Blog posts tagged "review"

Pan’s Labyrinth

January 2nd, 2007

by Guillermo del Toro

A children’s movie unsuitable for children. A study in beauty that lingers lovingly over primitive surgery and brutality. A pretty, pretty meditation on fantasy, faerie, and fascism.

Someone asked me, “Sure it was pretty, but was it good?”

Does it matter?

Slow Down Charlie! On Glasshouse and Merchant Princess

September 10th, 2006

Plot Spoilers Within

I really do love Stross’ work, he has several short stories that rank among my all time favorites, and his ideas are brilliantly silly, optimistic, and yet insightful.

But I’m becoming increasingly disenchanted with his novel length work. He keeps making scintillating implicit promises as the works open that dissolve half way through into frothy substanceless confections.

Glasshouse

I just finished Glasshouse. Nice handling of what a post-Singularity society means for identity, multiplicity, etc. Brilliant to see Curious Yellow emerge as a plot device. (though oddly nothing by way of acknowledgment of the original, at least that I noticed)

But the implicit promise is that if we read through the somewhat awkward handling of 1950s fasco-dystopia (a 2006 fasco-dystopia would have been more interesting), and the even more awkward handling of “gender issues”, we’re going to find out what the “Censorship Wars” payload was. Maybe I’m too dumb to read between the lines, but by my reckoning the book builds, and builds, and then just fell off a cliff without any resolution, and certainly without delivering on answering that one big question.

Merchant Princess

Similarly Stross made us a promise that we were going to get ring side seats to watch Miriam go modern on the past’s collective mercantilist ass. Thats what I paid my ticket to see, a sort of what-if, “terra-forming” novel for capitalism, the game you always wanted to play with Civilization, but were never able to. The political viking in-fighting is fine and all for a couple of pages, but the story of the princess, the arranged marriage, and the evil prince really never needs to be told again, with or without blunderbusses.

So maybe slow it down? 10 novels in like 2 years might be pushing it a bit hard? I don’t know much about the economics of writing, but I’ll happily sign a petition to get you bigger advances, but take more time on the next couple.

That said, I’ll be buying Jennifer Morgue when it comes out. Call me a sucker.

Tagged: Uncategorized , ,

Burst and Bull: A Conspiracy of Letters

January 31st, 2006

I have a confession to make, it’s a bit out of fashion, but I adore epistolary novels. Especially ones with unreliable principles. Having been on something of a tear plowing through 4 (unspeakable) paperbacks in 3 days, I finally smacked up against Burst and Bull’s Freedom and Necessity, which has slowed me down considerably.

Published in 1997, I’m not sure how I’ve missed it to date. Finally Burst turns his considerable talent for sly mimicry to a worthy task (I’m not a fan of Dumas, sue me), and Bull’s wonderful characters escape the rather dead end genre of musicians and fairies (ditto de Lint).

Some folks might be turned off by the extensive expositions of Kant and Hegel (with a name like “Freedom and Necessity” Hegel not to mention Engels are something of a given), but “Sophie’s World” this is not, I promise there is nearly no educational value in the philosophical ponderings, just beautiful words, and plot twists.

Spice with subtle anachronisms (ala Stephenson), Chartist heroes, and one of the most interesting, fertile settings (19th century Europe), and for some odd tastes, you’ve got a winner. Will remind many folks of JSAMN (F&N was published 7 years earlier, and is about 60% the length, and 10% the hype), I’d rather suggest Hobsbawn’s work on long century as a companion piece.

I’m about half way done (when the urge to write about a book generally strikes me), and so could be let down horribly by the ending, but I doubt it.

Tagged: Uncategorized , , , ,

MeasureMap Alpha: Review

November 22nd, 2005

I’ve been running the alpha of MeasureMap for a few weeks now, and I thought I’d do a quick brain dump.

First thing you notice? It’s pretty, just ridiculously, gratuitously whizbangy. And that can make it find of fun to play with, in and of itself. Still that Flash can be slow (though not apparently compared to Google Analytics), but really if I was getting the questions I had answered, I don’t think I’d notice.

And as a domain specific (blogs) stats package, they’ve done some nice work breaking up the reports into appropriate discrete units. (I love the daily overview screen you get when you click thru from the timeline and you’ve posted multiple blog posts in a single day)

The Wrong Questions

Maybe LaughingMeme is abnormal, but I have about 10 posts that Google loves so much that (according to MMap) they account for 47% of all my traffic. (and its a power law distribution) In general they aren’t posts I’m all that excited about: year old speculation on Google IMAP brings in hundreds of visitors a day, while Beklin Sucks! has been a perennial favorite, and daily traffic to I’m feeling lucky often exceeds 1000 visitors.

The fact that people are visiting these pages is boring. And the fact that Google is sending them there, day in and day out? Boring.

Show Me the Novel

What’s new? What’s different today then yesterday, this week then last week? Freak outliers, and emerging trends please.

55 Posts About Coffee And Still They Come

Help me out with audience. What brings the readers? What brings the links? What brings the comments? I’ve got my posts marked up with microformat tags, Yahoo has the term extraction API, lets use some of that domain specificity to do something new. (and while rel=”tag” is the only widely deployed microformats currently, more will follow)

Gurchin has got Gads integration, MMaps needs to distinguish by exploiting its specialty.

And Speaking of “conversions”

Any chance of hooking up with Feedburner to allow me to plot subscriber spikes to blog posts? No idea if the data would be compelling, but I know that most of the people in my subscription list got there by writing one really good post. (staying there is harder)

Sources and Fans

You’re tracking links in, and links out, I’d love to see that information compiled into its social mesh.

Quirky Stats Muching AI

Okay, what I really want is an AI that gets a kick out of pouring over the logs all day, and finding the quirky and sublime.

Imagine logging in to be told that “the query ‘bush in freefall’ was your 22nd most popular search yesterday, but your 1st most popular on searches coming from .mil” (true), or “the spike in ‘weather rss’ this weekend corresponded to freak hail storms across the country” (actually I have no idea why that query spiked). But I’m willing to settle for a bit less.

On Book Listing Services

November 6th, 2005

For years I’ve wanted a decent website where I can manage my relationship with books. (not especially complicated, but voluminous)

For a while there was largely nothing, then there was Allconsuming which was wonderful, but slowly died, and went dark before being re-incarnated in the mold of a 43x tool. And I have this memory of there being a nifty little $14/mo tool, back in the days when I didn’t pay for websites, but I wasn’t able to find it.

Last Fall, I started sketching down notes towards building my own, and in the intervening year its become an interestingly crowded space. (who knew so many other people felt the pull) Even in the 6 weeks since I first started jotting down sites for this blog post, the space has evolved with LibraryThing coming out solidly on top as the most active: most actively developed, most actively used, and most actively engaged developer.

That said, in a cursory search (mostly of my del.icio.us links) I turned up 5 other very similar services

Also the Bookshelf example app from 24L, and the intersting related services What Should I Read Next?, and Library Elf

None of them are quite there yet, and I want more, more, more!

Read the rest of this entry »

Serenity

October 3rd, 2005

I’m going to go against the apparent conventional wisdom, and note I hated Serenity, am utterly disappointed, and hope that if they ever revive the show they’ll ignore all events of the film.

The show for all its comedy, and western aspects functions as noir. The characters are very minor, very small characters in a very large, very mean universe. They’re buffeted by the forces beyond both their control and understanding.

In the movie, they’re heroes, and not just the everyday heroes of the show, but larger then life super heroes? Rescuing the universe from evil gubermint plots? And it all fitting together all right and tight, everything neatly explained from River to reavers.

Blah.

The actors did their usual great job, unfortunately this brainless action flick gave them nothing to work with.

Tagged: Uncategorized , , , , ,

CommonTimes: Social Bookmarking as Open Editing

September 26th, 2005

del.icio.us is perhaps the beating heart of my web these days, not because I find bookmarks so useful, but because its useful to have a generic service for streaming links. But generic only gets you so far, as an engine for discovery del.icio.us can be painful, flipping through pages and pages of chronologically sorted results. Its comparable to the difference between Google’s search, with its largely generic listing of pages, and Google News which uses its domain knowledge to chunk, categorizes, and summarize the days news.

CommonTimes

This is what CommonTimes is about. A project Jeff, Brian, and others launched a few months ago; it iterates on the successful model of del.icio.us to provide news centric “open editing” for the web. A vertical social bookmarking site, with a light touch editorial process to keep the site on topic.

The Web Needs Editors!

CT provides most of what you’d expect, tags, groups, bookmarklets, heat maps, RESTful APIs and some nice touches like an “Add from Bloglines” Greasemonkey script, and an adapted version of the del AJAX browser.

Perhaps more importantly CT points forward to a strategy (among many) for dealing with ever expanding problem of information overload, “smarter clients.” (Do I sound like a Microsoftie?) One approach is the AI-inspired, strong editor approach of a tech.memeorandum .

But personally my gets are on the “many editors makes categorization easy” technique that has got to be the years surprise success story, combined with tools which take advantage of available metadata, either through inference of explicit scoping.

Now that the idea is out there I’m surprised that there aren’t dozens of these vertical bookmarking sites.

Scaling Down, Scaling Up

Of course social sites, do rely on having a community, and there in perhaps lies the key challenge to building a site like CommonTimes. Thankfully there are solutions. Like breaking out of our silos, becoming a consumer as well as a producer of webservices. I want to tell CT about how to fish in my link stream (e.g. subscribe to http://del.icio.us/rss/kellan/news), and then remix with its own services.

Finally a link to get you started: Ten Ways to use CommonTimes

Meditations on a Changing Web: Delocator and Community Annotations

April 5th, 2005

The Starbucks Delocator which flashed across Boing Boing today (not to mention hit my inbox mere minutes later, thanks Steve) embodies in itself an interesting tension I’ve been trying to tease out for a while. Would it be too horribly smug to say it’s a tension between Web 1.0 and Web 2.0 and leave it at that? Probably.

What Is It?

In brief it is a website that attempts to offer a national (presumably U.S. national as it asks for zip codes) database of independent coffee shops, in order to support those fine and public places.

Things it gets right (Web 2.0-ish):

  • geographic – the physical was missing from the web for so long, that even though it is becoming standard each new website which can tie the virtual experience to real world location presents a little epiphany.
  • user built – this is an art project so the mail off a stack of phone books to China and pay to have them typed in route was never an option, but still its clueful to see someone make user contributions front and center.
  • its pretty (ok, that might not be Web 2.0-ish)
  • its opensource

Things it gets wrong (Web 1.0-sih):

  • roach motel – why should I contribute to this database when there is no way to get a dump of the data?
  • no maps
  • no user editing – a quick scan of my area shows it is not only sparsely populated, but that of the 3 entries I did find I could add additional info to all of them.
  • no user profile, no community, no reputations – you can see that I added June Bug, but rather then my name being a link to my profile, its a mailto with my address!
  • no permalinks – can’t really expose a database of first class web objects without permalinks
  • a splash screen, with a popup window!?!?! I feel like I’m in a timewarp!

And just to be clear, I’m not attacking Delocator for this, my own minimal attempt at cataloging and promoting independent coffee shops falls down on most of of these points as well. Just talking them through.

A Short Story About Roach Motels

So why would you possibly want to provide a dump of your entire database? Re-use and re-mixing. Projects like delocator, openguides, addyourown, et al. are one facet of how we’re starting to annotate our spaces around us. Projects like mappr are another. THe more we can get the data out of it’s silos, the more we can combine it to interesting effect. (and if we can just get it all into RDF we can sit back and let Jo do the rest)

But a simpler story is, when do you want info like Delocator (or any of these) provide? When you’re out. Not when you’re sitting at home in front of the computer. Opening up your data means you can get someone to help you with a mobility solution, be that a cell phone based interface, an iPod compatible database, or a clever PDF to print out and stick in your pocket.

Two Way Data Interchange

What we really need is a data format for this stuff. I personally I know the website, address, phone number, etc of about 100 independent coffee shops not listed on the Delocator page. (call me obsessed) And I have most of that information stored digitally. If I had a way to send them an XML file of that information we’d both be happier. Similarly I’d be happy to contribute to addyourown, chefmoz, and openguides, and would love to be pulling out the data from those sites to enrich my own listings. But not if I have to re-type it!

State of the Art

I did a brief survey of available formats last Summer, and didn’t come up with anything compelling. The ChefMoz format looked like it might be a decent starting point, I no longer remember what I found so problematic about it. Anyone else interested?

update: a bit more on Delocator

From 3 locations to 7 in a couple of hours is pretty good growth, I’m impressed. And I wouldn’t have thought to add City Feed, which is one of my all time favorite places. (just decided what I’m doing for lunch!) But how do we define non-corporate? In Boston this is particuarily hard where almost everything is part of a mini-chain. I’ll grant you Emack and Bolio’s with its 7 locations in Boston probably makes the cut, but how about ERC, with its 20 locations in 6 states?

Calendars and the Web: Looking Hopeful

March 5th, 2005

Calendaring on the web is starting to show signs of reawakening from death like sleep.

CalDAV seems to be fulfilling my early hopes for it; creating the first real movement on calendaring standards in years. CalDAV recently had a successful coming out at the CalCONNECT vendor event demoing implementations from Mozilla (Sunbird), Novell (Evolution), and Oracle. Neither Microsoft nor Apple deigned to attend.

Hula, the Novell backed open source groupware for the web project is generating considerable buzz with its high profile, if back handed, endorsement from JWZ, good track records of tech leads, and a wiki with all the right talking points.

Folks at U.C. Berkeley are doing good thinking on public event calendars as distinct from office scheduling aids as is evnt, a London skunkworks exploring the intersection of time, space, and open info.

Google is fueling speculation with rumors of a build vs. buy argument taking place behind the doors of Mountain View.

While Trumba has an everything old is new again feel, powerfully reminding me of golden age players in the space like When.com and Anyday. (and events calendars for local radio was a major MetaEvents plank)

Trumba and evnt both seem to have caught the wave that I credit Upcoming for pushing into the mainstream, namely that slavishly translating a wall calendar layout to web is misguided at best.

School Bell, an organizational calendar initially targeting schools just relaunched now built on Zope 3, and is looking very promising. (I’ll be ready for that demo real soon Tom)

While the activist community in NYC has a renewed push for a community wide events portal.

All very exciting. Hopefully this time around we’ll have learned the lessons of integration and syndication, ending up with productive engines that can integrate with our increasingly busy, decentralized, adhoc lives.

Tagged: Uncategorized , , ,

Read Recently

March 31st, 2004

Dru and Josh have a nasty habit of making me feel unread, whie Lattice (who conveniently doesn’t have a blog) questions my taste in books. Still Dru has a nice list of his recent readings, and presumably Rabble is going to post one one of these days, and I said I was going to do that 50 book thing, so here are my recent reads. Probably missed a few (beyond my perennial re-reads), that I’ll think of later. (nudge me, if you remember me mentioning something I forgot to list)

Midnight RobberNalo Hopkinson Brown Girl in the Ring was awesome: compelling, genre smashing, enjoyable, good storytelling. Midnight Robber borrows the Caribbean sensibility of Brown Girl, and mixes it with a not so compelling 70s scifi retread. Still I’m excited about Salt Road

SaltMark Kurlansky – for Kurlansky the history of the world is the history of salt (before that it was salted cod, and before that it was the salted cod fishermen, the Basque). I’ve got a soft spot for popularized history that take in the whole sweeping scope of human history (see Jared Diamond), the subject matter is intriguing (oil mining rigs were invented for mining salt; Imperial England’s “War on Drugs” was a war on salt, and Gandhi’s great march to the sea was to collect salt in the traditional manner; those pink ponds near SFO are salt ponds, and consequently are pink for the same reason flamingos are, brine shrimp), and the writing is solid. However Mark clearly read a lot of old cookbooks, and the flow can get bogged down by his need to share this or that Roman culinary tip.

My Year of MeatsRuth Ozeki – recommended by a friend, I read the first 20 pages at the bookstore, and decided it was coming home with me based on a phone sex scene that was authentic, and funny, and so endearingly unromantic, that it was romantic again. However I had a hard time to engaging with the central themes of meat, pregnancy, and Walmart; as a vegetarian, with little to no exposure to Walmart, and as a man with no intentions of starting a family soon. I also found some of the characters problematic, but we decided that we’re seeing the world through the tinted glasses of our narrating television producer in which everything is larger, and louder, like stage makeup. The writing is tight but breezy, and our narrator engaging.

Pattern RecognitionWilliam Gibson – Gibson is back. A master stylist needs a steady hand, a hand which has been missing for his last few books. The language is Pattern Recognition sings, each sentence has the a hand crafted quality, not a folksy crafts quality, put a piece of machinery, so expertly built the seams disappear, and then detailed and polished to perfection. More interesting still is how Gibson uses the tools of science fiction to invert its standard role. The key to crafting a scifi world is to normalize it to the point that a drama can play out against this future fantastic landscape. Good writers do this through the description of daily life, letting the big picture coded into the spin its puts on each small detail. However in Gibson’s hands even something as banal as a PHP message board installed on a $10 shared hosting setup can turn strange and alien, forcing you to re-examine it all. I loved this book, I immersed myself in it, happily ignoring the surrounding world.

In the end however I had a number of problems with the novel. Primarily Cayce Pollard. Cayce is a brilliant and powerful woman, she is in the know, she is a player, she is a paid consultant for the man behind the curtain, they get together for drinks. She is also a world traveller with some of the most cutting and insightful commentary on travel I’ve ever read. I find it disappointing that her inner turmoil, with its subtle hints of anger and self-loathing (see Evan Hatch) is expressed/suppressed through clothes, shopping, and helplessness.

Also the brand saturation which gives the works its authentically now-ness is going to age very poorly I imagine, so read it soon.

AppleseedJohn Clute – Clute’s reviews are the stuff of legend, once Bloom shuffles off, maybe they can hire Clute to update Western Canon into something slightly less moribund. But ick, he is not a novelist. Its amazing to see someone put so much effort into being bad, this book doesn’t suck by accident, but by the determined effort of years of craft. There are some interesting concepts but they are utterly blotted out by a tone which swerves from sophomoric to puerile and back. This level of transgression is old, Roth and Updike, whom are both badly dated btw, covered this territory, well, a long time ago. Still if you want the supremely odd experience of reading American Pie level humor in a vocabulary that will stump anything short of the OED, this is your book.

Midnight’s ChildrenSalman Rushdie – been on the “to be read” list for forever, I have a bad habit of dissing his novels (though I love his essays) without having reading his classic work. And it was on the bargain table today, so I picked it up. Didn’t get very far into it before switching back to Kapla Imperial.

Dubliners James Joyce – its trite to love Joyce, but I love Joyce. (exception of Finnegans Wake, which despite repeated attempts alludes my interest) I started with “The Dead” (Richard Nelson came up recently), and am working my way through backwards. Aidan and Kate brought me my copy of Ulysses which I’ll be re-reading in honor of the 100th anniversary of Bloomsday. Dubliners is a warm up stretch.

Fountain at the Center of the WorldRobert Newman – I’ve already written one semi-coherent account of it, I’m not sure I need to write another except to say it is fun, and fascinating, and passionate with characters who you can care deeply about, and lovely passages you want to read aloud

“The river remembers what it did last year, sent north to work in the gardens, kitchens, and semi-conductor plants of the rich. The following spring Nahualhuas finds the river too fucked up to hide its junk-food addiction, its substance abuse, its sinister hoarding of trophy tampons and women’s shoes as it crawls along the ground like an old wasp, a groggy ditch mubling to itself greeding jejen mosquitoes.”

Angels in America (Part I and II)Tony Kushner – I missed the recent Seattle production of Homebody/Kabul (a fact about which I am supremely disappointed), and I didn’t catch HBO’s Angels due to a lack of a TV. Still I think Angels is getting to an interesting age, slightly over a decade old and now firmly ensconced in the fabric of great American plays it’s time for directors to start taking some risks with the direction. Which is why I’m back reading the text. Kushner’s exerts authorial control somewhere between Stoppard, and “exit, chased by a bear”. And during his recent visit to Seattle he was everything a playwright should be, plus a wonderfully optimistic radical. But really I’m just ramping up in an anticipation for Only We Who Guard The Mystery Shall Be Unhappy, his unfinished play starring Laura Bush and Dostoevsky’s Grand Inquistior.

The Wind-Up Bird ChronicleMurakami Haruki – I’ve been trying for a month to think of what to say about this book, without much luck. It is brilliant in ways I can’t put my finger on, and funny though at times it shouldn’t be, and seems deeply insightful, though in the end I’m not sure what actually insight I received. The flips between comedy and forboding, the everyday surrealism and nuanced depictions is what I imagine Delilo would be like if I could ever bring myself to care about his characters. Highly recommended. I’m reading A Wild Sheep Chase next.

Age of Extremes – Eric Hobsbawm – “A History of the World, 1914-1991″. Excellent, clear, convincing attempt to understand the “short 20th century” (WWI to the fall of the USSR), and collapse of 19th century civil society and liberalism. I’m in the “inter war” period right now.

Assasian’s and Fool’sRobin Hobb – Hobb makes a virtue out of high fantasy, simple sentences, and melodrama. It shouldn’t work but it does. Especially as a bed time snack. The last of FitzChivalry novels is out, so I read/re-read the whole 6 book sequence. Interestingly Hobb was also in town to do a reading, I recommend not attending. The style doesn’t work at the pace of the spoken word, you’ve got to read it in large, multi paragraph swathes, overloading the intellect buffers, and hitting the emotional core. Nor does it really bear being discussed afterwards, it goes flat quickly.

Irresistible Forces – Various – Just to confirm, I don’t like romance novels, even by some of my favorite authors, even when its “high concept” (SF by romance novelists, romance by SF authors). Blah.

New Media: 1740-1915 – Various – Opened strong with the work on zograscopes (would you believe my spell checker doesn’t know that word?); examining both their relationship with the media of the their day, and their role in perpetuating the sort of isolating, and cleansed virtual reality the Net is accused of today. And the work on gleaning is excellent, but some of the middle chapters are kind of mushy and slow going.

Eastern Standard TribeCory’s latest offering, which I’ve written about before. I hear they’ve patched the GMT-6 bug in the online version.

The State of the ArtIain M. Banks – short stories, plus a Culture novella. I prefer him at novel length.

Station of the TideMichael Swanwick – worth it for lines like, “Startled, a clutch of acorn-mimetic octopi dropped from a low branch, brown circles of water fleeting as they jetted into the silt”. And the “Puzzle Palace”. Creative and unexpected, beautiful world building in quick sketches and broad strokes.

My book was closed;
    I read no more,

G’night

Ruled Britannia

March 26th, 2003

I picked up Ruled Britannia this weekend as it seems to have made its way on to many of the short lists of year’s best SF. It is Harry Turtledove’s latest, and unsurprisingly a novel of “alternative history”.

We find ourselves transported to Shakespeare’s England, 1597, but one in which the Spanish Armada has landed 10 years ago, bringing England forcibly back into the Catholic fold. The English Inquisition is upon the land, and the twin charges of treason and heresy has everyone stepping softly, and planning revolution. I’m about three quarters of the way through the book, but I have few thoughts on it.

Turtledove is working with an idea which has potential. It is a pretty conceit; an idea whose boards have been trod before, but with enough new to make it interesting.

Unfortunately the final results owe more to the gimmickry of Shakespeare in Love (the curtain rises with Will working on Love’s Labours Won), then the powerful imagination evidenced in Turtledove’s Guns of the South, or the lyric poetry of his subject, the Bard, from whom he borrows liberally. And therein lies one of the chief problems. Ruled is populated with characters who speak unceasingly in verse.

To Prance upon the Stage

When your cast of characters numbers many Elizabethan (Isabellan?) players and playwrights a certain amount of blank verse is expected. The scenes of the players twitting each other in broad, raunchy iambic pentameter ring true, and Turtledove’s early passages of Shakespeare and Marlowe fencing, each in his own words, sing. (and remind you who was the gifted story teller and who the master of letters)

But quickly the device grows old, tiresome, and distracting. Where is Shakespeare’s genius (a central dogma of Ruled) if you find his best lines, unprompted, in the mouths of others?

Players never merely act, but must be always strutting and fretting, and many pages groan under the weight of overwrought, leaden dialog, whose sole existence is to frame a clever borrowing or turn of phrase. This heavy handed paean feels more like an exercise carried too far then true craft. Contrast it against Pamela Dean whose appropriations draw yarn from the whole sweep of English literature to add depth and subtlety to her weave.

Perchance to dream?

Turtledove also fails in the “truth is stranger then fiction” department. His subjugated England, and its supposed alternative history hews closer to the conventional history of the time then many scholars propose as having actually existed. Bloom and Michell have proposed a dozen alternatives all more strange. And more intriguing because they might be true. A writer who seeks to tell a story of intrigue, plots, deception, and Shakespeare, but whom relegates Kit Marlowe to the role of pompous jackass, and Bacon to a bit part has thrown away much good material. So much you question the author’s wit, or, deadlier still for a career historical fabulist like Turtledove, his grasp on history.

After all, everyone knows Kit was a secret agent and assassin for the Crown (the original Bond) who staged his own death in that tavern (with Ingram Frizer help) and later published his own works under Shakespeare’s imprint. Or at least one could make a reasoned argument to that effect. Next to such, Ruled’s offerings seem inspid.

Other complaints

Ruled’s women are largely weak, receptacles of desire, and sketchily drawn. Cellis’ cunning woman is intriguing, but suffers from an embarrassment of anachronisms.

Dogberry could well be my least favorite of Shakespeare’s repertoire, and if Michael Keaton once played him marginally well, the pale shade Turtledove has cast in Keaton’s stead to animate Constable Strawberry proves unable to rise to the task, making the Ruled’s later pages, in which the constable plays a significant role, a chore.

Turtledove seems confused on the on the chronology of Shakespeare’s plays, or he has rearranged their order arbitrarily without justifying or bothering to notify us of this. An example, the clown Will Kemp’s silence is purchased with the promise of “Falstaff and a King”. Was not King Harry in Falstaff’s inaugural play sufficient? (and if commissioning the revival of that rogue in dreadful comedy of manners Merry Wives is not sufficient reason to dispose Queen Elizabeth, I can think of none better)

A Trifle, But Still Fun

Misunderstand me not, I am enjoying the book. William Cecil ( de Vere’s guardian) commissioning Shakespeare to write a play of Boudica to incite the rabble is clever and original, and much of the language is an old friend, and I’m glad to see it, even if it comes in ruder garb then usual. I have some doubts of the efficacy of Cecil’s scheme (though Coriolanus last summer showed me what a Roman play could be!) but I’ve not finished the book yet,the pages turn quickly, and I wish to know how it ends.

A host of furious fancies

Lastly, Tom O’ Bedlam (a song who has an fey grip upon my fancy) makes an unexpected, and welcome appearance at one point. Turtledove interprets “knight[s] of ghosts and shadows” as being knights of the cross-trade, and the Cecils, fallen nobility moving though the criminal underworld; spinning webs, pulling strings, and occasionally cutting a thread short are just such knights. This interpretation pleases to me to no end.

update:

My thoughts on finishing the book, its weak ending, and surprising prologue copied from Recent Books: Lion’s Blood, More Britannia, Storm of Swords

Ruled Britannia

Ruled Britannia ended predictably I’m afraid. I hoped until the very end for some surprise of substance, but it was not forthcoming.

The 3 page historical end note on the other hand was fascinating. In it Turtledove talks about what would have been required for Spain to have invaded England at that time, and where the verse for the fictional Boudicca came from.

In his estimation (as the premier writer of alternatively historical wars) if the Armada had gotten lucky enough to land the Spanish infantry would have trounced their English counterparts. No word on how they would have fared against the Scotts.

Yet as the premier writer of alternatively historical wars, I was puzzled by Boudicca, the play Turtledove pens for the Bard, as it is awfully good. In fact Turtledove borrowed much of it from the play Bonduca, written by Shakespeare contemporary John Fletcher, and from Marlowe’s Tamburlaine. This is both clever and cynical, for the effect would have be utterly ruined if the reader had recognized the words. (as was the case with his more obvious borrowing from Titus to account for the bulk of his fictional King Phillip)

I wonder as the body of human literature grows with the passing years if each literary age will be boiled down to a single known author, the rest forgotten?

Reading

November 18th, 2002

The Ecology of Fear (almost done)

A light, fast, fascinating book about Los Angeles and its plights. Part natural history, part political analysis, it is, in some ways, a worthy successor to Cadillac Desert, more sweeping in topic and survey, while mono-focused on Southern California. I’m going to read the rest of Mike Davis’ books. more

Daemonomania (just started)

John Crowley is an amazingly lyrical writer, beautiful stuff, and he cast a dark mood all his own. I remember being enscrolled by Little, Big, and then never finishing it. Perhaps this odd, elegant book will be the same. As I drifted off last night, reading on last page, the evocative images felt more akin to DeLillo, or Thomas Mann, then the genre typical (and defining) urban fantasy of de Lint.

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay (just finished)

Moving like fish beneath the water, quickly darting away when you lean over to get a look at them, there are serious themes at work in this book. And I cheerfully ignored them. Chabon is a great writer whose prime purpose in Amazing is to a tell a story; a story with vivid, lovable characters playing out against a back drop of comic book history; a urban grit storytelling infused with the enthusiastic bubble of the pulps. We are, in fact, given tacit permission to lean back, and enjoy this story about escape in all its varied forms, which made me me feel much more comfortable about scarfing it down like so much candy.

When, in the home stretch, the book turns grim, and then is dusted with a faintly sprinkling of the surrealist touches of magical realism, I wondered if I had misread Chabon’s complicity. Perhaps I was supposed to wonder about the parallels of Clay and the golem, or the 2 great escapes from Prague, or reckon with the ever present issues of father and manhood. But I didn’t, and you don’t have to either.