quarta-feira, novembro 30, 2016

Reality-Transforming SF: "The Gradual" by Christopher Priest


Published September 2016.


“’There’s a problem with time and I don’t know how to explain it to you.’” (*repeated several times*)

In “The Gradual” by Christopher Priest



I just put down the book. Blew my mind. I'm kind of seeing things at the moment…

When Phil Dick died only Christopher Priest remained to explore similar themes. Despite exploring similar literary veins, Priest was always less concerned with the trappings of the SF genre than Dick was. Anyone seriously interested in SF for grown-ups should read him in his own right. I’ve said elsewhere that if I’m a fan of any genre, it’d have to be SF. It’s my first love, and it’ll always remain so. When I was a young SF-neophyte and I discovered Phil Dick, I felt that my kind of soul had made contact with his work. It was a very defining experience, and it felt like it was innate. It’s hard to explain my feelings at the time. For me, that experience was absolutely bound up in finding these books that were dealing with the nature of reality and of what makes us authentic humans. Phil Dick always maintained that the bombardment of the so-called pseudo-realities began to produce make-believe and spurious humans very quickly — as fake as Lady Gaga. I was used to the Asimovs, Heinleins, and Clarkes, which were more run-of-the-mill SF. When I came across the Phil Dick oeuvre it almost seemed they were a sort of fictional artifacts. I couldn't believe there was such a writer working in the field of SF. I still remember thinking his name seemed weird or that his titles seemed nonsensical to me. It was like a secret reality unraveling in my life. As you can imagine my poor brain had to cope those strange things coming out of Phil Dick’s pen. Priest’s books have a similar effect on me. But because I’m “more mature and wiser”, the impact is not in the same order of magnitude when compared to Phil’s books. Nevertheless, in Priest’s take on the nature of reality, there‘s also something about the essence of his writing that creates that feeling. I still think there‘s something innately self-deprecating about the writing. His run-of-the-mill sentences make you feel like I‘m the only one who understands what he’s writing, and he‘s also the only one who understands me. It‘s like a cognitive version of a love affair. I’m making this cozy connection with this other mind. He’s able to project that into his work (see my review of "The Adjacent"). I think that Priest sees the inner workings of our own reality we experience so profoundly. And this speaks to the different layers of reality in his work — the way time moves according to the calendar, but other ways in terms of ship time (mental time, psychological time, social time):

“Time fled from me – I suffered gradual detriment. Youth attached to me – I gained gradual increment. Balance remained.
Absolute time, ship time: the difference became personal time lost.
Absolute age, travel through the gradual: the difference led to personal rejuvenation gained.”

Looking closely at the above quote, I can see the way Priest conveys the experience of the mind-altering or the reality-transforming better than nearly any writer who ever lived, with the possible exception of Phil Dick. Priest’s prose is so plain that by that same plainness he’s able to turn things into a sort of a hidden reality. His characters — his surrogates within the space of his own fictional world — are totally incorporated in it. There‘s no mastery exhibited. It’s all so very plain as to be awkward, but we can sense the way the character’s experience it. They‘re not objective tour guides. His characters are sufferers who move through these worlds/realities.

For many years, while I was reading Phil Dick by the bucket load, I was also thinking about what made Dick so compelling and personal, i.e., what made me each time take him so personally when I discovered his work. And the same happens now with Christopher Priest. That’s the magic of the great writers. They make us believe in their unique creations.

This is not the best Priest has ever written, but if you want to see what literary SF looks like, look no further.

SF = Speculative Fiction.

sábado, novembro 26, 2016

Android App: Brick-a-Brack


(If you want to try it, install it via Google App Store


My idea of fun isn’t always fun for someone else. Listening to music, reading, playing/developing/creating games, exploring (scuba-diving, hiking, biking), and watching Shakespeare plays are just a few things that are fun in my book.  I’m so glad I live in the 21st century, because most of these activities can be done or extended by using current technology.

I love Android technology!  If I had to save a few things in a fire, it'd be my Shakespeare library (some P. D. James as well, and a few others), my smartphone and tablet (my electronic content is already in the Cloud so I wouldn't have to worry about portable disks and my Synology Home Server), and a few other bits and bobs. This leads me to the question. Is programming Fun? It surely is! For those of you who have never written any code before, it really is delightful.  I understand that “programming” can sound intimidating to someone who has never written a line of code before, but if you’re reading this post, then you’re probably pretty familiar with using modern devices, which means most of the hard learning is already done.   

Why is programming fun is the follow-up question. Thinking about it I must say it's because of the absolute joy of creating things. I've always liked to tinker with computer stuff, as well as the fact I love to be always learning. Making things pleases my inventive leanings built deep within me.



When I was starting out in the 80s with my BBS, I couldn't imagine what would happen 20 years or thirty years later. If someone had handed the 12 year-old me a Samsung smartphone or a 10-inch tablet, I’d have assumed they were props from Star Trek.  I can do literally everything with these magic little gadgets.


Google, Samsung, Apple have crammed so many amazing features into smartphones, and I can only marvel at the inventive things I can do with them. As someone who's always been interested in geeky stuff,  the smartphone capabilities are without parallel in the computing world. Gone are the days when my only means of connecting with a computer were the keyboard and mouse.  Cameras, microphones, touch screens, and motion sensors enable me to experience and do things on the smartphone and tablet that were pure SF before this past decade.  Not only are they fun to use, but they’re so fun to tinker with!  Anyone who enjoys taking apart and tweaking with stuff can appreciate the joy of understanding how a computer, smartphone, and tablet works and then bending them to do my will in new and creative ways.



With so many features packed into such a small device, it's easy to access the microphone and then transform sound and video clips that I store in my phone’s memory.  Being a Maker I can hack away at my own game, adding motion and touch events like tilting the screen (like I did with this "Brick-a-Brack" game).  It doesn’t have to be pretty or polished, either ("Brick-a-Brack" game is anything but that; if you try it you'll see why). Just getting my app to recognize a sideways movement and moving the paddle in one direction, then in the other, can be an amazingly fulfilling moment.

When I was coding for a living, some of my superman moments came at the end of a long period of time coping with a specific issue, finally being able to "see the light" that allowed me to connect to a Database server and successfully understanding the way a SQL statement was supposed to work or why a particular database was having performance problems in production. 

Isn’t it fun to play with magic?

NB: My other Apps.

NB2: SF = Speculative Fiction.

quinta-feira, novembro 24, 2016

Monotony is anti-Shakespeare: "Hag-Seed - The Tempest Retold" by Margaret Atwood



Published October 2016.

“’Shit’ off bounds,” he says. “Adjust your cursing accordingly.”
“’Shit’ was okay last years,” says Leggs. “So how come?”
“I changed my mind,” says Felix. “I got tired of it. Too much shit is monotonous, and monotony is anti-Shakespeare. […]”

In “Hag-Seed” by Margaret Atwood

When approaching Shakespeare in the twenty-first century many writers make an attempt at re-inventing the classical plays, updating the setting to a post-modern world of chaos, smartphones, Facebook, and Google+. Relating the stories of Shakespeare to the lives of people in 2016 can be utterly hectic to watch when done well; we can feel an honest connection to the drama of the world of the play when set in our everyday backdrop. But pitfalls come with re-imagining the world of any Shakespeare play: if it’s not fully coherent then it’s just an update for an update’s sake, not a new spin on the story to shine a new light on it. There is a lot to be said for a way that modern readers connect to they wouldn’t otherwise read in the first place. I find that particularly the audio/visual differences should be quite significant when it comes to adapting a play to a modern setting. If I were an actor, I think my performance of Shakespeare would be quite different if I were living in Elizabethan times. I feel the director (and the actor as well ), in modern day, should be responsible for delivering archaic text so it could first be comprehended objectively by an audience that weren’t used to listening, but without sacrificing truth to character or believability, which are equally important to understanding a story. I know that is my experience as a theatre goer. Sometimes I feel the director and actors did a good job. Sometimes I don’t. At the end of the day it often feels like an impossible task.

An attempt at retelling a Shakespeare play must be daunting for a writer. And also for a reader. That’s why, up until today, I always avoided reading Shakespeare retellings. But I shouldn’t have any fear. Atwood is on the job. This rehash is anything but; it’s filled with Atwood’s characteristic wit and play with language. She’s quite unmatched when it comes to weave several threads into a cohesive whole. I never thought she could pull this off, but she did. She exquisitely entwines the language of Shakespeare into her tense and ever sparkling prose, making the text take a life of its own. Only Atwood would be able to bring such exquisite pleasure, when it comes to Shakespeare’s curses; they’re the only curse words the prisoners are allowed to use; it’s an elated spree of Shakespeare’s language, from insults like “whoreson” and “hag-seed” to enigmatic lines like “This thing of darkness I acknowledge mine”:

‘Bent Pencil takes the floor and reads out, gravely and impressively, in his best board-meeting voice: “Born to be hanged. A pox o’your throat. Bawling, blasphemous, uncharitable dog. Whoreson. Insolent noisemaker. Wide-chapp’d rascal. Malignant thing. Blue-eyed hag. Freckled whelp hag-born. Thou earth. Thou tortoise. Thou poisonous slave, got by the devil himself. As wicked dew as e’er my mother brushed, With raven’s feather from unwholesome fen, Drop on you both. A southwest blow on ye, And blister you all o’er. Toads, beetles, bats light on you. Filth as thou art. Abhorr’d slave. The red plague rid you. Hag-seed. […]”’

It's surely only a matter of time before someone adapts it for the theatre. And it would make a great play. I only wish the prisoners/actors were more fully fledged. As it is, they’re merely ciphers, but I’m not sure it wasn’t intentional on Atwood’s part. Despite its very minor shortcomings, I’m not embarrassed to say that I did have a lump in my throat by the end of this retelling of the Tempest…


domingo, novembro 20, 2016

Android App: Whack the Minion!


(NB: Sorry. I haven't been able to upload this to the Google Play Store. This is what I got in reply: "After review, Whack the Minion, has been suspended and removed from Google Play as a policy strike because it violates the impersonation policy." Damn the minion. I should have chosen "google, the minion moron" instead...)




import java.awt.Color;
import java.awt.Font;
import java.awt.Image;
import java.awt.event.MouseAdapter;
import java.awt.event.MouseEvent;
import java.util.Random;
import javax.swing.ImageIcon;
import javax.swing.JFrame;
import javax.swing.JLabel;
import javax.swing.JPanel;
import javax.swing.SwingConstants;
import javax.swing.border.EmptyBorder;
public class Game extends JFrame{
private JPanel panel;
private JLabel[] holes = new JLabel[16];
private int[] board = new int[16];
private int score = 0;
private void pressedButton(int id){
int val = board[id];
//if val is 1 = mole
//if val is 0 = empty hole
if(val==1){
score++;
}else{ //val==0
score--;
}
lblScore.setText("Score: " + score); //update the score
clearBoard();
Whack A Minion

genRandMole();
}
private void initEvents(){
for(int i = 0; i < holes.length; i++){
holes[i].addMouseListener(new MouseAdapter() {
public void mouseClicked(MouseEvent e){
JLabel lbl = (JLabel)e.getSource();
int id = Integer.parseInt(lbl.getName());
pressedButton(id);
}
});
}
}
private void initGUI(){
setTitle("Whack A Minion");
setResizable(false);
setDefaultCloseOperation(JFrame.EXIT_ON_CLOSE);
setBounds(100, 100, 608, 720);
JPanel contentPane = new JPanel();
contentPane = new JPanel();
contentPane.setBackground(new Color(0, 51, 0));
contentPane.setBorder(new EmptyBorder(5, 5, 5, 5));
contentPane.setLayout(null);
JLabel lblTitle = new JLabel("Whack A Minion");
lblTitle.setForeground(new Color(153, 204, 0));
lblTitle.setHorizontalAlignment(SwingConstants.CENTER);
lblTitle.setFont(new Font("Century Gothic", Font.BOLD, 20));
lblTitle.setBounds(0, 0, 602, 47);
contentPane.add(lblTitle);
panel = new JPanel();
panel.setBackground(new Color(0, 102, 0));
panel.setBounds(32, 105, 535, 546);
panel.setLayout(null);
contentPane.add(panel);
Whack A Minion

holes[0] = new JLabel("0");
holes[0].setName("0");
holes[0].setBounds(0, 396, 132, 132);
panel.add(holes[0]);
holes[1] = new JLabel("1");
holes[1].setName("1");
holes[1].setBounds(132, 396, 132, 132);
panel.add(holes[1]);
holes[2] = new JLabel("2");
holes[2].setName("2");
holes[2].setBounds(264, 396, 132, 132);
panel.add(holes[2]);
holes[3] = new JLabel("3");
holes[3].setName("3");
holes[3].setBounds(396, 396, 132, 132);
panel.add(holes[3]);
holes[4] = new JLabel("4");
holes[4].setName("4");
holes[4].setBounds(0, 264, 132, 132);
panel.add(holes[4]);
holes[5] = new JLabel("5");
holes[5].setName("5");
holes[5].setBounds(132, 264, 132, 132);
panel.add(holes[5]);
holes[6] = new JLabel("6");
holes[6].setName("6");
holes[6].setBounds(264, 264, 132, 132);
panel.add(holes[6]);
holes[7] = new JLabel("7");
holes[7].setName("7");
holes[7].setBounds(396, 264, 132, 132);
panel.add(holes[7]);
Whack A Minion

holes[8] = new JLabel("8");
holes[8].setName("8");
holes[8].setBounds(0, 132, 132, 132);
panel.add(holes[8]);
holes[9] = new JLabel("9");
holes[9].setName("9");
holes[9].setBounds(132, 132, 132, 132);
panel.add(holes[9]);
holes[10] = new JLabel("10");
holes[10].setName("10");
holes[10].setBounds(264, 132, 132, 132);
panel.add(holes[10]);
holes[11] = new JLabel("11");
holes[11].setName("11");
holes[11].setBounds(396, 132, 132, 132);
panel.add(holes[11]);
holes[12] = new JLabel("12");
holes[12].setName("12");
holes[12].setBounds(0, 0, 132, 132);
panel.add(holes[12]);
holes[13] = new JLabel("13");
holes[13].setName("13");
holes[13].setBounds(132, 0, 132, 132);
panel.add(holes[13]);
holes[14] = new JLabel("14");
holes[14].setName("14");
holes[14].setBounds(264, 0, 132, 132);
panel.add(holes[14]);
holes[15] = new JLabel("15");
holes[15].setName("15");
holes[15].setBounds(396, 0, 132, 132);
panel.add(holes[15]);
Whack A Minion

setContentPane(contentPane);
}
private void clearBoard(){
for(int i = 0; i < 16; i++){
holes[i].setIcon(loadImage("/moleIn.png"));
board[i] = 0;
}
}
private void genRandMole(){
Random rnd = new Random(System.currentTimeMillis()); //seeding random int moleID = rnd.nextInt(16);
board[moleID] = 1;
holes[moleID].setIcon(loadImage("/moleOut.png"));
}
private ImageIcon loadImage(String path){
Image image = new ImageIcon(this.getClass().getResource(path)).getImage();
Image scaledImage = image.getScaledInstance(132, 132, java.awt.Image.return new ImageIcon(scaledImage);
}
public Game() {
initGUI();
clearBoard();
initEvents();
}
public static void main(String[] args) {
Game frame = new Game();
frame.setVisible(true);
}
}

NB: I didn't bother correcting the code indentations. Beware of attempting an implementation without that. On top of that, the above code implementation does not follow to the letter the app on the Google Play Store, meaning, the app on the google play store is not the latest version. I still have to update the app with the above-mentioned source code. One of these days...Or probably never...So much to do, so little time to do it...

NB2: App developed with Matilde's help, for our baby boy Manuel Maria. May he spend many happy hours whacking the minion...

sábado, novembro 19, 2016

The Last Roman Dur: "The Mahé Circle" by Georges Simenon


Published 2014 (in English)



Back in the day I did a year of French. My teacher was a native speaker. You’d think that this would make her fun and interesting, right? You couldn’t be more wrong! All she did was drill us on grammar, and I couldn’t even understand what she was saying half the time. She just expected me to automatically know the language as if I’d already lived in France for years. I was always procrastinating doing French stuff, and she was always expecting me to write and memorize a huge bunch of sentences in a language that I hardly knew, and then repeat it back to her. She totally turned me off to the French language. I started hating everything remotely connected with French-speaking literature. I know not all French people are awful, cruel, soulless people, and that most are friendly and completely normal, and that I was just unlucky to have gotten stuck with the one person I’d be totally ok with having deported… Just saying…I’m done ranting now…That felt good. This to say that for many years I just couldn’t read French literature, because, firstly, I didn’t know the language (I still don’t), and, secondly, because all those painful memories kept coming back to me. It was so painful I asked my father to write to the school to tell them I no longer wanted to attend French classes and I wanted to switch to German, which I did. That’s why I never learned French to this day…For many years I just couldn’t look at a book from a French author. And then I came across “Dirty Snow”, my first “Roman Dur” by Simenon. My first impression was: “I don’t want to read this crap!” But my friend convinced me, and to this day I can't rave about it enough--unputdownable—one my favourite settings ever--Nazi-occupied France during World War II. One of my all-time favourite novels is also Camus' The Stranger; the main character of “Dirty Snow” is somewhat reminiscent of Mersault in “The Stranger”. “Dirty Snow” has the same existential flavour but was a lot more gritty and ruthless yet at the end, remarkably introspective and poignant for such a creepy character. That’s what clinched it for me. It made Simenon's “romans dur” worth reading, much more than his Maigret novels.  This discovery came at the right time. When I was very young and still learning the ways of the world, I got disillusioned by the meanness of that same world. Coming to terms with that ruthlessness was not an easy task. Once in a while a particular turn of events could have turned me into bad person, in a world where being good was sometimes a sin. Those were also the days when I discovered the “Roman Durs” by Simenon for the first time. The world started making sense through Simenon’s lenses. Only later I became aware of the Maigret phenomenon, but they never did for me what the “Roman Durs” did. I got hooked on him due to them and not the Maigret novels. Of course, for many years I read many of the Maigret titles, probably not all. I thought at the time the “roman durs” were far superior, if only because there was no necessity of a 'mystery' to solve. A 'whodunnit' was not required. The sparse, somber prose and the impression of everlasting dampness and everlasting dusk left me with a very a strong impression.  

This leads us to the “Mahé Circle” which was the only “Roman Dur” I hadn’t read back in the day. Now, at last, we have a translation in English. As soon as I got it, I got my hands on it and I didn’t let go until the last page. This is one hell of a portrait of a man whose “mittelmäßige Existenz” is shattered by the realisation that there's something more to be had from life than Sunday dinners with friends and a spot of fishing.  While most of the plot, as it is, happens on the island, much of the psychological drama takes place back at home.  It's a place where the main protagonist, François, should be in his element, an environment of his own, yet this simple truth turns out to be an enormous lie. It's a book I enjoyed immensely. This “proves” there’s more to Crime Fiction than meets the eye.


NB: Maybe it’s time to re-read “Dirty Snow” once again…

quinta-feira, novembro 17, 2016

Bubble Gum Fun or On How Davy Crockett Plays a Stupid Part: “Night School” by Lee Child


The way I read the Jack Reacher novels is for their underpants. Because Jack doesn't own clothes he isn't wearing, it means I can know how long he's been wearing the same set of underpants. I’ve been told he changes every three days, which to my way of thinking is still not often enough, to say the least (I change them daily…lol), but in some of the novels it's a lot, lot longer than that. I don’t know how the other characters don’t notice this, or if they do, they’re afraid he’ll punch them in the face. If underpants are a bit too intimate for you, we can do socks, and Jack does an awful lot of running, jumping, falling. He must change them very often. And he might carry a toothbrush but there's no dental floss or mouthwash, no deodorant stick or spray. I think you'll find that about ten books ago he got a job digging swimming pools. Off the top of my head I can't remember whether he used a spade or just his bare hands. Or maybe his fold up toothbrush. And, yes, in my mind, Jack Reacher's sweat always smells of Old Spice.

This latest novel is simply dreadful, ludicrous, and fun at the same time. I’ve read almost all of Jack Reacher novels. Some of them nearly have been good, some have been great. This one is terribly sketchy and also with an implausible plot, a total lack of character development, no pace, no excitement; it's as if Lee Child has just taken me for granted. He's clearly resting on his royalty payments and having a laugh, at this readers' expense. I don’t know how much I can take.

In almost every book he decides to have a wander around the good ol' USA (this time the wandering is in Germany…), he finds trouble, mean folk and many fights. As well as some poor innocent who needs his help. Not to mention a beautiful woman who, lucky for him, usually happens to find him very attractive, just to reassure us that he hasn't turned gay without us noticing, or he stumbles upon some really nasty criminal activity completely by accident, usually while getting tanked up on coffee, and he meets a uniformed (police or ex-army) girl, and they have a shower in some sleazy motel room and go to bed (this time this role falls on Neagley, and we all know it won’t amount to anything). After that Reacher kills all of the bad guys. The end. Formulaic in the extreme, but somehow comforting that this giant of a man is looking after all of our interests.

I'll say nothing more, except this: The plot is still deliciously ludicrous and we can also see Lee Child would still not be able to recognise a metaphor if it walked up and punched him in the nuts.

Lee, wake up time. Some strong dissatisfaction, despite all the fun with the plot... In truth, Reacher as a binge surfeits very fast. He's a lot more appetizing once in a while, as a variant in the thriller-suspense diet. This year this is my second Reacher. What am I to do???


quarta-feira, novembro 16, 2016

The Curse of the Blue Meth: "How To Write A Novel The Easy Way Using The Pulp Fiction Method To Write Better Novels: Writing Skills" by Jim Driver, Jack Davies




 A/N:
 Hi Ladys and Gentleman,
I am writing this fiction for one reason and one reason only; angrykiller90210 said I couldn't do it!
They said I couldn't stick with anything. Well, this will be proof positive and it will be awesome! I'll do this in 3 parts, below is just the intro which doesn't count towards those 3. Like the Hobbit movie.
(btw, I'll finish the last parts of my other Breaking Bad story later, btw.)

 Seeya, From,

A Budding Author.



It was the best of times, it was the worst of times...it was 6 o'clock.


Hi.
My name is Ghost DarkmoonRaveny and this is my story.
A year ago got a job working for TEDTALKS. I am just an intern, but I am already fitting in like "one of the boys" (I am a girl though!)
In fact, my boss, Steve, has taken a real shine to me and has said he will let me play around with one of TEDTALKSs big things.
I can’t wait!
Despite working at TEDTALKS, I am also friends with Ninja Walter and most of his “entendrege.” I know Ninja Walt and Ultimate DarkmoonRaveny and Ghost Marie and Pokemon Jesse and Future Saul. I met them all a while ago in my backstory and these days I had known them for other reasons.
I call on them for help (or, more often, they call on me for help!) quite often.
By coincidence, this was one of those times!
"Hay Ghost DarkmoonRaveny we need the help of you and the TEDTALKS again"
"Sure thing Ninja Walt my man you know you can count on the TEDTALKS!"
"It’s you I count on, Ghost DarkmoonRaveny" said Ninja Walter White causing me to blush.
After that I put down the phone and started telling everyone else what was up.
"Ok, gang" I said to the rest of TEDTALKS.
"Ninja Walter White has asked for our help. It seems Weyland-Yutani Corporation is up to their old tricks, and we are the best people to take them down!"
"They are after the Blue Meth, but we have to get there first else we are all doomed to a hellish ‘futurpoclypse!’"
"What do we do?" said TEDTALKS
"That's easy. We do what the TEDTALKS always does - fight evil."

Now it was tomorrow and I was assembling my team.
I first choose Ninja Walter White, who I had called in specially as our outside expert.
I then choose Ghost DarkmoonRaveny as they were good at stuff.
Also Bob from our private army so we had someone disposable who wouldn't be needed in future stories.
I also choose myself, due to my all around abilities.
After everyone was chosen and me and Ninja Walter started planning.

In the planning room we evaluated the data we had.
"Ok, we know that Weyland-Yutani Corporation is trying to find the Blue Meth. This is probably so they can use it to dominate our friends and family"
"Now I have called our friends at the NATO and they have narrowed the location of the Blue Meth down to Avalon."
"Can’t they do better than that?" said Ultimate DarkmoonRaveny
"No, it’s only NATO""
"-sigh-stupid NATO."
"yeah. TEDTALKS has always to keep bailing NATO out of trouble..
"Well, I guess we are off to Avalon!" said Ninja Walt.
So we all leaped onto our TEDTALKS Teslas and went over there!
Once we got there we found our worst fears had already come to pass; Weyland-Yutani Corporation was already there. Weyland-Yutani Corporation petrol's were all over the city, searching in every iggloo and warehouse.
"They are looking for the Blue Meth!" said Steve.
"We have to beat them too it!"
We began sneakily and stealthy running around the city. Unlike Weyland-Yutani Corporation, we had more information about where to look.

After a period of time looking, and with Ninja Walts help, we found it before them.
"There is it is! At least!" I said, pointing to the Blue Meth hidden by a weird skyscraper.
"So it is" said Steve, suddenly grinning.
"I guess then this charade is over!"
Steve pulled of his mask and suddenly his face was Unicorn Todds!
I stood gob smacked in the face.
"Yes, that's right Ghost DarkmoonRaveny & Ninja Walter, it was me all along I, Unicorn Todd was Steve the whole time!"
 "I don't understand" said Ninja Walt. "Why?"
"That's easy. I knew I could never find the Blue Meth without your help, and I knew you would never help me. So I became CEO of TEDTALKS, and employed Ghost DarkmoonRaveny. After that it was simply a matter of earning your respect, creating a threat and waiting for you to call Ninja Walt"
"Creating a threat? You mean Weyland-Yutani Corporation?"
"Yes, that's right! Weyland-Yutani Corporation is just a bunch of actors I hired. It was all an elaborate set up to make you lead me to the Blue Meth"
 "Gosh, how could we have been so foolish" said Ninja Walt.
I was frozen still. My life had been a lie. I had believed in the TEDTALKS. Believed in what it stood for. Believed in the good work we did. But it was a lie. It was all a front. It was Unicorn Todd all along.
I pressed through the pain though. Maybe TEDTALKS was a lie, but that didn't mean its cause was meaningless. It didn't mean I had to surrender, to give up.
"No. I fight for TEDTALKS and I will never give up. Regardless of you, "Steve" " (I said that last part sarcastically).
"That's right" said Ninja Walt. "You might have fooled us. Made our lives a lie and stood in front of our nose the whole time, but you can never take away our spirit"
"You foolish fools. You are already defeated" said Unicorn Todd Alquist .
"I had a whole army at my command!"
Just then we were surrounded. We were about to give up again when I remembered something.
"You can't fool us again Unicorn Todd! These people are just actors!"
With that me and Ninja White started punching and kicking them, using our Chemistry when needed.
As they were actors they were easy to take out, leaving just Unicorn Todd.
"Nooooo...my fake army...." 

 "And now I’m going to deal with you!"
In perfect “syncro-heroism”, me and Ninja Walt leapt at "Steve", pulling of a massive Chemistry karate-chop combo.
"Arg..." said Unicorn Todd as he ran towards the Blue Meth.
But we did it again and again till he fell unconscious. He was just a few meters from the Blue Meth; it had been a close call.
"We won...but now what?"  said Ninja Walter.
I looked around at our devastated lives.
"Only one choice. We rebuild TEDTALKS and repair the years of damage it was secretly doing to this world."
The....Beginning?



Note from the author of this post: All the grammar and eventual spelling mistakes are an integral part of this story.

segunda-feira, novembro 14, 2016

It Smells of Poo in the Reviewing Pit: "Kindle Publishing To Make $14K+ Per Month & Build Your Own Kindle Empire Without Having To Write One SINGLE Word" by Muhammad N. Sikandar



Let me lower myself into the reviewing pit... Dear Lord, this rope is slippery. Oooh, and it smells of poo down here… I dislike Amazon for its predatory ways (though I have a Kindle and buy old-fashioned books and novellas there: yes, I'm a hypocrite...). In recent years I've acquired a novella reading habit. I think with these shorter works authors can be experimental and still keep the quality very high across the whole piece. It's nice to see what a good author can do with a bit of freedom and the stories are widely available without you having to subscribe to every magazine going. If it weren’t for the Kindle I’d never have the chance to read all those delicious novellas, particularly of the SF kind. I wish Muhammad N. Sikandar well, though I'm not in his target audience and am unlikely to read more of his books. I don’t believe for a minute it’s possible to publish without writing a single word as Sikandar claims. When someone already has a large number of texts already written it’s a different case altogether. Probably Sikandar is filthy rich and is laughing all the way to the bank. On top of that, he’s writing for a very large potential audience, and in a genre that is currently probably the most popular - and therefore the most lucrative - in non-fiction: self-help books and cooking…We all need help once in a while and we also have to eat. What can I say?  Sikandar has the skills to perform all aspects of the task of bringing his books to the customer himself, but at the end of the day he must write!!! I’m also quite flabbergasted he is able to write new books at a speed that others will struggle to match. Alas, I’m not superman, not even wonder-woman. How does he do it? After all is said and done, this is only possible because Amazon made Sikandar's success possible.  But Sikandar is only a tiny outlier. There are enormous numbers of self-published authors on Amazon, and most of them sell pretty much nothing and make pretty much nothing. Successes in self-publishing are tiny compared to successes in traditional publishing. I'm not against self-publishing. I’ve done it myself. But I only managed that by writing lots of words...I think it's a great option for many people and many books. But too much is made of the very, very few successes, and too little is mentioned about the vast majority who don't ever come near to making what a newbie author would through traditional publishing. What I especially like about the Kindle is that it’s democratic. I’ve no longer to be bound by the nepotistic, backscratching and incestuous literary establishment but can go out and find talented authors for themselves. That’s why I bought myself a Kindle in 2009. It strikes me that the market will take over as the gatekeepers - books that the mass market decide are crap won't sell beyond the first few hundred or so, as there are customer reviews in most e-book stores. All hail crowd-sourcing. I've read plenty of dead tree books that may have been edited but should never have seen the light of day. Until the advent of smartphones you couldn't easily get other readers reviews whilst browsing in your local bookstore, so when buying a book by an unfamiliar author you were always taking a chance. And once an author does get established often their publishers will let them publish any crap they like (e.g., Tom Clancy, Lee Child).


SF = Speculative Fiction.

sexta-feira, novembro 11, 2016

Why Do We Read Romance Novels and Crime Fiction: “The Night and the Music” by Lawrence Block



“I learned to like the music because I heard so much of it there, and because you could just about taste the alcohol in every flatted fifth. Nowadays I go for the music, and what I hear in the blue notes is not so much the booze as all the feelings the drink used to mask.”

In the short-story “The Night and the Music” from the collection “The Night and the Music”

Is that a fact only women read romance novels? I don't buy it. The same way I don’t buy only men read Crime Fiction. If safely exploring the brutal and violent world and the disproportionate threat women apparently face is the motive, perusing academic journals and scientific studies, even TV documentaries, makes more sense than reading stories and literature that feature brutal violence. Is it possible that one of the reasons women (and men for that matter) like reading about human violence and brutality is that it fascinates and even in certain instances titillates? Romance novels sell millions of copies - despite even its fans deriding the atrocious writing. Are the novel's largely female readership using the books as an indirect tool to make sense of (some) women's tendencies to be submissive sexually and willingly degraded by a dominant male? I don't think so. I even conducted a pool on my woman friends, and it’s a “fact”. They bought the book because the content turned them on. I don’t think many people are able to deny this. Likewise, readers of more brutal and violent works, (aka Crime Fiction and Horror) generally read them because the subject matter fascinates or titillates and not because they are conducting indirect sociological research into the nature of rape, murder and violence. There is a genre in Manga (Japanese comics) that features gay males violently raping and murdering each other. As everyone knows, its readership is almost exclusively female (go and read the polls available on the internet, if you doubt me). It is accepted, if still somewhat taboo to mention, that many women and girls have rape fantasies and are sexually excited by male-on-male violence, e.g., boxing, street fights even though logically they abhor both rape and violence against males or females. The internet world of fandom also reveals a side of female attitudes towards sex and violence that surprises and disturbs me. I know I met a few of them eons ago. The human mind is a strange and fascinating beast. That which on one side repulses and frightens can on another side turn on and arouse. Most women are not sexually aroused by reading about women being raped and murdered (although some likely are) but to downplay the fascination violence holds for women and men and claim that female readers of violent literature are doing so primarily to make sense of human depravity doesn't make sense.

I try to analyze my own leanings in terms of fiction, and I also like Crime Fiction. Why? As usual not sure. I think there is something addictive about fear, about pushing your tolerance for darkness to the limits and I also think this is true for many people - women and men.

But I have to admit, I do prefer it when the female victims turn the tables on the attackers, having finally had enough of all the torture and the rape and the violence, turns vigilante and embark on some hatred-fueled murdering, killing all the fu#$%ers. The often contradictory nature of human "nature" makes many people uncomfortable but there you have it. We are a species with one foot rooted in the animal world (we are mammals after all), and one foot stuck in the complex human-only world. Maybe neuroscience could give us some answers. We’re just starting to get an empirical understanding of how the human brain operates and reacts...there is no similar tool that gives us a definitive understanding of the human mind and its many complexities and contradictions. Art is in part an attempt by humans to make sense of human's internal world - a world no scientific equipment can ever measure.

I think that’s the reason we like art and literature to make sense of the human world, but I don't think that is the primary motive driving someone to read a certain genre or work of fiction. Block’s “The Night and the Music” offers insight into, among other things, the nature of guilt and how the human mind tries to rationalise committing a violent act against innocent persons but I doubt most readers of this short-story collection pick up the book with this at the forefront of their minds. I just enjoyed it because I love Matt Scudder putting away all the bad guys in the end, and sometimes with a vindictive streak to go along with it…

I'd love to hear your thoughts on this.


quarta-feira, novembro 09, 2016

Welcome to Trump's Weltanschauung

(Image pilfered from the Internet; if you own it, please contact me, and I’ll remove it)

Trump prove the old saying that if you want to attract discerning flies then pass solid waste in the marketplace. I propose that the Statue of Liberty can now be returned to France as it is no longer of any cultural significance. Well, well, well... congratulations, President and moron Trump. Congratulations, USA. What just happened is very simple: The electoral majority just bought the course at the Trump Universe for the entire country. Regardless of what people knew about it - obviously, the alternative was even more unpalatable to them. Trump now has a majority at congress - both house and senate. He has all it takes to make good of his long litany of promises of what he will do to "make America great again". I am sure that it will prove to be very instructive.
Dear victorious Trump voters: You have exercised your democratic right to choose. Celebrate your victory with glee and delight, and feel free to bayonet the injured vanquished. You definitely showed us. Drink the delicious liberal tears tonight. Feel free to project all your hopes and expectations of salvation on the Don, assured that everything will be all right now. Just don't forget why you did what you did when it becomes evident that you are just like the people inhabiting the Trump's Weltanschauung. So now, starting January, all of us will see how Trump will tear up the trade agreements. How he will keep you safe from islamite terror. How he will destroy terrorist cells. How he will fix Iraq, Syria and Libya. How he will bring manufacturing back to America, undoubtedly starting with his own products. How he will build the beautiful wall on the Mexican border with Mexican money. How he will fix the American deficit by cutting taxes and making business explode. How he will repeal Obamacare and fix the American health system. How he will change the dystopia of black/latino city centers into a bright new morning. How he will protect cops and citizens alike. And all the other nice things he promised.

In a nutshell, how to make America great again.

Right?

This is what the Americans bought. Regardless of what the American voters knew beforehand. I don't want to hear any complaints from them once we learn that winning an electoral majority does not mean to get what you were promised. Ask the British about the Brexit. They’ve began to learn this already.

(Image pilfered from the Internet; if you own it, please contact me, and I’ll remove it)

Now is not the time to be polite or equivocate. Conservatives with a small 'C' are racists with a small 'R' - they won't march, they won't protest against the changes that happened to their cities, towns and villages. They are classic cowards - they just want to be able to walk around the streets where they grew up and see less foreign faces or hear only American accents. They want someone else to 'fix this' for them. Despite all the equality and diversity, we have in schools and colleges, it turns out that the insidious racism learnt on a shopping trip, over the breakfast table or anywhere people mutter darkly about 'bloody foreigners' has far more effect than well-meaning, lefty-leaning education policies. Should it come as any surprise that the thugs who dress themselves up as politicians (Trump, Farage) find easy pickings in these all-too fertile fields? I always thought that Hillary was the only Democratic candidate who would lose to Trump, and sadly, I was right. These awful results will end up as very tragic to the USA and the entire world. A narcissistic racist xenophobic crotch grabbing con man with the nuclear code at his disposal. Remember what happened in a certain European country less than a hundred years ago when a little mustachioed corporal was blaming foreigners and minorities for the nation's problem and ended up being voted into power by the "common man"? Fortunately for the world, that man didn't have nuclear weapons, this one does. Last but not least, I think the affluent educated liberalism has neglected the very people they claim they speak for, the ordinary working person, because this's not about race because non-Whites voted for Brexit and Trump, it's not about sexism because women voted for Brexit and Trump, and it's not about homophobia because non-heterosexual and non-cisgender people voted for Trump (and probably for Brexit as well). I think the Western World should stop living in denial and blaming white males; people generally are sick to the teeth of having our political correctness rammed down our throat.

Welcome to Trump's Weltanschauung.

NB: The world the US voters hankered after, is a world that is going to very difficult to live for minorities, women, non-Christians, and well anyone who isn't male and white, both inside and outside US borders. But all negative things also have things on the plus side, and one of them is that Trump is less likely to provoke a pointless war with Russia, that is for sure. The world is actually safer...One last piece of free wisdom: I think Farage visited the USA during election time (at least that’s what I’ve just heard on the tube; consequently, he must have carried the stupidity virus over...

segunda-feira, novembro 07, 2016

Trilingual Soul: Reading and Writing in English, German and Portuguese



In reply to some questions from my “avid” and “eager” readers, I’m sure that yes, studying English and German at a tender age did indeed seem an ‘exotic’ choice to a lot of people at the time. I had already a go at this theme before, but I'll have another go just to press and clarify the point. 

I remember a particular German class, because a friend of mine dared me to attend the Goethe Institute; die Einstufungstest placed us both at the beginning (grade 0); a few years later I’d finished the course and she didn’t (I've always been a stickler for hanging in there when the going gets tough). I first began learning about English (German), its language, literature and culture in the early 80s (90s), when most of what people here in the Portugal knew about England and Germany came from news reports about what Thatcher said to Reagan (the demolition of the Berlin Wall when it comes to Germany), so not exactly a reliable indicator of what most ordinary Portuguese were thinking and feeling. Back then, if you were studying English/German it usually meant you’d end up working in the tourism industry in one capacity or another or you became a teacher. My own leanings were rather different – my heroes were Shakespeare, P. D. James, Philip Larkin, Christopher Priest, T. S. Eliot, Waugh, Greene, Tolkien, Lewis, Le Carré, Blake, George Eliot, etc. (Celan, Rilke, Hölderlin, Heine, Kafka, Trakl, Goethe, Grass, etc.) I think it’s safe to say that my immersion in things English/German either changed me completely or brought completely to the surface aspects of my intellect and character that had always been there but that needed the influence of the English and German spirit-stuff to set them free. There is nothing to compare with language for getting a glimpse into another culture, and another mode of thought. In a sense it is something that cannot be computed, because so much is subtlety, and inclination. As well as English, I have always felt a close affinity with German novelists and the German way of thinking. I'm, not sure why. 

I also regret that I don’t know either Japanese or Mandarin, because there are so many Japanese- and Chinese-language writers I wish I could read at least a little of in their original language, because I love the speculative cinema of Japan, Taiwan and Hong Kong, and I know I’d gain even more from these films if I could get a proper sense of how their languages are structured.

It doesn’t matter which language one chooses to learn; it will never be a waste of time. Understanding a second (and third) language, even a little, will always broaden one’s cultural horizons, and bring new inspirations. I’ve always claimed that reading and writing in English and German freed me up to express thoughts and emotions I would have felt uncertain or reserved about expressing in Portuguese. So I would say this is a very particular decision that each trilingual (quadrilingual, etc.) person has to make. The most important thing though is that this should be a free choice; no one should come under pressure to write in Portuguese, English, or German. Variety in terms of language should be cheered, encouraged and promoted through adequate and skillful translations. That’s why when people ask me why I write mainly in English and German and not in Portuguese, I just shrug my shoulders and ignore them. The next time I’m asked the same question, instead of just saying: "sod off", I’ll just direct them to this post. And That’s All Folks.

sábado, novembro 05, 2016

Small Latin and Smaller Greek: “AKA Shakespeare - A Scientific Approach to the Authorship Question” by Peter Sturrock


Published 2013.

In my day job, once in a while, especially when I’m getting my feet wet with a new client, I get emails from clients saying stuff like this: “I’m really excited to have you as my new Service Manager”. This is not much different when I get an automatic response from an internet service that goes like: “Hmm, that’s not the right password. Please try again or request a new one” (or something similar). I always assumed “Hmm” was intended to make me think that the automated response was typed, in real time, by a real Turing being – a being who is my pal and writes to me in a conversational style, even using conversational interjections like “Hmm.” Ultimately this is an insult to my “intelligence”. Although I only get slightly miffed when I get responses like those above coming from a machine (or from a new client...), I get real mad when I’m reading a book, wherein the writing is histrionic, narcissistic, and bloated. And I’m not even talking about the supposed “science” therein. I don’t know where this guy, Peter Sturrock, stands when it comes to the authorship question, but after reading this drivel, I think he takes sides with the likes of Derek Jakobi and Mark Rylance. I don’t intend to dwell much on this, like I did the last time, but I’ve got to say something about the math involved. Back in the day, I studied Statistics and Probability, and we’ll knew it always came down to how well our assumptions had to be properly graded, meaning that our levels of confidence had to match our odds of exactitude. Am I supposed to believe Beatrice (one of the four characters in the book) could really make ten trillion statements (10^ (-13) and have only one of them be wrong? Even if she uses "Bayesian" methods? This book is just so full of bullshit, it’s staggering! It promotes, among other things, (equidistant) letter sequences, so popular in the 19th century with those famous Shakespearean occultists like Ignatius L. Donnelly and Orville Ward Owen; the latter even claimed to have discovered Bacon's autobiography embedded in Shakespeare's plays… The Bayes model (the naïve kind) hypothesizes that a body of items (book, newspaper, paper, etc.) is generated by selecting a category for an item then generating the words of that item independently based on a category-specific distribution. The bullshit in question is in taking for granted the words are independent, a hypothesis that’s clearly violated by natural language texts. Moreover, Sturrock’s approach was doomed to fail, because it’s nigh on impossible to compare two real "substantial" personalities (Shakespeare and Edward de Vere) with a fictive unsubstantial "someone" else. I’d have liked to know the result, if Sturrock had replaced "someone else" by Marlowe, for example, using all the knowledge available today, and not by using mumbo-jumbo. The book is a huge fallacy from beginning to end. I’d be able to forgive the clunky and puerile prose, but the bad science not in a million years.

A few years ago I read a thing called “The Cambridge Book of Lesser Poets”. I still have that book on my shelves. I opened it again and I found this gem:

“When Phoebus from the bed / Of Thetis doth arise, / The morning blushing red / In fair carnation wise, / He shows it in her face, / As queen of every grace.”

from “The Shepherd’s Commendation to His Nymph” by Edward de Vere.

Such clunkingly down-to-earth versifying surely would've hit the waste-paper basket of the author of Hamlet, Macbeth, etc., not to mention all those unfailingly fresh, inventive, powerful, yea sublime sonnets.

sexta-feira, novembro 04, 2016

Anarres vs. Urras - Ambiguous Walls: “The Dispossessed” by Ursula K. Le Guin



Published 1994.


“There was a wall. It did not look important…But the idea was real…Like all walls it was ambiguous, two-faced. What was inside it and what was outside it depended upon the which side of it you were on”.

In “The Dispossessed” by Ursula K. Le Guin



"Call me Shevek. Some years ago, never mind how many, I set out to be the tedious, most hypocritical, unreal character in all of fiction. That I failed is of little consequence. But here, for your records is some of the bare facts of how I failed.

Manuel, Manuel, Manuel. I don't drink booze? But I got drunk at a party, ejaculated all over a woman's dress (Did Bill Clinton read my tale?) and then promptly threw up. Did you skip some of my story? I am not amused! When I saw I was causing distress on page 75 to those very different to myself, I stopped. Am I not sympathetic? I make jokes. 'You have your anarchist. What are you going to do with him?' and so on...but I won't dwell on the point. ;) And now having read the novel again after about 10 years, I am even fonder of it that I was back then. Chapter 5 is like a distilled version of “The Brothers Karamazov” and the whole is a more serious, thoughtful “Stranger in a Strange Land”.

So, yes, Manuel, Shevek is quite like me in many ways, but since I've never had a single alcoholic drink in my life, I am even more unreliable as a character!!
And so this orphan is all alone without even a cardboard character to keep me company. ;)"

What you’ve read above is what I wrote many eons ago after having going through the novel with a fine-tooth comb. And I’ve just finished my third reading. Is it possible for a novel to improve over time? It’s even better than the last two readings.

What has always fascinated me about this novel is that Le Guin, instead of having chosen a traveler to utopia, chose a citizen of utopia. Shevek is a cypher. I know, but me as the reader I’m challenged to experience integrity and integration in the novel’s images, structure, scientific novum, and social relationships. It was one of the first novels wherein I got immersed in the story even when I did not believe in Shevek as a character. The imagery was (still is) so strong that Shevek’s shortcomings as a character are not enough to diminish my enjoying of the novel. It was also one of the first novels I read wherein the chronology of events was not told sequentially. Back in the day, as a reader of SF, it was my first encounter with this narrative device. It came as a shock. I understood there were people writing SF that could write successfully by going at it differently. Le Guin’s alternate storytelling between Shevek’s first years on Anarres and his single year on Urras is nothing short of masterful. I can experience different periods in Shevek’s life circling each other in my mind, each separate year integrated, and exchanging roles of cause and effect. The first time I read the novel I was also deeply impressed with Shevek’s attempts at developing a general temporal theory combining the concepts of time and simultaneity (sic). At the time I was already in college and Physics was present in my life on a daily basis (and Einstein’s theory of relativity was also very much in my mind in particular).

Shevek’s attempts at understanding his personal and social function in society and at finding the theoretical foundation for the general temporal theory are depicted as the familiar circular journey of discovery which Le Guin used in the Earthsea novels, i.e., the journey outward at some point involves a return to one’s origins before moving outward again.

“The Dispossessed” is one of the novels that made me the way I’m today, for better or worse. If one had any doubts concerning the existence of stuff with transformative powers SF-wise, look no further. This is it.

There’s so much I could write about this novel.