Glarked from Cynthia1960

1. What would you do if you won the lottery?

Get good financial advice and make damn sure all taxes were paid correctly. Then invest in real estate well above the anticipated waterline.

2. What era do you wish you had lived in?

This one is fine by me, despite all its problems. 

3. What kind of robot would you want?

One that does the housework.  All the housework.

4. What would you outsource if you could?

See #3.

5. What superpower do you wish you had?

Either shapeshifting or teleportation, depending upon the limits placed on each.

The God Particle by Leon Lederman with Dick Teresi (2019-58)

There is only one good reason for reading popular science books that are going-on thirty years of age: and that is for entertainment. _The God Particle_, subtitled "If the Universe is the answer, what's the question?", entertained me.

More: it told me things I didn't know, mostly about the history of science. The book is framed as a search for the indivisible particle, and it begins with Democritus of Abdera, who first came up with the idea that the universe was made of a-toms. Lederman fantasizes a dialogue in which he gives Democritus a tour of Fermilab and we are to be amazed by how amazed he isn't. 

The book moves through the usual suspects - Galileo, Newton, Maxwell, Einstein - and a number of less-known folks who made their contribution to the search for the underlying structure of matter, with a wealth of amusing anecdotes (and the occasional wretched pun). In the last few chapters he brings the story up to the near-present of 1993, and describing the Standard Model as it was then, including the theoretical and experimental problems with it. The main problem was that, above certain relatively reasonable energies, the Standard Model predicted infinite quantities, which seems an absurdity on the face of it. Higgs proposed his field and its boson as a way of removing those infinities; explaining where mass comes from is a bonus.

The Higgs boson would not be confirmed until 2014, twenty-one years after Lederman (and Teresi) gave it its fanciful and misleading nickname. And, as it goes with real science, it didn't so much answer the questions as provide new ones. But for someone just seeking to understand what the Higgs thing is all about, plus a general non-mathematical introduction to the Standard Model, you could do worse than _The God Particle_.

(As a side note: Leon Lederman, Nobel laureate for his work with the neutrino, died late last year at the age of 96.)

A sort-of farewell to LiveJournal

While I am, for now at least, going to continue to crosspost to LJ, I won't be reading there anymore; too much duplication, not enough time. Also, the Russia thing.

I think there are one or two of my friends on LJ who haven't made the leap to DreamWidth; if you're one of those, I'd like to encourage doing it, if only for the selfish reason that I'd like to continue reading your posts...

The Common Reader, Series 1, by Virginia Woolf (2019-57)

A collection of reviews and essays on literary topics. I don't actually have a lot to say about it.

My ideal of good criticism, for what it's worth, has two basic characteristics. The first is that it sends the reader to (or, preferably, _back_ to) the primary work with tools to get more - and especially more pleasure - from it. There is only one writer discussed here to whom I can meaningfully "go back", and that is Jane Austen; I will definitely glean more from her novels now than I did in the past. Some of the writers I haven't read, she has nudzhed me a bit more towards reading: Montaigne, Margaret Cavendish, Addison, the Brontes, Joseph Conrad, and George Eliot. 

Not all the essays are specifically about one author. "The Pastons and Chaucer" is a wonder like a James Burke "Connections" episode that ties the fortunes of a noble family to the reading of Chaucer, in complex but not tenuous ways. "The Lives of the Obscure" is a set of delightful glimpses into the lives of three persons whose memoirs are preserved in an unspecified library. "The Russian Point of View" seems to suggest that there is something at the heart of the great Russians - in this case, Dostoevski, Tolstoi, and "Tchekov" - that necessarily eludes the English (and, I presume, American) reader regardless of the quality of the translation. 

Probably my favorite essays in this series are "The Patron and the Crocus", which advises would-be writers to consider carefully for what audience their work is intended, and "How it Strikes a Contemporary", a discussion of the state of the novel circa 1920. These are witty without being catty or vicious. The latter makes an interesting case for a periodicity in fiction akin to Lewis's "Law of Undulation": that periods of experimentation (of which ca. 1920 certainly would be one) alternate with times of masterpieces, which benefit from the work done by the experimenters. 

But I oversimplify.

I mentioned two characteristics of my ideal criticism. The second is that the criticism itself should give the reader pleasure. This collection of essays gave me pleasure.


Connections in Death, by J.D. Robb (2019-56)

In the 2060s, Lt. Eve Dallas of the NYPD Homicide squad is married to gazillionaire-ex-conman Roarke, who often assists on her cases with his insight into the criminal mind, electronic wizardry, and, well, money. They also have hot sex two or three times per book, which is frankly getting old.

In this outing,Roarke hires Rochelle Pickering to be the head of counselling at An Didean, a haven for lost children he is building. That very night Rochelle goes out with her boyfriend Winston (previously known to Dallas as Crack, a bar owner) to celebrate. When she returns, she finds her brother and roommate dead of an overdose on a living room chair.

Lyle "Pick" Pickering, an ex-member of the Bangers street gang, straightened out in prison. He's been working as a cook, and just got his two-year chip.

A quick bit of examination makes it very clear that he didn't overdose himself; he was murdered, which makes him Eve's job.When first one, then another possible source of information turns up dead, Eve has a big mess on her hands.

No problem. She'll wrap it up in plenty of time for a quiet denouement with Roarke. It's how she gets there that's the fun; these are police procedurals at heart. The future setting allows for Robb to present interesting new methods for murder (though not in this case), but humans being what they are, the motives are always recognizable. There is some future tech in the cops' (and crooks') hands, but not much that Dick Tracy wouldn't recognize: there are no magic solutions for this detective.

This (the whole series, not just this one book) is a story about second chances, some taken, more rejected. Without getting religious, Robb's stories leave lots of room for redemption of various kinds ... but some people make themselves irredeemable, at least by any means available to Eve Dallas. She stands for the dead and brings them justice, but Roarke and  her best friend are living proof that people can become better than they are. So, in a more complicated way, is Eve.

These books are not "great literature", but there's something that has kept me coming back to them for nearly fifty books now. They're competently written, entertaining, and satisfy something deep in me. I will doubtless keep buying them - as I have from the beginning: in paperback. I'm not completely obsessive, after all....

Gravity Falls (2012-2016)

...which is, when you think about it, a long time for an animated show that lasted two seasons and 40 (really 41) episodes in total.

Twins Mabel and Mason "Dipper" Pines live in California. When they are rwelve, their parents decide to send them to visit their great-uncle ("Grunkle") Stan Pines for the summer.

Grunkle Stan is a conman who runs a seedy tourist trap called "The Mystery Shack" on the edge of a seemingly sleepy town called Gravity Falls, in the dark heart of Central/Eastern Oregon.

On their first day, Dipper finds a strange tree that leads him to a mysterious journal, with a six-fingered hand and the number 3 on the cover. Inside are notes, some of them cryptic, about strange creatures and phenomena surrounding the town. He becomes somewhat obsessed with exploring the journal and finding "The Author". He also develops a huge crush on Stan's teenaged help at the Shack, Wendy Corduroy.

Mabel has her own obsession: she wants a summer romance and her first kiss. In the first episode she is smitten by a fellow named 'Norman' - who turns out to be some gnomes (pointy hats and all) in a trenchcoat. They (all 1000 of them) want to marry Mabel and have her be their gnome  queen "for all eternity." 

She gets out of this - with Dipper's help (but Mabel sometimes rescues Dipper too), and the game is afoot. There are several continuing enemies:

- Pacifica Northwest, the only daughter of the town's one super-rich family and a major snob;
- Gideon Gleeful, a cherubic (seeming) boy evangelist who seeks ultimate power (and Mabel's hand); and
- Bill Cipher, an interdimensional creature who resembles the Eye in the Pyramid and is really, really scary.

Then, there are the various creatures and people who populate the story as it goes forward.
At that, one or two episodes might be written off as "Monster of the Week" filler that don't advance the main story ... except that they then turn out to be crucial, sometimes in surprising ways, to Mabel and Dipper's character arcs.

And that's the main thing about this series. For all its weirdness, the Pines twins are real people at every level except the obvious one (that they don't exist). So to a lesser extent are their supporting cast: Grunkle Stan, Wendy, and Soos (short for Jesus) Ramirez, the Shack's handyman. So much so that as the final episode moved towards its postclimax, I had some genuine feels and perhaps a small tear.

Thus, Dipper and Mabel provide an anchor that lets us experience the strangest things as if they were real. This is especially important as the animation is (at least by today's standards) fairly primitive. This is actually a good thing; cool effects and uncanny valleys don't interfere with our appreciation of the story.

And the final three parter? Mind blown. Seriously.

The Awakened Kingdom, by N.K. Jemisin (2019-55)

A pendant, of sorts, to the Inheritance trilogy.

Behold: a godling is born, and tells her story. Naturally, it begins in a sort of baby-talk; but because she _is_ a godling, she picks up language (and storytelling) fairly quickly, fortunately for us, the readers. She learns that the Three - specifically, Nahadoth and Yeine - birthed her because the universe needed a trickster-god, and Sieh, for reasons detailed in the last book, is no longer able to fill that role. But her attempts to act as a trickster backfire, causing pain but no merriment.

She decides to descend to the mortal realm to learn her nature.

Here she meets Eino, a young man of Darr, and accidentally kills some people.Her siblilng,Ia, whose nature is negation, makes it didn't happen, but Eino remembers and commands a favor to forgive her: she must place a scroll, secretly, in the pile of legislation being considered (though she doesn't know that that is what the pile is).

Ia takes her to see Eino's grandmother, Fahno, who is a retired _enulai_ - a person both able and trained both to protect godlings, and to keep them under control. Here, our young godling chooses a name: Shill. Fahno agrees to keep Shill in her home until a proper (and not retired) _enulai_ can be found.

Now, being a young man of Darr means that he has no real rights, and will be married off without his consent to seal a family alliance. But Eino rebels against this, and wants legislation allowing men to inherit. He also joins other young men in a ritual dance-fight, an imitation of one carried out by the young Darre women. Shill, who has morphed to a male body for the purpose, fights him. When the Darre version of policewomen show up, Eino hides most of the others in plain sight, displaying a power he didn't know he had.

Things get a whole lot more complicated, especially for a fairly short novella, but in the end Shill finds her nature, and Eino gets what he really needs; what those are, is a bit of a surprise, but logical given what has gone before.

The writing is - as always with Jemisin - clean and better than utilitarian. Shill is an attractive character, for a baby god, and Eino and his family are well developed if not always _likeable_. This novella is much lighter than the Trilogy proper, but I think including it in the one-volume version is not a mistake; it serves as a sort of after-dinner apertif, to cleanse the palate. And, as such things go, it does an excellent job.

The Kingdom of Gods, by N.K. Jemisin (2019-54)

Notes to catch you up: This is a world where the ultimate creative force is the Maelstrom. In the beginning, it birthed Nahadoth, the dark god/dess of chaos and change. After a few aeons it birthed Itempas, god of light and order. They fought and loved and fought and loved and after a few aeons more, the Maelstrom birthed Enefa, goddess of life and balance and all that. In pairs and all together they birthed many godlings, male, female, and other; they created Existence and Enefa peopled it with mortal things like stars and planets and living things, including humans. The eldest of the godlings was Sieh, a god of youth and mischief. He played a trick that set the Three warring against each other, resulting in the death of Enefa and many godlings, and the enslavement of Nahadoth, Sieh, and many other godlings to a family named Arameri. With the (unwilling) help of the gods, they built an empire called the Bright that brought peace on the world for two thousand years, which they ruled from a huge palace, on an immense pillar, called Sky..

Then a half-blood Arameri named Yeine ascended as a new Gray Lady, freed the Arameri's god-slaves, and punished Itempas by condemning him to walk the earth as a powerless mortal (except that he could not die, or at least stay dead). She interlaced Sky with an equally immense World-Tree.

Okay, you're caught up enough. 

Sieh narrates this third book of the trilogy. He comes to play with twin mortal children on the Nowhere Stair of Sky; he would almost as soon kill them, because they are Arameri, but visits them once per year. He plays a deadly game with them, at which they surprise him by winning. For their prize, they request that the three of them make a blood vow of friendship.

But just as the bond is sealed, there is an immense release of magic. The two children are nearly killled. As for Sieh, he awakens several years later in the bosom of Nahadoth, who loves him as a mother. Nahadoth has protected him while he healed; and Nahadoth and Yeine are searching for a cure for Sieh's condition: he is becoming mortal, aging and losing his godly powers. When he returns to Sky he finds that the boy twin (Deka) has been sent away to become a scrivener, the mortal way of magic, while Shahar, the girl, is being groomed for headship of the Arameri clan.

Sieh discovers that someone is murdering members of the clan. There is no common cause of death, but the dead are always found wearing masks, their faces burned badly. Then, at the behest of her mother, clan leader Remath, Shahar beds Sieh, hoping to breed a half-godling child (a demon in the language of this world). Feeling betrayed, he decides to murder Remath; Shahar stops him, but he leaves Sky, to live in Shadow, the city at the foot of the World-Tree.

Here he meets Ahad, a young god formed when the enslavement was ended, and Glee, daughter of Itempas (this is explained in the second book). They send him a'spying, and he finds a conspiracy determined to overthrow the Arameri by use of magical masks; he also discovers a godling he does not recognize, but who says he intends to kill Sieh as a matter of vengeance. 

So that's about the first quarter of the book (and I've left out a lot, obviously) and I'll stop summarizing here. I'll add that Sieh, Shahar, and Deka are three of the most engaging characters I've met recently, and that their struggles with and against each other _matter_ in a way I rarely find in fantasy. I find the final chapter a bit of a stylistic cheat, as the narration suddenly shifts to another character. This is somewhat redeemed by the Coda, but it was severe enough to briefly break my "fictive dream".  In the context of the immense Inheritance trilogy, this is something of a trifle, though I find it one worth mentioning.

The Broken Earth trilogy (which is really a single long novel) convinced me of Jemisin's importance as a writer; this book confirms it. Long may she write!



There used to be a political philosophy called "Conservatism." Though I disagreed with a lot of what it held (I did agree with some of it), I respected it because, well, it was held by respectable people.

That political philosophy has no more a place in our political system..

It has been replaced by the Trumpanzees' Cult of Personality. It is true: He could kill someone on Fifth Avenue and not lose a vote. Because "conservatives" no longer have a conservative philosophy (which stands, among other things, for the rule of law - one of the things I agreed with); indeed, they have no political philosophy at all. They have only a lust for power, high and low; every Republican is blessed with someone to look down on and abuse, if only by proxy.

I miss conservatism.

I miss opponents (not enemies!) who had a respect for truth and facts.

I miss the rule of law.

I miss the Party of Lincoln and T.R.

It is not enough to defeat the GOP leadership in the coming election. They must be eliminated, crushed like a used cigarette butt, until the honest conservatives of America can again have a political voice.

May it be so.