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I'm currently reading One of Cleopatra's Nights and Other Fantastic Romances by Théophile Gautier. It was translated by Lafcadio Hearn and it's a very good translation. Cervantes said about translations, "Translating from one language to another, unless it is from Greek and Latin, the queens of all languages, is like looking at Flemish tapestries from the wrong side, for although the figures are visible, they are covered by threads that obscure them, and cannot be seen with the smoothness and color of the right side." Of course he said this in Spanish.

The next book is Gloriana: Or the Unfulfilled Queen by Michael Moorcock. The novel is sort of a dialogue with Edmund Spenser and Mervyn Peake. I've mentioned Peake here before but Spenser is someone I've always wanted to read but never good get up the courage. It's a 16th century poem that's a major suck up to Queen Elizabeth I, a religious allegory and a commentary on the politics of the court. Spenser was using language that was considered archaic in his own day:

Gentle Knight was pricking on the plaine,
Y cladd in mightie armes and siluer shielde,
Wherein old dints of deepe wounds did remaine,
The cruell markes of many' a bloudy fielde;

Pricking on the plaine indeed. One day I'll get around to reading the damn thing.

As long as I'm talking Moorcock, may I direct your attention to Epic Pooh. Moorcock met Tolkien, and C. S. Lewis for that matter. According to Moorcock he liked them both but had little use for their novels. And, much as I love Tolkien, Moorcock is right about a lot of things:

Tolkien does, admittedly, rise above this sort of thing on occasions, in some key scenes, but often such a scene will be ruined by ghastly verse and it is remarkable how frequently he will draw back from the implications of the subject matter. Like Chesterton, and other orthodox Christian writers who substituted faith for artistic rigour he sees the petit bourgeoisie, the honest artisans and peasants, as the bulwark against Chaos. These people are always sentimentalized in such fiction because traditionally, they are always the last to complain about any deficiencies in the social status quo. They are a type familiar to anyone who ever watched an English film of the thirties and forties, particularly a war-film, where they represented solid good sense opposed to a perverted intellectualism.

If Sam seems a little too deferential to Frodo in the films I can assure you Jackson's version is practically an anarchist compared to the way Tolkien portrayed him. At any rate, it's worth a read, especially with the third Hobbit movie about to come out.

October 21, 2014

Communications Gap

In the novel, Fellowship of the Ring Gandalf returns to the Shire, proves that Frodo's ring is the Ring and suggests that Frodo makes his way to Rivendell. Frodo proposes to leave in September and since there's no evidence that Sauron actually knows where the Ring is, Gandalf agrees to the delay. This is in happening in June.

But Gandalf gets a bit antsy and decided to scout about for a bit, promising to be back by September. he heads south and once over the border he encounters Radagast the Brown. Radagast has a message from Saruman that the Nazgul have crossed the river and are trying to find the Shire. Saruman also wants to consult with Gandalf. Gandalf agrees to go to Orthanc and ask Radagast to use his bird friends to gather information. Radagast agrees and promises to send a messenger to Orthanc.

Now here's the interesting part. Gandalf wants Frodo to leave the Shire immediately but he doesn't want to keep Saruman waiting. Since he's pretty close to Bree he goes to the Prancing Pony, writes a letter and asks Butterbur the innkeeper to have it delivered. Butterbur agrees and Gandalf rides south.

But it's Butterbur's busy season so he can't spare any of his people to travel the 20 miles or so to the Shire. And unfortunately, none of Butterbur's guests were traveling west. After a few days Butterbur forgot about the letter, Gandalf was trapped by Saruman and Frodo hung about until September.

Now the Shire had a fairly efficient postal system, so all Butterbur had to do was get the letter to the eastern border, a day's journey and the message service would take it from there, another two day journey. If you're talking a preindustrial society, and Middle-earth definitely qualified, then that's the speed that information traveled. Three days from the Inn of the Prancing Pony to Bag End, Hobbition. And that, as it turns out, was a best case scenario.

Now, the Elves had their telepathic stuff going for them and Sauron and Saruman communicated by palantir. For everybody else the state of the art in communication was the series of beacons set up between Gondor and Rohan.

No Twitter in Middle-earth.

There's a small book I read called The Victorian Internet. It's about how the telegraph changed the world in the 19th century. Certainly, while it's cool that Gandalf could shoot fireballs, a cheap cell phone would have helped him out quite a bit. We tend to take a lot of our basic infrastructure for granted. But the phone is a miracle. And I'm talking plain of phone service. Most of us are walking around with palantirs in our pockets.

October 20, 2014

Chip Off the Old Block

One of the first things Jack taught himself was drinking from the faucet in the bathroom sink. He was a natural. Newton is not a natural but what he lacks in skill he makes up in enthusiasm.

October 19, 2014

Galactic Empires

You know, isn't it about time to retire the idea of a galactic empire, populated by various humanoids all zipping about in faster then light ships? We don't write books about the jungles of Venus anymore and the last movie to feature decadent Martian civilizations went down the toilet. Hell, I like Star Trek as much as the next person but can you really call it science fiction? Isn't it as much a fantasy as The Hobbit

Right now we know of now way to go faster then life and there's no evidence of a galactic empire, much less one run by humanoids with wrinkled noses. I'm not arguing that movies about galactic empires run by Bajorans shouldn't be made, just that they'd be fantasy.

Maybe I'm just being cranky. And yet books like 2312, the Quantum Thief Trilogy and, hopefully, the new William Gibson show that you don't need warp drive to write science fiction.

October 19, 2014

Book Snob

occasionally I've been accused of being an elitist. There's a certain amount of truth in that. In the case of my reading material, I like curation. And that, according to Amazon, puts me on the wrong side of history. So be it.

If you're not familiar with the dispute between Amazon and Hachette. Hachette is a large publisher and Amazon wants them to lower their prices for ebooks. Hachette has refused and Amazon has retaliated by not accepting preorders for Hachette authors. They also give no publicity to Hachette authors. Hachette and a number of authors are complaining loudly and publicly about Amazon's policies. And on the flip side there are authors like Hugh C. Howey who self published on Amazon. He supports Amazon and believes that the authors protesting Amazon's policies are at best dupes of Hachette and at worst duplicitous.

Stephen King as a book coming out next month, Revival. It lists for $30, Amazon's price for the hardback is $18 and the ebook sells for $12.74. A lot of people consider the ebook price to be outrageously high. After all there are no material costs involved at all.

But keep in mind ebooks are still only about 30% of the market. So there's a lot of paper to pay for, but that's not all. A book needs to be edited, I've read poorly edited ebooks and it was annoying as hell. There are design decisions, even for an ebook. And the designs are format specific. A book you're reading on a tablet via the Kindle app will look very different from a book you're reading on the Kindle ereader.

And all that costs money.

I like curation. I like to know that a publisher made a decision that so and so was a good author, worthy of my attention. And I don't mind paying a couple of bucks extra for that. Hell, in two weeks William Gibson's novel The Peripheral comes out. I just might toddle over to my local bookstore and buy a copy.

October 13, 2014

Newton, Disney and My Thyroid

For the last few months I've been somewhat out of sorts. The last time I felt like that, I discovered my Thyroid was under active. Well, I didn't discover it, a blood test and trained medical types did. I had a blood test last month and my doctor noted that my Thyroid was on the edge again. My medicine would probably need to be upped in six month or so. But in the meantime I'm grumpy, mildly depressed and short tempered.

last night I brought out my copy of Bambi. For me the Disney films you have to own if you like Disney are Snow White, Pinocchio, Bambi and Fantasia. Everyone has their own list, that's mine. So, grumpy, depressed and short tempered I sit down and start watching. Then I noticed that Newton was on the chair staring at the television, transfixed. So, feeling companionable, I sat down on the floor next to the chair to watch the movie with him.

We watched the whole movie together and I felt a lot better. Today I brought out the laser and I played with him for a while and I felt better again. Making me feel better is his job for the next few months.

Cats, I concede, don't give as much to us as dogs. But then again, they don't ask as much. And as for Newton, he likes me, demands attention and finds me amusing. It cost me $85 to spring him from the Atlantic County Animal Shelter and it was money well spent.

By the way, I'm getting rid of that chair soon but I think I'll let Newton keep the pillow thing.

October 12, 2014

The Douchebag of Mordor

From Action Trip.

October 12, 2014

A Point About Orcs

I've noticed that Orc Captains tend to leave their bodyguards behind when they really have a hard on for you. Thus it's possible to invade an Orc camp, engage the Captain, run away when the whole camp attacks and sometimes the Captain will pursue you after his guards decide to fuck the whole thing and turn back. Kind of cool, I've gotten two easy kills that way.

October 10, 2014

Archie vs. Predator

This is a thing, a real thing that's going to happen. There's nothing we can do.

October 10, 2014

Well That Was Fun

So, at the far end of the map in Shadow of Mordor was a quest involving an orc named Ratbag. His Captain, somebody named Goroth: Caragor Tamer, left him tied to a stake outside of the Durthang Stronghold. I spring Ratbag and he asks me to kill Goroth. If Goroth dies and I let Ratbag take the credit then he'll be the new Captain, and my man inside Sauron's chain of command. I agree and Ratbag tells me that while Goroth may be called Caragor Tamer, he's actually petrified of them. So I sneak into the orc camp, let a caragor out of its cage and Goroth runs in a blind panic. I kill him while his guards are dealing with the caragor and Ratbag is now Captain Ratbag.

I'm also at the point where I can take on five or six orcs and defeat them all. I'm starting to really enjoy myself.

October 9, 2014

Shadows of Mordor

Shadows of Mordor has a bit of a learning curve and to be honest it was frustrating me. Then my cat destroyed yet another set of headphones and I booted up SoM. I might not be able to behead Newton but I can damn well behead some orcs. In best Palpantine fashion, my hate made me strong.

I just gained the ability to cause explosions with my bow. Very handy when some orcs are sitting around a fire, just shooting the shit. And there's a bit o' stealth in the game. Nothing says fun like three orcs walking in a row and me backstabbing them one by one. I'm having fun and I don't think I would have gotten into it without the impetus from the headphones. So, in a way, I suppose Newton did me a favor.

The little bastard.

October 9, 2014


Idoru is the Japanese word for idol, idol in the sense of rock star or actor. It's also the title of a book by William Gibson. Published in 1996 one of the characters is Rez, of the rock group Lo/Rez. Rez decides he's going to marry Rei Toei, the idoru in question. The only problem is that Rei Toei is virtual, a hologram.

And 18 years after the book's publication, David Letterman had Hatsune Miku on his show. Hatsune Miku is a holographic singer who appeared on the show to promote an appearance in New York City. Weird century we're living in.

October 9, 2014

Shadows of Mordor

October 7, 2014

Gotham Central

Detectives Bullock and Gordan

Batman has a history dating back 75 years. And he's gone through many changes. Currently Fox has a show called Gotham, about Gotham City before Bruce Wayne became Batman. We find young Bruce Wayne trying to deal with the murder of his parents, Detective James Gordan, his corrupt partner Harvey Bullock and people like Oswald Cobblepot and Edward Nygma before they became the Penguin and the Riddler.

Somewhere in my DVD collection I have Tim Burton's Batman. It's a wonderfully stylized film that doesn't try for any kind of realism. I also have Christopher Nolan's more realistic take on Batman, insofar as a film with the Joker can be called realistic. Both takes on Batman are valid, both are entertaining and both are worthy of your attention, if you're into such things. But the two versions of Batman and Batman's universe are incompatible.

In spite of that, Gotham is trying to merge the two styles and for me it's not working. Oh, I watch the show, I have a season pass. And I'm entertained by it, but I can't help but feel and opportunity is being wasted here. Personally, I would have loved a far more realistic Gotham City with a police department where officers did not openly discuss their criminal activities at the station house. But even a more stylized Burton take on Gotham could work if it were consistent to its own rules. But what we have is a group of characters doing wildly stupid things, sort of like Smallville.

And yet I watched Smallville for ten years because Superman. I'll watch Gotham because Batman. It's just the way I'm wired. But I can't recommend it.

October 7, 2014

Today's Public Service Announcement

October 4, 2014

One Thought on Alien: Isolation

Alien: Isolation is released next week and I'll be following the buzz about it very closely. It's a stealth game but a very different stealth game then what I'm used to. Some background, if you will.

Dishonored was a wonderful stealth game. You played Corvo Attano, the bodyguard of the Empress of the Isles. You're framed for her murder and out to find the real killers. You're one man against the security apparatus of the state so stealth is your weapon. But while you have to be stealthy, you're also potent. You can kill at will. Indeed, one of the things I like about playing Attano is the feeling of power, of knowing I have that guard's life in my hands. I almost always choose mercy but the option is there.

In Alien: Isolation you play as Amanda Ripley, seeking information about the disappearance of your mother. You're on the space station Sevastopol to listen to the Nostromo's flight recorder when the Alien turns up.

Like Corvo, Amanda has to use stealth, unlike Corvo, she is powerless against her enemy. There is no way to defeat the xenomorph. Corvo's stealth is part of his power, Amanda's is a necessity brought on by her own powerlessness. That's a very different dynamic and one that I'm not sure I'd enjoy.

I'll be very interested in two opinions of the game, the first is Ken's. Alien is almost as much his as it is Ridley Scott's and James Cameron's. And the second opinion is by the crew at Gamers with Jobs. I know that the reviews are pretty positive except for the one at Ars Technica, which is negative, and the one at Polygon, which is mixed.

I can say this without having played the game, I'm not sure if I have the patience to play a stealth game from a position of weakness. A flaw not in the game but in my nature.

Oh, by the way, I finished the last bit of Bioshock content last night. That's a universe I will miss.

October 4, 2014