My gods

doc savage
If you've read Last Call: how come the author didn't include this in the setting?

Given the density of references in the book, the only reason I can surmise is that Tim Powers knew this fact, and either decided that it matches his universe so well that it wouldn't be believable (even although it's true as far as I know), or decided it would be fun for readers to stumble on and be freaked out by.


Books! (Forms of Magic Edition)

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A Mencken Chrestomathy (H. L. Mencken, 2015/#7): The magic of the intimate essay. As pleasant, humane, and funny, as a classist, racist, undemocratic, gender essentialist can be. A problematic fave, as the vernacular goes.

The Secular Scripture (Northrop Frye, 2015/#8): The magic of the Romance. An interesting study and history of narrative patterns in fiction. (By the way, it would have been interesting to have this open while reading Last Call.)

Four Quartets (T. S. Eliot, 2015/#9): The magic of words. I've reread these poems many times, and they always look slightly different. This time I couldn't shake what Bloom would call a misreading. I had the strong impression that many of the poems were ironical, sometimes painfully or savagely so, specifically against any form of redemption. The little I know of Eliot's life doesn't make that a likely posture for him, and that hasn't been my reading in general, although, and still paraphrasing Bloom's critical tropes, if The Wasteland is Christian it's not any Christianity I ever heard of (it's not in vain that Eliot is perhaps the most quoted author in Last Call).

Vulcan's Hammer (Philip K. Dick, 2015/#10): The magic of, well, PKD's imagination, although in a very subdued and, again, weirdly optimistic key.

Spain's Road to Empire (Henry Kamen, 2015/#11): The magic of silver. A very interesting look at the Spanish Empire which shows (to paraphrase away from Voltaire what I think is the greatest political pun in history) how it was neither Spanish, not an Empire. Specifically, it makes a very good case for the Spanish Empire, even at the peak of its power, (a) having been an international endeavor (most of its soldiers were Italian, German, or native americans (funny how these labels are all anachronisms in one way or another), its technology was Italian and Dutch, its seed capital was also Italian and Dutch, etc), and (b) it never having exerted much effective power over the lands it nominally held empire over, which makes a lot of sense taking into account the distances, areas, technologies, and resources involved (16th/17th century Spain wasn't 16th/17th century Britain, much less 18th century Britain). It's quite a 21st century beast, with international flows of people, capital (including people-as-capital, i.e. slaves), commodities, and goods, loose centralized control, etc, although I think that's mostly an optical illusion caused by my intellectual grounding on the absolute historical novelty that are 20th century nation-states, which in general (except for growing exceptions) hold unheard-of power over their own territories).

The Rhesus Chart (Charlie Stross, 2015#12): The magic of maths (and magic). A good Laundry Files entry, and extremely readable (I read it in one sitting), although if Stross is very consistent about the logic of his universe, he also pulls no punches about the cost.

Last Call (Tim Powers, 2015/#13): The magic of cards (and magic). An interesting, dense universe, with a very unique form of almost-logic. A very enjoyable read, although the last, I don't know, 10% or so felt very rushed (absolutely consistent with the setup, but still). Also, I didn't like at all the way the book equated legitimacy with blood, although that also makes sense in the setup.


Books! (Mostly SF Edition)

doc savage
The Starry Rift (Ed. Jonathan Strahan, 2015/#2): A mostly solid collection of 2008 vintage science fiction.

El Laberinto del Universo: Borges y el pensamiento nominalista (Jaime Rest, 2015/#3): Relatively interesting if you're into Borges and his thoughts in and on philosophy, but a bit flat, and not recommended otherwise.

The Zap Gun (Philip K. Dick, 2015/#4): Quite a cheerful book by PKD's standards, even if it keeps to his framework of "man in meaningless high-powered professional situation critical to a highly structured and delusional world faces an existential, if not downright ontological, threat."

The 1979 Annual World's Best SF (Ed. Donald A. Wollheim, 2015/#5): An interesting collection; some of the stories (although not all) have aged quite well.

The Architecture of Happiness (Alain de Botton, 2015/#6): An intriguing book, with a pleasant self-deprecating tone that another author might have made shriller. If nothing else, it prompted me to look at and think about my new apartment with fresher eyes.


Just finished "Gravity's Rainbow"

doc savage
... I have no idea, really. It's Vonnegut without the humanity, or William Burroughs rewriting Philip K. Dick's version of a William Gibson cover of the Cryptonomicon.

I don't know. It's very well written, but it left an awful aftertaste in my brain. In any case, I was likely not in the right psychological state to tackle it, for the obvious friendslocked reasons. Anyway, that was 2015/#1 (and, yes, it did feel good to finally finish the first book of the year).


doc savage
The Occult Philosophy in the Elizabethan Age (Frances Yates, 2014/#63): A reread.

The Complete Short Stories (J. G. Ballard, 2014/#64): Much like Frank Herbert, Ballard wrote a single meta-story again and again and again, but it's such a weird, real, and relevant one, that he is probably one of the key imaginative authors of the late 20th century. He wrote, among other things, of the literal ending of time; we live in its perpetual acceleration, which might well be prelude, if not disguise.

Doc Savage: His Apocalyptic Life (Philip Jose Farmer, 2014/#65): A disappointment. A "real" biography of Doc Savage, it doesn't lack for factual detail, and has some critical analysis of both practicalities and personalities, but I guess the state of the art in factual-like crossover construction has just improved significantly since the mid-70's.


Books! (Why Read It, Why Not Edition)

doc savage
Upgraded (Ed Neil Clarke, 2014/#63): Why read it: Some good science fiction tales around the concept of cyborgs. Why not: A bit uneven in quality; some of the stories are trying too hard to say something about the theme, if you know what I mean.

The Shadow of a Great Rock (Harold Bloom, 2014/#64): Why read it: It's Bloom writing about the Old Testament. Why not: It's Bloom writing about the Old Testament.

War Stories (Eds Andrew Liptak and Jaym Gates, 2014/#65): Why read it: Cf "Upgraded." Why not: Cf "Upgraded."

Reading the Sphinx (Lynn Parramore, 2014/#66): Why read it: There's more of Egypt in the present than we usually think, and most of it came through only recently. Why not: The interesting bits are outside the books' thesis, and I don't find the (vague) thesis very interesting.

Blood Meridian (Cormac McCarthy, 2014/#67): Why read it: The language and grammar are unexpectedly beautiful, at once rich and spare. Why not: All of the events and most of the characters are irredeemably awful.

The Peripheral (William Gibson, 2014/#68): Why read it: It's Gibson - his futures are more real and richer than most journalists' presents. Why not: It's Gibson - you could put most of the deep weird ideas in a couple of pages; the rest is masterful ambiance (we are all still living in one of his books, sort of, remember?), but I get at times tired of it.

The Madness of Cthulu (Ed S. T. Joshi, 2014/#69): Why read it: It's a collection of stories (mostly) around At the Mountains of Madess, which is one of Lovecraft's most interesting settings. Why not: Not all of the stories are interesting, and many of them carry through the contents of the setting without the weirdness and strangeness. Note that to do this you *must* extend the universe without explaining it, as by now Lovecraft's ideas are almost quotidian as a fictional setting.

Moriarty (Anthony Horowitz, 2014/#70): Why read it: Because Moriarty. Why not: It's not a very good version of Moriarty. Kim Newman's is much better IMHO.


Books! (Merchants and Conquerors Edition)

doc savage
The Grand Strategy of the Byzantine Empire (Edward Luttwak, 2014/#58): A reread. A very illuminating look at a place and period we Westerners (just look at the term!) tend to gloss over.

Blindsight (Peter Watts, 2014/#59): A reread. One of the best contemporary SF books, IMHO. A fascinating version of vampires, a well thought-out future, and some of the most alien aliens you'll ever find.

The Phantom City (Kenneth Robeson, 2014/#60): The usual Doc Savage yarn.

Enrico Dandolo and the Rise of Venice (Thomas Madden, 2014/#61): A fascinating look at medieval Venice through the family of the most famous Venetian of the age. For someone as interested on the Fourth Crusade as I am, this couldn't but be a delightful book.

The Honourable Company (John Keay, 2014/#62): A history of the East India Company that does everything it can to *not* see it as essentially the forerunner of the British Raj. I found it very interesting, not the least because of the way it weaves thorough so many other things.


Books! (History and Alternates Edition)

doc savage
Creating the Twentieth Century (Vaclav Smil, 2014/#56): A very good book on a very important and understudied period of our recent history; his thesis that the last generation or two before WWI saw a technological leap still unmatched is quite convincing.

What If? (Randall Munroe, 2014/#57): If you've read xkcd, you need no other enticement.


Books! (More Poetry Edition)

doc savage
The Figured Wheel (Robert Pinsky, 2014/#55): I didn't like most of the poems (except a couple I just posted) but Pinsky has nice turns of phrase and a keen eye for the moment (then what is missing? maybe what Linda Pastan described in Dickinson: the sheer sanity of vision, the serious mischief of language, the economy of pain; maybe it's just a matter of my idiosyncratic preference for density and conciseness). Perhaps my favorite part of the book was his short story in prose, Jesus and Isolt which I think is very good.


doc savage
Essential Dickinson (Emily Dickinson, 2014/#54): A frequent reread. I cried, which doesn't happen to me often while reading.


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