Kim Du Toit’s discussion of body graffiti reminded me of a favorite story by Saki, “The Background.” It’s easily found online, and you can read it below the fold here.
It crossed my mind
to buy yet another book until
I stopped to count the ones I have.
I recently came across mention of the clinesterton beademungen. It reminded me of an old James Blish story, which is available online. Don’t move, count the seconds, and everything will be rodalent. (As I recall, Damon Knight wrote an analysis of the story that was stranger than the story itself.)
Accumulated odds and ends:
Is Obama Catholic? No, and Dennis McDonough is an idiot.
Is the Pope Catholic? That’s a much more interesting question. Edward Feser supplies some useful background, including notes about Popes Honorius, John XXII and Liberius.
Hyperplay will provide hours — well, minutes — of fun for the mathematically inclined and the easily entertained.
I felt like re-reading Cordwainer Smith’s “Western Science Is So Wonderful,” the tale of a local Chinese demon with strong pro-Communist sentiments who wants to study engineering. Rather than climb the stairs to the main library, I found it online here. Smith wrote science fiction on a grand scale, but he could do comedy, too.
The Kelly Freas illustration for the story here.
The first episode of Miss Bernard Said. mentioned Yasutaka Tsutsui, and I checked to see if any more of his books have been translated into English. A quick search showed nothing new. However, I did find translations of a few of his stories online:
The first two are satirical; the third is strange.
I also looked for Henry Kuttner’s “The Twonky.” I couldn’t find the text online, but I did find a podcast. (Scroll down to the bottom.)
An example of its usage from an Alan Coren book review:
The first Proconsul of what was, in the second century BC, still Calabrium, Maximinus is chiefly remembered for his habit of throwing political opponents into Vesuvius. His proconsulate was exceptionally stormy, corrupt and inefficient, and in 134 BC, Emperor Tiberius Gracchus demoted him to the proconsulate of Sicily, where he is chiefly remembered for his habit of throwing political opponents into Etna. His significance is minimal, and my own opinion is that this dreary account is long underdue.
The book in question is a volume of the Encyclopedia Britannica, and Coren’s review is based on the title on the spine. The review is included in The Sanity Inspector, the book I tossed in the camera bag yesterday to read while waiting for the cosplay contest to begin.
Coren on the Netherlands:
… it is an interesting country, sweeping up from the coastal plain into the central massif, a two-foot high ridge of attractive silt with fabulous views of the sky, and down again into the valleys, inches below. Apart from cheese and tulips, the main product of the country is advocaat, a drink made from lawyers.
… but worth stating anyway —
… often an artist’s storytelling capabilities exceed their own philosophical limitations and wind up being more universal than their idiosyncrasies. A good story tends to to be more universal than its philosophical scaffolding, which is why I don’t need to, say, find the political and social views of Asimov or Le Guin particularly toothsome to nevertheless find their works deeply meaningful for me.
… one of the beauties of our system of government, of how the rights we have are protected: we are free to disagree with the government. That robust and strong systems are able to tolerate dissent. And by extension, I suppose, the weak and insecure ones are those that work to quash it.
I thought of this ancient E.B. White story the other day and found it online:
Along about 1920 it became apparent that more things were being written than people had time to read. That is to say, even if a man spent his entire time reading stories, articles, and news, as they appeared in books, magazines, and pamphlets, he fell behind. This was no fault of the reading public; on the contrary, readers made a real effort to keep pace with writers, and utilized every spare moment during their walking hours. They read while shaving in the morning and while waiting for trains and while riding on trains. They came to be a kind of tacit agreement among numbers of the reading public that when one person laid down the baton, someone else must pick it up; and so when a customer entered a barbershop, the barber would lay aside the Boston Evening Globe and the customer would pick up Judge; or when a customer appeared in a shoe-shining parlor, the bootblack would put away the racing form and the customer would open his briefcase and pull out The Sheik. So there was always somebody reading something. Motormen of trolley cars read while they waited on the switch. Errand boys read while walking from the corner of Thirty-ninth and Madison to the corner of Twenty-fifth and Broadway. Subway riders read constantly, even when they were in a crushed, upright position in which nobody could read his own paper but everyone could look over the next man’s shoulder. People passing newsstands would pause for a second to read headlines. Men in the back seats of limousines, northbound on Lafayette Street in the evening, switched on tiny dome lights and read the Wall Street Journal. Women in semi-detached houses joined circulating libraries and read Vachel Lindsay while the baby was taking his nap.
… and now for something less depressing. Here are some lines and fragments from various poems that occasionally pop into my mind. See if you can identify the poets and poems. I’ll post the answers tomorrow.
1. Fat! Fat! Fat! Fat!
2. No. Not this pig.
3. … yuck-a, yuck-a, yuck-a, yuck-a …
4. I have awakened at Missoula, Montana, utterly happy.
5. … boxcars boxcars boxcars …
6. May God damn for ever all who cry “Peace!”
8. What I tell you three times is true.
N.B.: The spoiler system for this website apparently doesn’t work for comments. Don’t read the comments until you’ve made your own guesses.
What if The Lord of the Rings had really been about World War II?
In reverse, we could play with the idea of what would have happened in WW II if it had followed the lines of LotR…
The plot would focus on the destruction of the Atom Bomb (and implicitly all knowledge required to make it) by a small team of English patriots led by George Orwell, who infiltrate Germany and destroy the evil research establishment which is making the A-bomb.
The climactic end would be the death of Hitler (as the ready-for-use prototype explodes?) and the end of the Nazi regime in Germany with the return of the Holy Roman Emperor.
Blank spaces count as characters. It’s true.
I wasn’t sure. And then I thought of you.
Harry James Potter-Evans-Verres:
“I am a conscientious objector to child conscription, on grounds that I should not have to suffer for a disintegrating school system’s failure to provide teachers or study materials of even minimally adequate quality.”
Then again, Harry was standing in a bank that literally stored your money in vaults full of gold coins guarded by dragons, where you had to go in and take coins out of your vault whenever you wanted to spend money. The finer points of arbitraging away market inefficiencies might well be lost on them. He’d been tempted to make snide remarks about the crudity of their financial system…
But the sad thing is, their way is probably better.
On the other hand, one competent hedge fundie could probably own the whole wizarding world within a week. Harry filed away this notion in case he ever ran out of money, or had a week free.
Meanwhile, the giant heaps of gold coins within the Potter vault ought to suit his near-term requirements.
Harry stumped forward, and began picking up gold coins with one hand and dumping them into the other.
When he had reached twenty, Professor McGonagall coughed. “I think that will be more than enough to pay for your school supplies, Mr. Potter.”
“Hm?” Harry said, his mind elsewhere. “Hold on, I’m doing a Fermi calculation.”
“A what? ” said Professor McGonagall, sounding somewhat alarmed.
“It’s a mathematical thing. Named after Enrico Fermi. A way of getting rough numbers quickly in your head…”
Twenty gold Galleons weighed a tenth of a kilogram, maybe? And gold was, what, ten thousand British pounds a kilogram? So a Galleon would be worth about fifty pounds… The mounds of gold coins looked to be about sixty coins high and twenty coins wide in either dimension of the base, and a mound was pyramidal, so it would be around one-third of the cube. Eight thousand Galleons per mound, roughly, and there were around five mounds of that size, so forty thousand Galleons or 2 million pounds sterling.
Not bad. Harry smiled with a certain grim satisfaction. It was too bad that he was right in the middle of discovering the amazing new world of magic, and couldn’t take time out to explore the amazing new world of being rich, which a quick Fermi estimate said was roughly a billion times less interesting.
Still, that’s the last time I ever mow a lawn for one lousy pound.
There may be a Harry Potter fanfic worth reading, Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality.
(Via J. Greely.)
I’m not sure which writer whose books I have the largest number of on my shelves. It might be Philip K. Dick, Gene Wolfe or R.A. Lafferty. Or it might be Terry Pratchett. Pratchet, long one of my favorite writers, died today.
A note on Nathaniel Hawthorne from Flannery O’Connor:
… Hawthorne couldn’t stand Emerson or any of that crowd. When one of them came in the front door, Hawthorne went out the back. He met one of them one morning and snarled, “Good Morning Mr. G., how is your Oversoul this morning?”
O’Connor may be the greatest Catholic writer of fiction of the 20th century, but the book of hers I most enjoy is a collection of her letters, The Habit of Being.
Someone at Ricochet requested “Fantasy Reading Suggestions.” The recommendations thus far have been disappointing. In the 103 comments I perused, Gene Wolfe, in my opinion the best living writer in English, is mentioned only once, his name misspelled. Others whom I consider essential have not been mentioned at all. For what it’s worth, here is some fantasy that has been overlooked so far there.
Gene Wolfe: Soldier of the Mist, at the very least, and The Sorcerer’s House. Read Wolfe carefully; every word counts, and nothing is as simple as it may at first seem. (Incidentally, Josh W. is working his way through The Book of the New Sun, one chapter at a time. It should keep him busy for several years. The most recent installment is here.)
Diana Wynne Jones: Pretty much everything she ever wrote is worth reading, so I’ll just name a few favorites. Howl’s Moving Castle (vastly better than the movie); Dogsbody; The Homeward Bounders; Fire and Hemlock; The Tough Guide to Fantasyland.
John Bellairs: The Face in the Frost and The Pedant and the Shuffly. (Bellairs also wrote St. Fidgeta and Other Parodies, which isn’t fantasy but is very funny, particularly if you are a Catholic who survived the silly years after Vatican II.)
Lord Dunsany: Any collection of his short stories.
J.R.R. Tolkien: He wrote more than just the novels Peter Jackson trashed. Farmer Giles of Ham, Smith of Wootton Major and Leaf by Niggle are all worth tracking down.
Tim Powers: I have yet to read a disappointing book by Powers. The Anubis Gates is particularly recommended to English majors, and Declare to those who wonder why the Soviet Union lasted as long as it did.
C.S. Lewis: Till We Have Faces. The only fiction by Lewis I’ve ever re-read.
Charles Williams: Descent into Hell. Williams was one of the other Inklings, and his influence is perceptible in Tim Powers’ writing.
Flann O’Brien: The Third Policeman. Is it about a bicycle?
R.A. Lafferty: Anything and everything you can find. Much of his output is nominally science fiction, but it’s SF unlike any other and I don’t hesitate to call him a great fantasist.
G.K. Chesterton: The Man Who Was Thursday.
… and probably much else I’ll think of later.
A useful observation on Gene Wolfe:
A heuristic for dealing with Wolfe’s fiction is that, if all else seems in doubt, assume that the point of the story is to display the universality of the Christ.