Re: Foster Care

1

I couldn't stand the one DFW book I read, so I'm off that bandwagon before it's even leaving the station.

This summer, I'm reading War and Peace because Russia invaded my cute little country last summer. I'll probably also read a bunch of shorter stuff, just so that I can take breaks from Mr T and stay confused about who is who all the way through W&P.


Posted by: Doug | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 6:38 AM
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This is a book I would never recommend to anyone. It's absurdly long and quite pointless.

I liked it a lot, though. I remember reading somewhere that Catch-22 was turned down by many publishers, one of whom argued that it was a one-joke book. I think this is true of Catch-22 and true of Infinite Jest - and the joke in Jest is essentially a practical joke on the reader.

It all just depends, I think, on whether you like the joke.


Posted by: politicalfootball | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 6:40 AM
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I'm not sure what case you're asking to be made. It was a fun read. Long, to be sure, but still fun. I didn't find it much English major-y but YMMV, I guess.

All the same, I think The Broom of the System is probably an easier place to start. Also fun.


Posted by: apostropher | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 6:43 AM
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I liked it a lot. It is massively long, and flawed and all that. But it is beautifully written in places, and genuinely funny/affecting. I don't think it's actually that pretentious -- it's just big, and a bit silly.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 6:47 AM
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Because it's there.


Posted by: cleek | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 6:51 AM
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Because we live here!


Posted by: minneapolitan | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 7:08 AM
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Is DFW the thinking man's Neal Stephenson?


Posted by: Gonerill | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 7:14 AM
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Also, I recently asked a 9-year-old of my acquaintance what she was reading (her father's girlfriend often asks for book recommendations on Facebook, so I was wondering what had percolated up to her attention). She looked at me and sighed and said "Well, I'm reading several books right now. One is about dragons and princesses and then there are three others that I've started. I'm not sure when I'll finish them."
You and me both, sister.


Posted by: minneapolitan | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 7:15 AM
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Neal Stephenson was the thinking man's Neal Stephenson for a couple of books.


Posted by: minneapolitan | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 7:16 AM
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I thought it was great right up to the end, when I became enraged and developed a personal grudge against Wallace. By great, I mean enjoyable, rather than a well thought out opinion of its literary merits. The structure of the book is a set of goofy stunts (e.g., the advertising based chronology), but if you aren't bothered by working through that, I'd say it's worth reading -- I'm contemplating going back for another go at it.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 7:18 AM
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I feel slightly bad about this, but its been years since I've read any fiction written in the past 50 years that didn't involve at least one wizard. I've tried several times to read Infinite Jest and never gotten past the first chapter. Various Michael Chabon books sit unread on the shelf. Other authors pile up in my Amazon cart, never to be ordered.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 7:22 AM
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Re: Stephenson: I'd never read him before, and I've just recently picked up Cryptonomicon. I'm 150 pages in and so far I'm fairly disappointed. (I'd heard nothing but great things, although not from anyone whose book opinions I'm familiar with/trust.) If it's not going to get better, someone please let me know now.


Posted by: Brock Landers | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 7:23 AM
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re: 11

Really? I think Chabon is really accessible. The Yiddish Policeman's Union, for example, can't be much less accessible than stuff with wizards in it?


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 7:24 AM
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I think Infinite Book is great. The important thing to remember is that it is really funny. Its not a one joke book at all, although the humor has a consistent style. I liked the ending to--and the overall structure. Genuinely moving.

Reactions to Infinite Jest are similar to reactions to Charlie Kaufman movies. Some people think "pretentious and arty" and others think "clever and funny." The big difference, I think, are your expectations about how to appreciate irony and self reference. Some people think English Class. Other people think Monty Python.


Posted by: rob helpy-chalk | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 7:26 AM
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Various Michael Chabon books sit unread on the shelf.

For some reason I initially read "Chabon" as "Crichton", which made this sort of a weird comment.


Posted by: Brock Landers | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 7:26 AM
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The Yiddish Policeman's Union, for example, can't be much less accessible than stuff with wizards in it?

Duller. YPU seemed like a not terribly interesting character-driven detective novel, because too much of the energy was taken up by the counterfactual history, and like a pretty low-quality alternate universe novel, because there wasn't enough thought given to probabilities. Seriously, the premise of the book is that a sizable population that's been in one place for fifty years is going to be deported en masse, and there's not a war expected?


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 7:28 AM
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I liked Infinite Jest when I read it back in 2001 (a friend of mine had brought it to Beijing so he'd have something in English to read. Why Infinite Jest, I asked. Because it was the longest novel I could find, he said.) It was kind of sad in that DFW way, I liked the stuff about Alcoholics Anonymous, it wasn't quite as full of depoliticized bourgeois regret as most of his shorter work. (I've just realized that I have trouble alternating between typing DFH and DFW...) If you want to read some DFW just for the sake of it, though, I recommend Girl With Curious Hair. It's more affected and pre-moral-epiphany, but to me the short stories have this weird baffled rage that is oddly taking.

This summer I am reading David Peace. GB84, about the miner's strike, is really depressing and just makes me hate Margaret Thatcher even more than I already did, plus it's cured me of affection for Arthur Scargill. I may go through and read/listen to its bibliography before I read anything else, though. My bed time reading for the week is Power of Three, a charming children's book by Diana Wynn Jones. I'm also planning to start Filter House, the most recent Tiptree winner, by Nisi Shawl. It's from my favorite publisher in all the world, Aqueduct Press, which has an amazingly speedy fulfillment arm (which arm, I choose to believe, belongs to L Timmel DuChamp herself).


Posted by: Frowner | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 7:30 AM
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13: That's what people keep telling me. For Chabon, I'd been meaning to start with "Mysteries of Pittsburgh" solely on account of geography. I don't think the issue is accessibility, as much as the fact that work and toddler-herding have shortened my attention span to the point where either somebody has to be paying me or the plot has to move very quickly.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 7:30 AM
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12: All that happens in Cyptonomicon is various unexpected stuff happens to the main character, who reacts to it, interspersed with lectures on random things. Unless you enjoy spending time with the main character, or you like the lectures, I'd put it down and start something fresh. I didn't mind it, but I like lectures.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 7:32 AM
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I thought it was great right up to the end, when I became enraged and developed a personal grudge against Wallace.

Heh. This is what I meant by "practical joke on the reader." That was my initial reaction, too - a predictable reaction for anyone who is the victim of a practical joke. But the more I thought about it, the more I admired the joke.


Posted by: politicalfootball | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 7:33 AM
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I haven't read the book, or any DFW for that matter, but what's wrong with "literary and English major-y"? We are talking about a work of English literature, after all.


Posted by: Ginger Yellow | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 7:33 AM
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re: 16

Really? I found it fun, and I've read a lot of alternative universe fiction, and I liked a fair bit of the conceptual stuff he'd put in -- the Orthodox mobsters, etc.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 7:33 AM
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I've been reading the goddam internet. Can't recommend it.


Posted by: CharleyCarp | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 7:34 AM
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A thousand pages1 ÷ 92 days = 75 pages a week. No sweat.

If I'm reading a book that slowly, it probably means I don't like it much, and won't make it to the end.

I had my Infinite Summer twelve years ago.

Right now I'm reading Roberto Bolaño's 2666 and loving it.

Which is not entirely unrelated to Infinite Summer! Jonathan Lethem writes that

Bolaño seems to stand "in relation to the generation of García Márquez, Vargas Llosa and Fuentes as, say, David Foster Wallace does to Mailer, Updike and Roth."

Posted by: Blume | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 7:35 AM
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Looks fun. That's the only "literary" reason to read anything.


Posted by: DS | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 7:36 AM
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22: Didn't you have plausibility problems with the premise? They're literally all going to have to leave Alaska?


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 7:38 AM
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re: 26

Not really. Things like that have happened -- it happened to the British with Hong Kong and that was only 10 years ago* -- soit didn't interfere with my suspension of disbelief.

* the lease expired, we gave it back, etc.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 7:40 AM
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There weren't mass deportations of people without citizenship elsewhere, though.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 7:41 AM
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Cryptonomicon: The denoument is one of the most horrifically racist pieces of writing I've ever read. And I think it's more or less unconcious, which is even creepier.

The "good" Neal Stephenson: Zodiac is solid, the first part of Snowcrash is brilliant, and much of The Diamond Age is funny and inventive, if you can read around the Orientalism.

Chabon: All I've read is Gentlemen of the Road, and if the rest of it is anything like that, I'm not prepared to be impressed. Twee as hell, and one-note.


Posted by: minneapolitan | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 7:41 AM
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Twee as hell, and one-note.

Good summary. The literary stylin' is has a constant air of self-congratulation.


Posted by: PGD | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 7:43 AM
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11: Try Kavalier and Clay; they're almost as good as wizards. Plus intimations of a golem. (Clay golem, presumably, for people who care about that sort of thing.)

24: Tell more! 2666 looked really interesting, but either there wasn't enough room left in the luggage, or I could only find German versions, I forget exactly what the problem was.

Anyone read the English version of The Kindly Ones?


Posted by: Doug | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 7:43 AM
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whoops.

I got through five pages of Infinite Jest. Perhaps I'll read another five pages this summer!


Posted by: PGD | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 7:44 AM
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Chabon's Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Klay is absolutely sterling, I'd recommend it to anyone. Comics lovers will get an extra layer of fun out of it, but you don't have to be one. (He unfortunately seemed to think the mere notion of "Jews with swords" was going to carry Gentlemen of the Road across the finish line; meh, the concept wasn't as novel to me as it seemed to be to him.)

I've never understood how anyone, ever, made it to the end of Cryptonomicon. It lost me with the agonizing "liberal dinner party" scene.


Posted by: DS | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 7:45 AM
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"Plus intimations of a golem."

Precioussssss. No, that's back to wizards.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 7:45 AM
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33: I've never understood how anyone, ever, made it to the end of Cryptonomicon.
I'd bought it when it came out, read the first couple hundred pages, gotten super bored, and then it sat on my bedroom floor, staring reproachfully at me. Then I read the remainder in a month. I believe it was a Sunday.


Posted by: minneapolitan | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 7:48 AM
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I've never understood how anyone, ever, made it to the end of Cryptonomicon. It lost me with the agonizing "liberal dinner party" scene.

It lost me well before that, but that was plenty awful. Fuck--I hate hate hate putting down unfinished books, but everything I'm reading here confirms my initial impressions. Why didn't any of you warn me in advance?


Posted by: Brock Landers | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 7:48 AM
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I thought the book was funny, with lots of striking sections, but not really worth the investment. Also, Alcoholics Anonymous the most overrated organization in America.

12: Then toss it now. The beginning is the best part.


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 7:49 AM
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Maybe I'll read Wallace instead.


Posted by: Brock Landers | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 7:50 AM
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re: 28

In Europe, with ethnic cleansing [after WWII and after the breakup of the Soviet Union], and histories of changing borders and mass deportations it doesn't seem at all implausible to me. Americans are ... isolated.

Think, for example, of the Sudeten Germans, in the late 40s.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 7:54 AM
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Brock: There's a scene near the end of Cryptonomicon where one of the characters meets Douglas MacArthur that's mildly amusing. Skip to that, and then call it good.


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 7:55 AM
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Tell more! 2666 looked really interesting

I knew nothing about it when I started -- got it as a Christmas present, and having been submerged in dissertationland, I didn't even know that the book was a Big Deal. The beginning struck me as somewhat Borgesian, focusing on several characters' encounters with the books of a famously reclusive author, spinning out the tales of how all these made-up texts relate to each other, but always anchored in recognizable bits of reality.

The book manages to be both epic and mundane at the same time. The writing isn't flashy at all, and its matter-of-fact observations make me laugh out loud at least every few pages. Almost black humor but not quite.


Posted by: Blume | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 7:56 AM
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Brock, if you've never read any DFW, this book of essays (especially the title essay and the one about the Iowa state fair - both laugh out loud funny) is a good place to start without signing on for a thousand pages.

I only made it through the first few chapters of Cryptonomicon myself, but I'm bad about putting books down and never picking them up again.


Posted by: apostropher | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 7:58 AM
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39: Right, Americans are certainly... isolated. But YPU had Americans doing the deporting, with only vaguely drawn political motivations. And there wasn't any expectation of violence? I'm not saying it couldn't have been made plausible, I just don't think it was.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 7:59 AM
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I didn't mind Crypotnomicon. It's flawed but the fun bits outweighed the flaws for me. He's definitely been on a downward trajectory from Snow Crash onwards, though. I gave up on the Baroque nonsense.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 7:59 AM
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Chabon's Summerland is great, but probably only if you like baseball. It has all sorts of fairy-types, which I don't care for, but the baseball pulled me through.

I've liked everything of his, but haven't read YPU or Gentlemen (don't even think I'd heard of that one).


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 8:00 AM
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enough room left in the luggage

Isn't this a problem with Infinite Jest as a summer read for anyone who has to get on a plane? I've been planning on reading it for ages, so I'll sign on, but no way am I taking it back east.


Posted by: Jesus McQueen | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 8:01 AM
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"I gave up on the Baroque nonsense."

So did most architects, which is too bad.


Posted by: | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 8:01 AM
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Cryptonomicon: The denoument is one of the most horrifically racist pieces of writing I've ever read.

Wait, what? Which part? I'll gladly be the one person to stand up for Cryptonomicon.

(The Baroque Cycle, now, that sucked.)


Posted by: mrh | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 8:01 AM
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41: Have you gotten to the part about the crimes yet?


Posted by: peep | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 8:01 AM
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47 was me. Sorry.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 8:01 AM
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It lost me with the agonizing "liberal dinner party" scene.

I find that kind of thing sort of fascinating, as insight into how people who have contempt for the left see it. Same as reading right wing blogs.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 8:02 AM
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and histories of changing borders and mass deportations

On the other hand, the US was basically built on changing borders and mass deportations. It's a central feature of a significant percentage of the total history of the country. So it's a little weird that Americans are 'isolated' in this sense.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 8:02 AM
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Other great Chabon includes The Final Solution which was really, really good.


Posted by: mrh | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 8:03 AM
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Both Summerland and Adventures of Kavalier and Clay disappointed me. As did Infinite Jest. Apparently my expectations are too high, and no existing novel is good enough for me.


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 8:04 AM
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re; 43

Again, I don't think that it was really that egregious. In practice, these things don't always go violently. It's made pretty clear that the population of Sitka is small. We are talking about a large town, not a nation state of millions. I don't know how many British citizens repatriated in 1997 but I'd bet it was a fair few, or how many people left South Africa after the end of apartheid, or left various African nations at the end of colonialism. Not all of those mass movements of people were riddled with violence.

Or, to take an even closer analogy -- Idi Amin's expulsion of the Ugandan Asians. Who overwhelmingly moved here.

I think it's not at all crazy that something like that could happen: they have.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 8:04 AM
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Stephenson has some good moments, it just isn't more than 10% of the total. And he can't finish a story to save his life.

With a really brutal editor, the Baroque cycle would have made a good book, I think.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 8:05 AM
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re; 51

I agree it was excruciating and the accusations of Mary-Sue-ism levelled at Stephenson are pretty fair.

But, honestly, I've been party to a few conversations of that type. Just as there are boorish, arse-wipe right-wingers out there, there are also insensitive unthinking 'liberals' just as prone to group-think and cant.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 8:06 AM
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LB, in addition to the examples already given, the 1,800 Chagos Islands residents of Diego Garcia were deported en masse by the British government so their home could be turned into a US airfield. No war.


Posted by: Ginger Yellow | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 8:07 AM
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Have you gotten to the part about the crimes yet?

I'm most of the way through the second book. So the crimes have been mentioned, and are hovering there around the edges.


Posted by: Blume | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 8:07 AM
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52: Kind of. Mass deportation of people with noplace else obvious to go to happens, but it's a very hostile act, and one that's often related to racial or ethnic hatred of the deportees. Americans practiced ethnic cleansing of Native Americans, because they viewed them in some way as less than human.

What were American attitudes toward European Jews supposed to be in YPU, that mass deportations were okay?


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 8:07 AM
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55: Did the chess problem from Nabukov strike you as a little far-fetched?


Posted by: peep | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 8:07 AM
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42: Due warning, my review of that book of essays was going to be titled "A Supposedly Good Author I Will Never Read Again," but there wasn't really anything to add to the title. Although I suppose it spares you the full thousand-page business.


Posted by: Doug | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 8:08 AM
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55 yeah, the premise isnt' that flaky.

Put it another way, it's a far smaller population that the population of Japanese Americans who were disenfranchised in the US in WWII and removed from their homes. And that population by and large quietly went to the camps.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 8:08 AM
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re: 60

It's not always though. In the case of some of the post-colonial migrations people left or were expelled because of resource conflicts and conflicts over political power that were quite independent of any 'hatred'. There's a reasonable amount of residual affection in some places for the previous colonial overlords.

58 is a very good example.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 8:10 AM
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63: I may have misunderstood how big the population was supposed to be -- I had thought we were in the million or so range. Still, it's not that mass deportations never happen, it's that it seemed really implausibly undermotivated.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 8:11 AM
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Can we exclusively bag on Stephenson in this thread, please? I hated the Cryptowankicon, but presumed I was a sad loner exiled from my own culture. Things to despise:

1. The grating American-centricness of it all.
2. How wanking won the war.
3. Real Men.


Posted by: W. Breeze | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 8:12 AM
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Well, 58 would have been implausible in the absence of racism, I'd think.

In the case of some of the post-colonial migrations people left or were expelled because of resource conflicts and conflicts over political power that were quite independent of any 'hatred'.

People without citizenship anyplace else?


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 8:12 AM
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The only Stephenson book I've read was "Quicksilver". Which I really really enjoyed. Why haven't I read the other two? Well, by the time the second one came out I had forgot everything that happened in the first one, except "A woman knows how to induce orgasm by massaging the prostate and thus became the mistress of William of Orange. And there is a prominent Boston family named Waterhouse."


Posted by: Cryptic ned | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 8:13 AM
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I read the liberal dinner party scene while staying with a friend in Berkeley, so I have to concur with ttaM.


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 8:13 AM
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My copy of IJ arrived yesterday. I admit I ordered it after seeing that Infinite Summer website, but I can't be bothered to stick to a schedule.


Posted by: Bave Dee | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 8:13 AM
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What were American attitudes toward European Jews supposed to be in YPU

"Not my problem", I think, which is not implausible. I forget the details of what they were going to do, but it didn't sound entirely plausible.

From another direction, much of the history of the European Jews is the process of being kicked out of different countries. Sometimes told nicely to leave, sometimes violently thrown out, but always shifted about. Chabon may have been riffing on that idea as well, and perhaps implicitly claiming that the US wasn't necessarily so different. Remember, this is basically a town. It isn't plausible that Americans would quietly accept a call to throw all the Jews out of the country, but closing down a little town in the middle of nowhere doesn't seem to be the sort of thing that would raise too many eyebrows.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 8:13 AM
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59: I should have put it in quotes -- "The Part about the Crimes" is the title of the 4th (I think) book -- not to go into it, but much as I ultimately loved the book, I hesitate to recommend it because of that section which I found almost physically painful to read.


Posted by: peep | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 8:14 AM
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According to some random Amazon review, Sitka was supposed to have a population of two million.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 8:14 AM
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65: Maybe I should just read the book (RTFYPU), but if you say the departations are undermotivated, that seems to imply that the Jewish settlement in Alaska was sufficiently explained. Which leaves me curious as to how that was explained. I'm aware that there were lots of proposals for Jewish settlement in various improbable locations, but Alaska?


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 8:15 AM
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re: 67

Well, the Ugandan Asians.

I don't get why you need the parallel to be absolutely exact. There are lots of loosely analogous situations. Enough that I don't get why the Sitka fictional situation should be so ruinously implausible.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 8:15 AM
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74: Apparently it was a real proposal.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 8:16 AM
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Why is Alaska more improbable than Birobidzhan?


Posted by: Cryptic ned | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 8:18 AM
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I actually agree with 51 to some extent, and wouldn't have minded the scene if I didn't already dislike the book by the time I reached it. I wasn't through the first chapter of Cryptonomicom before the author's obviously hugely inflated ego began to grate. I'm pretty sure I'd find a conversation with Stephenson more or less insufferable, and the fact that this shines so clearly through his prose is my major complaint.


Posted by: Brock Landers | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 8:18 AM
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77 also a good point.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 8:19 AM
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Enough that I don't get why the Sitka fictional situation should be so ruinously implausible.

It's that the tone of it clanged -- there wasn't any picture of what the hell could have been going on in the US that creating two million refugees for no particularly good reason made sense. The writing was just "Well, the lease is up, gotta leave. No crime against humanity happening here."

Idi Amin was generally recognized as crazy evil; I don't know anything about the expulsion of the Ugandan Asians, but that's a crazy evil thing to do. Crazy evil things happen in the world, and that could have been what YPU was about, but they don't generally happen that calmly.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 8:20 AM
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I'm currently stalled in YPS, but I thought the deportation was planned but people weren't panicked that it would actually come to pass.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 8:20 AM
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Also, if I remember correctly LB, the setup in the book was that Sitka was proposed as a temporary position under a 50 (60?) year lease or something, and the population swelled due to the collapse of Israel.

So it's less "let's kick them out" and more "the lease is running out". Put in that sense, with a clear set of property rights belonging to others who have plans for the place, I can certainly see a lot of Americans going along with it. Some would agitate for finding a new place for them, or raising money to buy out whatever interests, but I doubt many would thing it was inherently wrong to ask them to leave at the end of the agreement.

I could be misremembering though, it's been a while.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 8:21 AM
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72: Ohh, right. I just looked at the table of contents the other night, and saw that, but forgot it in my excitement about the Archimboldi section at the end.

I've already been having unsettling dreams about the book, which I read before bed. Maybe I'll have to start reading it earlier in the day.


Posted by: Blume | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 8:22 AM
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Gaddis and Pynchon are each better. Patches of IJ were very nice, but I'd rather reread JR or A Frolic of His Own than this. I reread Gravity's Rainbow a couple of years ago-- it's a young person's book, doesn't age all that well.

But a collective online reading of a second-choice book would be fun, almost enough of a motivator.

Lincoln proposed voluntary deportation to Africa as a solution for freed slaves, with freedom purchased by the federal gov't, to gain the votes of the border states. The border state legislators did not go for it.


Posted by: lw | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 8:24 AM
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48: It's within the realm of possibility that Stephenson had completed some kind of literary brainwashing on me by that point, and my understanding of the basic plot was compromised, but didn't the part at the end of Cryptonomicon where the good, capitalist-imperialist white people do something really, really disgustingly awful to the bad, imperialist non-white people strike you as a little bit racist? Especially when one of the million little sub-subplots is (ostensibly) about resistance to genocide? I know some people are still sensitive about "spoilers", so I won't go into it more. Though how you could spoil something as awful as the end of Cryptonomicon is beyond me.


Posted by: minneapolitan | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 8:24 AM
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Gaddis and Pynchon are each better. Patches of IJ were very nice, but I'd rather reread JR or A Frolic of His Own than this.

I looked at those books once. They aren't even written in sentences!


Posted by: Cryptic ned | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 8:25 AM
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there wasn't any picture of what the hell could have been going on in the US that creating two million refugees

But they weren't refugees from the US, they were the refugees from Europe and later Israel, right?

I never go the sense that it was particularly implausible for these people to have left Sitka and applied for US citizenship under the usual process if they'd chosen to.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 8:25 AM
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er, I mean paragraphs


Posted by: | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 8:25 AM
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I confess that I no longer trust the mineshaft to recommend books that are easy enough for me to get immersed in.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 8:25 AM
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re: 84

Pynchon is up and down for me. Crying of Lot 49, and V - yes. Gravity's Rainbow, and Mason Dixon, no. I like Vineland a lot, though, and I know a lot of people don't.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 8:26 AM
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Put in that sense, with a clear set of property rights belonging to others who have plans for the place, I can certainly see a lot of Americans going along with it. Some would agitate for finding a new place for them, or raising money to buy out whatever interests, but I doubt many would thing it was inherently wrong to ask them to leave at the end of the agreement.

That's how it was written, as if it was unlikely that people would think that the deportation was inherently wrong. But think about that. You've got a population of millions who have been allowed to live on your territory for fifty years, and they have no legal right to live anywhere else, and you're going to expel them because their lease is up? That's crazy, in the absence of real hatred or dehumanization. And what "plans for the place" are we talking about, given that whatever absentee owners we're talking about (I don't remember the legal details of the lease, but wasn't it a lease from the US government?) haven't been using the place for fifty years.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 8:26 AM
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re: 89

IIRC, in previous threads people have recommended easy reading? I mostly read good genre fiction rather than literary stuff, so can probably recommend tons of chewing gum fiction.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 8:27 AM
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I confess that I no longer trust the mineshaft to recommend books that are easy enough for me to get immersed in.

Read The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, if you haven't already. That was the first book in years during which I didn't flip forward to find out what was going to happen.


Posted by: Blume | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 8:28 AM
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I've already been having unsettling dreams about the book, which I read before bed. Maybe I'll have to start reading it earlier in the day.

That sounds like a good idea.


Posted by: peep | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 8:29 AM
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The whole Smiley trilogy, Tinker Tailor, Smiley's People, and the Honorable Schoolboy, is excellent too. I haven't liked Le Carre's recent stuff nearly as much.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 8:29 AM
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(YPU wasn't that bad, and I read plenty of things more implausible than that -- largely with wizards in them. That issue just clanged really badly for me.)


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 8:34 AM
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91: Did you really find the book plausible enough enough to even think about this so seriously?
For me the the book was about Chabon doing a mash-up of Chandler, Dick and a bunch of Yiddish writers and exploring some ideas about diaspora and the messiah.


Posted by: peep | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 8:34 AM
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91: But without a champion and a public voice, I can't see many people getting too worked up about it. And if my (fuzzy) memory recalls correctly, most of the population didn't feel it was a terrible wrong, they had just varying levels of planning for the eventuality and it was sneaking up on everyone. A little fanatastical, sure? Wildly implausible? i dunno.

It's a stylistic device of course, that he needed to create the noir-ish falling apart feel to the place. But it just didn't strike me as so terribly unlikely. Americans are by and large happy to remain mostly indifferent to the travails of many, certainly including those in US territories or are otherwise fundamentally affected by US policy. All that is needed is a popular sense that they are somehow 'other' in order to ignore it. Which doesn't mean that nobody cares if the issue is carefully laid out for them, it's more that ignorance is bliss or whatever.

Perhaps Alaska just seems a little too close to home to you for this to work, but I'm not convinced.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 8:34 AM
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"In a hole in the ground, there lived a Yiddish policeman."


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 8:35 AM
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In a similar spy genre, there's the original Eric Ambler stuff, and, as a modern twist on the same sort of material, Alan Furst.

Furst is a bit inconsistent for me, but his very best stuff is great. Dark Star; Night Soldiers, etc. Basically the first five or six of that series, is well worth a go.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alan_Furst#Night_Soldiers_novels

I've recommended a book by Guiseppe Genna called 'In the Name of Ishmael' a few times, which is a sort of occult spy thriller set in Italy and surrounding P2 type machinations in the 60s through to the 90s. Lovely prose, quite dark. Fairly 'literary' for a thriller but still a page turner.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 8:35 AM
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97: Exactly. He pushed things a little bit there, but it wasn't terribly important I thought.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 8:36 AM
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I don't know why, but this talk of Chabon's book has reminded me of Russel Hobans "The Lion of Boaz Jachin and Jachin Boaz", too.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 8:39 AM
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er, Chabon's book(s), I mean. I don't think there is anything particular tying it to YPU.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 8:39 AM
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books that are easy enough for me to get immersed in

Jonathan Lethem.


Posted by: apostropher | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 8:39 AM
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For me the the book was about Chabon doing a mash-up of Chandler, Dick and a bunch of Yiddish writers and exploring some ideas about diaspora and the messiah.

That sound awful. But the rest of the thread makes it sound like a great read!


Posted by: Cryptic ned | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 8:41 AM
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I confess that I no longer trust the mineshaft to recommend books that are easy enough for me to get immersed in.

The the change you want to see in the Mineshaft, Heebie. What should I read?


Posted by: Berock Landers | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 8:43 AM
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Erm, Be the change...


Posted by: Brock Landers | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 8:44 AM
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Berock Obama's Dreams From My Father is accessible.


Posted by: Cryptic ned | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 8:44 AM
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104: I love, love, love It's Always Sunny, btw.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 8:44 AM
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I will henceforth think of you as Barack Landers.


Posted by: apostropher | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 8:45 AM
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The the change you want to see in the Mineshaft, Heebie. What should I read?

Obviously.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 8:45 AM
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110: The world's best advice columnist.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 8:46 AM
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easy

Graham Greene, Donald Westlake, Goscinny and Uderzo.


Posted by: lw | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 8:46 AM
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A little fanatastical, sure? Wildly implausible? i dunno.

There's a Chesterton quote I like that seems applicable:

It really is more natural to believe a preternatural story, that deals with things we don't understand, than a natural story that contradicts things we do understand. Tell me that the great Mr Gladstone, in his last hours, was haunted by the ghost of Parnell, and I will be agnostic about it. But tell me that Mr Gladstone, when first presented to Queen Victoria, wore his hat in her drawing-room and slapped her on the back and offered her a cigar, and I am not agnostic at all. That is not impossible; it's only incredible. But I'm much more certain it didn't happen than that Parnell's ghost didn't appear; because it violates the laws of the world I do understand.

The end of the lease was going to create a million or more refugees literate in a European language who had been living in a developed country for fifty years. I just can't believe that wouldn't be a worldwide outrage. Maybe the background assumption was of a much more anti-Semitic world than we have now, but there wasn't any of that made explicit.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 8:47 AM
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What should I read?

What to Expect When You're Expecting.


Posted by: apostropher | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 8:47 AM
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What to Expect When You're Expecting.

The easier you are, the better a choice it is.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 8:48 AM
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The world's best advice columnist.

The little known half-brother of the Landers sisters, whose column was cut early for being too hopeful and concilatory.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 8:49 AM
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This has already been well covered, but I found Cryptonomicon loathsome and resent Stephenson for putting the lovely Alan Turing into such a shitty wankfest.

I endorse the Le Carre suggestions already made here. (I also very much like Little Drummer Girl and A Perfect Spy, among others. I haven't read the new one yet, because it's not out in paperback in the US.)

Furst is inconsistent for me even within books. Most of Night Soldiers, for instance, is wonderful, but there are also many bits that dragged for me.


Posted by: redfoxtailshrub | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 8:51 AM
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114: We're just coming down on different sides of whether or not the Chesterton quote really applies, I think.

It would perhaps be interesting to know how implausible the scattered families of european jews found it, rather than you and I.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 8:52 AM
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Graduate school killed pleasure reading for me, or it redefined "pleasure reading" as "philosophical things that are not the subject of my dissertation" or "other nonfiction." And I like fiction! I just never get to it.

Still, there's really no risk in deciding to read a book, even if the book turns out to be meta-pretentious.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 8:52 AM
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Still, there's really no risk in deciding to read a book, even if the book turns out to be meta-pretentious.

Except when you have an annoying inability to not finish the damn things.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 8:53 AM
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93: Okay, I ordered it. If it's not good, I'm coming for you, buster.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 8:53 AM
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Good timing Blume. If she doesn't like it, you might still be able to outrun her for a little while yet. Especially if she has to carry HP.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 8:55 AM
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I also have a deep and abiding love for Harry Crews, whose books are not at all dense but deeply twisted.


Posted by: apostropher | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 8:57 AM
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If I'm reading a book that slowly, it probably means I don't like it much, and won't make it to the end.

I'm making much slower progress through Bleak House, but that's only because I can only get myself to pick it up somewhat infrequently because I've lost the habit of reading (!1!!!) and I feel as if I should be working all the time (this again!).


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 8:57 AM
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Graduate school killed pleasure reading for me, or it redefined "pleasure reading"

For me it redefined it toward plot-driven novels and non-fiction. I don't want to pay attention to language in my pleasure reading.


Posted by: Blume | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 8:58 AM
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122: You could try the library. I like that for new authors as the due date makes me either read it or dump it quickly.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 8:58 AM
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124 was supposed to contain this link.


Posted by: apostropher | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 8:58 AM
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Also, Michael Chabon's review of Lush Life made me instantly not want to read any of his fiction.


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 9:00 AM
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re: 120

I went the other way. I used to read a lot of philosophy, for no other reason than I found it interesting, and also a fair bit of fairly high-brow literature. During the last couple of years of the doctorate I rarely read philosophy that wasn't tangentially connected to my thesis, as I was all 'philosophied out' on a lot of stuff. So I read TONS of lighter reading during down-time. Nothing but thrillers and crime fiction, and the odd non-genre novel.

Now that the doctorate is finished, I'm reading a lot more high-brow stuff: other philosophy, including dipping toes into various non-analytic/continental things again; and a lot of art/architecture criticism, that sort of stuff; and my taste in novels is opening back up to include more consciously literary stuff again.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 9:01 AM
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It doesn't really make sense that the Sitkan Jews of Chabon's timeline be without a champion and a public voice unless the American Jewry of Chabon's timeline is supposed to be significantly less active and visible and more anemic than in our own.

The plausibility problem with YPU is really in its premise, though. In order for territorialism to triumph in any alternate history, you have to fundamentally change the realities of the British Empire in the Middle East; they were interested for decades in fostering Zionism in Palestine as a means of buffering their own occupation of Egypt (and the Suez Canal, the key route to their possessions in India), keeping the Turks and the Germans out of Palestine, and "easing" the Jewish "problem" in Eastern Europe. (At least so argues Isaiah Friedman in The Question of Palestine, fairly convincingly, I think.) So long as that was the case, nobody was ever going to get excited or actually do anything about territorialism; the Jews weren't exactly eager to be shipped off to forgotten tracts of wilderness with no religious significance to them, and nobody else was really all that eager to bring in millions of Jews to their own countries.


Posted by: DS | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 9:01 AM
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Pwned by Blume in 126.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 9:01 AM
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127: But the library is all the way at the end of the block! Whereas the internet is right here.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 9:02 AM
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No one took up my suggestion of Borges and the Eternal Orangutans, huh? Look, it's good!


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 9:04 AM
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Yes, Donald Westlake! Try a Dortmunder book, like The Hot Rock. I swear that there is nothing hard about it.

If you want a non-genre book, may I recommend I Capture the Castle? I've just been re-reading it and was reminded of how very good it is. The narrator is one of two teenaged daughters of a formerly great modernist novelist, who has been suffering from writer's block ever since his wildly successful first novel was published. The daughters, the father, their stepmother, sometimes their brother (he's off at school some of the time), and a sort of live-in family friend/unpaid servant all live in genteel but significant poverty in a dilapidated castle. (The lease was signed in wealthier times, and they have since sold off all their good furniture and stopped paying rent.) Everything seems to be rather permanently hopeless and isolated, but then things begin to happen when a young American family inherits the estate to which the castle is attached. It's entirely accessible, charming, and very well written.


Posted by: redfoxtailshrub | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 9:04 AM
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You could try the library. I like that for new authors as the due date makes me either read it or dump it quickly.

Yeah, that doesn't work either, I typically just end up reading them anyway, if I start them.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 9:05 AM
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Activism has caused me to lose the habit of reading anything not immediately practical, for the most part. But I won't emerge with a graduate degree at the end of the process, alas. "Frowner, DFH" is all.


Posted by: Frowner | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 9:06 AM
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133: I've been wondering for a while why more* public libraries don't offer online catalogues with shipping options as a service to members. I'd happily pay to have books shipped to me, but can't generally find time to make the trek to the library.

*Any? I'm not aware of any, but some might do this sort of thing.


Posted by: Brock Landers | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 9:07 AM
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re: 137

That seems like a big downside to 'activism'.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 9:07 AM
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130: "Nothing but thrillers and crime fiction, and the odd non-genre novel."

I went through a phase like that, but eventually all of the crime fiction started to seem the same. And I never found anything I liked as well as the original Sherlock Holmes.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 9:07 AM
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It doesn't really make sense that the Sitkan Jews of Chabon's timeline be without a champion and a public voice unless the American Jewry of Chabon's timeline is supposed to be significantly less active and visible and more anemic than in our own.

I think that was implicit, yes, particularly with the collapse of Israel.

I'm not saying that Chabon's conceit was particularly good or plausible, just that I didn't find it so unlikely as to make it a problem to read, which is what I read LB to mean.

Sometimes an author comes up with something so stupid or wrong it knocks you out of the story, and I don't the YPU is close to that, at least for me.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 9:08 AM
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My Chabon recommendation (especially for the P'burgh) folks is Wonder Boys. It is a bit of a mess, but engagingly so, and you get better Pittsburgh geography than Mysteries (ok the Cloud Factory, I know). I also think the movie treatment is a real gem and is a bit under appreciated, and it is a movie that is helped by having read the book/knowing the story first as it really does not get a chance ot be fully developed in the film.

If you like Wonder Boys, you should then read The Honeymooners: A Cautionary Tale which is the model for the huge unfinished novel in the book (and its author Kinder, the current director of the writing program at Pitt, is also the model for his writing prof). In the end after 25 years and ahving grown at times up to 3,000 pages, Kinder's book is only about 350 pages and is mostly a roman à clef of him and Raymond Carver being pretty much total assholes back in the day in California.

Novels and film make a nice little package. (And then you can read some Carver as well.)


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 9:09 AM
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138: Is it really such a hardship to have them pile up at the local libarary for a while (after having ordered them online) and go pick up a bunch?


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 9:09 AM
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re: 141

Yeah, ditto.

re: 140

I'm fairly discriminating. I mock myself for reading 'shit', but, to be honest, I don't really. I read a reasonable amount of SF stuff, too, although my patience for that is a lot lower.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 9:09 AM
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138: Not for free, but there are pay services.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 9:10 AM
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I saw someone reading "I Capture The Castle" on the bus. About a quarter of the back cover was taken up by one blurb, which I think was "This book has the most likeable protagonist of any book I have ever read. - J.K. Rowling"

So it is not wanting for readershop at the moment.


Posted by: Cryptic ned | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 9:10 AM
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I'll also note that I don't think YPU is a great book or anything, and don't think it's Chabon's best (I liked K&C and wonder boys better). I just found LB's complaint too strong.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 9:10 AM
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I know, it's a very annoying cover! There was a movie (blah) not long ago, which I think probably has something to do with that particular reissue.


Posted by: redfoxtailshrub | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 9:11 AM
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146/148 I have vague memories of reading that on a plane around about when it came out, and it being a good sort of book for that.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 9:13 AM
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144: I have had very bad luck with nearly all of the SF I've tried to read. And worse luck with all of the non-Tolkein/Rowling fantasy. Maybe I'm just too old.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 9:14 AM
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134: No one took up my suggestion of Borges and the Eternal Orangutans, huh? Look, it's good!

I might. I'm putting together a multi-volume order right now and it is a consideration. And in doing that I was looking for and not finding a book that CharleyCarp has recommended here (I think at least twice, once quite recently). It sounded intriguing, all I seem to recall is that it is a relatively recent book somewhat "based" on another work, or author, or play, or some damn thing like that. Anyone recall what it might have been? It's frustrating the shit out of me.

(And I think Bleak House is designed to be read at the pace of the lawsuit.)


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 9:15 AM
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141: I think that was implicit, yes, particularly with the collapse of Israel.

But... why? That doesn't make sense.

One of those little irritants that would gnaw at me while reading it, I think.


Posted by: DS | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 9:15 AM
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I have had very bad luck with nearly all of the SF

Probably an issue of what you can tolerate as not offensively implausible. As seen above, everyone's got different standards.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 9:15 AM
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I don't want to pay attention to language in my pleasure reading.

It horrifies me when I find myself skimming to extract the content of a beautifully crafted literary work. Like going to a fine restaurant and analyzing the menu in terms of its nutritional profile.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 9:16 AM
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I thought for a second you meant when the book originally came out.


Posted by: redfoxtailshrub | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 9:16 AM
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But... why? That doesn't make sense.

Because the current situation of jewish political organizations in the US are largely characterized in relationship with Israel, nearly entirely so from the outside. So whatever else happens, no Israel means things would be different.

Sure, Chabon didn't explore that in the book, but it really wasn't the point, I thought.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 9:20 AM
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155: yes, badly worded.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 9:21 AM
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155 to 149.


Posted by: redfoxtailshrub | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 9:21 AM
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155 to 125.


Posted by: Cryptic ned | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 9:21 AM
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But of course, Jews in the US are organized with reference to Israel largely because that's where a large population of Jews live. Wouldn't you expect some of that to have transferred to Sitka in the world of the book?


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 9:23 AM
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Still, there's really no risk in deciding to read a book, even if the book turns out to be meta-pretentious.

Still, there's really no risk in deciding to read a book - it might turn out to be meta-pretentious.


Posted by: | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 9:24 AM
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I just went to the local library page, but they do not have I Capture The Castle available, and there is no online access to the interlibrary loan system - you have to check with a librarian. What kind of nonsense is that?

But I admit it never occurred to me to reserve a list of books online and then just waltz down and pick them up. That is even easy enough for me.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 9:25 AM
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160: I took him to be making a point about the relationship of Jews to the mainstream American political establishment, and the degree to which the current situation is a product of Israel being geopolitically useful to the US in a way that Sitka would not have been. But who knows.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 9:26 AM
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I love how seriously LB and SB are debating the plausability of the Alaskan Jews. "Look. In SuperArchie #478 it CLEARLY states that his outfit has snagged on a nail and tore near the cuff, so how can it POSSIBLY bounce bullets off it in #1047?"


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 9:28 AM
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163 m,akes a ston of sense.


Posted by: Cryptic ned | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 9:29 AM
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Wouldn't you expect some of that to have transferred to Sitka in the world of the book?

Perhaps, but the politics would be very different lacking the particular geo-political tensions of the middle east.

I don't think there is anywhere useful to go with this. There are very few works of fiction that can stand up to much scrutiny in all the details of plot and setting; you found it jarring and I didn't but I don't think there is a strong case that either of us is wrong...


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 9:29 AM
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But I admit it never occurred to me to reserve a list of books online and then just waltz down and pick them up. That is even easy enough for me.

We do this pretty much every week. The local branch has a terrible selection, but online we can pick out anything from the entire cities stock, and mostly they show up pretty quickly.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 9:30 AM
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But I admit it never occurred to me to reserve a list of books online and then just waltz down and pick them up. That is even easy enough for me.

That never occurred to me either, but doesn't seem (at quick glance online) to be an option at my local library.


Posted by: Brock Landers | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 9:30 AM
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re: 166

Stand up for yourself man, in the face of Lizardy-wrongness!


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 9:30 AM
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I just can't believe that wouldn't be a worldwide outrage.

I can perfectly believe that it wouldn't be a worldwide outrage, but the notion that the expulsion of two million people woouldn't lead to violence is simply absurd. Hell, my town is smaller than that, and if the army showed up and said everyone had to leave the country for parts unknown, there'd be riots.

(I find Chabon's premise far-fetched for other reasons, too - it would've taken more than the death of one anti-Semitic Alaskan legislator to pave the way for a massive influx of Jewish refugees. There were multiple, not-insignificant attempts throughout the pre-war years to allow increased immigration from Europe specifically for the sake of Jewish refugees, which repeatedly failed due to widespread anti-Semitism and indifference on the part of many policy-makers, including Franklin Roosevelt.)


Posted by: inaccessible island rail | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 9:31 AM
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85: FWIW, thanks for not spoiling it. I liked Snow Crash and bought Cryptonomicon in preparation for a weekend most of which would be spent in airports and airplanes. I've read half of it so far and plan to finish; I'm a bit mystified by all the criticism here. (White privilege on my part, maybe.) Snow Crash was a lot better, but "horrifically racist" and "loathsome" sound bizarre.

Aaand on rereading the thread, "horrifically racist" was used to describe the denouement, so I haven't got to it yet. That clears up the confusion, at least.


Posted by: Cyrus | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 9:31 AM
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but online we can pick out anything from the entire cities stock, and mostly they show up pretty quickly.

Unfortunately, this seems not to be an option here.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 9:31 AM
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163: yes, that's what I had in mind. Once you've changed the game that much, does any of us have an idea what it would really be like in this `alternative timeline' sort of setting? That's why I didn't find Chabon's take irritatingly implausible, but it seems LB did.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 9:32 AM
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I'll join mrh in defense of Cryptonomicon.

66 point 1: It's a book by a American author for an American audience. Several of the characters are English, there are Germans, Finns, Japanese, Filipinos, etc, etc, etc in the book, which puts it several steps above most American lit in that regard; the, uh, national-characterizations of the furriners in the book are all quite tongue-in-cheek.

66 point 2: Much of the WWII thread riffs on the fact that big historical things turn on seemingly minor and irrelevant actions of humans, wanking among them.

66 point 3: Stephenson would probably like you to sleep soundly in your bed tonight knowing that rough men stand ready, etc. Contempt for that principle probably comes from the same place as contempt for DFHs.

85: Are you talking about the WWII plot thread, or the present-day plot thread?


Posted by: Hamilton-Lovecraft | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 9:32 AM
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163, 165: In a world where ethnic cleansing of Jews is casually acceptable in US politics, sure. That's not our world, and if Chabon's idea was that the existence of Israel is what makes the difference, there, I would have liked to see that spun out with a little more detail.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 9:32 AM
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147: (I liked K&C and wonder boys better)

You might want to look at reading the Chuck Kinder novel I mentioned, then. Kinder was an immature West Virginia good ol' boy and Carver a lowlife from the Pac Northwest, and Kinder does almost nothing to make their respective "characters" the least bit sympathetic. I partly enjoyed it for just that brass.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 9:32 AM
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Also, re: earlier, I am reading 2666 as well, and can confirm it's pretty cool. It has that funny flatness that seems to be common to translated novels, which I actually really enjoy.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 9:32 AM
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170, see 63.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 9:32 AM
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153: I'm sure that implausiblity has something to do with it. But, for me with fiction, the big thing is I have to care how it ends. Most times I pick up a new SF book, before the end of the first 50 pages I'm thinking "Not another quest for whatever." You need a McGuffin written well enough that I don't notice it's a McGuffin while I'm reading.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 9:34 AM
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175: well, clearly ethnic cleansing is (or has been) casually acceptable in US politics before, right? So why wouldn't it be casually acceptable (in theory) if Jews were put into the position of being an indigenous group in the way of US expansion? The metaphoric conceit was to compare them to Native Americans, which I found pretty thought-provoking.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 9:34 AM
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114: I haven't read YPU or Chesterton, but this reminds me of a quote from a Douglas Adams character:

"The impossible often has a kind of integrity about it which the merely improbable lacks. Have you ever been presented with an explanation for something which makes sense in every way, except that it is hopelessly improbable? Your first instinct is to say, "Yes, but he or she simply wouldn't do that." ... Impossible merely suggests that there is something we don't know about, and god knows there are enough of those. Improbable, however, runs contrary to something we do know about."


Posted by: Cyrus | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 9:36 AM
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In a world where ethnic cleansing of Jews is casually acceptable in US politics, sure.

Wait, ethnic cleansing???? Nobody is being shot or led off to camps, the people are being forced to disperse. If I recall correctly from the book, there was a process in place for simplified application for US citizenship, which many of the characters just hadn't got around to doing until it was late for the beaurocratic process (which is hardly implausible). Mostly the others had plausible sounding plans, iirc. The main issue was the breaking up of the community.

Again, I read this a while ago and don't recall it that clearly but in my mind the population in Sitka was mapping onto something more like the Tibetan population in India in the 60s. They'd originally moved there assuming it was going to be temporary, and insulated themselves via this from assimilating into the culture around them. After a while, it became a bit of an island, culturally, that way. If I recall the book correctly, there was no barrier to immigrating to the US for the entire time, these people had chosen to stay apart because that wasn't really what they wanted to do.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 9:39 AM
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Once you've changed the game that much, does any of us have an idea what it would really be like in this `alternative timeline' sort of setting? That's why I didn't find Chabon's take irritatingly implausible, but it seems LB did.

Again, I'm not saying you couldn't write a book with the mass deportation, but that to support it you needed a very different world from ours, in terms of what are plausible things for the US to do to millions of people living on its territory. I can't do it plausibly without a whole lot of openly accepted, explicit anti-Semitism in the US of the book; there might be other ways to make it work, but Chabon didn't do anything to spell it out.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 9:40 AM
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Native Americans and Japanese were, to put it bluntly, not white. (And the Japanese were "enemy aliens" presumed to be collaborating with a hostile foreign power.) It stretches credulity somewhat to assume the same standards would be applied to European Jewry.

Passive anti-Semitism in the form of leaving the Eastern European Jews more or less to rot would be one thing. Actively reversing a prior decision to repatriate them would be something else again. But again if that's a plausibility problem, the initial premise is even more so.


Posted by: DS | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 9:40 AM
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114, 181: Chesterton. That's who I'll try next. Never read him and alway meant to.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 9:41 AM
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178: See 63 about what? About 110,000 Japanese Americans were interned in World War II, from all over the country and from populations that were obviously even smaller than that number; that's about five percent of the population we're talking about here, concentrated together in one community.


Posted by: inaccessible island rail | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 9:41 AM
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Well, it didn't bother me. And here we are!


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 9:41 AM
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"In a world where ethnic cleansing of Jews is casually acceptable in US politics, sure. That's not our world, and if Chabon's idea was that the existence of Israel is what makes the difference, there, I would have liked to see that spun out with a little more detail."

Forgive me if I'm getting the details of the book wrong, but a world in which Israel doesn't exist and a town in Alaska with 2m Jews does is pretty clearly not "our world". This whole conversation seems to me like complaining that The Man In The High Castle is unbelievable because Americans would never accept occupation.


Posted by: Ginger Yellow | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 9:43 AM
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180: Another thing is that anti-semitism became a horrible no-no in the West after the Holocaust (not so much after the event so much as after the TV miniseries) -- in Chabon's alternate universe there was not a Holocaust (not of the same media dimensions anyway) so anti-semitism was still relatively accepted.


Posted by: peep | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 9:44 AM
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178: Off by a factor of twenty, isn't it?

If I recall the book correctly, there was no barrier to immigrating to the US for the entire time, these people had chosen to stay apart because that wasn't really what they wanted to do.

Either you recall it incorrectly or I do (and the latter is certainly possible). I remember the point of the Sitka settlement as having been that the Jews weren't permitted to immigrate to the US. Options after the end of the lease I wasn't completely clear on, but I didn't have the sense that there was automatic citizenship as of right in the US or anyplace else: I thought there was a real potential implied for masses of stateless refugees.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 9:44 AM
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183: I think you and I disagree somewhat about what it is plausible for the US in this world (e.g. 98) , but furthermore I think the central issue was that that the US is mostly incidental to the purpose of the book, mostly a bit part. The bit part may be a bit poorly drawn, but focusing on that is a little perverse.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 9:45 AM
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190: Yes, it wasn't automatic. But remember they had 60 years.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 9:46 AM
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185: I'm fond of Chesterton -- he has a nice knack for aphorism. Do brace yourself for some really epic racism, sexism, Orientalism as well as simple racism against Asians, and anti-Semitism. And when I say 'really epic', I mean that in the context of other writers of the period -- he's very startling. But other than that, fun.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 9:47 AM
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I'm putting together a multi-volume order right now

I just know y'all are ordering all these books from Powell's.


Posted by: Sir Kraab | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 9:48 AM
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but focusing on that is a little perverse.

What's driving my annoyance is that the bit that doesn't work is the crank that's driving the book, and we don't get to see it. There might be some way to make it work plausibly, but it doesn't get shown, and that's the sort of think I'm interested in.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 9:49 AM
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164: Encyclopedia Brown's town and neighborhood certainly had a lot more interesting minor crimes and deceptions than I find remotely plausible.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 9:49 AM
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If I promise to never read Cryptonomicon, will somebody please spoil it for me?


Posted by: Yawnoc | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 9:49 AM
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194: Some of them.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 9:50 AM
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Do brace yourself for some really epic racism, sexism, Orientalism as well as simple racism against Asians, and anti-Semitism . . . other than that, fun.

Aside from that, Mrs. Lincoln . . . .


Posted by: Sir Kraab | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 9:52 AM
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If I promise to never read Cryptonomicon, will somebody please spoil it for me?

Sure: it's a giant piece of geek wankery.


Posted by: Gonerill | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 9:52 AM
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196: Bugs Meany, one-man crime spree.


Posted by: Sir Kraab | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 9:52 AM
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195: Did you find the orthodox mobster's son/messiah/ chess genius more believable?


Posted by: peep | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 9:53 AM
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194: I'm using the library. Between Sandra Boyton, Dr. Suess, Diego videos, what my wife reads, and my own past purchases, our shelves are full and there's no way to put in another shelf without making a room look like an extremely tacky used bookstore.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 9:53 AM
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What's driving my annoyance is that the bit that doesn't work is the crank that's driving the book

Sure, I see that this is what is bothering you, but it's obviously subjective.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 9:53 AM
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200: The racist part!


Posted by: Yawnoc | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 9:54 AM
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202: See, an implausible person/event doesn't bother me. An implausible system bothers me.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 9:55 AM
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205: Sorry, I meant to say "sexist, racist geek wankery".


Posted by: Gonerill | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 9:55 AM
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LB: I was unwilling to suspend my disbelief!
SB: I was willing!
LB: Well I was unwilling!
SB: I said WILLING!
LB: UNWILLING!


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 9:56 AM
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I mean, he wanted to write a Jewish film-noir detective story with perhaps a touch of magical realism. Getting hung up on the plausibility of this particular forced eviction of Jews, a recurrent cultural theme he is exploring, does indeed seem a little perverse to me. It's not like there aren't loads of other things in the setup you can poke holes in if you want to, but it misses the point.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 9:57 AM
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So it turns out that wanking saves the world...but does it get the girl?


Posted by: Satan Mayo | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 9:57 AM
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193, 199: Now I'm really curious.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 9:58 AM
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So it turns out that wanking saves the world...but does it get the girl?

Doesn't wanking substitute for the girl?


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 10:00 AM
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208 is basically right.

and this 'An implausible system bothers me.' describes the vast majority of fiction that makes any attempt to define/describe such a `system', as far as I can see. The only reliable way to avoid it is to say "this story is basically set in the world as you understand it". The more you try and define differences (as against letting them emerge for the reader as they will), the less likely it is to hold together. This is often a great weakness of long form science fiction.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 10:00 AM
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208: Heh, exactly. I can understand LB's irritation with the premise and being interested in what sort of world would make it plausible, but at the same time, that's kind of the nature of alternate present books. You have to accept the premise, no matter how far-fetched, or else you're not going to get anywhere. What matters for the book is what follows from the premise. A lot of people don't like alternate present books for that reason.


Posted by: Ginger Yellow | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 10:01 AM
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205: Isn't that almost implicit?


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 10:01 AM
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210: Yes, I think wanking does get the girl, as I recall it. Of course the girl will inevitably be got, because we are talking about Real Men. And Real Men always get the girl.


Posted by: W. Breeze | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 10:01 AM
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(139: Yes, it is, a bit. But your use of quotes suggests that you're envisioning "activism" as boring picketing useless blah-blah (which would be a particularly poor trade-off for reading) when right now the things that are eating my time are ordering, checking in and generally managing books at the bookstore where I am 1/3 of the ordering troika; working my shift at the bookstore; being a mod on a news website; writing as many articles as possible for same, which is few; promoting events for the bookstore (Zizek! showing this weekend, if anyone is in Minneapolis); making buttons (in Indesign and then using the buttonmaker) which are sold as a legal aid fundraiser at the bookstore plus a couple of hundred for Pride (ouch, my wrists!); plus soon, soon a new fund-raising project; plus various miscellany and some meetings for these projects. Plus, of course, my actual paid full time job. Plus the house, cooking, laundry, etc. For an introvert, it's a lot. )


Posted by: Frowner | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 10:02 AM
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My problem with YPU was that I got profoundly bored and read something else instead. This seems like it should be a mistake, so maybe I'll give it another try sometime.


Posted by: redfoxtailshrub | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 10:02 AM
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A lot of people don't like alternate present books for that reason.

Precisely. Picking on one in particular is odd. They're actually often a problem for me for this reason, so I mostly don't bother. Chabon's I read because I'd liked a couple of his other things.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 10:03 AM
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218: No, no, that buys you credibility in my world.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 10:03 AM
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216: If I recall correctly, he got the girl because she was a spy instructed to get close to him....which isn't precisely a victory for "Real Men (TM)"


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 10:04 AM
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Getting hung up on the plausibility of this particular forced eviction of Jews, a recurrent cultural theme he is exploring,

Because forced evictions of Jews, while they've happened frequently, happen in societies that hate and dehumanize Jews. In YPU, on the other hand, the Americans don't seem to have any particular issues with Jews qua Jews. If Cabon had thrown in a couple of scenes of American officials talking about finally getting the fucking kikes off our land, and some discussion by Jews soon to be deported of which countries were less likely to have pogroms, the plot would be grimmer, but would work for me.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 10:04 AM
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re: 217

I'm teasing slightly with the use of quotes. I find the reference to activism a bit po-faced, so the quotes were a tiny dig. Not the actual doing of activist things, but the lumping it all together as 'activism'.

I'm sure it's all admirable stuff, really. But a life that doesn't leave time for personal pleasure is not a life I'd want, thanks.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 10:06 AM
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You know LB, I really don't think you're going to convince me that this particular weakness in the premise objectively ruins the book. So I'll leave it at that.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 10:06 AM
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re: 221

Nah, the modern Mary-Sue character gets the girl, too. Eventually. The ass-kicking Lara Croft-life salvage diving one.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 10:07 AM
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225: Oh, that's right. The WWII story line was far better drawn, I've mostly forgotten the other one.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 10:08 AM
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221: He was wanking so he could concentrate on Saving the World. Then he didn't have to wank cause the spy did it for him (but, being a Real Man, he saw through her flimsy disguise and didn't divulge anything). And by Saving the World he got to marry his girl back home. So yes, wanking won him the girl. That was the main time wanking featured in the book, but it also was mentioned at other points. Particularly the married man stating that he didn't wank anymore so as to save his sacred seed for his wife.


Posted by: W. Breeze | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 10:09 AM
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'was far better drawn' isn't actually saying a lot, mind.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 10:11 AM
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Oh, I've been sounding more heated than I feel -- I've kept on going because there kept on being specifics that seemed like they'd help clarify my issue with the book. But there's no moral or esthetic duty to think it's a terrible, terrible book, and I don't think it's awful. More just that it's trying to do two different things (literary detective novel, thoughtful alternate-history social speculation) and is weak (IMO) on both fronts.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 10:11 AM
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224: I think she's convinced me. If I start Chabon, YPU won't be what I start with even though there is a copy in the house.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 10:11 AM
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216: Which Real Man in the book are we talking about? The main characters in the WWII thread are Shaftoe and Waterhouse, who are basically a Heinleinian superman split into two: the smart guy and the action guy. This is really critical to the point of the book; either one would be useless to the war effort without the existence of the other. In the present day thread, the Waterhouse is still much more of a smart guy than an action guy, although his character arc does include him learning to take charge somewhat. In that thread, Amy Shaftoe is twice the Real Man he is, which kind of puts the lie to 207.

Seriously, the Real Strawman character you're putting down is a purely hypothetical descendant of the Shaftoe-Waterhouse family line in three more generations.


Posted by: Hamilton-Lovecraft | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 10:13 AM
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I liked Kavalier and Clay a lot. I could gripe about the plot -- kind of trails off at the end -- but that didn't bother me.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 10:14 AM
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What's your favorite book, Breeze? I'd like to draw a flimsy caricature of it and mock it.


Posted by: Hamilton-Lovecraft | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 10:14 AM
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230: Well if it helps I wouldn't recommend it as the place to start either.

As far as LB's itransignece goes, I just feel like basically she's being saying that, pace 214, "This book from a genre I often don't like has the features of the genre I often don't like" is a reasonable summary.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 10:15 AM
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I just feel like basically she's being saying that, pace 214, "This book from a genre I often don't like has the features of the genre I often don't like" is a reasonable summary.

Nope. I'm really fond of alternate history (oh, it's a genre than invites wanking, but where that's not what's going on I love it.) More like "This book from a genre I'm attached to written by someone who seems to be an outsider to the genre shows signs of the writer not having paid attention to what you need to do (IMO) to make the genre work."


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 10:17 AM
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231: I refer to the WWII thread, and the professorial guy in that (Waterhouse, I guess). In the present day arc Waterhouse becomes a Real Man; we know that because he learns to smoke cigarettes and he wins the girl by killing someone (and winning the girl requires winning the father's approval). Amy Shaftoe is just a prop with boobs.


Posted by: W. Breeze | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 10:17 AM
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224: I should add that the reason LB convinced me about YPU is that implausible politics-related stuff bothers me much more than, for example, implausible technology or implausible inter-personal couplings. I didn't spend years not earning a Ph.D. in political science for nothing.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 10:18 AM
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Amy Shaftoe is just a prop with boobs.

But such a prop. Tough! Yet mysteriously feminine! And with salt-of-the-earth redneck relatives ready to defend her honor! It's Daisy Duke as Bond Girl.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 10:18 AM
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235: By comparison, I can't think of an alternate history/present book I've read that doesn't have the same sorts of issues you mention, on the same order of magnitude (at least, some are much worse). So there we are. That, and while I agree that the reaction of the US public today in our timeline to the plight of these particular people would be quite different, I can't see how the general capacity disallows that to develop if the intervening 60 years were different. That part at least is completely plausible to me, if not actually developed in the book.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 10:22 AM
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[I] resent Stephenson for putting the lovely Alan Turing into such a shitty wankfest.

This, yes.

Also, has anyone recommended the Nero Wolfe novels to Heebie? My dad got into them while he was recovering from heart surgery, and the are close to the gold standard for books that will keep you entertained and turning pages without requiring any work. That isn't to say they're brainless, just that they have an effortless flow to them.


Posted by: NickS | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 10:22 AM
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Nero Wolfe novels to Heebie

These are one of the disturbing points where it turns out that my taste in light fiction has a lot in common with Shearer's. But yes, they're great and there are forty bazillion of them. (Lots of them are collections of novellas, and those are good too.)


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 10:25 AM
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re 240, I know several people for who Bujold is the fall back for cases like this (e.g. sick in bed with a stack of books). Not much good to you if you don't like space opera and/or fantasy I guess.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 10:25 AM
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I read an interview with Neal Stephenson where they were asking him about the technology and math and whatever in the baroque cycle, and he said something along the lines of "oh, I hate this stuff. I find it completely boring. But I feel like my role is to learn about it and then write about it so you don't have to be bored learning about it!"

Waaaaaaaanker.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 10:25 AM
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243: wow.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 10:26 AM
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240: Not strictly related, but when I was up nights feeding a baby, I got into Columbo re-runs (at the time they were on the biography channel, but now you'd have to go with DVDs). They were interesting, effortless, plus the murder and/or victim was usually played by somebody just well-known enough for you to recognize them, plus they weren't so bloody that you'd feel creepy holding a baby while watching.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 10:29 AM
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re: 243

I find it hard to believe given the palpable showing-off of his learned knowledge in the Baroque stuff.* He loved it.

* which was doubly tedious for me as that's one of the periods where I've taught the philosophy, etc so all I was getting was someone else's half-arsed take on it.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 10:29 AM
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246: It is pretty hard to fathom pushing through three volumes of that if you didn't actually enjoy the process. More plausibly messing about with an interview.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 10:33 AM
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223: It often seems like a poor trade-off to me, too. (Some of it is fun, but the general long, long list of things and never having an evening free is getting tiring) Ironically, I missed the activist mental health thing I planned to attend on Sunday because I ended up organizing and running another event that overlapped with the first one. Tonight, I am supposed to meet with someone I'm running an event with later in the summer (panel discussion on class and activism), maybe attend a benefit spaghetti dinner and go to a going-away party for a friend who's spending the summer in India.

Of course, if I had a kid I would probably view this type of life as absurdly simple and full of free time.


Posted by: Frowner | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 10:34 AM
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re: 248

Yeah. I've quite enjoyed the little bits of campaigning things I've done, but partly that was because of the social side of it [as well as the 'do-gooding', of course] but I suspect I'm too lazy/selfish to do it to that degree.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 10:36 AM
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I've only read the first book of the cycle (and tend to agree with all the bad things said about it). It did seem to me as though he wasn't really enjoying the didactic aspect - the math/technology aspect actually rather bored me, and I'm extremely enthusiastic about these subjects IRL.


Posted by: Unpronounceable Awl | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 10:40 AM
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Anyone read Analemma? The pace is uneven, but the characters and plot are quite good.


Posted by: dob | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 10:43 AM
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Finally, a comment other than #68 about the Baroque Cycle.

If I've forgotten everything that happened in the first one except the above-cited two facts, could I still enjoy The Confusion?


Posted by: Cryptic ned | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 10:46 AM
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246, 247, 250: I'm having trouble finding the interview, but I think it may have had to do with math stuff specifically. He definitely seems to be into the historical pieces.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 10:48 AM
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dob!


Posted by: apostropher | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 10:50 AM
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251: You mean Anathem? I haven't read it, but I've thought about picking it up -- while Cryptonomicon wasn't great, and Quicksilver bored me senseless, I liked Snow Crash enough to keep on giving him more chances.

Or is there another book called Analemma?


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 10:51 AM
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I think th interview you're thinking of was in The Onion AV Club.


Posted by: Cryptic ned | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 10:58 AM
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256: ah yes, here it is:

AVC: What sort of topics did you wind up researching before writing it? How organized or results-driven are you about research?

NS: Depends on the book. For the Baroque Cycle, I just read lots of books and took notes without having much of a plan. In the case of Anathem, most of the research had to do with philosophy and metaphysics. Reading this sort of thing has never been my strong suit, so I actually had to be somewhat more "organized and results-driven" than is my habit. I just made up my mind that I was going to have to read some of these philosophy tomes, and I forced myself to read something like 10 pages a day until I had bashed my way through them.
AVC: Why base a book in part on topics that you yourself aren't passionately interested in reading about?
NS: I was trying to run something to ground that had come to my attention when I was working on the Baroque Cycle. That series, of course, was about the conflict between Newton and Leibniz. Leibniz developed a system of metaphysics called monadology, which looked pretty weird at the time and was promptly buried by Newtonian-style physics. Later I learned that some eminent 20th-century thinkers, including Bertrand Russell and Kurt Gödel, had been interested in Leibniz's work, and that Leibniz had been adopted as a sort of patron saint by some of the people working on Loop Quantum Gravity. When I finished the Baroque Cycle, I still felt as though this was a loose end. In part, Anathem is an attempt to tie up that loose end. To do this, I had to read Kant and Husserl and some other stuff that Kurt Gödel apparently thought of as light reading.
AVC: Has this happened before with any of your books, where you had to fight your way through source material on some specific topic to get what you wanted for the book?
NS: All the time. I read this so you don't have to. It's all part of the service.

Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 11:14 AM
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236: Well, as I said above, WWII Waterhouse is, by author's design, half of a Real Man, so your characterization of him as a Real Man is simply wrong.

I think part of what's going on here is that it's a book aimed at basement-dwelling nerds. A certain breed of basement-dwelling nerds (a) needs to learn, or to be reminded, that there's a world out there that you need to take action in, and (b) doesn't want to hear that shit from someone who doesn't understand that nerding is itself an important thing.

Once you get past the tongue-in-cheek style of the book, it's actually telling you something important. Stephenson talks a lot about the Ares/Athena dichotomy. A Shaftoe without a Waterhouse is a tool of Ares, a Waterhouse without a Shaftoe is a basement dwelling nerd, and only by combining Waterhouses and Shaftoes can you create a Real Heinleinian Man.


Posted by: Hamilton-Lovecraft | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 11:15 AM
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Re: alternate history, I liked Phillip Roth's The Plot Against America.


Posted by: Sir Kraab | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 11:20 AM
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At which point, as proof of their evolution to the next level, the kick-ass Daisy Duke/Bond Girl drops in their laps.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 11:21 AM
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To do this, I had to read Kant and Husserl and some other stuff that Kurt Gödel apparently thought of as light reading masturbate furiously in public.


Posted by: Gonerill | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 11:24 AM
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260: Look, I'm not going to argue that Amy Shaftoe is a model of deep characterization, but it's reasonable to tell a basement-dwelling nerd that getting out once in a while will help his chances with the ladies.

236: I just went back and checked. Waterhouse doesn't kill the guy to get the girl. In the action sequence I assume you're referring to, he's almost completely ineffectual, with both Amy and Amy's father telling him to quit trying to be a hero before he gets them all killed. Immortal Enoch Root kills the bad guy.


Posted by: Hamilton-Lovecraft | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 11:28 AM
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259: My favorite Sci-Fiish alternate histories are Years of Rice and Salt, Man in the High Castle and Spinrad's The Iron Dream. But those three are probably pretty obvious choices.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 11:33 AM
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I think part of what's going on here is that it's a book aimed at basement-dwelling nerds.

This seems right and I think is a lot of what I don't like about it. I feel like I'd have loved it if I'd read it in middle school. (But that's not what I think of as a compliment for a book.)


Posted by: Brock Landers | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 11:35 AM
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but it's reasonable to tell a basement-dwelling nerd that getting out once in a while will help his chances with the ladies.

Well, will help the nerd find a girlfriend who isn't a feminazi bitch. It's not as if Waterhouse was supposed to be totally socially non-functional before Amy.

I certainly read worse stuff than Cryptonomicon -- the Amy plot just struck me funny -- she's such a trophy for good behavior.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 11:36 AM
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only by combining Waterhouses and Shaftoes can you create a Real Heinleinian Man.

Real Heinleinian Manhood is still hardly an unproblematic end goal, even if you distribute it over two whole individuals.


Posted by: redfoxtailshrub | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 11:37 AM
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262: DAMN YOU.


Posted by: Cyrus | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 11:38 AM
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Is this the thread for expressing impatience with Neal Stephenson?

Good: I made it through maybe 90 pages of Cryptonomicon. It's over near the bed somewhere, and has been for a couple of years. Covered with dust, probably.

Now to figure out what YPU is.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 11:39 AM
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Yiddish Policemen's Union, by Michael Chabon.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 11:40 AM
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268: Real Heinleinian Manhood is still hardly an unproblematic end goal

What's wrong with it as a goal for personal development?


Posted by: Hamilton-Lovecraft | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 11:40 AM
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268: YPU


Posted by: apostropher | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 11:43 AM
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267. Aw, shit. Sorry.

I guess Breeze and the rest of you are free to misrepresent Cryptonomicon as much as you like, since any attempt at providing factual rebuttal will be spoilage.


Posted by: Hamilton-Lovecraft | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 11:44 AM
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My problem with Neal Stephenson is that he can't do characterization for shit. The racism and sexism fall, to some degree, out of the fact that all of his characters are lifeless automatons speaking in his look-at-this-interesting-thing-I-read voice. I mean, Hiro in Snow Crash: does the fact that he's mixed race have any bearing on the way he sees the world? Does it contribute to his inner life at all?


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 11:46 AM
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273 may be accurate. That would mean that the constant instances in which I thought one of the nerds in "Quicksilver" was talking, when it was actually the hot girl talking, is not entirely the result of my sexism.

Kudos to Hamlove for standing up for someone who must have MANY things to offer the reader despite all his detractors.


Posted by: Cryptic ned | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 11:47 AM
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269, 271: Ah, gotcha. Thanks.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 11:47 AM
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273: Bwuh? The fact that he's mixed race is there solely to hang the joke of his name on. That's like saying your problem with Heller is that he betrays his complete ignorance of biology and medicine with that part where the nurses swap the urine and saline bottles every few hours.


Posted by: Hamilton-Lovecraft | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 11:48 AM
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271: Now we face the issue of what YPS is.


Posted by: Cryptic ned | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 11:49 AM
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What disappointed me about TYPU and Kavalier & Klay was what disappoints me about 60-80% of the novels that I pick up, genre and other, by living authors, but it is hard to pick out the errant stitches. I suppose a shorthand description would be something like "professionalism."


Posted by: Flippanter | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 11:49 AM
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Late to the conversation as always, so forgive me if this has already been covered. But: Neal Stephenson! Yes, very uneven literary output. Yes, egomaniacal jerkface, in that special way only a true geek guy can really master. But also! Very funny. If you have any tolerance at all for geeky egotism, you must have a read at this "interview".


Posted by: adamhenne | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 11:50 AM
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Fine, you've convinced me. I'll keep reading it. But I'm unhappy.


Posted by: Brock Landers | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 11:50 AM
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270: Nothing, if you live in a question-begging fictional universe where Heinleinian men are never wrong. You can't be a Real Heinleinian Man without being the master of your surroundings, which (a) requires surrounding people to fall in with your ways or be subjugated to them, (b) is quite unfortunate if you're not in the right all the time. The fun of reading about those kinds of heroes is that they are ass-kicking men of science who know better and for whom circumstances conspire so that they can be sensitive and masterful all at the same time, because, conveniently, the only people who chafe at their dominance are narrow-minded and misguided.


Posted by: redfoxtailshrub | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 11:51 AM
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276: ignorance of biology and medicine I can handle in a novel. Ignorance of the human condition is tougher.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 11:52 AM
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Wait, Anathem is supposed to be Husserlian in some way?


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 11:55 AM
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281: Ah. For me, the Real Heinleinian Man is about capabilities as much as anything else.


Posted by: Hamilton-Lovecraft | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 11:57 AM
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Look, some of these criticisms of Cryptonomicon (especially Sifu's) are fair, but Hamlove's defenses are right, too. It's not a perfect work of magisterial literary and social value, but it's a damn fun read.

Stop shitting on my pleasure reading!


Posted by: mrh | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 11:57 AM
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That's like saying your problem with Heller is that he betrays his complete ignorance of biology and medicine with that part where the nurses swap the urine and saline bottles every few hours.

Or better, that his explanation of how Major Major Major Major got his name is implausible.


Posted by: rob helpy-chalk | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 11:58 AM
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Stephenson wrote an epic Wired article about transatlantic cables; by the time I picked up Cryptonomicon I'd already read all the good parts, even the picture of Stephenson in a yellow raincoat.

So I was a little disappointed.


Posted by: elemund | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 11:58 AM
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282: Way to miss my point. Stephenson is no more ignorant of the human condition than Heller is of biology or Picasso was ignorant of anatomy and perspective.


Posted by: Hamilton-Lovecraft | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 11:59 AM
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257 is hilarious, actually, and I know that I'm late to the thread and reading it in reverse order, which is obnoxious. But seriously, 257 is hilarious. That man should probably not give interviews.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 11:59 AM
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263 - Is Years of Rice and Salt good? I quite enjoyed the two books of Three Californias I read, but Red Mars less so.

284 - The "specialization is for insects" line? All well and good if you're aware that it perhaps inevitably takes you down the road of writing The Number of the Beast.

287 - Perhaps the best thing ever published in Wired.


Posted by: snarkout | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 12:00 PM
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281: Ah. For me, the Real Heinleinian Man is about capabilities as much as anything else.

Sure, the whole "change a diaper, plan an invasion" thing. But the other stuff is why the figure of the Real Heinleinian Man is annoying and problematic when it makes its appearance, whether in Heinlein or in Stephenson. Also, note that (for example) planning an invasion competently makes you look like a stud, but also is predicated on a whole bunch of people being invaded as the stage dressing to your awesomeness.


Posted by: redfoxtailshrub | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 12:01 PM
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288: so he just doesn't care? I definitely don't get your point. He believes that having characters with meaningful inner lives is an artifice he can discard in order to get closer to the true purity of the novel? I don't believe you. I think he's just shitty at writing people.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 12:02 PM
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Hello, wife. Make me some coffee, while I go kill an maurading Chinaman!


Posted by: snarkout | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 12:02 PM
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Not all good novels require characters with meaningful inner lives. It is easy to forget this.


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 12:03 PM
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I haven't read Heinlein since high school, and don't really want to again, but aren't his heroes indistinguishable from Ayn Rand's?

I did force myself to read some of Atlas Shrugged a few years ago, and was struck by the fact that the only two emotions ever conveyed were bottomless admiration and total contempt. It was a book written by someone whose only moral emotion was the one Haidt labels "authority/respect," which was ironic for someone who says they are about maximizing liberty.


Posted by: rob helpy-chalk | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 12:04 PM
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"Stop shitting on my pleasure reading!"

Reading on the toilet (if I do it, others must) is the reason I sometimes avoid library books. If I'm going to read in bed, I'd prefer it not be a library book.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 12:04 PM
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Can we take a quick break first? First you can spank me and then we can have some really hot sex.


Posted by: redfoxtailshrub | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 12:04 PM
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Stop shitting on my pleasure reading!

Not before I get my chance!

I read Cryptonomicon in full (unusual for me, because I don't read a lot of fiction). My take on it is that it's the kind of work product that might emerge if Glenn Reynolds and Steven DenBeste both discovered Bruce Schneier for the first time when they were on junior year abroad in the Philippines, and were inspired to collaborate on a novel.


Posted by: pain perdu | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 12:05 PM
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Oh! And do some yoga.

Let me observe that the very fact that I can talk about all this is because I devoured Heinlein in my youth. It's fun! and often sexy too.


Posted by: redfoxtailshrub | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 12:06 PM
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Can we take a quick break first? First you can spank me and then we can have some really hot sex.

Then we'll lecture some Commie dupes about the superiority of our model of government! Followed by inventing a perpetual motion machine.

I haven't read Heinlein since high school, and don't really want to again, but aren't his heroes indistinguishable from Ayn Rand's?

This is not really fair to Robert Heinlein, even at his worst (which is terrible).


Posted by: snarkout | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 12:06 PM
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My take on it is that it's the kind of work product that might emerge if Glenn Reynolds and Steven DenBeste both discovered Bruce Schneier for the first time when they were on junior year abroad in the Philippines, and were inspired to collaborate on a novel.

HA.


Posted by: redfoxtailshrub | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 12:07 PM
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276: That there's something gross and creepy about an author writes a mixed race character solely for a har-har moment? And not even as some kind of fancy sophisticated denaturalization device? I'd have a lot more tolerance for the whole Hiro-Protagonist-whutta-laugh if Stephenson weren't such an orientalizing douche the rest of the time, though.

And YT, anyone remember YT? No, really, it's a character whose name is "whitey". Does this mean anything? Well, it means that Stephenson gets to score off people who are creeped out by telling us-by-proxy "chill out, crazy easily-offended POC, it means "yours truly"". Now, if I had a friend who went by "whitey" just to fuck with the squares, she wouldn't be my friend very long. But that's the rich tapestry of Stephensonian humor for you!

Oh, and YT? Well, she gets sorta-kinda raped by a sociopath who kidnaps her, but she sorta-kinda likes it and she's real tough anyway so it's all right. Plus she has this awesome device? It's called a dentata, and after someone has raped you it injects him with a powerful sophorific, so that all his buddies can get really mad and actually kill--no, it's so that you can escape from the rapist, conveniently after he's raped you. Teh awesomes! Only she actually wanted to have sex with the sociopath, but she's kinda flighty (except when she's really skilled) so she forgot about the dentata. OMG LULZ!!!!!


Posted by: Frowner | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 12:07 PM
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294: agreed, but one must distinguish between an intentional, thought-provoking aesthetic choice and ham-fisted gracelessness.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 12:08 PM
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299 is "filled a much-needed gap in the literature" levels of cruelty. Wow.


Posted by: snarkout | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 12:08 PM
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It's fun! and often sexy too.

I remember thinking that whatsiscalled, the brain transplant book, had the structure of a screenplay for a plotty porn movie. Meet hot secretary in body paint; transplant brain into secretary; make out with hot nurse; get spanked by business manager; reminisce about threesome with bodyguards, and so on. Not actually erotically written at all, but somewhere out there there's got to be a Heinlein-fan porn producer thinking of the miniseries possibilities.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 12:09 PM
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Then we'll lecture some Commie dupes about the superiority of our model of government! Followed by inventing a perpetual motion machine.

Wait you two, can't you go back to the hot sex?


Posted by: rob helpy-chalk | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 12:10 PM
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296: Fuuuck, don't make me defend Heinlein and Stephenson simultaneously! Fortunately, I don't have to; Spider Robinson has done the heavy lifting.

293: Say for sake of argument that he's shitty at writing people. Cryptonomicon is hugely entertaining, and I think it has something valuable to say about the human condition, in spite of that. So I think 295 is proven.


Posted by: Hamilton-Lovecraft | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 12:10 PM
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304 is meant to refer to 298, pain perdu's comment, I assume.


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 12:11 PM
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307 - Spider Robinson is also terrible, though.


Posted by: snarkout | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 12:11 PM
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On second thought, "when they were on junior year abroad" s/b "when they were middle-aged guys on a brothel tour"


Posted by: pain perdu | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 12:11 PM
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I remember thinking that whatsiscalled, the brain transplant book

I Will Fear No Evil. I regret to report that I did actually find it kind of sexy when I was thirteen.


Posted by: redfoxtailshrub | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 12:11 PM
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308 - I think a ToS comment got zapped, screwing up the numbering.


Posted by: snarkout | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 12:11 PM
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311: that book kinda blew my mind.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 12:12 PM
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311: Well, the same, or at least fascinating because about sex. But for a book that is all about fucking, I recall it as reliably fading to black before pretty much all of the actual sex.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 12:14 PM
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311: I remember reading one where the immortal protagonist has two female clones made of himself because the one thing that he has never done in his life is fuck a sibling, and he has two created, because if you are going to commit incest, hey, why not a three way?


Posted by: rob helpy-chalk | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 12:14 PM
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Suuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuure, snarkout.


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 12:15 PM
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302: Well, she gets sorta-kinda raped by a sociopath who kidnaps her, but she sorta-kinda likes it and she's real tough anyway so it's all right.

Anyone currently reading Snow Crash? I wouldn't want to spoil the book by injecting any facts into the discussion.


Posted by: Hamilton-Lovecraft | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 12:16 PM
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And then, his mom! (With the additional wistful reminiscing about his long marriage to the adopted daughter he raised from a baby.)


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 12:16 PM
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302: Ouch. I didn't like Snow Crash very much; I spent most of it feeling sorry for the enslaved cyborg dog.


Posted by: Flippanter | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 12:16 PM
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317: The book's what, fifteen or more years old? Are we really worrying about spoilers?


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 12:16 PM
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319: I forgot the dog completely. What was the dog for?


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 12:17 PM
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That article! I am positive I have sneered at it here before. Heinlein's no sexist! He makes his conveniently sexy, hero-loving ladies smart and feisty, so he couldn't possibly be.

It's fun to have the same conversation again. I enjoyed it last time, too.


Posted by: redfoxtailshrub | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 12:17 PM
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320: Referring to 267 where I was damned for spoiling Cyrus's reading of the ten-year-old Cryptonomicon.


Posted by: Hamilton-Lovecraft | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 12:18 PM
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290.1: Yes, Rice and Salt is good, but if you didn't like Red Mars we may have different tastes.

307.1: But who can defend Spider Robinson?


Posted by: foolishmortal | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 12:18 PM
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But who can defend Spider Robinson?

Not my problem.


Posted by: Hamilton-Lovecraft | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 12:20 PM
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I also liked Rice & Salt. The conceit that hangs the different segments of the book together grated like hell on me at first, but I think it was just barely redeemed at the end.


Posted by: Hamilton-Lovecraft | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 12:21 PM
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I've liked a bunch of Spider Robinson, although not reliably everything he writes. The Callahan's stories were fun, and some of his novels. Can't think of anything I've liked in the last couple of decades, though.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 12:23 PM
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Why is it that Unfogged commenters are so fond of the demolished strawman technique of criticism?


Posted by: Hamilton-Lovecraft | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 12:23 PM
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324 - It was the introduction of the "Reds", the mystical-hoo-ha environmental group dedicated to preserving Mars, that kind of made me lose interest. I really loved Pacific Edge, though (and, to a lesser extent, The Wild Shore). Making a whole science fiction novel about small-town politics surrounding a zoning dispute is the kind of batshit crazy maneuver I can get behind.


Posted by: snarkout | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 12:23 PM
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321: As I recall, going all canis ex machina on some bad guys at supersonic velocities.


Posted by: Flippanter | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 12:24 PM
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I do in fact mean Anathem, not Analemma. As speculative / alternative history fiction goes, it's a nifty take on the genre. The whole made-up words thing seems gimmicky for the first few pages, but it coheres nicely quickly. Or at least it did for me.


Posted by: dob | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 12:25 PM
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321: What was the dog for?

It was a 'rat-thing" dog cyborg developed by Ng Security (I think the one in question guarded one of the franchises, but it used to be her pet, so it came running at Mach 1 or somesuch to help her and crashes through Rife's plane engine.)


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 12:26 PM
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how Major Major Major Major got his name is implausible

I knew a guy in Navy ROTC who was on his way to becoming Ensign Ensign. No promotion for him!


Posted by: Not Prince Hamlet | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 12:26 PM
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330, 332: Or what Flippanter said.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 12:27 PM
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going all canis ex machina on some bad guys

LOL.


Posted by: Hamilton-Lovecraft | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 12:27 PM
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302: Oh, god, the rape-needle scene. I had a million techie nerd friends in college who told me I just had to read Snow Crash, and not a one of them seemed to have noticed the fact that the most prominent female-character-who-is-not-a-love-interest gets raped, and then likes it, and then wants some more, to the point where she's irritated at her anti-rape device.


Posted by: inaccessible island rail | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 12:28 PM
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307 - Spider Robinson is also terrible, though.

Some of his stuff is lousy, but some of his stuff is quite good. There are a handful of pieces from Time Travelers Strictly Cash that I treasure.


Posted by: NickS | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 12:28 PM
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272: Heh, fair enough. Go ahead and rebut to your heart's content, don't worry about it.

305.last: ... actually, there might be some money in that.

302.last: Yeah, that part was really stupid. The dentata was mentioned early on and made me curious trying to puzzle it out: is she just demonstrating teenage thoughtless overconfidence, or is there some genuine fiendish deterrence to the device that the reader doesn't know about yet, or is it a statement of philosophy or YT's own fatalism that retribution would be enough to satisfy her?

And then we get to the end and we learn that it's just a tranquilizer that only works during sex. WTF???


Posted by: Cyrus | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 12:28 PM
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Oh, hey - memo for LB and other Westlake fans -- U Chicago press is putting all his Parker novels back into print. The first 7 or so are available now on Amazon.


Posted by: snarkout | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 12:30 PM
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I'm sorry this wound up being a less even-sided discussion, because it's never fun to feel ganged up on. I just love to hold forth on the subject of What's Wrong with the Heinleinian Ubermensch.


Posted by: redfoxtailshrub | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 12:30 PM
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336: not a one of them seemed to have noticed the fact that the most prominent female-character-who-is-not-a-love-interest gets raped, and then likes it, and then wants some more

Perhaps none of them noticed the fact because that's not what actually happens in the book.

She is kidnapped, but everything that happens from that point is consensual. There is simply no rape in the book. That's suspiciously convenient, authorially, but that's another matter.


Posted by: Hamilton-Lovecraft | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 12:31 PM
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Why is it that Unfogged commenters are so fond of the demolished strawman technique of criticism?

For the same reason we enjoy attacking McMegan.


Posted by: rob helpy-chalk | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 12:32 PM
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FWIW, I've enjoyed Stephenson too. I've retained approximately nothing, but had fun with the books. Anathem is still sitting under the nightstand waiting to be gotten to.


Posted by: Not Prince Hamlet | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 12:32 PM
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Demolished strawmen are jackasses!


Posted by: Not Prince Hamlet | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 12:33 PM
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330, 332: Right! That was sad; I choked up a little. And then forgot the scene completely.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 12:35 PM
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339: And Darwyn Cooke is adapting some of the Parker books into comics.


Posted by: Flippanter | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 12:37 PM
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The Callahan's stories were fun

Given that we're talking about world views embedded in science fiction, I think it's worth mentioning that the Calahans' supplement shows up as #5 on this list of the 10 strangest GURPS supplements. The worldview of the Calahans books really doesn't mesh well with a classic SF/gamer geek-libertarian POV.

Sometimes you wonder why someone thought a property would make a good role-playing game. I have nothing but respect for Spider Robinson's amusing short stories, but Callahan's? Really? Sure, the setting can be used as a meeting place for characters of, well, ANY campaign, and could provide characters access to any GURPS-supported setting. However, and the sourcebook bears this out, Callahan stories are mostly about talking. Telling tale tales, finishing jokes with terrible puns, and participating in riddle contests.

Now, I'll admit, that while "telling tale tales, finishing jokes with terrible puns, and participating in riddle contests." are all quite appropriate in a RPG, there's probably no point into taking the characters to Calahans for that purpose. But it's still a propos to this conversation that the Calahans stories are about a community rather than individuals (at least the first three books. I haven't read anything after that).


Posted by: NickS | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 12:37 PM
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302, 317: As Ham-Love will probably have pointed out by the time I post this comment, YT's behavior with Raven isn't particularly out of character given the virus she had been exposed to while living on the Raft.

320: I agree in general terms, and normally I'd be right there with you. However, I said upthread that I was in the middle of reading the book. Given that there is known to be someone around reading it, including spoiler warnings at least seems warranted.

(But however again, to repeat 338.first, don't worry about it. The cat's out of the bag, my hopes for the rest of the book have already been lowered, and it's not like you're giving plot points away for the fun of it.)


Posted by: Cyrus | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 12:37 PM
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329: I liked the Reds. I go back and forth on whether they're plausible as a significant political force--the new societies on Mars are basically without a bourgeois administrative class and are instead full of proles, cops, weirdos and scientists, so that makes them seem plausible, but then although I know some Red-like Firster anti-civ types here on this very Earth they're such a tiny minority. I like that he included the Reds because they articulate so clearly that there is a loss in the terraforming of Mars, even if it's done in a utopian manner, even if what is produced is beautiful, even if Robinson is basically on the side of viriditas. I also liked the bitter contrarian character who is the main Red narrator--she was bitter and contrarian, but she got to have a romantic partner! She got to articulate bitter contrarian ideas while at the same time being female!

When I read the first Mars book, I was for weeks filled with chagrin that I couldn't actually go to Mars with the First Hundred.

In a sense, even the first society on Mars is a post-scarcity society--stuff is scarce, but it's shared out in a needs-based way and there isn't any money. Also, people get to do mostly meaningful work that they care about. That's the key part of the Mars books, I think. On the one hand, they're very much about California, but OTOH they're about figuring out a society where work is structured so it's interesting, or at least tolerable.


Posted by: Frowner | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 12:38 PM
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349: I got puzzled by the transition in the Mars books between, um, early and late Mars? The initial settlement is scientists, and then there are the ethnically varied proles, including some with retrograde gender roles. And then time passes and we're in a homogenized genderless paradise.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 12:42 PM
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348: Sorry, though. I've been reading this thread on two computers over several hours and I didn't realize you were in the middle of the book. I would have taken some spoiler-avoiding steps or other had I realized.


Posted by: Frowner | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 12:42 PM
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331: Anathem is a perfect example of a) why he still sells books b) why much of the criticism in this thread is at least somewhat true and c) my contention that he can't finish a story to save himself.

Sifus point about characterization is true (c'mon, he totally wouldn't have been a virtual super samuari if he were't 1/2 japanese, that count's right? ??) but as nosflow notes, not always that relevant.


Heinlein and Rand do indeed overlap a fair bit on character in some ways, although that doesn't define either of their fiction. They're also both better at character than world building or politics, they've both written some absolute drek, and they're both optimally consumed at about age 14 as far as I can see. From which point you hopefully move on. To be fair though, the better Heinlein is easier to revisit, warts and all.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 12:44 PM
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I wasn't partial to Years of Rice and Salt. Took me a long time to understand the narrative device.


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 12:46 PM
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349 - Frowner, have you read Pacific Edge? I view it as very much a sort of thematic sequel to The Dispossessed. (Both are about leftist utopias, although PE's is much more communitarian, and their discontents, but whereas TD shows things as both a utopia and inevitably slightly squalid, PE shows things as both a utopia and inevitably slightly boring.) Maybe I should give Red Mars another shot; I read it when it came out, so perhaps high school me was not entirely equipped to appreciate it.


Posted by: snarkout | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 12:47 PM
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350: I actually stopped reading late in the second book for that very reason, also because we're what, several hundred years after settlement and most of the First Hundred are dead. There aren't too many writers whose post-revolutionary-problems stories are really interesting. (I'm not counting but the revolution is really oppressive, just like Stalin!-style stories....and most of those are pretty dull anyway.) John Varley's early stuff comes to mind, especially the stories in The Barbie Murders...that "Beatnik Bayou" story is really good in this regard. A couple of Joanna Russ's short stories in Extraordinary People, too.


Posted by: Frowner | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 12:47 PM
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354: She's played around with those ideas elsewhere; I vaguely remember The Dispossessed as being quite good. Everyone seems to mention TLHOD in context with here (adult) fiction, but I don't know that's the best example. That one I remember as a mixture of fascinating and really dull.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 12:50 PM
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Incidentally, Snow Crash was originally conceived as a comic book, er, graphic novel, and at its most sophisticated it's a satirical comic novel, so, again, serious deep characterization is not the point.


Posted by: Hamilton-Lovecraft | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 12:50 PM
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There's a scene near the end of Cryptonomicon where one of the characters meets Douglas MacArthur that's mildly amusing. Skip to that, and then call it good.

Reagan's appearance in the book is also entertaining.


Posted by: Josh | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 12:51 PM
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I liked the red/green conflict in the Mars books because it brings out a conflict between two different environmentalisms. In the real world, the conflict never gets noticed, because both programs wind up advocating the same thing for the Earth. But on a fictional Mars, the philosophcial division makes a difference.

Really a great use of the philosophical power of sci-fi.


Posted by: rob helpy-chalk | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 12:52 PM
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354: I have read Pacific Edge--it's actually one of my favorite SF novels, partly because of the "it's about zoning!" thing. (Parenthetically: at last, someone has started to theorize the interesting-boring, although I wouldn't start where he does.) I love that Pacific Edge> basically goes nowhere. Things happen, people live, some bad stuff goes down and it's disillusioning but people still have to live together. Some people compromise, some don't. It's also a fantastic instructional book--it teaches you a great deal to look for in meetings and hearings if you're basically a dorky introvert like me and normally spend meetings counting the moments until you can get away from all these people.


Posted by: Frowner | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 12:52 PM
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Posted by: | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 12:53 PM
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346 - That's a fantastic interview, thanks.


Posted by: snarkout | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 12:53 PM
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353: Yeah, I have mixed feelings on that part, but I liked the grand sweep of history from the simple branch point. Hardly any of these folks can really write (and trust me I know can't writing!). I'm in it with this type of SciFi writer for the ideas. Snow Crash to me is a half-dozen really, really great imaginings and some other pretty good ones, and just enough narrative structure to hold it together and get me to read it. Who really gives a fuck who the characters are and what they do to each other. Avatars, the Street, the franchises etc., that is what it has.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 12:53 PM
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Or what H-L says in 357.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 12:55 PM
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I missed this thread because I've been in the classroom teaching since 9am, but, well, I guess you can all imagine what I'd say. IJ is a great read. Even my mom loved it, which says a lot for its not-annoying, action-packed goodness. Mom does not have a high enough threshhold for annoyingness to get through, say, Bleak House or any other long novel I can think of. She loved IJ so much she began corresponding with other fans on the email, her first (and probably only) internet friends.

I also second the recommendation to read A Supposedly Fun Thing... as a way to figure out if you like DFW enough to get through IJ. Or just read the first chapter of IJ, which was the first DFW I read and immediately had me hooked. And I was 19 and kinda dumb.


Posted by: A White Bear | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 1:00 PM
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What's wrong with it as a goal for personal development?

I read Time Enough for Love at an impressionable age, and ever since then becoming Lazarus Long has been my goal for personal development.

After I achieve immortality I will be taking applications to join my personal harem. Or perhaps even before. Laydeez...


Posted by: PGD | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 1:01 PM
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I'm not saying that deep characterization has to be the point, I'm just saying that the ridiculous attempts at characterization by cheap gimmick coupled with the fact that every character in all of his books ever sounds like the same person eventually soured me on reading them. I read everything up through Cryptonomicon (even the ridiculous pseudonymous political thriller) but doubt I'll read another.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 1:02 PM
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The harem will feature spaceship rides, very long lectures regarding my opinions on everything, and intermittent sex. Laydeez.


Posted by: PGD | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 1:02 PM
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366, 368: I haven't read much Heinlein, so please correct me if I am wrong, but shouldn't "Laydeez..." be revised to "Mom..."?


Posted by: Flippanter | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 1:05 PM
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Incidentally, Snow Crash was originally conceived as a comic book, er, graphic novel, and at its most sophisticated it's a satirical comic novel, so, again, serious deep characterization is not the point.

Yeah...people look back on it now and say "WTF this is stupid", but when Cryptonomicon came out, people were saying "WTF, this lightweight guy is suddenly trying to get taken seriously, and largely succeeds!"


Posted by: Cryptic ned | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 1:09 PM
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I dunno. I'd like to be susceptible to the "but it's SF of ideas" argument, partly because I really like an absolutely terrible fantasy novel of ideas called The High House, a novel whose political awfulness is matched only by its writerly awfulness and the terrible terrible need of the author to describe meals. But there are some neat ideas! The dinosaur in the attic! The flight across the roofs! The secret passages! The digging-through-the-the-rubble! The creepy furniture! (The misogyny! The holes in the plot! The unbearably clunky foreshadowing! The good-fellow Christianity that would have made CS Lewis turn away in shame!)

And yet so often what gets justified as SF of ideas is propped up on some other really bad ideas, but those ones aren't supposed to count as ideas. The dentata is a terrible, terrible idea--it's dumb and it's misogynist and it reflects an appalling lack of knowledge about how sex actually works for women. I would argue that the Raft and the various ideas about how immigration and the refugee crisis play out are also both stupid and immoral. They're SF ideas, but they're everything SF ideas should not be. And I just can't see pointing to the good ideas as a justification while not wanting to allow an argument that points to the bad ideas.


Posted by: Frowner | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 1:11 PM
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370: I'm told that being able to listen patiently to someone's boring opinions is an important skill at all levels of sex work.

I know for a fact that similar listening skills are required for parenting. Mostly what you get out of children, though, aren't opinions, but observations of things that are entirely mundane, but new an thrilling to the child. Also, descriptions for worms and bugs found in the yard.


Posted by: rob helpy-chalk | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 1:12 PM
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I've found Stephenson's books to get more annoying the more seriously they appear to want to be taken. Zodiac? Swell! Snow Crash? Eh, but entertaining. The Diamond Age? Uh, yeah. And on downhill from there.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 1:12 PM
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The harem will feature spaceship rides

That's a weird way to spell moustache.


Posted by: apostropher | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 1:12 PM
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The dentata is a terrible, terrible idea--it's dumb and it's misogynist and it reflects an appalling lack of knowledge about how sex actually works for women.

Okay, this is where I'm apparently stupid.

Given that the dentata is not a complete solution to the problem of rape (which I don't believe Stephenson or anyone else has tried to assert) and given that by the time penetration has occurred and the dentata can activate, the woman is already a victim of rape, can you explain to me what about it is misogynist and reflects a lack of knowledge about how sex actually works?


Posted by: Hamilton-Lovecraft | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 1:21 PM
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Red Mars is really strong as a portrayal of revolution spinning out of control. The major players stay with you. The books get weaker as they go along -- I notice that both this and the trilogy of which Pacific Edge is the endpoint progress from dystopian to utopian visions, which is a bit gimmicky but whatever. Not a huge Pacific Edge fan in terms of the entertainment value, I must admit.

Beyond being great at coming up with concepts like franchulates and phyles, I've always found Stephenson pretty overrated. I'm sorry Hamilton is offended by criticism of Cryptonomicon but... well, it was really pretty dreadful.


Posted by: DS | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 1:27 PM
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376: I'm not offended by good-faith criticism of anything. I'm offended by lazy strawman criticism.

I liked the book. I can see how someone coming from a different intellectual and social background wouldn't.


Posted by: Hamilton-Lovecraft | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 1:30 PM
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given that by the time penetration has occurred and the dentata can activate, the woman is already a victim of rape

Doesn't this alone make it, at least, pretty dumb as a rape prevention device?


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 1:30 PM
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Bone chilling scenario hinted at in my post somewhere above: you get grabbed by someone (and someone you need to escape from, not someone who is going to let you leave...so this isn't date rape). They rape you and pass out, after having locked you in or tied you up. They wake up and beat the shit out of you/rip out the dentata before hurting you some more/kill you.

Bone-chilling scenario two: you're grabbed by multiple people from whom you need to escape. Person one rapes you and passes out. The other people.....

Like, seriously, don't you think sociopath dude would have carved her up if something had happened like she'd been so relaxed that she'd fallen asleep too, or she hadn't remembered the dentata? Isn't that one of the reasons she flees afterwards?

Regular old Stephensonian stupidity: thinking that of course this is a gee-whiz good idea and just what a rock'em sock'em woman like YT would want.

Stupidity part two: writing a terrible idea like this into his plot as a means of titillation and amusement for misogynist/sexually repressed nerd boys. (Heh heh, she forgot it was in there)

Sex fail: That any sexually active woman is going to want to put a stupid thing like this in and walk around with it all day so that her default mode is "going to have a really stupid rape "protection" device that I need to remember and remove before having impulse sex with my object of choice when I get home"

Oh, there's virtually no limit to how angry this particular plot point makes me.


Posted by: Frowner | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 1:30 PM
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I'm offended by lazy strawman criticism.

You keep saying this, but I can't figure out what you mean by it. What's the straw man here?


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 1:32 PM
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Hey HL, sorry you feel I'm burning down strawmen. My writing is embellished for rhetorical purposes, but my points are at core based on what I remember from the Crypt. (I found Snow Crash a fun read.)


Posted by: W. Breeze | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 1:33 PM
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379: also, there's a point earlier in the book where she says she's not worried about sexual assault because she has the dentata. Wait, what?


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 1:33 PM
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You know what I don't understand? First novels that should have been bad enough to kill a career, but somehow weren't. The only example I can think of immediately is Dan Brown, but I'm sure I've seen (and due to above mentioned affliction, finished) others.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 1:35 PM
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Come to think of it, which is at a point (IIRC) where she's under arrest and therefore locked up. AKA bonechilling scenario (1).


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 1:35 PM
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Sex fail, continued: Thinking that penetration is the only aspect of rape--that there could be no other kind of sexual assault so protection (dumb, misogynist protection) "against" penetration is sufficient, that there are no other physical injuries associated with sexual assault that one would need to be protected against. That a woman (or anyone, really) would protect themselves from physical injury via this one really specialized thing that's not even very useful if you admit it's useful at all rather than by acquiring something more generally useful that might keep you from, oh, being beaten up and [having other horrible sexual assault things done to you that I won't specify because it makes me upset].


Posted by: Frowner | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 1:35 PM
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I haven't read the book, but this all sounds vaguely familiar. (Of course, the book predates the link.)


Posted by: Brock Landers | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 1:37 PM
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385: Yeah, that whole thing is pretty stupid. On the other hand, as someone pointed out, the book is basically a cartoon written out. I mean, the bad/tough guy guy rides a nuclear bomb around and has wicked ninja skills and ancient tribal knowledge. The real badguy has a floating fortress of evil. The protagonist is named protagonist, ffs. It's easy to give the guy a bit of a pass on goofy superficiality, given all that.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 1:39 PM
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There's the weird racism with the cab drivers, too. And with the Italians, kinda, for that matter.

I remain entertained by all the stuff about the RV empire up in Alaska. That was quite clever.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 1:41 PM
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Having a guy named Hiro Protagonist riding around with mad ninja haxxorz skills is funny stupid. Stupidly working in a concept like the vagina dentata is stupid stupid. There's a difference.


Posted by: DS | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 1:41 PM
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387: I will sound sharply earnest now: sorry, goofy superficiality about rape doesn't get a pass from me. There are tons and tons of goofy superficial SF novels that manage not to be creepy about rape. You can read SM Stirling, frex, a hacky-amusing writer held in great affection by minne, IIRC.


Posted by: Frowner | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 1:43 PM
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I must say (again) that Zodiac is really pretty good fun all around. When writing about white dudes of approximately his own age and background Stephenson does a perfectly satisfactory job.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 1:44 PM
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I read one SM Stirling book when I was in high school and holy shit did I not like it.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 1:46 PM
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First novels that should have been bad enough to kill a career, but somehow weren't. The only example I can think of immediately is Dan Brown

John Grisham.


Posted by: Not Prince Hamlet | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 1:47 PM
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390: AAAAGGGHHH! Sanctity of off-blog communications!** And I don't hold him in high esteem, as I was explaining to you the other day, I like his world-building but very little else. However, you are correct that Stirling's Battle-Maiden Feminism beats Stephenson's Nerd-Boy Misogyny any day of the week.

**No, it's really okay, at least most people here don't know my sekrit identity.


Posted by: minneapolitan | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 1:47 PM
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392: I picture him at cons surrounded by legions of admiring female fans, all cooing "Ooooooh, SM!" and admiring his...er, whatever aspect of his physiognomy/writerly skillz there is to admire.


Posted by: Frowner | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 1:47 PM
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302 makes me glad I never read Snow Crash, and makes me kind of regret having at some point been in the same room with it.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 1:48 PM
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390 mystifies me. I've read more of Stirling than I really want to admit to and recall it as being pretty horrifyingly bad.


Posted by: Not Prince Hamlet | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 1:50 PM
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395: That would be his temporal lobe. His big, manly lobe.


Posted by: DS | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 1:50 PM
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Have not read any Stephenson, but the dentata thing sounds like something I've heard of.


Posted by: Wrongshore | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 1:51 PM
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The best parts of Stephenson are the description of the sauce ingredients in The Diamond Age, the toilet-paper memo in Snowcrash and most of Zodiac.

The stupidest part of Stephenson (besides the dentata) is in The Diamond Age where he describes someone who has grown up in urban, 21st century China as being blown away by the idea of a street in NYC that consisted entirely of Kentucky Fried Chicken knock-offs. This more properly describes many streets in Beijing, and no street in NYC that I've ever seen (although my experience with that city is limited.)


Posted by: minneapolitan | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 1:53 PM
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386: I remember reading about that thing, and thinking "what an excellent device for turning a rape into a murder".


Posted by: mcmc | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 1:55 PM
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You can read SM Stirling, frex, a hacky-amusing writer held in great affection by minne, IIRC.

Huh. I like those* in a guilty-pleasure kind of way, but (a) a whole lot of luridly written torture for titillation, and (b) disturbing racial politics. He's got a tendency to set up social situations where "Whoops, all the African Americans have been removed from the world of the book in an explicitly stated manner (like, alternate universe with immigration from our world controlled by a southern racist), except for one or two charismatic characters." It's not that anything he says about race is bad in itself, it's that he repeatedly comes up with situations that a hardcore racist would be looking at wistfully and thinking "Wow, that'd be great!" (This is pretty much the same argument Jes and I had about those Bujold Americana fantasy novels, except I was on the other side of that argument. No justification for the switch, except that Bujold doesn't creep me out on the issue, and Stirling does.)

* When I say I like those, I mean his later stuff. I think the first thing he got famous for was a trilogy of books about an alternate history where a British colony of slaveholding supermen in South Africa takes over the world. Those are beyond creepy, to the point that I threw out the second-hand copy I read because I didn't want it in the house.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 1:56 PM
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The Big U is also pretty good, though much sillier than all of his later books.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 1:56 PM
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no street in NYC that I've ever seen

I have seen such streets (well, two or three knock-off KFC's in a block.)


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 1:57 PM
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378

Doesn't this alone make it, at least, pretty dumb as a rape prevention device?

People said that about MAD but it seems to have worked pretty well as a nuclear war prevention device. If all women had such a thing and were indoctrinated with a death before dishonor philosophy I expect it would cut down on rape.


Posted by: James B. Shearer | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 1:58 PM
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death before dishonor

S/b death in addition to dishonor, no?


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 1:59 PM
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Let's just not have this conversation, k?


Posted by: Not Prince Hamlet | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 1:59 PM
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So thinking more about Stephenson, I think what bothers me is that he creates characters that should be really interesting, and then they end up acting the same way as everybody else. Like, Vietnamese quadraplegic who lives in a giant mobile ambulance/death-truck and has all of his interactions through the Metaverse? Wow! What would that guy be like? Oh, pretty much the same as everybody else, okay.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 2:00 PM
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405 is kind of a breathtaking violation of the analogy ban. If you rape me, I'm... raping you back?


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 2:01 PM
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409

Deterrence doesn't have to be symmetric.


Posted by: James B. Shearer | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 2:04 PM
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Perhpas I should have elaborated what I thought was implicit in 386: that, while I absolutely agree with "terrible, terrible idea" (really: I don't get it at all, and 401 and other criticisms seem right), doesn't the fact that this thing actually exists mean that all the "misogynist" and "reflects an appalling lack of knowledge about how sex actually works for women" might be a bit overblown?


Posted by: Brock Landers | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 2:04 PM
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402: Those are precisely the problems I have with Stirling. Also, his prose styleeo is not that great, actually. Note to authors: You are only allowed 1 (one) use of the word "sussurus" per novel. Furthermore, he tends to repeat some of his dumbest fanboy in-jokes several times across books and series.


Posted by: minneapolitan | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 2:04 PM
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411: well, not if you consider the guy who invented it to share those flaws.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 2:06 PM
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406

S/b death in addition to dishonor, no?

Nah, the dishonor is in submitting without a fight.


Posted by: James B. Shearer | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 2:06 PM
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413: flaws also presumably shared by every women who uses the product?

Also, I'm looking for a link, but I'm almost positive it was created by a South African woman.


Posted by: Brock Landers | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 2:07 PM
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411: And do we have any proof that anyone is actually using this thing? To descend into analogy-ban-violating Shearer-dom, it seems like this concept only works as a deterrent, and has little practical use value.


Posted by: minneapolitan | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 2:08 PM
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378: This is certainly a comment that would go better with an emoticon.

Although perhaps if one filled the dentata with cyanide the analogy (analogy ban!) would work a bit better.


Posted by: Frowner | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 2:08 PM
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414: Think that one through. Death before submitting without a fight? Doesn't actually make sense.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 2:08 PM
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It's not that anything he says about race is bad in itself, it's that he repeatedly comes up with situations that a hardcore racist would be looking at wistfully and thinking "Wow, that'd be great!" (This is pretty much the same argument Jes and I had about those Bujold Americana fantasy novels, except I was on the other side of that argument. No justification for the switch, except that Bujold doesn't creep me out on the issue, and Stirling does.)

Remember how a while back I said that I try to find out as little as possible about authors, because there are certain things that if I learn them, I will never be willing to buy or read or enjoy anything by them ever again? Stirling is exactly who I had in mind. (The posts at the bottom of this thread are (part of) why.)


Posted by: Josh | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 2:09 PM
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Here we go: "South African mother-of-two Sonette Ehlers developed the original prototype in 2005..."


Posted by: Brock Landers | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 2:10 PM
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a breathtaking violation of the analogy ban

Analogy ban's dead, man. Deadder than leg warmers. Deadder than Ogged. We're all over the death of the analogy ban, man. We've been to the funeral and the wake and now, ten or twelve years down the line, we're writing Slate articles about the analogy ban called "Worst Ban Ever" and "How the Analogy Ban Ruined Myanmar" and "Know Who We're Glad Is Dead? The Analogy Ban, and David Foster Wallace."* Except for you, man. You're just still over there in the graveyard, huggin' the analogy ban's grave, going "Hang on, analogy ban! The ambulance is coming, don't you die on me!" Get over it, man. Move on.

*I am not actually glad that David Foster Wallace is dead. I'm sorry I used your death in a Slate joke, David Foster Wallace!


Posted by: inaccessible island rail | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 2:10 PM
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415: Er, the device in question is meant to ID the rapist to the cops afterwards. It still sounds like a bad idea, but not bad in quite the same absolutely clueless way that Stephenson's idea does. And "but blahblah was invented by a woman" does not mean that blahblah can't reflect sexism/misogyny....I believe this point may have been made before.


Posted by: Frowner | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 2:11 PM
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412: Good to be on the same page. They are fun on the "Lots of plotty violence happening" and "Let's reinvent civilization with random constraints" level -- I'm going to keep buying them -- but distinctly creepy.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 2:11 PM
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Read the link from the link in 399: S. African feminist groups came out strongly against the idea, for much the same reason Frowner criticizes Stephenson: it's not practical, and it fundamentally misunderstands the nature of rape and sexual assault.


Posted by: minneapolitan | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 2:11 PM
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See, an implausible person/event doesn't bother me. An implausible system bothers me.

I'm a sucker on the willing suspension of disbelief front, possibly because most of recent world history strikes me as so bizarre and unimaginable.

Off the top of my head, here are a few things that, almost up until the moment they happened, I never thought I'd live to see for systemic reasons: The fall of the Soviet Union; the impeachment of a president for extramarital sex; the open endorsement of torture by a major segment of the American media; the election of a black president; state-sanctioned marriage of gay people.

Can someone come up with a plausible explanation for the U.S. response to Katrina? I mean, something you'd find believable in a novel?

Joseph Heller could have written the runup to the war in Iraq, but not many others could have brought that off plausibly.

Flying cars, on the other hand - I was sure I was going to get me one of those.


Posted by: politicalfootball | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 2:13 PM
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419: Wow. I knew he was on the wrong side on Israel-Palestine, but that's seriously fucked-up. I'm not buying any more of his novels.


Posted by: minneapolitan | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 2:13 PM
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380-381: Unfogged brand of Strawman criticism: saying that Waterhouse kills the baddie and gets the girl, when in fact he doesn't kill the baddie. Saying that YT gets raped and likes it, when she doesn't in fact get raped. Saying that Chasing Amy supports the "lesbians just need a good deep dicking" position where in fact it brings up that concept and moves past it deftly. Reduction of 7 years of mythology-weaving to "whoooooa! Like, Death isn't some nasty boney dude, man, he's like, a hot goth chick. It really makes ya think!"

Et cetera.


Posted by: Hamilton-Lovecraft | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 2:13 PM
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IIRC Stirling also has a very broad authoritarian streak, or at least seemed that way to me.


Posted by: Not Prince Hamlet | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 2:13 PM
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421: Wouldn't the Slate article have a different title? Like "Something Something Something: How Analogy Bans Are Like Property Taxes and Why the State of California Shouldn't Ban Them."


Posted by: Flippanter: | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 2:13 PM
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419: Oy. That is beyond creepy. Oy.

I should have trusted my skeeved out reaction to his racial politics more.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 2:15 PM
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427: oh. Well, since I didn't say any of those things, I have no opinion.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 2:16 PM
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425: Walter Jon Williams' earthquake novel "Rift" accurately presages a lot of the worst outcomes of Hurricane Katrina. Although, with his artistic license, we get to believe that it's openly virulent racists behind some of it, rather than just plain ol' capitalism.


Posted by: minneapolitan | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 2:16 PM
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419: gaaaah. Yeah, learning about science fiction authors' theories about the actual, present world is often problematic.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 2:17 PM
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And "but blahblah was invented by a woman" does not mean that blahblah can't reflect sexism/misogyny....I believe this point may have been made before.

Misogyny, sure, that's possible, but it's hard to image a mother of two having an "appalling" lack of knowledge about how sex "actually works for women".

424: And I totally agree with those criticisms. It still seems odd to get blazingly angry at Stephenson for fictionally imagining this device* when it's subsequently become a reality.

*Okay, not the same, but pretty darn similar.


Posted by: Brock Landers | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 2:17 PM
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378-379: It's not a prevention device; that should be obvious. It's a deterrent and optional retaliation/punishment device. A solo rapist is left unconscious and helpless, to be delivered either to the local law enforcement or to a higher authority at the victim's discretion.

I'm not suggesting it's the greatest thing since sliced bread; I'm saying I can conceive of a society of humans where it might not be an insane thing for someone in YT's line of work to use.


Posted by: Hamilton-Lovecraft | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 2:18 PM
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SPOILER ALERT (AS IF YOU CARED)

427: Well, my memory is that he kills the crazy lawyer guy, thus becoming a Real Man, winning Dad's approval and hence his girl. My memory is fallible, but I was making the point in good faith.


Posted by: W. Breeze | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 2:18 PM
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427: I'm not signing on to the "what-happens-to-YT-isn't-rape" statement. Check it: She's Raven's prisoner. The fact that we get an implausible Stockholm Syndrome interior monologue excuse from Stephenson to be gratified by the penetration doesn't make the whole situation less oppressive.


Posted by: minneapolitan | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 2:19 PM
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427: I think YT's "consent" in Snowcrash is really, really dubious. That's why I said "sorta-kinda" gets raped, above. Maybe I should have said that writing a female character whose rationale for sex is "he's a sociopath and has kidnapped me and implicitly threatened to rape me but I find him inexplicably hot" is about on a par, morally and logically, with Ayn Rand's approach to sexuality. Only AR at least had the minor justification of not actually pairing her women characters with sociopathic murderers. "Sorta-kinda" was shorter and punchier, though.


Posted by: Frowner | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 2:20 PM
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436: Dammit, man, I wish you'd have been clear about which book you were spoiling.


Posted by: Brock Landers | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 2:21 PM
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437, 438: also, she's 15.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 2:22 PM
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Yeah, learning about science fiction authors' theories about the actual, present world is often problematic.

fixed that for you.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 2:22 PM
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Wouldn't the Slate article have a different title? Like "Something Something Something: How Analogy Bans Are Like Property Taxes and Why the State of California Shouldn't Ban Them."

Nowadays they've moved on to titles like "This Year You Will Stop Using Analogies" and "It's True: Hitler Loved Analogy Bans".


Posted by: Cryptic ned | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 2:22 PM
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Walter Jon Williams' earthquake novel "Rift" accurately presages a lot of the worst outcomes of Hurricane Katrina.

I wish he would write a sequel to Metropolitan and City on Fire soon! I think there's some contract issue behind his not doing so, unfortunately, and they're also out of print now. Boooo.


Posted by: redfoxtailshrub | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 2:23 PM
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435: Seriously, dude, if YT really does live in a world where stranger rape is a serious, constant threat then why would she run the risk of being grabbed by a group of men rather than a solo rapist and etc etc? Why would she assume that someone who grabbed her and intended to sexually assault her would never, ever tie her up? I can believe the Rift, I can believe in the First Hundred, I can believe in the ghost of Parnell, but I can't believe that.


Posted by: Frowner | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 2:23 PM
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Although, with his artistic license, we get to believe that it's openly virulent racists behind some of it, rather than just plain ol' capitalism.

I'm not seeing the artistic license, really.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 2:23 PM
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437: Coercive, rather than oppressive, Ravinoff being (despite his nuke) just one fellow. I wonder if the dentata is more or less unpleasant a concept than the titillated-nymphet-narrative in that sequence?


Posted by: Flippanter | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 2:24 PM
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Ham-Love, will you stop attacking straw versions of Unfogged arguments?


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 2:24 PM
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Essear, can you address HamLove's strawman attacks on strawmen honestly, without exaggerating them into some sort of extra-weak and easy-to-destroy fascimile of some sort?


Posted by: Cryptic ned | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 2:25 PM
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Why would she assume that someone who grabbed her and intended to sexually assault her would never, ever tie her up?

Again, to reiterate a point, I think she actually is locked up (under arrest) the first time she thinks "Good thing I can't get raped! I have my dentata!"


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 2:25 PM
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There are tons and tons of goofy superficial SF novels that manage not to be creepy about rape. You can read SM Stirling, frex, a hacky-amusing writer held in great affection by minne, IIRC.

Wait a second... the same S.M. Stirling who wrote the Draka series? I remember those books as being rather creepy about sex in general, although I have blocked out enough that I can't swear that they were creepy about rape in particular.


Posted by: water moccasin | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 2:27 PM
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419: I forgot that Stirling used to post on that old group. Participating there was fun sometimes, but that thread reminds me of the stuff I don't miss.


Posted by: DS | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 2:27 PM
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437-438, which point I alluded to in 341.last, but whatever. Going to go pick up my cat from the vet now.



Posted by: Hamilton-Lovecraft | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 2:27 PM
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wonder if the dentata is more or less unpleasant a concept than the titillated-nymphet-narrative in that sequence?

But it's the soi-disant realism that's supposed to justify the titillated nymphet part...."Dude, man, that's just how a girl would feel when confronted with Raven's awesomeness [vicar]....It's only titillating by coincidence, man, so my response is completely unproblematic."


Posted by: Frowner | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 2:28 PM
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Speaking of straw men, there is a creepy series of airport novels about a surviving strain of pre-civilized humanity blah blah blah third-generation photocopy of Stephen King blah blah.


Posted by: Flippanter | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 2:28 PM
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"Good thing I can't get raped! I have my dentata!"

Wait, I'd forgotten that someone mentioned that upthread. That line is really bizarre. Maybe appalling lack of knowledge about how sex actually works for women wasn't so off-base.


Posted by: Brock Landers | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 2:29 PM
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Going to go pick up my cat from the vet now.

Straw cat!


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 2:29 PM
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Er, I confess that I haven't actually read any SM Stirling. I was going off repute alone. Okay, maybe there aren't any goofy superficial novels that are politically okay. Sorry, folks, guess your SF-reading days are over.


Posted by: Frowner | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 2:29 PM
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Well, depends on the definition of 'creepy'. The Stirling approach is "Yes, rape and torture are very very bad. Let me describe them at great titillating length to show how bad they are." Which is certainly creepy, but not in a way that tends to muddle the issue like the Snow Crash stuff we're talking about.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 2:29 PM
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Analogy ban's dead, man.

The analogy ban is like the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty:
- it exerts a positive influence through moral suasion and codification of community norms
- the fact that it is occasionally flouted by rogue actors does not make it worthless.
- not every violation of it is equally blameworthy or destructive to the ends of the community


Posted by: pain perdu | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 2:30 PM
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443: Yeah, no kidding! Though I do worry, a little; it feels like his recent books haven't been nearly as sharp as his earlier stuff. A pet theory says that writing Star Wars novels causes this kind of decline, though I don't have a lot of data points.


Posted by: elemund | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 2:30 PM
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Wait a second... the same S.M. Stirling who wrote the comments in 419. Yeah.


Posted by: | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 2:31 PM
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pet theory says that writing Star Wars novels causes this kind of decline, though I don't have a lot of data points.

Could be the other way around, no?


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 2:31 PM
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453: I don't disagree, and would point to the passage where Stephenson lovingly (but not as skeptically as he seems to think) anatomizes the male psychology of badassedness as supporting evidence. Like a lot of colossally nerdy writers, Stephenson likes exposition and speeches about how awesome his characters are.


Posted by: Flippanter | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 2:32 PM
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458: But, again IIRC, also "so that's why you need a big strong man to protect and rule over you," which sometimes leads to "sometimes big strong men have to do harsh things to protect you," which kind of undercuts the whole "bad" thing just a bit.


Posted by: Not Prince Hamlet | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 2:33 PM
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not every violation of it is equally blameworthy or destructive

True, but that one was pretty egregious, pain perdu.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 2:33 PM
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Okay, maybe there aren't any goofy superficial novels that are politically okay. Sorry, folks, guess your SF-reading days are over.

[original response deleted]

Perhaps this is just another version to Sturgeon's law. If 99% of everything in the world is problematic from some political point of view it is inevitable that 99% of SF would also be problematic.


Posted by: NickS | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 2:34 PM
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Note to authors: You are only allowed 1 (one) use of the word "sussurus" per novel.

Unless you're Pratchett. But having a character overuse a word is very different from having the narration do it.


Posted by: micah | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 2:34 PM
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"version to" s/b "application of"


Posted by: NickS | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 2:34 PM
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418

414: Think that one through. Death before submitting without a fight? Doesn't actually make sense.

The meaning of "death before dishonor" and similar slogans such as "better to die on your feet than live on your knees" is that it is better to fight (even risking death) than to passively submit and live.


Posted by: James B. Shearer | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 2:35 PM
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Just to clarify, I have not read the Draka books, as they sounded egregious, even for the master of egregiousness, SM Stirling.


Posted by: minneapolitan | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 2:35 PM
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458: Eh, I suppose. I was so shocked at a discussion regarding creepy attitudes toward sex among sci-fi authors ending up with Stirling as a counterexample that I had to reply before reading the rest of the discussion. I mean, I guess he's not John Norman, but really? Stirling?

Larry Fucking Niven creeps me out less than the Draka books, and these days he writes bizarre interracial sex fantasies.

Are the Draka books that unrepresentative of his work that I should give him another chance?


Posted by: water moccasin | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 2:35 PM
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464: Not that, precisely, so much -- he puts a lot of women in leadership roles, and (wildly implausibly) tends to make them successful on equal terms in hand-to-hand combat.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 2:36 PM
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The analogy ban is like a shit sandwich. It contains unwanted fecal matter but requires you to throw away useful bits too.


Posted by: Not Prince Hamlet | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 2:36 PM
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Posted by: | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 2:37 PM
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Okay, maybe there aren't any goofy superficial novels that are politically okay. Sorry, folks, guess your SF-reading days are over.

I'm still inclined to defend the original Callahan's trilogy books (but, I realize, that threadjack is dead).


Posted by: NickS | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 2:37 PM
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472: Hence my coinage "Battle Maiden Feminism"


Posted by: minneapolitan | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 2:38 PM
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472: Heinlein was known to put women in leadership roles; all the pilots in Starship Troopers, for instance. Still came from a strange place of gender determinism, but he did it.

469 reminds me of one of the great noted ironies of my childhood; the "Live Free or Die" NH POW license plate.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 2:38 PM
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471: Niven always wrote bizarre interracial sex fantasies.


Posted by: DS | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 2:38 PM
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443: Yeah, no kidding! Though I do worry, a little; it feels like his recent books haven't been nearly as sharp as his earlier stuff.

I agree. I keep hoping that he'll perk up when he gets to go back to the good stuff.


Posted by: redfoxtailshrub | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 2:38 PM
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427 - The Neil Gaiman thing is funny! That's meanspirited critique, not a strawman argument. Spider Robinson's defense of Heinlein as non-sexist -- "You say Heinlein's work is sexist, so you mean that there are no competent or memorable female characters -- but I refute you, by waving my hands in the direction of the boob-licious yet competent Wyoming Knott!" -- is a strawman argument, an intentionally weak version of an argument that's easy to refute. (A book can be sexist even with female characters who do action-oriented things or are depicted as intelligent; surely Spider Robinson is aware of this?) Saying that Neil Gaiman is a dork who thinks Tori Amos and her fairies-on-acid schtick is one of the seven fundamental forces of the universe* is just snarky hyperbole about flaws in his work that you can agree with or disagree with to whatever extent and argue about fairly.

* Just kidding, Neil! Loved Signal to Noise!


Posted by: snarkout | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 2:39 PM
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Posted by: | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 2:39 PM
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Yeah, learning about science fiction authors' theories about the actual, present world is often problematic.

The other day my non-blog-reading ex was going on about how much he had liked Ender's Game, so I had to tell him about Orson Scott Card's politics. And then I recommended Speaker for the Dead.


Posted by: Bave Dee | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 2:40 PM
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Are the Draka books that unrepresentative of his work that I should give him another chance?

They're fairly unrepresentative. I picked up the Nantucket books and liked them (with the 'kinda creepy' reaction, but liked them.) Then picked up the Emberverse trilogy and liked those. I tend to finish authors I'm enjoying, and saw a mention of the Draka trilogy, and bought a one volume edition. And was completely freaked out by it -- I generally don't throw books out, if I really have to clear out space there's always some way to pass them on to other people. That, I threw out.

I don't know that I'd recommend reading the ones I'd liked, given his revealed politics, but they're not very similar to the Draka books.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 2:40 PM
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he puts a lot of women in leadership roles, and (wildly implausibly) tends to make them successful on equal terms in hand-to-hand combat

As David Weber teaches, sometimes the big strong man protecting you can be a woman. And didn't one of Stirling's kick-ass woman characters manage to acquire a native maiden of her own somewhere along the way?


Posted by: Not Prince Hamlet | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 2:41 PM
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The meaning of "death before dishonor" and similar slogans such as "better to die on your feet than live on your knees" is that it is better to be the guy who honorably orders someone else off to die than to be the grunt who gets to die for honor.


Posted by: inaccessible island rail | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 2:41 PM
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Starship Troopers isn't exactly the place to go for a reference with out political problems....


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 2:41 PM
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The Stirling approach is "Yes, rape and torture are very very bad. Let me describe them at great titillating length to show how bad they are." Which is certainly creepy, but not in a way that tends to muddle the issue like the Snow Crash stuff we're talking about.

Wait, that approach bothers you less than the damn dentata? Weird, is all I can say.

I haven't read (or even heard of) Stirling, but fundamentally, my problem is that (generally) I just don't buy the disclaimer, for the writer or the reader. I somehow found myself in front of this book a few years ago, and Jesus Christ did I come away angry. (I didn't even come close to finishing.) There's just no way to enjoy the novel without enjoying graphic depictions of the rape and torture of children, and the fact that it's all "bad guys" doing those things isn't remotely close to being sufficiently redeeming.


Posted by: Brock Landers | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 2:41 PM
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And then I recommended Speaker for the Dead.

Doubly cruel.


Posted by: inaccessible island rail | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 2:42 PM
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"death before dishonor" and similar slogans such as "better to die on your feet than live on your knees"

... are most typically valued by people who've never come remotely close to having to make that choice, and have little chance of ever doing so.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 2:43 PM
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Quick question, BTW, what do people here think about Bruce Sterling's We See Things Differently?

I remember liking it as an attempt to write from an explicitly (and confrontationally) non-Western POV. I read it at the right time for it to be a very effective contrast with most SF, but I suspect that it's also implausible and problematic.

I'm happy to see it online (whatever the copyright implications).


Posted by: NickS | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 2:43 PM
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484: a native maiden of her own
Yes, and not a badly-drawn character, either, for once. Of course in the Stirlingverse, you don't have crippling PTSD symptoms from getting gang-raped and seeing your comrades tortured and killed, rather, you just have some nightmares and get revenge and then you're all better.


Posted by: minneapolitan | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 2:45 PM
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I'm just glad that the Mineshaft can get almost as worked up about speculative fiction as it can about grilled cheese.


Posted by: Yawnoc | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 2:45 PM
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There's just no way to enjoy the novel without enjoying graphic depictions of the rape and torture of children,

Well, that's the difference. With Stirling, it's mostly not driving the plot, and you can flip past -- there's plenty of other stuff going on. And while I thought the dentata thing in Snow Crash was incredibly stupid, I also flipped past it.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 2:45 PM
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All this talk about the problems in SF reminds my why I believe it's usually best in short story form.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 2:46 PM
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490: Oh shit, now you've done it. Frowner's Sterling smackdown coming in 5, 4, 3, 2...


Posted by: minneapolitan | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 2:46 PM
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490 - I reread it recently (I own the collection it's in, Globalhead) and was struck by the idea in which there was a time in which Sterling's audience could be counted upon to not know who Sayyid Qutb was. (I certainly didn't when I first read it, although it was one of the things that made me read up more about the Iranian revolution.)


Posted by: snarkout | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 2:47 PM
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You know what else was stupid in Snow Crash (I am officially now just piling on)? Those goddamn skateboard wheels. They would not work like that, dammit!


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 2:47 PM
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497: Oh sure, open up the sci-fi-ideas-that-could-never-work can of worms, why don't you.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 2:48 PM
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Oh shit, now you've done it. Frowner's Sterling smackdown coming in 5, 4, 3, 2...

are you kidding, that's why I asked.


Posted by: NickS | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 2:49 PM
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I don't know that I'd recommend reading the ones I'd liked, given his revealed politics, but they're not very similar to the Draka books.

OK. I usually don't really care about an author's personal politics, other than the invariable effect their politics have on their writing. But Draka was fucking creepy. Piers Anthony writes weird rape scenes and crypto-pedophilia and doesn't manage to be as disturbing.


Posted by: water moccasin | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 2:50 PM
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Bruce Sterling used to show up at hacker cons; I wish I could find the video of a speech he gave at (I believe) SummerCon '93 where he was just completely spazzing out about how terrible computer viruses were, having just had his computer infected by one for the first time.

"Information wants to be free! It doesn't want to be infected!"

Oh, Bruce. They aren't laughing with you.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 2:50 PM
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struck by the idea in which there was a time in which Sterling's audience could be counted upon to not know who Sayyid Qutb was.

According to Wikipedia it was written in 1989. I don't remember when I read it originally.


Posted by: NickS | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 2:51 PM
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also re 497, that skateboard wheels are hardly the most problematic technology in the book.

in a way, it's good. you can almost see the cartoon^W graphic novel panels in front of you when he does stuff like that, and it keeps you from falling into the trap of taking it literally.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 2:52 PM
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501: Having read The Hacker Crackdown this isn't surprising. He was obviously interested in the scene, but coming to it from the outside.


Posted by: NickS | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 2:52 PM
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500 - Oh man, have you read his website? He's the funniest filthy old man ever. This one, in particular, should not be read at work, both because you'll get fired and because you'll be laughing to hard to get any work done.


Posted by: snarkout | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 2:52 PM
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They would not work like that, dammit!

Of course not. They would work by anti-gravity forcefield.


Posted by: mcmc | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 2:53 PM
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"too hard". I'm sorry, Nosflow. Please forgive me. I was laughing too hard to type.


Posted by: snarkout | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 2:54 PM
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You should read some of Sterling's rantings about the Pioneer (as in space probe) Effect on USENET from back in the day. They're ridiculous.


Posted by: water moccasin | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 2:54 PM
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Anyone here ever read the Thieve's World books? I haven't looked at one in 20+ years, but I'm surprised they never come up here - seems like others would also have read them years ago.


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 2:55 PM
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505: what the:

I also received a sample issue of THE PROGRESSIVE POPULIST for December 1, 2003. It's interesting for those at the left edge of the scale, as I am, but I already have more subscriptions than I can keep up with and am trying to cut down. But there's one shocker in their letter section I want to share: it points out that investigative reporter David Icke www.davidicke.com says that the Bush administration was aware of the danger of the 9/11 attack, but let it happen in order to gain the immediate political advantage of shocking 90% of Americans into supporting the Bush agenda. Okay, I don't know David Icke and can't speak for his authority, but I have heard that the White House has been stonewalling the official report on 9/11, refusing to allow it to be released. I don't see how there can be legitimate reason to suppress that--unless it indicates administration complicity.

That rules.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 2:56 PM
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499: I'll bite. [SPOILER AHEAD!] Yes, I hate that story. I don't know what Ursula Le Guin was doing including it in the Norton anthology. Partly, of course, I hate all stories with rock musician heroes from the Vampire Lestat to those Gwyneth Jones Bold As Love books , especially when we have to read their "lyrics" ("Hey, sabbat rhymes with Lestat if you mispronounce both of them!"). Mostly I just hate it for the "of course, I'm delighted to do terrorist thingy in order to preserve the timeless world of the caliphate just as it has been forever and ever except for the brief interlude when we were dominated by the corrupt West, because of course once the West is gone our world will never change, since it's timeless and all". If you read that as "man, this narrator is so totally wrong about everything", I guess it's okay, but that's definitely a counter-reading.

They used to rock all night in Leningrad despite the Party!


Posted by: Frowner | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 2:56 PM
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Anyone here ever read the Thieve's World books? I

What do you think I was reading under the table in ninth grade Latin? I remember them falling off in quality after the first few, but don't remember all that many specifics.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 2:56 PM
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With Stirling, it's mostly not driving the plot, and you can flip past -- there's plenty of other stuff going on.

Flip past? Um, well, I guess you could do that in the book I linked as well. It's not the sort of thing that would ever occur to me.

And while that would make for less unpleasant reading, I'm not sure it would make me think more of the book, or its author. I'd still want to know why he felt the need to include the graphic scenes I'm skipping (and I think in most cases I know the answer to that question.)


Posted by: Brock Landers | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 2:57 PM
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Late, but

Maybe the background assumption was of a much more anti-Semitic world than we have now, but there wasn't any of that made explicit.

YPU seemed explicit to me. The whole Christianist element struck me as anti-Semitic. (Anti lots else too.) On the whole, my disbelief was willingly suspended.


Posted by: md 20/400 | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 2:58 PM
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in the Stirlingverse, you don't have crippling PTSD symptoms from getting gang-raped and seeing your comrades tortured and killed, rather, you just have some nightmares and get revenge and then you're all better

OT, but I actually don't find that particularly implausible. Not that PTSD wouldn't also be plausible, but some people, particularly young people, really do bounce back from trauma amazingly well.


Posted by: Not Prince Hamlet | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 2:58 PM
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511: I mostly agree, but John Shirley could write some great rock musician heroes.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 2:59 PM
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512: I vaguely remember that; I read an unreasonable amount of middling fiction around that same time. Probably an appreciable percentage of what was being published (i.e.100s/year). Can't say much was memorable.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 3:01 PM
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516: Did he include lyrics? I could imagine that it might work if they weren't arena rock guys who were nonetheless supposed to be all hip and if we didn't have to read any lyrics. Also if there weren't any paragraphs about the amazingness of their music and how it's unlike any rock music we have here in the now.


Posted by: Frowner | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 3:01 PM
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Also: has there ever been a book thread here that hasn't drifted to sci-fi?


Posted by: Brock Landers | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 3:01 PM
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(and I think in most cases I know the answer to that question.)

A belief that titillation sells books, and a really creepy sense of what's titillating? But seriously, if I'm guessing what the book you linked was like, it is a little different. That sort of thing, the awful stuff the bad guys are doing is the focus of the plot. Stirling (non-Draka), it's an adventure story, and the creepy scenes could be excised without doing much of anything to the plot -- other than titillation, their only function is to signify that the bad guys are bad.

But yeah, I wouldn't line up to be introduced to Stirling in person.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 3:01 PM
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especially when we have to read their "lyrics"

It's bad enough when actual poets interject poems into their books, often. I don't think I've ever read ready-made "lyrics" in a book that didn't undermine the point.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 3:03 PM
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518: no lyrics that I remember, and they're mostly disaffected punk rockers forced to play shitty gigs who hate the minimalist electronic music of the times. My love for minimalist electronic music nonwithstanding, they're really fun books.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 3:03 PM
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I love the lyrics in Pynchon's books.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 3:03 PM
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Also: has there ever been a book thread here that hasn't drifted to sci-fi?

It's an unfogged (strange) attractor, seems.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 3:03 PM
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A belief that titillation sells books, and a really creepy sense of what's titillating?

Yes. You don't find that in any way objectionable?


Posted by: Brock Landers | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 3:05 PM
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518: I found the Lo/Rez parts of Idoru kind of flat, too. "Former rock musician" seems a more sympathetic, less ridiculous, literary hook, as in Spook Country.


Posted by: Flippanter | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 3:05 PM
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but John Shirley could write some great rock musician heroes.

Unlike Salman Rushdie, then.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 3:06 PM
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455: "Good thing I can't get raped! I have my dentata!"
Wait, I'd forgotten that someone mentioned that upthread. That line is really bizarre.

No more bizarre than Nabokov's extensive description of Lolita's oral-sex skills.


Posted by: Hamilton-Lovecraft | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 3:06 PM
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Wait, I'd missed the last line of 520. Maybe that answers 525, although it seems an awfully mild response.


Posted by: Brock Landers | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 3:07 PM
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526: I think as William Gibson's gotten old, his ability to write plausible hip, young characters has deteriorated. Happily, I think he's mostly figured this out.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 3:07 PM
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Also: has there ever been a book thread here that hasn't drifted to sci-fi?

We could talk about fantasy, I suppose. I don't read much, but I enjoyed Joe Abercrombie's The First Law trilogy quite a bit.


Posted by: Flippanter | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 3:07 PM
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525: Sure I do. But I also have a hard time finding adventure novels I like. If I screened out reading material I found politically/morally objectionable, I'd lose pretty much the whole nineteenth century and the first half of the twentieth, and not have much left from recent decades.

There's a line where something's genuinely too creepy to read, but that's way past 'objectionable' for me.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 3:08 PM
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re: 526

I found that character quite believable. I vaguely know people like that -- people in once influential bands who work in the periphery of the music industry or do other creative/semi-creative things. It must mess with your head to be one of those people, constantly reading about your own importance in the music press, etc while actually slogging away at some not especially paid job.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 3:08 PM
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Spook Country is better than Idoru, at any rate.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 3:08 PM
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516 - Lewis Shiner, who actually spent most of his teens and twenties as a bar-band drummer in Texas, does well. It helps that he generally isn't writing the lyrics himself. (Glimpses stars Brian Wilson and Jimi Hendrix; Slam is a wonderful historical artifact, though not a great novel -- a science fiction novelist's take on science fiction where the science is the Loompanics catalog, Bob Black, and early-90s skate rat zines, and IIRC all the bands in it were real Texas punk bands like the Big Boys.)

519 - There have been some tea-cozy mystery discussions, haven't there?

521 - The only book I've ever seen do this well is Camp Concentration, because the poet in question is not supposed to be that good and is utterly out of his mind. What a great novelist Disch was.


Posted by: snarkout | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 3:09 PM
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There's a line where something's genuinely too creepy to read, but that's way past 'objectionable' for me.

Eh, it's probably not helpful that we're talking about two different books, and neither of us is familiar with the other. We used identical words to describe them, but might be talking about very different things.


Posted by: Brock Landers | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 3:10 PM
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521: There are several Samuel Delaney books where he uses actual poems by his then-wife Marilyn Hacker who sure is some poet (although I confess to liking her earlier work more than her recent).

Thomas Pynchon's lyrics! I wonder, has anyone ever actually tried to sing them? I love them more than words unaccompanied by music can convey. "Incandescent bulb babies" is indeed the perfect rhyme for "like you got rabies".


Posted by: Frowner | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 3:10 PM
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Now I want Frowner's take on Disch!


Posted by: snarkout | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 3:11 PM
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In further response to 525: And Stirling's really pretty close to my line. There's a reason he hadn't come up in earlier discussions of light reading, and it's that he's creepy enough that I'd be uncomfortable recommending him. (Although, who has the annoying survivalist roommates? Someone said they did. They'd like Stirling.)


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 3:11 PM
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Thomas Pynchon's lyrics! I wonder, has anyone ever actually tried to sing them?

I often sing them to myself when reading his books.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 3:12 PM
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Nearly everything Gibson has written is better than Idoru. D'je ever notice how Gibson trilogies start out in some weird, unnerving future, and by the third book it's basically just the present day with one or two hi-tech macguffins?

What this says for the current trilogy, which is set in the very recent past, is a conundrum.


Posted by: minneapolitan | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 3:13 PM
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538: I'm, er, popular? Today?

Uh, disappointed by the racism on his blog. Camp Concentration was really good but makes me queasy. That one about the apartment building I liked a lot.


Posted by: Frowner | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 3:13 PM
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Stanley! Stanley has survivalist roommates who would enjoy Stirling.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 3:13 PM
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On Wings Of Song was interesting in that 70's fiction about how the world really is crumbling apart kind of way.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 3:15 PM
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Ahem, "Among the many problems with SM Stirling are: torture pron, racism, battle maiden feminism, an almost fanatical devotion to the Pope*, and the abysmally awful lyrics he inserts every few dozen pages."

*No, really: Virtually every novel has Xtianity collapsing into some kind of quasi-Catholicism. And in the Emberverse, he praises the Nazi Pope(!)


Posted by: minneapolitan | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 3:17 PM
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541: Presumably he'll be writing steampunk by the time he's on his last novels.


Posted by: DS | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 3:17 PM
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546: The Differene Engine has its enthusiasts, but I found it kind of dull.


Posted by: Flippanter | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 3:19 PM
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Also if there weren't any paragraphs about the amazingness of their music and how it's unlike any rock music we have here in the now.

That can just be a style of writing about rock music. Frex, how do you feel about this description (intentionally over the top) of an Iggy Pop concert?

The stage lights are up full blast and Iggy Pop hits the stage like he's not going to stop running until he's at the back of the auditorium, grabs the mic, and splits off across the stage to the side. A shirtless blur, a tornado of living, screaming, chiseled muscle-and-sinew proof that all of what they told you about growing up or aging is bullshit.
Mike Watt, from the Minutemen and fIREHOUSE, is playing bass and looks as amazed as anyone in the crowd. His eyes are absolutely glued to Iggy, and Iggy is everywhere at once. He flies like a computer-animated god-beast deity in an unhinged and hijacked Lucas film. You suddenly realize every punk band you thought was blowing your mind back when you were sixteen was simply a cute little messinger delivering a wadded note from this man, wherever he might have been that night. In retrospect, the punk shows you went to when you were growing up all seem like long-distance calls on a speakerphone from a place only somewhat near the storm you're witnessing firsthand now.
...

That seems similar to, but more hyperbolic, than Sterling's style, and I thought it was one of the best sections of the book.


Posted by: NickS | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 3:20 PM
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546: lets hope not.

fwiw, I thought Spook Country was a fun light read.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 3:21 PM
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547: Oh crap, see, I forgot all about that one.


Posted by: DS | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 3:21 PM
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I'm sorry, Nick, descriptions like that make me cry (tears of mirth as often as tears of pain). I've been to rock shows, you see, and the discrepancy is too great. I've been to some good shows, too, and left them enthused.

It's just that part of me is always saying, "yeah, but this is some skinny dude with an electric guitar who is way too impressed with himself". I've heard some amazing acoustic/low-fi shows too, and people don't pull that "battling the dark gods of roxxors" routine, so when I see someone acting all I-am-rock's-messenger it just makes me want to giggle.


Posted by: Frowner | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 3:26 PM
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Which is to say, the actual line, which is the narrator's, not YT's, is "She's not afraid; she's wearing a dentata." This line comes after a long bit establishing her state of mind (keyed up in survival mode) in the presence of two MetaCops (private security) and one franchise-jail manager. The MetaCops are not allied with the manager and it's unlikely that all three would agree on a gang rape. The only likely rape scenario is the manager, alone, after the MetaCops leave. She has the equipment and skills required to escape her handcuffs and the jail if the manager is incapacitated. The dentata is in fact making a big difference to her decision tree at that point, and YT is not a model of caution in any case.

She's less worked up a bit later on when the manager is eyeing her:

The manager, clearly, is tempted. ... Y.T. hopes that he does not try anything, because the dentata's effects can be unpredictable. "Make up your fucking mind," she says.


Posted by: Hamilton-Lovecraft | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 3:28 PM
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I've been to rock shows, you see, and the discrepancy is too great.

That may be why I don't mind it.

As a rule, I don't go to rock shows (my strong preference is to only see live performances in a style/setting where they will not use amplification at all). So for me, I just take it as an exercise in style, rather than trying to compare it to real life.


Posted by: NickS | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 3:30 PM
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I've heard some amazing acoustic/low-fi shows too

If I haven't said this before, I saw Michael Smith live last year, and it was one of the best shows that I've seen. Highly recommended.


Posted by: NickS | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 3:33 PM
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552: Look, I'll be really, really frank here: have you ever actually talked to a woman who was raped by a cop or a security guard about her experiences? Or even a woman who was groped, stripped or aggressively searched? Or even a woman who was cuffed and helpless while there were cops and security guards throwing her around? I know several men and women who are not models of caution who have had very, very bad things happen to them while in custody and....writing like this is just fucked up and obtuse. We don't have to demand a really high level of psychological realism from Stephenson to expect that he doesn't write characters who are all, "oh, hurry up and decide if you're going to rape me because I'm not sure whether you'll get knocked unconscious after you hold me down and penetrate me" about it.


Posted by: Frowner | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 3:33 PM
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Pynchon's lyrics: I'm convinced that at least some of them are set to specific songs, but I've never been able to match up a single one as I'm crap with meter. Anyway, I prefer the over-elaborate puns myself. ("For De Mille, young fur-henchmen can't be rowing!")


Posted by: foolishmortal | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 3:38 PM
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555: I don't talk to humans if I can help it. I've read textual versions of such experiences.

Point is, YT's a 15-year old punk who hasn't been raped and thinks she's invincible, which is a very different state of mind from someone on the other side of that kind of experience.


Posted by: Hamilton-Lovecraft | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 3:42 PM
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The writing is quoted in 552 is really unconvincing. Basically, Hamilton, you can stop arguing this point now.


Posted by: DS | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 3:45 PM
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Can I? Gosh, thanks.


Posted by: Hamilton-Lovecraft | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 3:48 PM
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In terms that fandom wrought for itself: live by the squee, die by the squick.


Posted by: Flippanter | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 3:50 PM
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I can't think of a single book that I've enjoyed that isn't objectionable in some way or implausible. Writing a book that was perfectly in line with ideal politics and not a single discrepancy from the world as we all know it to be (because, yes, that's exactly the same thing for every single person) sounds both impossible and boring.


Posted by: Parenthetical | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 3:52 PM
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(And yes, I know that no one is explicitly arguing for either of those two things; it just seems like you could shred pretty much any book, particularly genre works, in like manner).


Posted by: Parenthetical | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 3:58 PM
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561 semi-pwned by 466?


Posted by: NickS | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 4:00 PM
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Yep, I probably should have just agreed with you and kept the rest of it to myself!


Posted by: Parenthetical | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 4:01 PM
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563: or 213


Posted by: | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 4:04 PM
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If anyone's still scanning the thread for beach reads, let me note that I just picked up Richard Price for the first time after a) inheriting and then losing a copy of Clockers that I never cracked b) knowing that he was one of the writers tapped for The Wire and c) finally, reading the reviews of Lush Life.

Hard to put down. Plots like a motherfucker, and writes great characters and social contexts to boot. Does not at all do the one thing that irritates me most keenly in crime fiction, which is to overmention brand names and specific locations in an attempt at verisimilitude.

I read Freedomland, which struck me as a so-so novel by a great writer, and just grabbed Lush Life from the library. I have six to ten books in various states of completion right now, but that one I ate from tip to tail in as short a time as I could.


Posted by: Wrongshore | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 4:21 PM
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I can't think of a single book that I've enjoyed that isn't objectionable in some way or implausible.

There's implausible and then there's implausible. Calvino's Qfwfq may be the size of a galaxy in one story and smaller than an atom the next, but he always acts like an actual person. As for content that's objectionable, I think English-language genre fiction is just heavily-laden with reactionaries, right-wingers and other creeps, more so than most other areas of publishing.


Posted by: inaccessible island rail | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 4:28 PM
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re: 567

These are also genres -- particular thrillers and crime fiction -- where there are a lot more potential pitfalls in terms of descriptions of other cultures, nations, races, etc and where the goal-posts have moved a great deal over time. It's a damn sight easier to avoid if you only ever write about white middle-class people commiting adultery in Surrey.

I think some of the potential pitfalls -- some degree of 'Orientalism', say -- are nearly impossible to avoid.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 4:36 PM
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Uh, disappointed by the racism on his blog

Man, read this as "this blog," and I was stumped.


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 4:46 PM
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566: I think of Richard Price is part of a set of writers who do GREAT middlebrow writing -- terrific stuff, draws on some genre conventions but of a quality that leaves genre writing in the dust. But they don't quite have the complexity and depth of the literary greats. Robert Stone is another; I like him even better than Price. They make great scriptwriters and movie people. I still don't know why no one has made a movie of "Damascus Gate".


Posted by: PGD | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 4:49 PM
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569: Well, there's been an awful lot of "whitey" in this thread.


Posted by: Hamilton-Lovecraft | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 4:49 PM
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Hey, whaddya know -- film version of Damascus Gate just announced as in development .


Posted by: PGD | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 4:53 PM
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Well, there's been an awful lot of "whitey" in this thread.

compared to other threads?


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 4:54 PM
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570: Interesting comparison -- I've only read Dog Soldiers and some short fiction by Stone (and stupidly passed on a creative nonfiction class with him back in the college days), but I thought he was swimming in very deep waters, and there was a certain dark terseness that doesn't make him sit easily in "middlebrow" for me, i.e., not as much propulsive narrative pleasure.

Price is more an heir of Dickens than Conrad -- the sprawling social rather than the internal crisis. That lends itself more easily to "middlebrow" as a label. Of course, if Plato is a fine red wine, then Aristotle is a dry martini; I'm right now experiencing that flinch of self-recognition that accompanies any serious consideration of which of one's own tastes are and are not middlebrow, so let me sit on it for a while.


Posted by: Wrongshore | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 5:06 PM
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566

... Richard Price ...

A vote against, based on Clockers which I didn't care for.


Posted by: James B. Shearer | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 5:30 PM
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I'm sorry, Nick, descriptions like that make me cry (tears of mirth as often as tears of pain). I've been to rock shows, you see, and the discrepancy is too great. I've been to some good shows, too, and left them enthused.

Thinking about it, I would defend this style of writing on one additional ground. I think of it as an attempt to capture the immediacy of a moment, rather then the feeling of the show in retrospect.

At every great performance that I've attended I've had some moments when I was just slack-jawed in amazement thinking, "this is the best live performance I've ever seen." When the show is over it never lives up to those moments. You reflect back, put everything in context, get out of the mood, and you can still remember that there were parts of the show that were flat out amazing, but you're more aware of them as exceptional, and of how the rest of the experience was below those peaks.

I read a passage like the one quoted as an attempt to write from within that initial experience of slack-jawed enthusiasm.


Posted by: NickS | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 6:46 PM
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I remember a moment like that from a Jesus Jones/Ned's Atomic Dustbin concert. I'm sure that adolescent me was more receptive to it than me today. In retrospect, it's hard to say much more about either band than they rocked adequately, the headliner moreso, but they delivered the goods that night.


Posted by: Wrongshore | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 6:57 PM
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Eh, I'm still sympathetic Ham-Love on this, because (a) no one likes to have their favorite books/tv shows/movies/music put down, and (b) it's especially bad when it's implied that you're a moral monster for liking them in the first place.

Stephenson is, from my perspective, fun reading. Is there dumb stuff in his books? Gosh, you think? I assert the right to read fiction shallowly.


Posted by: mrh | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 6:57 PM
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a Jesus Jones/Ned's Atomic Dustbin concert

!!!


Posted by: mrh | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 6:59 PM
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566: I am 90% of the way through Lush Life right now, and I actually think I liked Samaritan better. Did you read that?


Posted by: Witt | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 7:05 PM
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I haven't read any Stephenson, but I think I've encountered the first bit of Snow Crash. Some Walter Mitty pizza delivery thing?

I have tried to read Neuromancer several times. I own it. I can't get through it. I have no idea why.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 7:09 PM
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I have tried to read Neuromancer several times. I own it. I can't get through it. I have no idea why.

Possibly because it's overrated.


Posted by: Hamilton-Lovecraft | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 7:16 PM
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578: I'm fine with being a moral monster. The trouble is, I'm also an obsessive pedant.


Posted by: Hamilton-Lovecraft | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 7:17 PM
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...a Jesus Jones/Ned's Atomic Dustbin concert....

I think I went to a show on that tour. Thought Ned's were much superior. Two basses, don't you know.

Also, I feel old now.


Posted by: Flippanter | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 7:30 PM
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579: This was way before !!!.


Posted by: Wrongshore | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 7:38 PM
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But yeah, I wouldn't line up to be introduced to Stirling in person.

I'm pretty sure reading that S/t/r/o/s/s was Not Impressed that there was a Stirling quote on the front of his books.

Especially given Stirling used to troll his blog's comment sections ridiculously.


Posted by: Keir | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 7:42 PM
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It's a damn sight easier to avoid if you only ever write about white middle-class people commiting adultery in Surrey.

I think some of the potential pitfalls -- some degree of 'Orientalism', say -- are nearly impossible to avoid.

I don't want to talk crazy, but one could always read books that aren't written by white middle-class people in Surrey.


Posted by: Sir Kraab | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 7:43 PM
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||
Question for you NYC unfoggedites: Is there a nice quiet place to read/study/work near Lincoln Center? The public libraries are fine when they're open, but they close too early, it seems like you need to be a student to get into any of the local school libraries, and the cafes I've run across are too loud and distracting for my poor ADD-addled brain.

I'm only here for another week, so maybe I should take this chance to see NY, but.. but..
|>


Posted by: amb | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 7:51 PM
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588: Um, if you're just looking for a place to sit, there's a usually-quiet and well-lit public atrium in front of Ollie's Noodle Shop at 67th and Broadway. All I know other than that are coffee shops. Maybe the Barnes and Noble on Broadway at 66thish?


Posted by: A White Bear | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 7:55 PM
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I don't want to talk crazy, but one could always read books that aren't written by white middle-class people in Surrey.

Right, so I actually recently gave up partway through Say You're One of Them, despite really liking the first short story in the collection. Just too painful. I find it hard-ish to get good recommendations for non-European/Euro-American authors; this guy, for example, had a story published in the New Yorker, which is usually enough to send me screaming in the opposite direction. Mostly I poke around on my own, and sometimes end up with something interesting. If I were buying more books these days I'd probably buy more from street vendors and the massive H-Mart near me.

On the topic of sci fi, I am reluctantly in my non-youth years coming to agree with whoever said upthread that sci fi is better suited to short stories. I would say it's almost the ideal format -- vivid enough to scare the pants off you, punchy enough to get a couple of gee-whiz moments in, and short enough that you don't notice a general lack of characterization.*

*Not a well-informed slam on the genre; I've read hundreds if not thousands of mysteries and romances in my time, but probably only dozens of sci fi, and not particularly representative at that.


Posted by: Witt | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 8:06 PM
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There's a line in Quicksilver, meant to be a one-off on a non-essential character, that I think also describes Stephenson and much of his work since Cryptonomicon:

"a stubborn belief that pedantry and repetitiveness could through some alchemy be forged into wit."

I'm a fan of both pedantry and repetition, so that probably explains whey he's tolerable to me.


Posted by: Parenthetical | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 8:11 PM
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I'm pretty sure reading that S/t/r/o/s/s was Not Impressed that there was a Stirling quote on the front of his books.

Especially given Stirling used to troll his blog's comment sections ridiculously.

I seriously doubt that. I don't know that they'd consider each other friends, but Ch/rl/e (like many other people in the SF community) tolerates St/rl/ng and (IME) makes the standard "oh, he's a much nicer person offline" excuse.

And you'll note that St/rl/ng was *allowed* to troll that blog's comment section for quite a long time.


Posted by: Josh | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 8:27 PM
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Well --- I'm sure I've read Str/ss complaining about one of the quotes on the front of his books, and I can't think who else it would be. (Quite probably from an entirely mercenary aspect -- how many St/rl/ng fans do you think want to read about lesbian cops in the EU, tbh?)

I think it was in response to something Carlos said on JDN's lj.

Still, it was all v. innuendo and nod's as good as a wink stuff, and I can't remember the details, so I wouldn't be putting any money on it.


Posted by: Keir | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 8:39 PM
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588: Also, surely there's somewhere at Fordham where you could sit and read/work? I dunno if they all require IDs at the door; campuses can be that way.


Posted by: A White Bear | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 8:43 PM
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There's lots of SF with good characterization and themes that aren't creepy-in-the-bad-way. LeGuin, Patricia Anthony, Maureen McHugh, Walter Miller, Adam Roberts, Alastair Reynolds, Nalo Hopkinson... well, maybe not "lots." But it's certainly out there to be had.


Posted by: DS | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 8:55 PM
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The ToS has grown silent as we've started discussing S.M. Stirling. Hmmmmmm....


Posted by: Cryptic ned | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 8:58 PM
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McLeod on a good day, Banks mostly, Gray, Peter Watts, etc.

It's when you start being strict, like `hard sf with themes that aren't creepy in the bad way' that you start to really get in trouble.


Posted by: Keir | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 9:03 PM
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I see that while I was away Frowner has led you from the sensible moderate opinion that Cryptonomicon wasn't very good to the wacked-out radical idea that Snow Crash sucks, thus proving that hippie-haters are right about everything.

Hiro is half-Asian not just for the name but as a shout-out to the novel's cyberpunk heritage. Cyberpunk drew its motor force from anxiety about the rise of a specifically Asian capitalism, and the concomitant decline in importance of America as a nation. The multinational corporations that have usurped American sovereignty almost exactly resemble the popular perception of the life of the Japanese salaryman who owed unquestioning loyalty to his employer. (A Japanese exchange student I once met had to read Neuromancer in her intro English class, and claimed it was an anti-Japanese tract.) The intermixing of American and Asian cultures functions as the symbolic representation of this shift in relative power. I think "Mr. Lee's Greater Hong Kong" is a shout-out in the same way.


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 9:30 PM
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Stirling's Peshawar Lancers is a great example of world-building (and a counterexample to 545.2: thousand faces of God!). But while I find it a very interesting idea for millions of British refugees to have made India the new base of empire - since it brings up issues of assimilation common to Indian history - the way the book seems to explicitly admire its British is a bit squicky when pondered, considering he openly admits the British became the new dominant caste above the Brahmins. (As I recall, everyone in the book except one hapless female victim knows their place and is happy enough with it.)

And the world-building is marred by Stirling's need to insert a villainous foreign country explicitly founded on mass slavery, rape, and cannibalism.


Posted by: Minivet | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 10:58 PM
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That's Stirling for you. This is the man who demanded piracy (the online kind) should be punished by prison rape after all. You can read Peshawar Lancers and not be too squicked out at teh time; it's onyl when you think of it later that you go "wait, what". My earnest review is here.

(So I open this thread and the discussion has moved from David Foster Wallace to S. M. Stirling in less than 600 posts? Interesting.)


Posted by: Martin Wisse | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 11:45 PM
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re: 587

And funnily enough, I do -- possibly because I am not a person from Surrey, I'm not even English. The comment was a dig at others, i.e. a lot of the people who wank on about literary fiction, and it's moral and stylistic superiority to genre fiction, etc. are the sort of of people who do only read books by white people in Surrey, about white people in Surrey [and their tediously imagined interior lives]. In the US substitute 'the Upper West Side' or 'Connecticut' or whatever, for Surrey.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 11:53 PM
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I've been baffled for about 100 comments now, before finally figuring out that this nasty-sounding Stirling of whom you speak is not the Bruce Sterling whose work I have generally enjoyed. Carry on, now.


Posted by: adamhenne | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 11:54 PM
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Where is Surrey? Indonesia?


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 06- 9-09 11:58 PM
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(So I open this thread and the discussion has moved from David Foster Wallace to S. M. Stirling in less than 600 posts? Interesting.)

That's an all-time low degree of thread drift for the Mineshaft.


Posted by: Hamilton-Lovecraft | Link to this comment | 06-10-09 12:19 AM
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The inability to finish a story is one of the more obnoxious problems in writing. Unfortunately, it's very common among authors that a) I enjoy (until the crappy ending) and b) are somewhat clever. Philip K. Dick, for instance, sucked at endings, even though the rest of his stories were pretty awesome. Also, Stephenson (see Snow Crash for a horrible example), and, though I really like him, Wallace (see Broom of the System; IJ was actually one of the better endings).

Some authors deal with this by never fucking ending (see George R.R. Martin and Robert Jordan).


Posted by: F | Link to this comment | 06-10-09 12:22 AM
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For an author who was clever and knew how to end a story, see Borges. For an author who was clever and didn't even know how to tell a story, much less end it, see Pynchon.


Posted by: F | Link to this comment | 06-10-09 12:24 AM
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I really like the endings to Pynchon's stories. Ergo, we must fight.

Topically, I feel like I was yanking Ham-Love's chain a bit earlier; I really loved Snow Crash when I first read it, and it would be a bridge too far to claim it wasn't (a) incredibly readable and (b) full of good ideas. I just don't feel like Stephenson is a very good writer, a feeling that applies quite widely and has plausibly contributed to my general disaffection with science fiction.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 06-10-09 12:28 AM
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Adam Roberts not creepy? Mister "my protagonist is an extreme libertarian so that makes it okay for him to rape my other protagonist"?

From the discussion here you'd never guess that snow Crash was a deliberately over the top parody of all the worst excesses of cyberpunk. All criticism of "but real people wouldn't do that"? That's kind of the point...

In general, as somebody upthread said, Stephenson has written a thirty something page long article on the history of the transatlantic telegraph cable for Wired. That should tell you enough to judge whether or not you'll like his writing. I love that kind of impassioned, deeply geeky and Focused writing, but if you're not into that, Stephenson is not the writer for you.


Posted by: Martin Wisse | Link to this comment | 06-10-09 12:41 AM
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I don't care about endings; what I want is an interesting journey.

The worst thing about Jordan dying with his series unfinished is that even his handpicked replacement is now having to write three books to end the seies rather than the just one more Jordan had promised...


Posted by: Martin Wisse | Link to this comment | 06-10-09 12:45 AM
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From the discussion here you'd never guess that snow Crash was a deliberately over the top parody of all the worst excesses of cyberpunk.

Interesting. Why would you say that's the case?


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 06-10-09 12:46 AM
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re: 607 and 608

Yeah, I found his earlier books really entertaining, and I enjoyed some of the ideas he was throwing around, even in the Diamond Age, which doesn't get universal love. His strengths outweighed his flaws, at least for a while.

I do think that, with Snow Crash, he was sort of riffing on a load of existing cyberpunk tropes and having some fun with it. The prose in the opening section, all the techno-wank about arachno-fibre suits and so on with the big reveal being that the tech-warrior is a pizza guy, is clearly meant to be a pastiche of a certain style of writing -- he's not taking it seriously -- and I think there's quite a bit of that through the book. Hiro is meant to be a bit of a dick, and those who see him as some sort of authorial wish-fulfillment are reading it wrong, I think. That's more of a fair criticism of some of the characters in Cryptonomicon.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 06-10-09 1:05 AM
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611.last: again, I like the idea, but I don't quite know why I'd believe it. Specifically, I see no evidence that Stephenson has the subtlety or the command of his own prose to represent people that way. I think he just thought Hiro was a badass -- more of a badass than he (Stephenson) is;


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 06-10-09 1:11 AM
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611: The bit with the street soldier in the first section of The Diamond Age is even more bluntly a shot at cyberpunk. "Yes you're a badass with black leather and crosshair shades and a gun in your skull. However you have no foresight and no friends, and so now you are dead. Now we can tell a story."


Posted by: Hamilton-Lovecraft | Link to this comment | 06-10-09 1:15 AM
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612: Every line of Stephenson's prose is tongue in cheek. I don't see why it's so hard for you to extrapolate from the literary voice to the characterization.


Posted by: Hamilton-Lovecraft | Link to this comment | 06-10-09 1:18 AM
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610: Stephenson himself said so, at the time for one...

Snow Crash starts with a long, loving description of how badass the Deliverator is -- and then you find out he's a pizza courier. that should've been a big clue...


Posted by: Martin Wisse | Link to this comment | 06-10-09 1:24 AM
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608.1: Hmmm, yeah, that would have been squicky, except you're completely wrong. Now that's lazy strawman criticism.


Posted by: DS | Link to this comment | 06-10-09 1:39 AM
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(Further to 616: One thing that's made extremely obvious throughout Salt is that thought the Senaarians are bad guys, the Alsists in general and Petja in particular are not Good Guys.)


Posted by: DS | Link to this comment | 06-10-09 1:43 AM
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614: Every verse The Monkees sang was tongue in cheek, but they still sucked.


Posted by: DS | Link to this comment | 06-10-09 1:51 AM
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I didn't read the Crypt. as being particularly tongue-in-cheek. Snow Crash, yes. *shrug*


Posted by: W. Breeze | Link to this comment | 06-10-09 1:53 AM
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616: Umm, your link is not proving what you think it is, especially as I don't think Roberts is as good or as careful a writer as that discussion makes him out to be. Intentional creepines


Posted by: Martin Wisse | Link to this comment | 06-10-09 3:27 AM
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re: 612

I think that's unfair. I think one of Stephenson's strengths actually is that sort of pastiche - the tone in Snow Crash seems obviously that to me. As Martin says, he's also said as much in interviews. He said the same thing re: Zodiac, that when people who read early drafts told him the lead character was an arsehole that he knew he was on the right track.

I think where the bad bits of Cryptonomicon go wrong, and then where the Baroque stuff falls off a cliff is when he stops doing that and starts to fall a little bit in love with the character type that he had more distance from in the earlier books. I also think there's been a lot of uncharitable reading of his stuff above, and I say that as someone who hated the Baroque stuff, and had issues with bits of Cryptonomicon.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 06-10-09 6:51 AM
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That Doctor Slack fellow in the link 616 sounds pretty smart. It's too bad we can't get commenters like that instead of you lot


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 06-10-09 7:22 AM
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614: Every verse The Monkees sang was tongue in cheek, but they still sucked.

Hey! Some of it was OK pop.


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 06-10-09 7:22 AM
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Every verse The Monkees sang was tongue in cheek, but they still sucked.

But then later Michael Nesmith made this lovely song.


Posted by: Blume | Link to this comment | 06-10-09 7:47 AM
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That Doctor Slack fellow in the link 616 sounds pretty smart.

Unlike the chump commenting above him, for example.


Posted by: W. Breeze | Link to this comment | 06-10-09 7:55 AM
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re: 625

? Bit harsh, no?


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 06-10-09 8:07 AM
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Joke!


Posted by: W. Breeze | Link to this comment | 06-10-09 8:14 AM
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The rest of the entry I quoted is: It's too bad we can't get commenters like that instead of you lot


Posted by: W. Breeze | Link to this comment | 06-10-09 8:14 AM
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Going way back to DFW, here's a .pdf of the title essay from the book Apo recommended way back in 42.

And here's a horrible little short story. Horrible.


Posted by: Brock Landers | Link to this comment | 06-10-09 8:26 AM
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589/594: Thanks! Barnes and Noble was quieter than any of the other places I'd tried, but still a bit loud for my taste. I'll try Ollie's tonight if I can't get into Fordham.


Posted by: amb | Link to this comment | 06-10-09 8:26 AM
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618: Every verse The Monkees sang was tongue in cheek, but they still sucked.

My YouTube cyberstalking of Teri Garr a few weeks back brought me to a small part she had in the Monkee's film Head. I'd been sort of of aware of it (it flopped badly at the time) as having a bit of a cult following, but did not appreciate what a weird mash-up it really was. I'd love to see it. It seems to have been both a lame psychedlic takeoff on Help! and a deconstruction of The Monkees image. What could wrong with a movie with Jack Nicholson (who wrote much of it), Annette Funicello, Sonny Liston, Carol Doda, Frank Zappa, Teri Garr, Victor Mature and the lyrics,

Hey, hey, we are The Monkees
You know we love to please
A manufactured image
With no philosophies
Here's the clip with Teri Garr which shows some of the nature of the film.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 06-10-09 8:28 AM
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Head is supposed to be great. Lots of insane psychedelic mindfuckery, and also lots of solarization.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 06-10-09 8:31 AM
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here's a horrible little short story

Before looking, I knew exactly which one you were referencing.


Posted by: apostropher | Link to this comment | 06-10-09 8:31 AM
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||

Students with more sexual partners get worst results, reveals Cambridge study

A truly sterling piece of science, but maybe of some consolation to some here.
|>


Posted by: W. Breeze | Link to this comment | 06-10-09 8:35 AM
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But then later Michael Nesmith made this lovely song.

Mike Nesmith wrote lovely songs when he was with the Monkees. The problem was the eedjits playing miming them.

Try Cassandra Wilson's take on Last Train to Clarksville.


Posted by: OFE | Link to this comment | 06-10-09 8:40 AM
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634: Also some adventures in headline writing since apparently the real takeaway was, It revealed students at poorly-performing colleges are more likely to be sleeping around., where "colleges" refers to those that comprise Cambridge.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 06-10-09 8:43 AM
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Head is truly bizarre. The first half hour, at least. I decided I'd rather be stoned to watch the rest; I'll be sure to report back whenever that happens.


Posted by: Jesus McQueen | Link to this comment | 06-10-09 9:15 AM
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637: Just moved it to #1 on my Netflix queue.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 06-10-09 9:36 AM
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I caught the tail end of Head on cable a few years back. Definitely weird/non sequitur/stoner stuff, but seemed worthwhile in its way.

BTW, JP, seriously envying you for last night.


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 06-10-09 9:48 AM
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Head is better than any of the Beatles' movies.


Posted by: minneapolitan | Link to this comment | 06-10-09 10:08 AM
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I've never seen the movie, but 640 certainly holds true without the italics.


Posted by: apostropher | Link to this comment | 06-10-09 10:15 AM
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639.2: Yeah, it was great fun; the last two minutes were the most intense of any sporting event I've ever attended in person. However, the discussion of cost/benefit ratio continues with my wife even though we both had a great time*—meeting MB (and Jamie) for the first time in person was a bonus. We never do that kind of thing, but right after I saw on his blog that MB had done so (and was urging me to follow suit), I had a work-related call with a guy I know pretty well who was going and that pushed me to throw caution (and dollars) to the wind.

*And she is ahead of me in Stanley Cup Finals games attended as she went with her quilting group to one in '92.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 06-10-09 10:19 AM
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640: Head is better than any of the Beatles' movies.

Could be, but you have to give them credit for getting there first.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 06-10-09 10:22 AM
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642: Meeting MB & Jamie would be pretty awesome. AB had his wife (blanking on her name) as a TA at UVa decades ago, but that's hardly the stuff of "hey let's get together."

I'm pretty sure I disagree with 640, but I haven't seen Head in its entirety, and I haven't seen a Beatles movie in 20 years (when they were a bit more than 20 years old. Weird).


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 06-10-09 10:38 AM
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The story in 629.2 was a bad place for me to start with DFW, since I found myself unconsciously tensed up and waiting for the gut punch with every passing paragraph of Consider the Lobster, even though I knew one probably wasn't coming. Which made reading the essay somewhat unpleasant, a feeling that I hope will go away eventually. (I really don't want to be tense for all 1000+ pages of Infinite Jest, if I ever bother to read it.)

That said, having just finished it, Consider the Lobster was fucking brilliant. I have no idea how he got away with it.


Posted by: Brock Landers | Link to this comment | 06-10-09 1:12 PM
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He didn't exactly get away with it, per se -- the letters page of Gourmet was swamped for three months with people saying they didn't read the magazine to learn how their food feels about being eaten.


Posted by: Wrongshore | Link to this comment | 06-10-09 1:26 PM
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646: Having it published in that forum is "getting away with it", I'd say. I doubt he expected anything different for a reaction.


Posted by: Brock Landers | Link to this comment | 06-10-09 1:28 PM
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That article does not make me want to attend the Maine Lobster Festival.

It does, however, make me want some lobster.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 06-10-09 1:43 PM
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Whoo lobster. We're headed back to Vermont in a week, and I fully intend to catch up on four missed years of lobster consumption. And I've got the girls stoked to catch crayfish. Lobsters large and small!


Posted by: Jesus McQueen | Link to this comment | 06-10-09 2:02 PM
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648: Scenes from the least foodie life in the world part XXIII:

My mother erupting in tears of frustration at me as a kid because I insisted on a hot dog at the Deer Isle, Maine 4th of July celebration with fresh whole lobsters available for something like $3.00 each.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 06-10-09 2:06 PM
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God, lobster is so cheap in Maine. Want.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 06-10-09 2:10 PM
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Okay, now I've read the link in 629.1, and it's also almost unbeliveably good. At times, literally knock-my-breath-away good. This is some of the best stuff I've read in a very long time. Possibly ever.

I'm thinking I should try to find a copy of Infinite Jest.


Posted by: Brock Landers | Link to this comment | 06-10-09 3:36 PM
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You should. I will say that I feel this way about DFW's essays generally, and was less crazed with enthusiasm about Infinite Jest (my experience was the opposite of AWB's mom's -- Bleak House I can curl up with and read effortlessly, Infinite Jest, while fun until the maddening ending, was laborious fun). And his short stories generally do not make me happy. I accept that they're skillful, but mostly I don't want to read them.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 06-10-09 3:46 PM
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Consider the Lobster really is fantastic.


Posted by: DS | Link to this comment | 06-10-09 4:19 PM
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I would have liked "Consider the Lobster" about seventy times more if he had been able to bring himself to leave out the motherfucking endnotes.


Posted by: redfoxtailshrub | Link to this comment | 06-10-09 4:39 PM
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The endnotes are half the fun!


Posted by: DS | Link to this comment | 06-10-09 5:05 PM
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657

The endnotes were kind of chaffy.


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 06-10-09 5:08 PM
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658

652: Okay, now I've read the link in 629.1, and it's also almost unbeliveably good.

Hm. Actually! I liked it quite possibly least of the essays in A Supposedly Fun Thing .... It's possible that's because it's last in the collection, so that I was becoming tired, but the truth is that I began to really roll my eyes impatiently over DFW's fascination with the toilet (and shower) on board ship. Friend (I felt): you are going on too long about this, you really are!

There's a dedication page at the close of that collection in which DFW adds parenthetical remarks about the people he thanks for help in its preparation. Among them is "Amy (Just How Much Reader-Annoyance are You Shooting for Here, Exactly?) Wallace Havens.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 06-10-09 5:32 PM
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659

Assume the italics tag in the first paragraph of 658 is properly closed.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 06-10-09 5:33 PM
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660

656 gets it exactly right.


Posted by: apostropher | Link to this comment | 06-10-09 5:39 PM
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661

Ticket to the Fair, also very funny.


Posted by: apostropher | Link to this comment | 06-10-09 5:48 PM
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662

Hmm, in my memory it was the Iowa State Fair, not Illinois. It's been a while.


Posted by: apostropher | Link to this comment | 06-10-09 5:50 PM
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663

I read the lobster thing also. A bit wordy for my taste, but it was very good. The endnotes were half the fun. I just can't see me getting through a novel like that.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 06-10-09 5:50 PM
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664

One man's half the fun is another woman's schticky crutch. I probably would have found them half the fun if I hadn't already read a bunch of other DFW endnotes elsewhere.


Posted by: redfoxtailshrub | Link to this comment | 06-10-09 6:27 PM
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665

DFW's essay sort of reminds me of Tom Wolfe's essays in that both take a big, nicely worded circle around the topic before getting to the point. Or maybe it's just that I haven't been able to finish a Tom Wolfe novel either.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 06-10-09 6:31 PM
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666

I realize that I'm pretty much alone out here on my schticky crutch branch, incidentally. Not looking to convert anyone!


Posted by: redfoxtailshrub | Link to this comment | 06-10-09 6:36 PM
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667

Yeah, it's all laborious, so even though it has plenty of humor, I'm not sure "fun" is really the right word. But it's gorgeous. And so very honest.


Posted by: Brock Landers | Link to this comment | 06-10-09 6:37 PM
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668

Schticky Crutch Branch, the new album by the 6ths.


Posted by: Cryptic ned | Link to this comment | 06-10-09 6:38 PM
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669

I'm pretty sure I'm going to have trouble sleeping tonight on account of 629.2, however, and I'm pretty unhappy about that.


Posted by: Brock Landers | Link to this comment | 06-10-09 6:39 PM
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670

669: I saw the title and closed the window on that one.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 06-10-09 6:41 PM
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664: It is true that as I read "Consider the Lobster" I feel that I am reading, well, a David Foster Wallace essay. That's fine, though.

I do think I have to take him in smallish doses. I'm not sure why that is, given that I really like the man's writing, and the man himself by extension. I just really wish he could relax a bit; he stresses me, and I assume, himself, out. Of course this is all moot.

Note that I'm only talking about his essays; haven't read any of the fiction.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 06-10-09 6:44 PM
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672

DFW is triple-special when you consider his peers; there was a time when he and Dave Eggers were seldom mentioned in different breaths. But 667.last is seriously correct.


Posted by: foolishmortal | Link to this comment | 06-10-09 7:03 PM
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673

Not looking to convert anyone!

Said comment 666 . . .


Posted by: oudemia | Link to this comment | 06-10-09 7:44 PM
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674

My mother erupting in tears of frustration at me as a kid because I insisted on a hot dog at the Deer Isle, Maine 4th of July celebration with fresh whole lobsters available for something like $3.00 each.

Opposite story: me in Maine with my folks when I was 3 or 4. My mom ordering me a whole lobster on the assumption that she would "help" me with it. Her finishing her lobster only to discover that I had already devoured every scrap of flesh from mine.

Last week Wholey's had 5+ lb. lobsters for $6/lb. Couldn't swing/justify it. Plus I couldn't recall whether it's true or just something we tell ourselves that they're really best under 1.5 lbs.


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 06-10-09 7:51 PM
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675

5+ lb. lobsters

You're just trying to make me cry, aren't you?


Posted by: Jesus McQueen | Link to this comment | 06-10-09 7:55 PM
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676

The local Market Basket had inferior lobsters at $3.99/pound last fall. Apparently lobstermen anticipated recession.


Posted by: foolishmortal | Link to this comment | 06-10-09 7:56 PM
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677

664: If you're tired of endnotes, you're tired of life.


Posted by: DS | Link to this comment | 06-10-09 8:05 PM
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678

Plus I couldn't recall whether it's true or just something we tell ourselves that they're really best under 1.5 lbs.

Just something we tell ourselves.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 06-10-09 8:11 PM
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679

Having just re-read The James Joyce Murder by Heilbruner, writing sub nom Amanda Cross, and thinking "This dialog is what a really great Unfogged comment thread would be like", I wondered why no one has mentioned her.


Posted by: Michael H Schneider | Link to this comment | 06-10-09 8:20 PM
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677: Footnotes are preferable.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 06-10-09 8:37 PM
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681

677. 680:

Although those notes, in conformity with custom, come after the poem, the reader is advised to consult them first and then study the poem with their help, rereading them of course as he goes through its text, and perhaps, after having done with the poem, consulting them a third time so as to complete the picture. I find it wise in such cases as this to eliminate the bother of back-and-forth leafings by either cutting out and clipping together the pages with the text of the thing, or, even more simply, purchasing two copies which can then be placed in adjacent positions on a comfortable table ...


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 06-10-09 9:23 PM
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679: I do like those, although the last few, where the mystery gets lost in favor of more polemic, less so.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 06-11-09 5:24 AM
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... where the mystery gets lost in favor of more polemic, less so.

I had, of course, forgotten that aspect (I'd claim that my memory was failing, but I can't remember when it's been any better than it is now), so I'm now halfway through re-reading Sweet Death, Kind Death (1987), which I think it is one of those later ones.

Yes, it is polemical. She's aruing about gender roles, feminism, and academia. Coincidentally, I recently re-read Gaudy Night where Sayers is arguing about gender roles, feminism, and academia. I can't claim that these are necessary themes in mystery stories, but perhaps there's a tendency for women authors to use the form to argue politics. I'm also thinking of Ayn Rand (athough those weren't myseries) and I'm not sure it's inherently different from Robert Heinlein (although different side of the gender argument and diffferent genre). In other words, I don't think I know what I'm talking about.

It may be that Heilbruner is simply more heavy handed, or her arguments are a little closer historically, or maybe that she's also arguing about death and suicide (she herself chose suicide). Even the polemic fits with the sort of mystery story that's all about character, in which the hero deduces the identity of the murder from a deep understanding of the character of the suspects. It makes me wish I knew more about literature.


Posted by: Michael H Schneider | Link to this comment | 06-11-09 8:29 PM
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