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I think it was the combination of the slant of light (harsh, noon-ish), the neighborhood (commercial, very busy, not really prosperous), and the business I walked into (the office/warehouse of a small online merchant of miscellaneous stuff), but I felt sudden and very strong nostalgia for a particular type of software, those very ad hoc, never quite successful, weirdly specialized utilities and programs from the dBase III/ASCII dialog interfaces on monochrome screens era.

Remember those? They usually were but one step above something somebody wrote for an acquaintance's particular needs, both in terms of design and sometimes even literally. Before the internet, when they might have physical addresses for you to mail checks, would come in a floppy disk but no manuals, perhaps as part of the monthly bundle of who-knows-what with your thick, ads-filled computer magazine. Every one with a wholly different interface and convention, each function key, and even PgUp/PgDn, etc, doing something highly specific. You'd get to know every nook and cranny of them, because you spent a lot of time with each, doing only the task they were meant to do, and they didn't have that many nooks and crannies, comparatively, so it was possible in a way it no longer is.

I know I remember those as stimulating and creative because that's what they were at the time, and that my past self would be thrilled to know the kind of software I use every day, but the feeling is still there.


Edge of Infinity (Ed. Jonathan Strahan, 2017/#61): A good collection of contemporary SF stories; they all take place in the Solar System but outside Earth, and most, although not all of them, are at least somewhat related to exploration and colonization efforts.

The Economy of Renaissance Florence (Richard A. Goldthwaite, 2017/#62): Riveting. Renaissance Florence was weirdly modern from some points of view — widespread accounting skills (even artisans kept double-entry books) meant something not unlike a decentralized P2P lending market, as well as an intuitive understanding of money as different from tangible monies — although its preeminence in historiography might be partly due to the relatively huge amount of surviving documents compared to other cities, as well as the fascinating figure of the Medicis. From a diachronic angle, the shifts in their economy (from locally sourced textiles to a purely import/export based industry, the shift in routes from and to the Levant and Northern Europe, their gradual fall of competitiveness in international banking against the Genose, etc) opens a good window into the general evolution of Europe's economy, punctuated by the humanly horrifying but in the middle term economically invigorating small issue of the Black Death. The way everybody almost openly used bills of exchange and other loopholes to get around the Church's prohibition of usury is kind of funny, but indicates that even a precapitalist (if not psychologically so) society can still be deeply Christian in many ways. Highly recommended.

Bridging Infinity (Ed. Jonathan Strahan, 2017/#63): Up to the usual standard of Strahan collections: contemporary, mostly good to quite good, mostly but not exclusively from the usual suspects.

The Army of Flanders and the Spanish Road, 1567-1659: The Logistics of Spanish Victory and Defeat in the Low Countries' Wars (Geoffrey Parker, 2017/#64): A good zoom-in complement to the author's The Grand Strategy of Philip II. It makes the argument — with as much quantitative evidence as it's feasible to provide for that scenario and era — that the Spanish were, obviously within the technical and organizational limits of Early Modern Europe, quite efficient at raising money, moving it around, and using it to fight wars (and in fact made a couple of significant advances in that area that nowadays are taken for granted, for example providing soldiers with medical services, food, lodging, and other forms of payment in kind). Their chronic shortages of money (the Eighty Years' War goes a long way to explain what "the borrower from Hell" was using all that money for), practically systematized mutinies (to the soldiers' credit, often began after, and not triggered by, military actions), and eventual defeat have more to do with a combination of technological changes (the trace italienne architecture making the shell-and-storm style of siege unfeasible, with encircle-and-starve the only feasible yet slow and expensive alternative) and, fundamentally, strategic overreach made unavoidable by Philip II's (and IV's, although not III's) religious commitments. Even Hapsburg Spain would have had to drop some of their goals of forcing the Netherlands to be Catholic, putting a Catholic in the French throne, driving back Protestants in Germany, keeping the Turks in check, not squeezing Catalonia dry, invading England, dominating the Indies trade, and keeping Portugal under control (and I'm probably forgetting a long-term war or two). A Hapsburg Netherlands, even if not Catholic, would've been an enormous asset to the Empire, made the defense of the Italian coast very feasible, give the Spanish a built-in financial network, and made the Indies trade even more profitable (not to mention giving them a ready-made navy to help protect the Spanish treasure fleet from the English). But that wouldn't have been Philip II; for good and for ill, very few rulers in history had been so thoroughly trained since birth for his role, both political and religious, and even fewer took his duties so seriously.

The Science Fiction Hall of Fame, Volume Two B (Ed. Ben Bova, 2017/#65): Eleven classic SF novellas. Most of them rereads, not all good by contemporary standards, but always well deserving of the epithet of classic.

Civil Wars: A History in Ideas (David Armitage, 2017/#66): Traces the history of the (highly contested) concept of civil war, touching on the Greeks but beginning with the Romans, who, Armitage argues, were the first to have civil wars in the sense that we understand the term, as they were the first to have both the kind of impersonal civil arena and the highly organized war as quintessentially structuring, State-driven, and by definition foreigner-targeting activity that makes the concept both applicable and oxymoronic; for Romans the experience of a civil war was a conceptually traumatic one, not because they were unused to violence, even internal violence with political ends, but because *war* was something else. A civil war, in Armitage's reading, was something of a conceptual revolution. The book traces what you might call the constant war about what a civil war is, isn't, and might mean, with special emphasis on the case of the the United States (after all, it wasn't irrelevant whether the Confederation was a separate (set of) state(s) repeating what the thirteen colonies had originally done, or if they were an integral part of the US in rebellion, both in politico-philosophical and diplomatic, and hence economic and military, terms), and contemporary practice (roughly speaking, nations cannot legally interfere with other nation's handling of internal rebellions, but once it's a civil war, both sides have claims to legitimacy, so then it's whatever works for you... an interesting angle I hadn't considered). I'm not entirely sure how much I believe the uniqueness of the Roman concept (the author, IIRC, mentions his lack of familiarity with, say, the Chinese tradition, where the concept of a contested Mandate of Heaven means you could have a related if fundamentally different idea of what a civil war can be), but it's an interesting book.

Prisoner's Base (Rex Stout, 2017/#67): A good Nero Wolfe story. I love how even when you see the solution of the case coming from far away, that doesn't diminish one bit the pleasure of reading the book.

Time Quarry (Clifford D. Simak, 2017/#68): Not the best Superpowered Prophet novel out there, nor the best Android Rebellion novel, nor the best Thinly Veiled Space Metaphor of the British Empire novel, nor the best Time Travel Shenannigans novel, nor the best Eganesque Platonic Realism novel, but the sheer accumulation of different tropes (I might be forgetting some) is on itself interesting. Not unenjoyable, if you make the necessary allowances for gender politics etc.


Revisiting the wild days of my youth

Specifically, that part when you start looking for old TNG fanfic, blink, and suddenly it's six hours later. *facepalm*

In other wild days of youth news, in a world quite like pre-Rebirth DC's, Timothy Drake-Wayne is encouraged by his adoptive father to develop some sort of silly overly public persona, lest people notice that there are *two* hypercompetent young adults with an overly developed sense of responsibility in Gotham, and deduce his secret identity (which, by the way, is Bruce No, of course I'm not influenced by any traumatic childhood experience linked to a favorite character who happened to be a masked vigilante hiding his identity behind the mast of a useless fop Wayne's main worry vis-a-vis secret identities, never mind that Tim figured his identity through a wholly unrelated kind of clue).

Anyway, Tim Drake, never one to miss an opportunity to enhance his persona as an enthusiastic geek among civilians, allies, and enemies alike (not to mention, *be* the enthusiastic geek he actually is, disguising it as a disguise), decides to go into the world of competitive yo-yo play:

Every one of his age peers, plus every former Robin and above half of the cumulative roster of the Titans will keep mocking him about it forever (perhaps item #7 in the Reasons I'm Tempted to Establish a Totalitarian Cyber-utopia in Gotham list Tim keeps in a little telepath-proof box in his mind), but Bruce is impressed. He has to alternate between faking clumsiness and being specially dense in order to compensate for the extreme sports he has to publicly engage in to cover how obviously trained he is, but Tim can actually show some reasonable dexterity and agility in his civilian life without endangering his cover. No matter what physical feat somebody might catch him doing, he'll shrug it off to his training, and everybody will both believe him and continue to find him utterly harmless and not a little bit silly, because, let's face it, he's a competitive yo-yo player. Plus, it's something that can be modified into some forms of useful training (add sharp edges to the yo-yos, work under increased and/or unstable gravitational fields, etc), so it's not as complete a waste of time as showing up to parties he's paying for and would pay far more not to attend, and distracting himself by Sherlock-scanning everybody until the sheer density of infidelities and petty crimes gives him a headache.

It's sheer genius.


Batman #29: Nice. It's a Bruce thing, *not* a Batman thing, but it's a Bruce thing from the Bruce that built Batman, so it's smart and fearless and utterly pragmatic. This Bruce is the guy I read Batman to get glimpses of, in a way.

Batwoman #6: Color me utterly unsurprised. I mean, it's pretty much a multiversal fixed point by now. (This isn't a complaint.)

Dark Nights Metal #1: This, however, is a complaint. I prefer everything Bat to begin and matter after the above-mentioned guy came up with the idea. Anything that overdetermines that cheapens him IMHO. And, frankly, the whole idea about the freaking N-th metal being the core mystery of everything feels like the premise of a bonkers fanfic challenge, not something you'd like to built an official Event around.

Justice League #27: I get it that the children of heroes will tend to have non-normal lives, but it's lazy that in most futures there aren't heroes other than the descendants of the current ones. That's the laziest and most pre-modern kind of myth. Give me the entitled grandson of Superman being constantly vexed by somebody who got her powers during a nanofactory industrial accident or something.

Star Trek The Next Generation: Broken Mirrors #3: The forced parallelisms make everything in Mirrorverse stories quite predictable (exceptions: the original episode, quite a bit of fantastic TNG fic I must've read about twenty years ago, gods, and arguably some of the DS9 ones), but within those stylistic limits, I think this issue absolutely nailed the characters' voices. It wasn't just a mechanical reverse image of TNG, but you could also see the actors delivering those lines and with those expressions. Very often (I'm looking at you, Superman/Batman comics) symmetries are achieved only by breaking characterization.


Batman and Harley Quinn

Take a classic Bruce Timm Batman story (or Dini's Harleys' Holiday), and make it Harley-centric. Make Batman quite a bit more expressive than usual, make Nightwing a *lot* more expressive than usual, somewhat awkward/silly, and less of a Batman-level badass than he usually is, and use both things to make parts of the story weirdly comedic — sometimes mature, sometimes awfully juvenile — in a way only fanfic usually gets away with.

Then add adult references and basically a sex scene cut before the actual sex begins, but don't make things about the sex.

Think pre-Code Hollywood meets the DC animated universe, sort of.

I quite enjoyed it, and at times laughed outloud. The best way to ensure you do is to approach it not so much as canon DC characterization (whatever that means nowadays), nor specially as animated DC characterization, but rather as a fannish riff.

ETA: There's a by now (in)famous scene that some have found as depicting abuse. It wasn't my reaction, but it's not an unarguable point (and, of course, if it triggers you it triggers you, and everybody else's opinions are irrelevant).

The following does assume you know at least the outline of the scene I'm talking about.Collapse )



Re: Charlotteville

A facile, if perhaps not necessarily untrue, reading would be that this kind of thing has always been going on, it's just that once again they feel they can be honest about why. Doesn't make it any less scary, and if it's scary from over here, I can't quite imagine how it feels over there.

Our thoughts are with you. Sometimes, granted, those thoughts are variants of "oh god what are they doing now."


I just read To Serve Man in a scanned pdf of the magazine it was originally published in, which gave me all the old school feels. The Galaxy archive is great comfort food reading (as long as you give yourself permission to skip all the admittedly very bad stuff it's in there as well).

I'm very tempted to pick up again my much-loved complete set of Holmes The Strand Magazine facsimiles; it's been a long while since I've done a Full Sherlock Holmes Reread, after all.


Mister Miracle #1

Trigger warnings for suicide, mental health issues, or (and?) Darkseid messing up with the fabric of reality itself. Again. Either one can be thought of as a/the trap — how do you escape reality or what you perceive as reality? — so Scott is a good metaphor POV for that kind of thing. Ideally, they won't necessarily explain it one way or another.

It has something of an Animal Man vibe to it, but with a more tsunami-like approach to a rising tide of dread.

Barda is heartbreaking and adorable and scary (in good good and bad ways).

Recommended, unless you're not in the right headspace for it (in which case don't worry, comics and books always wait for you).

O Brave New World/Old SF

Every issue of Galaxy Magazine. I am, perhaps unrealistically given my past experience, trying to pace myself to no more than one a week, which would reflect, although at an accelerated rate, their own periodical nature.

Obviously, a recommendation is unnecessary if you're somebody I should recommend it to.



cass, can you not

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