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Non-spoilery comment on TMTMTE #50

The continuing ability of Transformers: More than Meets the Eye to crush my heart in the best way is astounding. I just finished reading the last issue and I'm not quite sure about what to do with it.

A case of miscommunication

Not too short, and covering my ears a bit, I told the hairdresser.

Let's go for the Ninth Doctor look, he heard.

*headdesk* I'm glad I didn't ask for a close cut, or he'd have performed brain surgery.
The Solaris Book of New Science Fiction Volume 2 (Ed. George Mann, 2016/#13): As advertised. Late 2000's science-fiction short stories; nothing astounding, and a few underwhelming ones, but overall I enjoyed it.

The Dynamics of Disaster (Susan Kieffer, 2016/#14): A disappointing book on natural disasters. The author clearly knows the topic, but I found the structure of the exposition unenlightening, and the writing itself not particularly good.

A Murder By The Book (Rex Stout, 2016/#15): This one felt untidy, but in a satisfactory way (for me, not for Nero and Archie). Basically, it was one of those cases in which they have to muddle through and more or less make things work, which is of course as entertaining as when they are at their best.

Before Midnight (Rex Stout, 2016/#16): An enjoyable one.

Paradox Lost (Frederic Brown, 2016/#17): A reread. This kind of book, a collection of short SF stories from the 1970's and before, was in a way the backbone of my reading during my late childhood and early teens. I loved them then, and unarguable stylistic and technical issues aside, I still do.

The Golden Spiders (Rex Stout, 2016/#18): A Nero Wolfe story mostly by the numbers, which isn't a bad thing if you're me.

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I amuse myself however I can

In one of the stations along the course (slash curse) of an incomprehensible number of annoying errands derived from losing my wallet, I had the pleasant surprise of having to deal with a bank employee called, and I swear or at least hope I wasn't hallucinating, Egon Prox.

Egon Prox. That's a name that has no right to exist outside comic books. I'm extremely envious, and wondering if pulling a Homer Simpson/Max Power move would automatically lead to a lifestyle of rogue artificial intelligences and secret underground laboratories.

Or being a customer service associate for a bank, as the evidence so far suggests. Better not risk it.

(This slightly deranged rant is sponsored by my insufficient sleep and annoying morning.)

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I've been spending some time going through old (in internet time, very old), fanfic archives, reading some of the first fics I ever read and loved. For example, The Shi'ar Coffee Story, which is still as silly and funny as I remember it being.

It was the late 20th century. Nostalgia doesn't prevent me from remembering how shitty it was in many ways (including for me), and yet.

I loved the X-Men animated series, with its continuity and its time travel and its perky music and overdramatic characters. And Buffy, with its sarcastic bravery and oh-so-human heroes and villains. And Star Trek TNG, which showed both an universe so much bigger and interesting than anybody else's, and a way of facing it with curiosity and goodwill that I still, as much as I find it, in retrospect, conservative, can feel energized by (pun not intended).

And then I found my first fics, stories that took this, and gave it new directions, adult relationships, complex characterization, infinite alternate universes, and more fun and more darkness than the source material was allowed to, and it was mind-blowing that it was even possible to do that. That we were allowed, or rather, that we didn't need anybody's permission.

The topologically impossible Summers Family Tree (multiple clones included).That epic where Gambit ended up being Professor X's son, and it completely made sense, really. Q's increasingly NC-17 infatuation with Jean-Luc Picard. The Borg, back when they were scary.

It changed my life in so many ways; half a lifetime later, I'm still ricocheting through the alternate timeline this set up for me, and I couldn't be more grateful for that.

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  • Much more sexually R-rated than I expected it to be (the violence was, of course, a given).

  • The fourth wall is broken, the pieces are reduced to rubble, the rubble is thrown into the sea, and the area where the fourth wall used to be is salted with radioactive material.

  • Related to that, 97.3% of the movie consists of Wade Wilson making a quip, either in-universe or metatextual. A fair amount of them are downright crude, mind you, but not all. ETA: Although some of them could be triggery for "humorous" mentions of sexual violence.

  • There's a romantic relationship, because this is a Hollywood movie after all, and it being forced was one of my concerns, but it works quite well, I think (within the male protagonist wish fulfillment assumptions).

  • In fact, sexually explicit (for a Marvel movie) as the it is, it's also very unashamedly sweet. I think both things are related; the relationship side of the plot has nothing to do with the more usual tap-dancing around and platonic (in the philosophical sense) idealization of sex.

  • The end credits scene made me squee.



All in all, I went with the expectation of an ok time, and it was quite better than that.

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Books! (Ghosts and Empires Edition)

The Climax of Rome (Michael Grant, 2016/#7): It's easy to see the late history of the western Roman Empire as something of an ongoing catastrophe, and in many senses it was, but it was also an spirited and creative attempt to sustain a political entity of staggering ambition given their technological and demographic realities. One way of looking at it (not the author's, and perhaps untenably teleological), would be that the survival of the Roman Empire required the deployment of military might perhaps surpassing that of an Early Modern state, more than a thousand years before technological and societal developments made it even marginally possible; and yet, for a couple of centuries, and at staggering human cost, they made a bloody good attempt of it. The author is somewhat snobbish, and certainly philosophically opinionated, but he takes the Romans in the context of what they were facing, what they wanted to do, and what (material, intellectual, and, he would say, spiritual) resources they had at hand, and that's of no little value.

Ghost Stories of an Antiquary (part 2) (M. R. James, 2016/#8): A seamless extension of the first one.

Civil War: The History of England Volume III (Peter Ackroyd, 2016/#9): Ackroyd's ongoing history of England is, I think, a very good one, and this volume is as good as the previous two. I don't know how to segue into that, so I'll just say it: I laughed out loud when I read that, after a series of bungled military operations, people began to call Buckingham "the duke of Fuckingham." Things like that warm your heart with the undeniable unity of the human soul.

Please Pass the Guilt (Rex Stout, 2016/#10): A bit half-cooked, to be honest.

Ghosts by Gaslight (Ed. Jack Dann and Nick Gevers, 2016/#11): An enjoyable compilation of neo-Victorian (rather than Steampunk) supernatural stories.

A Thin Ghost and Others (M. R. James, 2016/#12): In the vein Ghost Stories of an Antiquary, but perhaps a trifle more perfunctory.

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Sapir-Whorfing like there's no tomorrow

I'm trying to think of it as the Abundance Non-Problem: when you have more things that you want and can afford to do than time in which to do them, so you have to choose.

Case in point:

mrinesi@hannibal:~$ ls docs/queue/books/ |wc -l
842


This shouldn't feel like a problem, yet it does. And it's not something that's going to go away, unless we mess things up spectacularly; if anything, it's getting worse better more so. So it's more of a psychological readjustment (infinite books not being something any of us last century dinosaurs ever grew up with) than a technical or logistical one.

(I think I might have written about this in the past. I'm very likely to write about this in the future. Because, dammit, infinite books. It's existentially unsettling.)
Cities of Empire (Tristram Hunt, 2016/#1): A look at the history of ten cities, as influenced by and influencing the history of the British Empire. I liked this book very much, and I think it works well both in helping understand local history in its larger context, and to illustrate the evolution of the Empire. A caveat: the author is both a professional historian and a professional politician, so keep that in mind.

The Medici in Florence: The exercise and language of power (Alison Brown, 2016/#2): An awfully enjoyable collection of essays about the history of Florence, touching not only some specific aspects of the Medicis' rule, but also, e.g., Savonarola's. This is very emphatically not an overview, but rather a set of a dozen essays on very specific points: the first one, for example, studies how Cosimo de' Medici was described by writers (mainly an study of different traditions of literary sucking up in XVth century Florence), while another one deals with Savonarola's use of the trope of Moses to justify his political role, and how this influenced Machiavelli's views. Endlessly fascinating, and if you read Italian (I don't), there's a series of bonus tracks in the form of primary sources.

Europe's Steppe Frontier, 1500-1800 (William H. McNeill, 2016/#3): An interesting book about, roughly speaking, the bits of Eurasia that during that period were surrounded by Russia, Austria, and the Ottoman Empire, together with the history of those three empires as related to those bits between them. The explanatory framework feels outdated (the book was published in 1964), with a somewhat too facile psychological determinism, but the book isn't nearly as Euro-centric as the title would suggest, and it's full of interesting details about a place and time I've read about mostly only in an indirect fashion (e.g., a lot of times when reading about Venice, its relationship with the Ottoman Empire is mediated by what the latter is doing in "the Balkans"; in this book, that's the main issue, and Venice is what's going on in the sidelines). I have to say, it makes the Crimean War and the whole "Eastern question" much more understandable. A funny thing in the preface: the author talks about the falling levels of violence in the region, which is darkly humorous for anybody who went through the 1990s, but, of course, it was written during the Cold War (in fact, the book ends up with an appreciation of the Russian agricultural colonization of Ukrania that I think is factually correct in comparative terms, but indefensible in ethical terms; it assumes that the end justified the means).

Mysterium Coniunctionis (Carl Jung, 2016/#4): I'm reminded of Borges' comment about metaphysics being the most creative form of fiction — I think that's a fruitful approach to this book. Jung's view of alchemy being the empirical expression of psychological processes doesn't seem to me to be unfounded (what human activity, to various degrees, isn't?), and the material he describes and his interpretations of it are if nothing else entertaining, but his emphatic description of those underlying processes, with specific and complex assignations of meaning to things like "three," seems to me to be a reenacting, and almost to no degree an explanation, of what alchemists did. The fact that I'm most likely doing it myself right now only makes the thing exponentially more hilarious. Of note: he's extremely concerned about the psychologically deleterious effect of secularism, which I can understand as a reaction to Nazism (ignoring, though, not only the religious machinery of the Nazi Party itself, but the very European religious tradition of the pogrom). I'm, not unexpectedly, not as keen as he is on the idea of some revitalization of Christianity as the only possible way of restoring psychological sanity at large scale. Also of note, and also not unexpectedly, his observations about the female mind, infrequent as they are, are every bit as idiotic as you'd expect. For a person who made a point of remarking multiple times that his theories were grounded on the scientific observation of empirical fact, this amounts to professional malpractice.

Distrust that Particular Flavor (William Gibson, 2016/#5): A collection of non-fiction articles and talks. Looking at the age of some of them, and what has happened since then, I don't know if I know anybody else so attuned to the intersection of technology and culture as he is. Exaggerating only a bit, it's almost shamanic.

Ghost Stories of an Antiquary (M. R. James, 2016/#6): Terrifying breaches of the natural order of things, taken with polite, inquisitive fear, followed by, at most, a lifelong but mild case of nerves. It's hard to imagine a more stereotypically British (or antiquarian) approach to the supernatural.

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Idle musings of the sleep-deprived

Today I finished M. R. James' Ghost Stories of an Antiquary; typically, I find myself yearning for vaguely (but not dangerously) haunted antiquarian objects. But mostly for the sort of nearly- or wholly pre-human Lovecraftian artifact that, to borrow a bit of his prose, carries in it intimations of terrible knowledge from beyond the current boundaries of human conceptualization.

And yet, today I was also browsing some research papers, and realized that their aesthetics might be contemporary and downright banal, but the contents do carry intimations of terrible knowledge from beyond the current boundaries of human conceptualization. It's just that the full realization of those intimations doesn't lie in the far past (or the suddenly and often terminally encountered present), but in the more-or-less near future.

It's, to me, an appealing image — science as archaeology in reverse, figuring out the knowledge of a civilization more alien than anything known before — but at the same time the implicit determinism is dangerous, and borders Apocalypticism. Whenever you start thinking that you're uncovering pieces of "the future," you're by default thinking of the future, and, historically speaking, that can be very dangerous to collective psyche.

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