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19th January 2016

3:18pm: Read: Tainaron - Mail from Another City, by Leena Krohn (2015-4)
So this, the second novel in Krohn's Collected Fiction, volume 1, is just as weird as the first, but a bit more ... coherent isn't quite the right word. Focused? At any rate, easier for the (this) reader's mind to gain and keep a foothold in.

As the subtitle suggests, this is an epistolatory novel, a series of letters from an unnamed narrator to an unnamed friend who, apparently, never responds. The narrator is, as the letters begin, newly arrived in the city of Tainaron -- incidentally, there is a cape sometimes known as Tainaron but more commonly as Matapan in Greece. In her first dwelling place, she experiences neighbor troubles; she moves. She is guided through the city by a native named Longhorn.

Gradually we become aware that the inhabitants of Tainaron are not human. To say what they are would take away some of the joy of discovery, should you read it for yourself. But they are strange and at times creepily different from us.

The narrator also gradually leads us to the awareness that Tainaron is not exactly a city in the way we understand it. At one point, Longhorn takes her to an observation tower, where she sees that it is constantly being built up and torn down.

If Dona Quixote was coldly fascinating, Tainaron is absolutely engaging. I cannot wait to read the third novel, Gold of Ophir.
7:12am: Another day, another bunch of anniversaries and birthdays...
1829: Premiere of Goethe's Faust, part 1
1853: Premiere of Verdi's Il Trovatore
1883: The first electrical delivery system using overhead wires enters service
1893: Premiere of Ibsen's The Master Builder
1935: The world's first "tighty-whiteys" go on sale
1953: "Lucy Goes to the Hospital": the culmination of the pairing of Lucille Ball's pregnancy with that of her on-screen character, Lucy Ricardo, sets a record with 72% of American television sets tuned in
1977: President Gerald Ford pardons "Tokyo Rose," Iva Toguri D'Aquino
1983: Release of the Apple Lisa; the Macintosh would be a slightly improved, commercially successful, version of this commercial failure
1986: Release of (c)Brain, the first IBM-PC virus into the wild
2006: Launch of NASA's New Horizons probe

1736: James Watt, who didn't invent the steam engine but made it commercially viable
1807: Gen. Robert E. Lee, who was an honorable man
1808: Lysander Spooner, who competed with the United States Post Office
1809: Edgar Allan Poe, who saw too much
1813: Henry Bessemer, who brought steel production into the Industrial Revolution
1839: Paul Cezanne, who painted a black marble clock
1887: Alexander Woolcott, who Came For Dinner
1923: Jean Stapleton, whom I saw on stage once in The Trojan Women
1930: Tippi Hedren, who protects animals
1932: Richard Lester, who made the Beatles funny ... well, funnier
1943: Janis Joplin, who didn't give a fuck
1946: Dolly Parton, who pleaded with Jolene
1953: Desi Arnaz, Jr., by an amazing coincidence
1958: Thomas Kinkade, who was much better than his subjects suggest
1969: Edwidge Danticat, who writes a lot of good stuff

18th January 2016

6:54am: Anniversaries
1535: Conquistador Francisco Pizarro founds Lima, Peru.
1778: Captain James Cook becomes the first European (well, actually, a whole shipload of Europeans...) to reach the Hawai'ian islands, which he promptly names "the Sandwich Islands."
1911: First successful airplane landing on a ship.
1993: First celebration of MLK day

1689: Montesquieu (I'm not typing the whole name!)
1779: Peter Mark Roget, thesaurist and theologian
1782: Daniel Webster, Senator and Secretary of State, who outtalked the Devil
1854: Thomas Watson. "Mr. Watson, come here. I want you."
1882: A.A. Milne. Pooh.
1892: Oliver Hardy. "Another fine mess."
1904: Cary Grant. "All day, all night, Cary Grant."
1908: Jacob Bronowski. "How should I know? I'm not Doctor Bloody Bronowski!"
1911: Danny Kaye. "The chalice from the palace holds the brew that is true."
1925: Gilles Deleuze. "Internal difference."
1932: Robert Anton Wilson. Fnord.
1933: Ray Dolby. I have nothing clever (or stupid) to say about him.
1955: Kevin Costner. "If you build it..."
1963: Martin O'Malley. "Honest, I'm electable!"

17th January 2016

7:55pm: Read: Dona Quixote and Other Citizens, by Leena Krohn (2016-3)
This short novel, the first in "Collected Fiction Part One," is not structurally a novel at all. It has nothing we can call a "plot," and barely "characters." It consists of a series of self-contained vignettes, connected primarily by the one semi-defined character (the unnamed narrator) and her environment (which seems to be Helsinki, but I don't actually know that).

So: it's a mosaic. Does it form a picture _of_ something, or is it an abstract? It's actually hard for me to answer that question. Many of the vignettes involve the narrator's encounters with the titular Dona Quixote (whose name that apparently isn't really), but many do not. Most of the other characters - the only really notable one being the Looking-Glass Boy - appear only ephemerally, or (like the narrator's husband) are mere mentions who never actually appear.

If it forms a picture of something, that something is a surreal consciousness, that of the narrator.

Since there is no "plot," there is no narrative drive in the traditional sense: and yet the vignettes are not only fascinating in themselves, they urge the reader on to the next one - rather like potato chips are said to be. (I once ate exactly one potato chip at a gathering to prove a point. And, yes, it was a Lay's. But I digress.) And there is no real sense of closure; the book simply ... stops, not as if it were out of steam, but simply because there is nothing more to say. The mosaic is as complete as it is going to be made. There are definitely untiled gaps, but they are part of the design.

To say I enjoyed the story is to miss the point; I did. But more importantly, I feel that something in me has been changed by reading it. And isn't that what literature is supposed to do?

Or is it?
9:12am: Events and Birthdays
1904: Premiere of Anton Chekov's last play, The Cherry Orchard
1929: First appearance of Popeye the Sailor Man in E.C. Segar's "Thimble Theatre" comic strip
1946: First session of the U.N. Security Council opens
1950: The "great Brink's Robbery," which however was of their offices, not one of their trucks
1961: In his farewell address to the American people, President Dwight D. Eisenhower warns against the "military-industrial complex," bringing the phrase to the public attention for the first time

1706: Benjamin Franklin, polymath, Founding Father
1820: Anne Bronte, last and, probably, least of the Bronte sisters
1880: Mack Sennett, the "King of Comedy"
1899: Al Capone, the "King of Chicago"
1899: Neville Shute, author of On the Beach, A Town Like Alice, and much else
1922: Betty White, who will always be Sue-Ann Nivens to me
1927: Eartha Kitt, who will always be Catwoman to me
1931: James Earl Jones, That Voice
1933: Shari Lewis, mother of Lamb Chop and Hush Puppy, who co-wrote "The Lights of Zetar"
1938: John Bellairs, who wrote a lot more than The Face in the Frost
1942: Muhammed Ali, prisoner of conscience and Greatest Boxer In The World
1949: Andy Kaufman, who, I'm sorry, did not fake his death
1964: Michelle Obama, a better FLOTUS than we've had in a long time

16th January 2016

9:51am: And today:
27 BC: Octavius Caesar is granted the title Augustus. The Roman Empire officially begins here.
1412: The Medici are appointed bankers to the Papacy.
1605: The first edition of the first part of Don Quixote is published.
1786: The Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, direct ancestor of the First Amendment, authored by Thomas Jefferson
1909: Ernest Shackleton reaches the magnetic South Pole
1919: The 18th Amendment (Temperance/Prohibition) is authorized.
1979: Shah Reza Pahlavi flees Iran.

1895: Nat Schachner, early SF writer
1908: Ethel Merman
1932: Dian Fossey, woman in the mist
1933: Susan Sontag

15th January 2016

7:13am: Such a day...
1919: The Great Boston Molasses Flood begins when a storage tank bursts. Contrary to the phrase "slow as molasses," the wave goop is estimated to have travelled in excess of 30 MPH and killed at least 21 people.

1933: Mariette Beco experiences the first of a series of Marian apparitions in Banneux, Belgium

1943: The Pentagon, largest office building in the world, was dedicated. Rumors that it contains a demon are strictly denied, and if you can't trust the government, who can you trust?

1947: The nude, dismemberd, and mutilated body of Elizabeth Short is found, and she is nicknamed "The Black Dahlia."

2001: Wales and Sanger unveiled Wikipedia. While I can't find out how big it was when it started, it took two years and seven days to reach the 100,000 article mark.

Birthdays:

1622: Jean-Baptiste Poquelin, better known as the playwright Molière.
1809: Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, father of anarchism.
1842: Josef Breuer, mentor of Sigmund Freud and creator of the "talking cure."
1908: Teller Ede, better known as Dr. Edward Teller, physicist and problematic personality
1909: Gene Krupa, drummer extraordinaire
1929: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who was much more complex than the narratives of liberalism or conservatism would paint him.
1933: Ernest J. Gaines, autobiographer of Miss Jane Pittman
1935: Robert Silverberg, writer of many good things
1941: Don van Vliet, better known as Captain Beefheart, collaborator with Frank Zappa
1951: Charo, about whom I got nothing but deserves better than that

14th January 2016

7:10am: Thursday...
1967: The Human Be-In in San Francisco
1973: Elvis's big comeback concert, Aloha From Hawaii Via Satellite

83 BC: Mark Antony, patriot
1741: Benedict Arnold, traitor
1875: Albert Schweitzer, humanitarian
1886: Hugh Lofting, creator of Dr. Dolittle
1892: Hal Roach, who paired Laurel and Hardy
1896: John Dos Passos, literary innovator
1919: Andy Rooney, curmudgeon
1925: Yukio Mishima, author and revolutionary
1949: Lawrence Kasdan, co-creator of Indiana Jones
1950: Arthur Byron Cover, bizarre novelist

13th January 2016

7:56pm: Read: The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell (2016-2)
This is an incredible book.

Now that that's taken care of, I can try to discuss this rationally. This is another book that I would never have picked up on my own, but read thanks to the book club that meets every month and a half or so at my office.

I found the title puzzling until, about 3/4 of the way through the text, it is casually mentioned that one of Japan's names for itself is (or at least, was two hundred years ago) "The Land of a Thousand Autumns." So the title metynomizes to "The Japan of Jacob de Zoet." Which makes for a reasonably apt title.

The main character - though he hardly appears in the book's second part - is a clerk in the employ of the Dutch East India Company, and as the book opens, he arrives at Dejima, an artificial island off the shore of Nagasaki, the only place in Japan where Europeans were (officially) permitted for about two hundred years. He arrives with a new "Chief Resident," whose immediately announces that he is going to clean up the fraudulent books kept by his predecessor. Which predecessor, incidentally, he ships out in chains.

Cleaning up the books is the job of Clerk de Zoet, who goes about his work faithfully and enthusiastically - perhaps even with a bit of ambition. He meets the other Dutch inhabitants of Dejima, who are a fascinating cast of characters, and makes friends and enemies among them.

Along the way he meets a young Japanese woman named Orito Aibagawa, daughter of a samurai family, and falls in love (despite his engagement to a Dutch woman back home).

But this is not Shogun, and the two do not fall into bed together. Orito is spirited away as a nun in a mysterious abbey, whose Abbot Enomoto is a very powerful figure in Nagasaki, setting up part two and ending my summarizing of the book.

Mitchell's writing is spectacular without being flashy, if that makes sense. He draws the reader into the hearts of his various viewpoint characters effortlessly (I mean effortless for the reader; I am sure a great deal of effort went into creating these characters). They are distinct and distinctive, and I liked a lot of them a great deal more than I usually like characters in a historical novel.

So anyway: recommended.
6:23am: Why not?
1898: Emile Zola's "J'accuse...!" was published in L'Aurore
1968: Johnny Cash performs at Folsom Prison, resulting in a hit album

1832: Horatio Alger, Jr., prophet of hard work and pluck.
1893: Clark Ashton Smith, weird writer extraordinaire
1926: Michael Bond, soldier and ursophile
1942: Carol Cleveland, who helped Monty Python quite a lot

12th January 2016

6:46am: Events and Natalities
On this day in 1932, Hattie Caraway became the first woman elected to the US Senate.
In 1959, the Caves of Nerja were discovered.
In 1966, Batman (with Robin the Boy Wonder) premiered on ABC-TV.
In 1971, All in the Family premiered on CBS-TV.

1628: Charles Perrault (as you probably know from today's Google Doodle).
1856: John Singer Sargent
1876: Jack London
1918: Maharishi Mahesh Yogi
1930: Tim Horton
1935: The Amazing Kreskin
1957: John Lasseter

11th January 2016

6:26am: Birthday Rollcall (this time spelled right!)
1755 or maybe 1757: Alexander Hamilton, Federalist
1842: William James, Pragmatist, Psychologist
1885: Alice Paul, Suffragist, Feminist
1923: Jerome Bixby, Scenarist
1943: Jim Hightower, Columnist, Satirist
1952: Diana Gabaldon, Novelist
1961: Jasper Fforde, Postmodernist

10th January 2016

1:08pm: Anniversaries and Birthdays Doo Zhoor
1927: Fritz Lang's Metropolis is released.
1929: First appearance of The Adventures of Tintin
1946: First U.N. General Assembly convenes

1883: Alexsei Nikolayevich Tolstoy, "the Comrade Count," a science fiction writer
1887: Robinson Jeffers, poet, who was angry at the sun
1904: Ray Bolger, who tapped his way into our hearts as the Scarecrow
1938: Donald E. Knuth, who still hasn't finished The Art of Computer Programming
1947: Geo(rge) Alec Effinger, who created Muffy Birnbaum, Barbarian Swordsperson

9th January 2016

8:26am: And today...
...we celebrate (cake optional) the birthdays of:

1890: Karel Čapek, who coined the term "robot." More or less.

1913: Richard Nixon, who gave lazy reporters the suffix "-gate."

1931: Algis Budrys, who claimed to be the legitimate government of Lithuania.

1935: Bob Denver, who was Gilligan and Maynard G. Krebs.

1941: Joan Baez, who overcame.

8th January 2016

7:26am: An unusually rich and varied collection of birthdays.
1823: Alfred Russel Wallace, who independently came up with the same basic theory of evolution as Darwin, and may actually have been first, but who, at any rate, wrote to Darwin and prompted him to publish their findings jointly...

1824: Wilkie Collins, author of The Moonstone and The Woman In White, and close friend of Charles Dickens...

1936: Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema, OM, RA, painter of fine illustrative, uh, paintings...

1897: Dennis Wheatley, author of The Devil Rides Out and many other books...

1908: William Hartnell, the first Doctor...

1909: Evelyn Wood, teacher, creator of the term "speed reading"...

1911: Gypsy Rose Lee, burlesque dancer, actress, and author...

1926: Soupy Sales, who delighted me as a child with "The Mouse," White Fang and Black Tooth...

1931: Wulf Grajonca, better known to the world as Bill (NOT Billy) Graham, concert producer and manager of the Fillmores West and East...

1935: Elvis Presley, of whom I have nothing to say whatsoever...

1941: Graham Chapman, the Colonel, the first of the Pythons to leave us...

1942: Stephen Hawking, who may be the only person ever to appear as himself on Star Trek...

1944: Terry Brooks, the first and one of the most egregious of the Tolclones...

1947: David Bowie, the Thin White Duke, the Man Who Fell to Earth, and the Goblin King...

1983: Kim Jong-Un, who is entirely too young to be running a country...

7th January 2016

7:08am: Whose birthday is it, anyway?
1800: Millard Fillmore, 13th President of the United States, and one of the more forgettable (except his name).

1891: Zora Neale Hurston, author of Their Eyes Were Watching God, which seems to have replaced Catcher in the Rye in American schools. (Not that there's anything wrong with that.)

1911: Butterfly McQueen, who didn't know nothin' 'bout birthin' babies, and got typecast as a maid.

1912: Charles Addams, who (I hope!) needs no explanation.

1924: Gene L. Coon, one of Star Trek's "good Genes," who actually worked on a large number of other shows, and invented Klingons.

1928: William Peter Blatty, who wrote The Exorcist and a bunch of lesser stuff.

6th January 2016

6:57am: Epiphanic Birthdays
1412: Jeanne d'Arc, The Maid of Orleans
1811: Charles Sumner, whose beating by Preston Brooks helped to solidify the Republican Party as the anti-slavery party
1832: Gustav Doré, fine illustrator
1871: Alexander Scriabin, atonalist
1878: Carl Sandburg, poet of Chicago
1912: Danny Thomas, the Court Jester
1915: Alan Watts, Episcopal priest (and poet...)
1946: Syd Barrett, founding member of The Pink Floyd
1947: Sandy Denny, only person ever to do guest vocals on a Led Zeppelin album
1955: Rowan Atkinson, Father Gerald and much else

5th January 2016

7:59am: 950 years ago today...
...Edward the Confessor died without issue. This sparked a succession crisis that ended in the Norman Conquest later in the year.

Also on this day, we have birthdays...

1779: Zebulon Pike, he of the Peak.
1876: Konrad Adenaur, German statesman.
1900: Yves Tanguy, surrealist painter.
1914: George Reeves, best known as the TV Superman.
1928: Walter Mondale, who, to my surprise, is still alive. Happy 88th birthday, Mr. Vice President!
1932: Umberto Eco, novelist and critic supreme. Happy birthday, Signore!
1941: Hayao Miyazaki. Happy 75th, sir!
1946: Diane Keaton. Happy birthday, ma'am!
1978: Seanan McGuire, writer of stuff. Happy birthday, Seanan!

4th January 2016

7:49am: Seen: Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015)
Spoiler-free version:

Things go fast and blow up real good. There are characters.

Spoily versionCollapse )
6:39am: 4 January
120 years ago today, Utah was admitted as a state.

Birthdays.

1785: Jacob Grimm, philologist and author.
1809: Louis Braille, inventor of Guess What.
1838: General Tom Thumb, circus midget for P.T. Barnum.
1896: Everett Dirksen, one of the last true Republicans.
1905: Sterling Holloway, voice of Winnie-the-Pooh.
1942: "Mahavishnu" John McLaughlin, guitarist.
1960: Michael Stipe, former lead singer of REM.

3rd January 2016

8:36am: The Professor.
Today is the 124th natal anniversary of master philologist and storyteller, J.R.R. Tolkien.

Also:

Cicero (106 BC)
Zasu Pitts (1894)
Victor Borge (1909)
Sergio Leone (1929)
Glenn A. Larson (1937)

2nd January 2016

8:59pm: Read: Some of the Best from Tor.com 2014, edited by Ellen Datlow (2016-1)
Unthemed, multi-author collections of stories are difficult to review, and this is no exception.

There wasn't a story in it that I didn't enjoy. A couple creeped me out successfully, and a couple moved me deeply.

Ellen Datlow (if this wasn't already obvious) is a talented, skilled editor who finds stories worth reading and puts them in front of the public. She has gathered here, as I understand it, stories first published on the Tor.com website during the year 2014. (I'm not 100% sure because there's no introduction to the collection.)

The stories range from straight horror to straight science fiction with fantasy, urban fantasy, and the weird along the way. Of particular note:

Dale Bailey's "The End of the End of Everything" is an end-of-the-world story unlike any I have ever read. Almost anything else I could say would be spoily.

John Chu's "A Cost-Benefit Analysis of the Proposed Trade-Offs for the Overhaul of the Barricade" is a tale set in a reality so weird I never quite understood its rules, but the story works despite of - or maybe because of - that.

Katherine Ann Goonan's "A Short History of the Twentieth Century, or, When You Wish Upon a Star" manages to combine a history of the US Space Program, Cold War paranoia, Disneyland, all with a very personal story.

Pasi Ilmari Jääskeläinen's "Where the Trains Turn" is one of the creepiest damn things I've ever read, a sort of Stephen King meets Kafka kind of vibe, about a woman who has lost her child many times and in many ways.

And Mary Rickert's "The Mothers of Voorhisville," equally creepy, is also about mothers who lose their children, but in a very different way.

John Scalzi's "Unlocked: An Oral History of Haden's Syndrome" looks like working notes for his novel _Unlocked,_ which I haven't read. But they are _interesting_ working notes, about an entirely plausible plague.

Singling these stories out as the best of "some of the best" doesn't mean that the others aren't good. They are. The whole thing is good.
9:34am: Birthdays doo joor
Today is the 107th birthday of Senator Barry Goldwater, whom modern Republicans make look very sane indeed.

And it is the 96th birthday of Dr. Isaac Asimov, who wrote something, I can't remember what.

31st December 2015

12:49pm: Unnecessary details
So yesterday I had my first colonoscopy.

The procedure itself was nothing. I went in, laid down and assumed the position, they gave me some good drugs, and I woke up and it was over (and they'd found nothing bad, huzzah!).

What's pretty bad is the day before. For a week before they restrict your intake of certain substances. For three days before they want you off high-fiber foods. And the day before...

...is clear liquid diet, meaning tea (with no milk or sugar), water, ginger ale, and green or yellow Jello. I hope I never see another spoonful of green Jello. Seriously.

And the night before you take this amazing laxative that really, really works. And you take it again the morning of. That's no fun either.

So the good news is I probably won't have to do it again for like ten years...
8:14am: NYE birthdays include...
1931 - Bob Shaw (of Slow Glass and Bheer)
1943 - John Denver (of the Chad Mitchell Trio)
1945 - Connie Willis (of the Doomsday Book)
1949 - Ellen Datlow (of the Best Horror of the Year)
1974 - Joe Abercrombie (of the First Law Trilogy)
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