunt after all, if only between books.

Outing of old man causes rioting in the streets

I’m not surprised that Dumbledore’s outing has caused trouble. That doesn’t mean that a lot of the stuff that is said isn’t wrong or stupid. I’m starting to feel the helplessness and despair that I felt for many months earlier in this year, reading peoples’ uninformed stances on things that they know nothing about and generally don’t let themselves be heard on.

But, you know, it’s Dumbledore. I’ve got to be very careful because I don’t want to set myself up as some sort of Leftist, when Batrock is supposed to be all about good times. I mean, my existence is probably too politically correct for a lot of people already.

Dumbledore is … gay?

You know, I was wondering why no one at Hogwarts “turned out” gay. Sure, maybe Dean and Seamus, but not likely. The later books degenerated into an awkward “snogfest”, but all totally above board on the hetero front. When it eventuated that Umbridge had banned male and female students to be less than eight inches apart, I wondered what that meant for the others at Hogwarts. Yet now, all has changed in a way that affects absolutely nothing already committed to a page!
Albus Dumbledore is gay. Guess I was wrong: he isn’t human after all; he’s a horrible monster and the books that contain him must for some reason be consigned to the bin.

I would have thought that maybe Dumbledore could have found some sort of requited love in his life, but it seems this only came out anyway because the script for Half Blood Prince suggested that he had a thing for a girl in his youth. Given the totally sexless nature of all of the teachers at Hogwarts, it’s strange to consider this of Dumbledore, and it brings out another parallel with Snape, although I vouch that Dumbledore’s lack of requisition was infinitely less creepy. I’m not entirely certain that blind love for someone leads to a taste for slavery and genocide, but what would I know? I’ve never been blindly in love with someone, and therefore have not been offered the oh-so-common choices detailed above.

What does this mean, exactly? I’m not entirely sure, although unfulfilled homosexuals seem quite popular in British literature. Some people have happy endings. I’m looking at you, Alan Hollinghurst! I’m actually wondering what the wider response to this will be: redoubled efforts to burn the text? Widespread shock and horror? Or greater peace, love, and understanding? Not ruddy likely, but I think that Potter fans will applaud just about anything Rowling says.

There’s a hastily typed transcript of some pertinent questions and answers at The Leaky Cauldron. The images were done by someone called Caladan. I could have searched further afield for Harry Potter fan art than a Google Image Search, but I know how dangerous the internet is.

Plus Rowling’s answer about the goat charms was spot on.

Bonus material: I compared my coming out with a lacklustre conclusion to the Potter series.

Philosopher’s Stone, Book versus Film! Fight!

Today I gave a presentation on Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. I present it to you below, with the ad-libs (for which many will hate me) presented in bold. The ensuing discussion actually led to something pretty interesting that I might be inspired to write later, about adaptation.

Discuss: The Magic of Film Undoes the Magic of Reading; or The Magic of Film Outdoes the Magic of Reading.

The Reckoning of the Bookshelf

My mother went about clearing some books away to be sold on my grandmother’s church f├ęte next week. I walked by and saw something on the floor:

“How can you give away a book by Gary Gygax?!” I cried.
“Oh, is it good?” she asked.
“He’s the creator of Dungeons & Dragons!”

So that didn’t answer the question.

Next to the book (Night Arrant, apparently), I spotted an old favourite:
“Why is The Ninja on that pile? It’s the trashiest book ever!”

I was immediately transplanted back to the fateful year of 2004, out of high school, in full time employment, and returning to writing in a desperate attempt to maintain a vague sense of intellect and sanity (I’m still at the same office, albeit part time and, if anything, the anti-intellectual strain has grown considerably stronger).
At the time, I was getting through 1.5-2 books a week. Towards the beginning, I was reading nothing but Discworld books. Realising that I needed a bit more variety than the words of Pratchett, about five or six books in I flipped across to a “one Discworld, one other” book policy.

What struck me about The Ninja was that it was essentially a cavalcade of human depravity. I located this, from my livejournal entry of June 29. 2004:

I took a break from my rereading of the Discworld series to read some book called The Ninja. Now, I should have taken the hint from the author’s name, Eric van Lustbader, but I was still surprised when suddenly it became pornographic. Now I totally understand what JP was on about; the written word gives people more liberty to be graphic than most other media, which makes it much easier for people to get away with pedophilia and rape fantasies. I hate those people. The Ninja isn’t as bad as all that, but I don’t particularly want to know about Justine’s “full breasts” (mentioned at every possible juncture, even those one might deem impossible), and I certainly don’t want to know about the characters fellating each other. I fetched this book out of my parents’ book disposal box expecting ninja, but I didn’t expect this filth! I’ll keep on reading just in case some ninja turn up. If they don’t soon, and Nicholas and Justine keep on devising new ways to delay orgasm, I’ll have to start Witches Abroad.
I don’t read books to feel dirty.

JP, after much racking of the brain, turned out to be Jeremy Parish. If I recall correctly, he was talking about Piers Anthony and his progressively more messed up rapetacular Xanth series at the time (and, if I’m wrong, then I have totally slandered a big fantasy author – win-win!).

The best thing about all of this is that The Ninja did turn out to be “as bad as all that”. Not only did the villain rape a couple of women, he also drugged up and raped a little girl, and then, get this, he raped the hero! So I suppose the lesson that we learned from that book that pansexuality is a terrible, terrible thing.

It was with great satisfaction that I saw the following album at JB Hi-Fi some time after:

Vanlustbader is a Queensland band, but this name and cover can be no coincidence.

If I had more experience with exploitative pulp, I’d kick more right out to you. Off the top of my head I can think only of T. Jefferson Parker’s Little Saigon (another Asian-American meld), which inexplicably culminated in the villains being incestuous vampires (not literal vampires, but blood swapping siblings).

On one level, you want to pass this stuff on for future generations to be enticed by … but you also know, deeper down, that you want to keep such treasures for yourself.

Harry Potter: Dumbledore as Human

I saw Order of the Phoenix again last weekend and it led to an interesting discussion with my friend Ajay. He said that he was not sure of Michael Gambon’s performance as Dumbledore, because he seemed too “real”. Dumbledore, in Ajay’s mind, is supposed to be all powerful and somehow above everyone else.

I don’t quite agree. In fact, one might say that I entirely disagree and I like Gambon’s take on a character who, at least in the first three books (I didn’t get to re-read Goblet, Phoenix and Half-Blood before Deathly Hallows), had a fairly standard “walk on exposition” role.

Spoilers on the Inside – but really, if you care for Harry Potter and don’t know what happens yet … I posit that you don’t really care for Harry Potter.