Thursday, July 28, 2005

Hot fun in the summertime

It's been a good few days.

School is winding down. I have two assignments and two finals to go. Sadly, I will not be doing a fishery GUI for credit, so I will have to take the Java final. But I will do the GUI later for the experience.

Utah has a holiday on or near July 24 (Pioneer Day, celebrating the achievements of those brave Mormon pioneers, who having fled persecution in the Midwest, sought to... cough, ack my throat is dry) so we, unlike the rest of the country, just had a three-day weekend in which to read Harry Potter 6. Sarah has glaucoma so I am reading it aloud to her. I and my Sacred and Hermetic Order of Divine Book Readers do not believe in spoilers, so I will only comment that JK Rowling has not lost a step; this book is funny and fascinating, way way too cool for your school. If you haven't read the Harry Potter books, I pity you. There, I said it. Maybe I can talk about the book in a few weeks, when the spoiler danger has attenuated.

I have been staying away from Slacktivist (link in the left column) for the last week or two; there are real reasons for this that I will explain in a later post, but they are entirely personal and have nothing to do with the site's excellent, highly recommended content.

Now for the boring stuff: if you don't care about books, ignore the rest of this post. Farewell!

I've been reading. Paladin of Souls (by Lois McMaster Bujold) was excellent, perhaps the greatest counterexample you will ever find to refute those Christians who believe that fantasy novels are the work of the devil. Read the right way, the book resonates with a sort of dangerous Christianity, the kind I have come to know and love. It is not really a Christian book, a label you would be hard pressed to apply to any novel containing five (5) gods, but the action revolves around the spiritual decisions of the main characters in a way that is rare and delightful. It is well-written, exciting, and funny. Plus, the protagonist is a fortyish woman formerly thought to be mad. No wonder this thing won the Hugo for Best (science fiction/fantasy) Novel of the year.

The Da Vinci Code, on the other hand, has been tempting me regularly to throw it against the wall and start something else. This has nothing to do with its take on Christianity, which doesn't offend me per se. Everyone is entitled to their own opinions (and each reaps the consequences of those opinions); but in reading I become a thousand men and women and remain myself. (CS Lewis, in An Experiment in Criticism, an interesting argument about the neglected value of uneducated opinions on art, and thus, sort of about the value of pop culture.) I hope that I can read Brown's historical jaunts in the spirit in which they were intended, leaving the debate that kills for other days.

The obvious problem with Dan Brown's Catholo-conspira-thriller is its execution. It has an annoying plot device: at the end of a chapter, the heroes figure something out or break a code, but rather than share that Discovery (in the Poetics sense) with the readers, Brown makes you watch them gasp in shock and awe, then ends the chapter and puts the revelation in the new chapter. Aside from being asinine and obvious, this is slow. His editor needed to tell him that Discoveries are cliffhangers, that the reader wants to finish a chapter with a shocking twist and go, "oh my lord, that is wild!" and anticipate the implications of what they have just learned before they turn the page. Brown's Discoveries spill sloppily into the next chapter, where they interfere with the next part of the action.

I literally opened to a random page (39) and put my finger on one:

... Scrawled in luminescent handwriting the curator's final words glowed purple beside his corpse. As Langdon stared at the shimmering text, he felt the fog that had surrounded this entire night growing thicker.

Langdon read the message again and looked up at Fache. "What the hell does this mean!"

Fache's eyes shone white. "That, monsieur, is precisely the question you are here to answer."

Just after this last paragraph, there is a section break, an unrelated snippet, then the end of the chapter. Like I said, we wait to no purpose to find out what It-Which-Must-Not-Be-Said (You-Know-What) is. Boring. Clumsy.

Another problem, noted in passing, is the language. Did you notice the image about Langdon feeling the fog? It might help to know that this little scene takes place on the gallery floor of the Louvre, which houses the Mona Lisa. Indoors. In other words, this is the last place anyone would feel fog (a sterile, climate-controlled environment). Maybe the automatic steel doors that had crushed the life out of this entire night should have been closing in.

I have other issues with this book, but I will talk about them in another post; I haven't finished it yet, but somehow I suspect that my opinion will not improve...

On a brighter note, I finished my first collection of Jeeves and Wooster stories by P.G. Wodehouse, Carry On, Jeeves. Bertie Wooster is a turn-of-the-20th-century fop always getting into hijinx, and Jeeves (what is his first name anyway? I don't think I've seen it yet) is the gentleman's gentleman, Bertie's butler, who gets him out of said hijinx. I like this collection on the whole pretty well, but I liked it better as it went on. The stories get progressively funnier and better constructed; the plots of the later stories unravel in hilarious scenes, where those in earlier stories are resolved silently by Jeeves, who comes onstage to explain what he did without us. The last story is by far the best; Wodehouse started telling the stories from Jeeves's point of view instead of Wooster's. Jeeves is the quintessential straight man, droll and sly. I laughed and laughed. You should read these.

You can see some pretty great adaptations of Jeeves and Wooster on PBS, with Hugh Laurie (now appearing on Fox's breakout hit House, M.D.) and Stephen Fry; these two worked together on shows in the UK, like Black Adder and, obviously when you know, A Bit of Fry and Laurie.

I started the first Hugo winner (ever) for Best Novel this week: The Demolished Man, by Alfred Bester. So far it bears some interesting resemblances to Minority Report and Demolition Man; or the other way around, since Bester wrote his book in the 1950s. Once you get past some of the typography and "As you know, Bob" expository lumps, it gets interesting and exciting.

(See the Turkey City Lexicon for an entertaining trip through the tropes and cliches of science fiction.)

Good night.

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