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Serving dozens since 1999!
Donna Tartt has written three novels, The Secret History which I've read a couple of times and will read again. And which, now that I think of it, shares its title with The Secret History by Procopius which is a tell all history of the court of the emperor Justinian.
The Secret Friend which I've read once, enjoyed but never felt the need to reread
And The Goldfinch, her latest novel. I was going to get around to reading it but it just won the fucking Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. So that settles that.
April 15, 2014
Judging a Book by Its Cover
Just because I'm in a bookish mood, the thing that got me into Tolkien was this cover:
I'd been a reader before encountering The Hobbit. As a kid dad loved the Tom Swift books and one day he came home with a copy of Tom Swift and His Ultrasonic Cycloplane:
Dad created a monster and I devoured the Tom Swift books. But the cover of The Hobbit was something new to me. I've no idea why I wanted that book so badly, but I did and my parents bought it for me, and The Lord of the Rings afterwards.
By the way, while there really is a Tolkien, there never was a Victor Appleton II. The Tom Swift Junior series was created by Harriet Adams in 1954 and the books were written by guys like William Dougherty and John Almquist. I had a lot of the books but I gave my mom permission to sell them in a yard sale. And to be honest, while The Hobbit holds up, Tom Swift doesn't. But it was fun for a 9 year old. And for some strange reason Tom Swift and The Visitor from Planet X is on Gutenberg.
April 13, 2014
The Third Episode of Vathek
In the 18th century, 1786 to name a date, William Beckford wrote an Arabian Nights tale called Vathek. It's very gothic and very decadent and if you're into such things it's available for free right here. Now get ready because I'm going to spoil a 228 year old novel.
The main character, the Caliph Vathek, ends up in hell. In the time allotted to him before his heart burns he swaps stories with several other damned souls. The stories aren't actually in the original edition of Vathek because they hadn't been written yet when the book was published. In fact they were lost until a guy called Lewis Melville discovered them in 1909. They were published in 1912 but even then nobody thought to insert them into the novel as Beckford had planned. Nobody until 1971 when Lin Carter did it his edition of Vathek for the Ballantine Adult Fantasy edition, long out of print.
But you can buy the Episodes of Vathek or read them online. Now let's move on to what I really want to talk about.
The last episode, The Story of the Princess Zulka´s and the Prince Kalilah was never completed by Beckford. But Clark Ashton Smith took it upon himself to complete the story. And I'm currently reading The Maze of the Enchanter volume 4 of the complete Clark Ashton Smith. And that book contains Smith's version of the last episode. And that, if you're so inclined, you can read here.
These days Beckford, or for that matter Smith, is considered rather tough going, even by horror fans. And yes, they are a little dense compared to Stephen King. But if you can get through the King James Bible, then Beckford, Smith, Lovecraft and a whole lot of other stuff is within your range, if you like horror that is.
And I suppose I bring this up because I'm old enough to remember when getting out of print books, even those in the public domain, required a lot of time and money. My copy of the Ballantine edition of Vathek disappeared at the commission booth in Tropicana and it cost me $35 to replace a 95 cent paperback. The fact that all this stuff is available for free just staggers me, and brings out a certain evangelist streak as well.
But don't worry, if it doesn't impress you we can still be friends. Besides, I can't get through Ulysses and that's available for free too.
April 13, 2014
The other day Newton watched Gravity with me. The movie was made for cats, it had lots of tumbling things on the screen. Today I watched Hannibal and Newton ignored it, which is not surprising. From a cat's point of view, and judging by its ratings from the point of view of a lot of people too, it's just people standing around talking. What's so interesting about that?
But then Will Graham came home from the mental institution he's been in since the beginning of the season and Will's dogs started barking with joy. That peaked Newton's interest but he ignored the screen and stared at the left speaker instead. That's where the barking was coming from. The images of happy dogs on the set meant nothing to him.
And yet cats will notice animals on television sometimes. Jack once spent some quality time with me watching a nature program about hippos. But, in the case of Newton, sound definitely trumped images. It may be because my neighbor walks her dog a couple of times a day. Newton is used to hearing barking without actually seeing the source of the barks. Come to think of it, in the shelter he could hear a lot of dogs without ever being able to see them. The only logical conclusion for him to make is that dogs are invisible.
April 12, 2014
Next month Tolkien's translation of Beowulf is being published. I'll do the man the honor of buying a physical copy of the book.
The translation is a big thing. In the 30s Tolkien wrote an important essay that changed the way critics thought about Beowulf. It was called Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics. If he'd never written his fantasies, he'd still be remembered for that essay, at least among Anglo-Saxon scholars. But nobody knew about his translation until it turned up in 2003 in the Bodleian Library.
While I'm on Tolkien, I just finished Dream London. I don't know if you guys have heard of Arthur Machen, but if Arthur Machen's version of London did some really good acid and then hung out with Michael Moorcock for a bit you'd get Tony Ballantyne's London. Which is a roundabout way of saying that I'm glad fantasy has crawled out from the Morris-Dunsany-Tolkien shadow.
By the way, as long as I'm talking books, new Stephen King in June, Mr. Mercedes. And, if you're a fan of the show, Under the Dome returns in June too.
April 11, 2014
After a day of manic energy, Newton is finally settling down and he has claimed Jack's ottoman as his own. On Monday they neutered him and released him to me yesterday. He was supposed to keep calm post-surgery but I suppose it was too much to ask a kitten to be mellow when he's got a new world to explore. He's much calmer now. Well, relatively calmer, anyway.
April 10, 2014
And that's the best picture you're likely to get of him for a bit, he doesn't really pose. So far he's taken a running leap into the refrigerator, knocked over a floor lamp and done some damage to my speaker wires. On the other hand he's discovered his litter box and understands the word no, at least he understands it when food isn't involved.
At the shelter they told me he was a year old. That seems to be a considerable exaggeration, I'd say he's about six months. Add he spent at least a couple of weeks in a small cage in a shelter. Now he's got a condo to run around in and he's enjoying himself. While I'm not energetic myself, I have beer, sleeping medication and a laser pointer. We'll get along fine.
Kidding aside, Newton is the beneficiary of Cadbury's stay with me. Cad would bite and draw blood if you approached him the wrong way. I'm not patient by nature but Cad's last chance for a home was me so I forced myself to deal with his, uh, issues. Newton is a little ball of psychotic energy, as are all kittens, but he worships me, so far. After Cad a psycho ninja kitten seems easy, well easier.
At any rate, he can stay for a bit.
April 10, 2014
The Fighting Level
In the original Thief there was a level that involved killing skeletons. The game was a stealth game and it went out of its way to remind you that you die very easily in combat so naturally there was a place where you had to kill skeletons.
And, again naturally, Thief 4 has a level where you have to kill ghouls, or anyway that's what I'm calling them. On the other hand I pick up the cat tomorrow so there's that.
April 8, 2014
There's a group called the Counterforce and they're rather upset with the tech industry, the alienation technology creates and the high cost of living in San Francisco. So they demonstrated in front of Kevin Rose's house today and handed out leaflets denouncing him as a parasite. Rose works for Google and Google in bad, almost beyond redemption apparently.
Counterforce published a little manifesto. At the end of it they present their demands:
To this end, we now make our first clear demand of Google. We demand that Google give three billion dollars to an anarchist organization of our choosing. This money will then be used to create autonomous, anti-capitalist, and anti-racist communities throughout the Bay Area and Northern California. In these communities, whether in San Francisco or in the woods, no one will ever have to pay rent and housing will be free. With this three billion from Google, we will solve the housing crisis in the Bay Area and prove to the world that an anarchist world is not only possible but in fact irrepressible. If given the chance, most humans will pursue a course towards increased freedom and greater liberty. As it stands, only people like Kevin Rose are given the opportunity to reshape their world, and look at what they do with those opportunities.
I'm sure Google is cutting the check even as we speak.
I've never had much use for anarchism. There's a wonderful play by Robert Bolt called A Man for All Seasons. You can watch the movie and if you haven't seen it you should do so. There's a passage that sums up my view of would be anarchists very nicely:
William Roper: So, now you give the Devil the benefit of law!
Sir Thomas More: Yes! What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?
William Roper: Yes, I'd cut down every law in England to do that!
Sir Thomas More: Oh? And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned 'round on you, where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country is planted thick with laws, from coast to coast, Man's laws, not God's! And if you cut them down, and you're just the man to do it, do you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I'd give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety's sake!
I tend to like living in places with laws because I don't believe that if given the chance, most humans will pursue a course towards increased freedom and greater liberty. Some will, I suppose, but all it takes are a few assholes to fuck up your course towards increased freedom and greater liberty. Then you sorta want to call a cop.
"No one will ever have to pay rent and housing will be free," my ass.
April 6, 2014
So, it's been about six months since Cadbury died. After six months I start hankering for a cat. In fact I hankered for a cat two months after his death. It was the first Christmas without a cat in 20 years.
Cadbury was chosen for me, at my request I hasten to add. This time I took Moon's advice, went to the Atlantic County Animal Shelter and waited for a cat to catch my eye.
Oreo was a small, year old cat near the entrance, placed to move, as it were. When I went by he meowed and stuck his paws out through the bars of the cage. The attendant took him out and Oreo demonstrated his tractability and his friendliness. Yeah, I know he doesn't look too friendly in the picture but he was very outgoing. You know, the old dog meme, "Hi. I just met you and I love you."
So he's going to be neutered and I pick him up later this week. Then, once he stops hiding I'll get him checked out by my own vet. Oh, Oreo is not going to be his name. I'm going to call him Newton, Sir Issac at formal occasions.
April 6, 2014
The Latest Godzilla Trailer
April 6, 2014
In short order I finished Bioshock Infinite: Burial at Sea: Episode 2 and Diablo 3: Reaper of Souls. Of course, Once you beat the Diablo expansion it goes into adventure mode so there's life to the game yet. In the case of Bioshock, well that's it. Irrational Games is no longer with us and Ken Levine is going to make smaller games. Life goes on.
In the case of Diablo 3 things are a little different. The original game was released in 1996. After 18 years memories grow a little fuzzy but I believe it was designed to be a graphical version of Nethack, which in its turn was a version of Rogue. Rogue was released in 1980 and was a very primitive dungeon crawling game:
The thing about Rogue was that it was never the same game twice, the dungeons were generated on the fly. That's the innovation Diablo brought to the table. It's dungeons would be regenerated if you started a new game. Of course the visual assets would be the same but you might get a couple of play throughs out of it. With adventure mode Diablo 3 is trying to extend the shelf life of the game too. In its case adventure mode is more of a quick fix rather then a campaign, you know, "alChandler, the Butcher has broken out of hell again and only you can put him down."
Sort of like Batman, you know, "Batman, the Riddler has broken out of Arkham asylum, the police are helpless." "I'll get right on it Commissioner."
I've always felt that the original Diablo had a certain errieness that the sequels couldn't match. But I'm aware that most of that feeling comes from nostalgia for an 18 year old game and not from any intrinsic quality Diablo possessed. It's a little like Star Trek. It's hard to imagine an 11 year old today having the same reaction I did back in 1967.
So that's it from the gaming front. I still have a lot of Thief 4 left, next month Wolfenstein: The New Order arrives and I still have Shadowrun on my system. With the new patch it might be playable. Because Nostalgia only gets you so far.
April 1, 2014
Bert the Chimney Sweep
I've seen this rooftop scape for some time now. It gets old but I'll miss it when I'm gone. Shamus Young over at Twenty Sided pretty much sums up my feelings about the game. But I'm still playing.
And yeah, I'm probably going to break down and get the Diablo expansion too. I never said I had a strong will.
March 30 2014
Twenty Four Hours Into Thief
Playing style two weeks ago:
Ok, I have to get across this heavily patrolled square. I'll creep to this wagon, hide, wait for the guard to pass, creep to the alley, use a rope arrow, climb to the roofs and drop down to the other side. With luck they'll never know I was here.
Playing style tonight:
Ok, I have to get across this heavily patrolled square. Fuck it, I'm just going to run across the square to the other side.
And yet I'm still playing.
March 29 2014
This Is a Trent Reznor Song
March 27 2014
California State Senator Leland Yee
Senator Yee has been trying to ban the sale of violent video games to minors for some time now. He has other problems to deal with today, he was arrested for conspiring to commit wire fraud and traffic firearms.
I realize Senator Yee's arrest has nothing to do with the rightness or wrongness of his cause but still I feel like shouting, "You'll get my pretend guns when you pry my mouse out of my cold dead hands."
March 27 2014
And Thus An Entire Trend Is Encapsulated
A Reddit ad for their r/bitcoin subreddit.
March 27 2014
At one point in The Beetle the lovely Dora Grayling approaches the rather grouchy Sydney Atherton to remind him that he's the next dance on her dance card. Now I've heard the expression, you're next on my dance card but always assumed it was just that, an expression. Bt Dora pulls out her dance card and shows it to Sydney.
They were real things and were really used. I did not know that.
March 23 2014
One Day All Exotic Dancers Will Be Like This One
March 23 2014
Enter The Beetle
And that, my friends, was a Marvel Comics riff if ever there was one.
I'm reading a book called The Beetle by Richard Marsh. It was published in 1897, the same year as Dracula and, according the Wikipedia, was a bigger seller then Dracula. It remained in print until 1960. And in 2014 you can buy copies on Amazon or just go to Project Gutenberg and download the book for free. And I have no idea how I found out about the book.
It's mentioned in passing in Lovecraft's Supernatural Horror in Literature. I've read the essay and if you're into the history of horror it's worth checking out but I doubt a one line reference in a book I read some 30 years ago was the impetuous that led me to Marsh. In fact, I never really heard of him until last year. And it's somewhat frustrating.
I suspect the book was mentioned on Goodreads, or it came up there as a suggestion for me. At any rate I was there last night and The Beetle was mentioned again and since it's in the public domain I downloaded it. So far it seems to be about an Arab man with a vendetta against a rising English politician named Paul Lessingham. I've read Dracula and agree with the sentiment of the readers of 1897 that The Beetle is better.
And with that I'll content myself. But I am going to link to two resources, with a caveat. The resources are Project Gutenberg and the University of Adelaide. Both have easily downloadable editions of public domain books. The caveat is that you'll probably need a tablet or an ereader to actually read the books. I've known about Gutenberg for some time but until I got my Kindle I wasn't able to use the site. Reading on a computer is simply a pain in the ass.
But if you do have a tablet or an ereader and are a book lover you should go to those sites and do some rummaging. And, of course, if reading from a monitor doesn't bother you, you can start right now.
March 23 2014
This Photo Will Follow This Kid for Life
March 22 2014
21 Hours Into Thief
At least that's what Steam tells me, and I don't think I've ever been as conflicted about a game as I have this one. I'm enjoying the stealth and all but I'm aware of how mediocre it is. To start with, this game has bugs that should have been caught before release. Saves become corrupted, NPCs spin like dervishes and the sound fades in and out during cut scenes. You don't want to release a game in a state like that if you're planning to try to rebuild a franchise.
But let's talk about a couple of the game play decisions Eidos made. They rebooted Garrett and his world. Stephen Russell played Garrett with a certain weary cynicism. For the new game they got Romano Orzari to do the voice. The idea was that they wanted a younger man for the job because they were doing motion capture. Orzari a alright in the part, he's not as good as Russell but he does a decent job. I don't think the motion capture stuff makes up for Russell's loss but that's just me.
Garrett's back story has been scrapped and the various factions in the City are gone. But the City was almost a cast member in the first three games, just like the Enterprise was in Star Trek. My own thought is that if you're going to redo something as classic as Thief you'd better bring something new to the table and Eidos doesn't. The City is now a generic plague pit and it's actually kind of boring.
I may be judging this incarnation of the City too harshly because of the hub system. Garrett now has a home base. Because he's a wanted man he has to avoid the guards who prowl around in predetermined patterns. The first few times you evade them to get to you destination it's fun. By the 10th time it's annoying as hell, the same guards walking the same routes each time.
And yet, for all that Thief 4 is more faithful to its roots then, say, the last Splinter Cell game was. It's still a first person sneaker and Garrett does have his moments. I'm hoping the rebooted franchise does well enough to merit a sequel. Like I said, I'm conflicted.
March 21 2014
Lest Darkness Fall
From 535 to 554 the Byzantine Empire waged war against the Ostrogothic Kingdom of Italy. The Empire won, sort of. Long term, according to the article in Wikipedia the result was:
The pyrrhic victory of the Gothic War drained the Byzantine Empire of much-needed resources that might have been employed against more immediate threats in the East. In Italy, the war was devastating to the urbanized society that was supported by a settled hinterland. The great cities of Rome and her allies were abandoned as Italy fell into a long period of decline. The impoverishment of Italy and the drain on the Empire made it impossible for the Byzantines to hold Italy. Imperial gains were fleeting: only three years after the death of Justinian, the mainland Italian territories fell into the hands of a Germanic tribe, the Lombards, leaving the Exarchate of Ravenna, a band of territory that stretched across central Italy to the Tyrrhenian Sea and south to Naples, along with parts of southern Italy, as the only remaining Imperial holdings. Justinian also managed to carve out an Imperial domain in Southern Hispania, but that too would be conquered by Germanic tribes a few decades later. After the Gothic Wars the Empire would entertain no more serious ambitions in the West. Rome itself would remain under imperial control until the Exarchate of Ravenna was finally abolished by the Lombards in 751. Some coastal areas of southern Italy would remain under East Roman influence, direct or indirect, until the late 11th century, while the interior would be ruled by Lombard dukes based at Benevento and later also at Salerno and Capua. In the 11th century both Lombard and Byzantine areas of southern Italy fell into Norman hands.
Well then, that doesn't sound to happy, does it. And now let's fast forward to 1939. L. Sprague de Camp wrote a book Lest Darkness Fall. In the book a man is mysteriously hurled back in time from 1939 Rome to Rome in 535. Knowing that the Gothic Wars are about to begin and feeling that the Ostrogothic state is, for its time, an enlightened and tolerant entity, he tries to change history.
Thing is, even if Justinian I never invaded Italy there's no guarantee that the Ostrogothic Kingdom would have survived. And if it did survive, there's no guarantee that it would remain the tolerant state de Camp thought it was. If I did have to make a prediction, I'd say it probably would have survived and at the very least the fact of a king in Ravenna would have prevented the papacy from acquiring the kind of power it went on to accrue and that would have been a very good thing indeed. But even if the Eastern Empire never attempted to conquer Italy, it still would have fought Sassanian Persia. And that war left both states vulnerable to the Caliphate.
In de Camp's book there's a happy ending. He invents the printing press, newspapers, introduces Arabic numerals and double entry bookkeeping and develops a semaphore telegraph system. He makes enough changes in hitory to prevent the Dark Ages in Western Europe.
And with all that in mind, I think I'll reread The Ruin of the Roman Empire by James O'Donnell. It's about the Italian conquest and how it ultimately led to Byzantium's doom. Not to mention an Italy that was disunited until 1871, 1,395 years after the end of the Western Empire.
History is cool, isn't it?
March 20 2014
The Only Fantasy World Map You'll Ever Need
If you've ever played a table top roll playing game, a CRPG or even waded though a dodgy epic fantasy novel you'll get the joke. And, as an extra added attraction, may I present the trailer for Dark Dungeons, a crowd funded movie based on the immortal Jack Chick comic:
March 19, 2014
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