Saturday, February 25, 2012

Adrian Veidt, Johnny Come Lately, and refusal to be reconstructed

Finally watched the 'Steve Earle at Montreux' DVD I got for Christmas a few years ago last night. He seemed really bitter and grumpy. In all the Youtube videos I've found of him he seems bitter and grumpy too. But when I saw him live at the turn of the century, he was cheerful and perky.  (It should be easy to find the exact day, since Kasey Chambers was supposed to be his support act but didn't show since she was having a baby). He had a mustache when I saw him live, from which I conclude that having a mustache is an essential component of male happiness. Or maybe, that 2000 was a great time to be alive. Interesting to think that if Adrian Veidt was going to make a perfume to evoke 'Nostalgia' today, 'Millennium' would be a great name for it.

Anyway, I am prepared to cut Steve Earle a lot of slack for mean-spirited leftist grumping, since it was one of his songs that I listened to over and over again through my earphones on March 20th 2003 while I gleefully walked from work to the station, tearing down anti-war posters. If he knew I'm sure he would be bitter and grumpy at me in particular.

Took a little while but we're in this fight / Ain't going home till we've done what's right

I think 'Kurdistan' scans a lot better than 'Vietnam' in the last verse. Which as written makes no sense, even in the most child-bridey redneck families. Let's say Grandma was knocked up almost immediately, so the narrator's mother was born in 1942/3. Even if we assume the narrator lied about his age to join the army (in 1972?!) it is hard to push his birth any later than 1956. Which is physically possible, I guess, and maybe just legal in Texas. Perhaps.

FWIW, I also think 'Al-Zarqawi' scans better than 'Robert E. Lee' in this song. Though I've never gotten around to writing a set of lyrics to match.

The other day I picked up some za'atar from a takeaway food shop here that has a few shelves of middle eastern food since it is run by Egyptians - we are too small and rural to support an actual Egyptian restaurant - and was pleasantly surprised to find that it was made in Zarqa, Jordan. I was almost as pleased as when my 'One China' shirt arrived and turned out to be made in Haiti. No longer will this apparently bleak industrial city be associated in my mind only with a famous terrorist, but with tasty noms. I will cling to this, as to my Haitian T-shirt, as one more sign of the coming of Happy Fun WorldTM.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Ten Rules of Writing

The other day someone tweeted a link to something about how somebody's 'Ten Rules of Writing' were overrated, but I forgot who the somebody was, and it turns out in the googlesphere that all sorts of people have written 'Ten Rules of Writing'. So I thought, hey, why not add to the confusion?  So here goes, the Dr Clam Ten Rules of Writing:

1. When you use a word, make it mean whatever you want it to mean. That way lies glory.

2. If examined carefully enough, every plot will turn out to be rubbish. If not examined carefully enough, any old rubbish plot will do. Do most people examine things carefully? I think, probably no.

3. Abhorrence of cliches is a silly fad of our time unknown in the great storytelling cultures.

4. Boxing things into narrow 'genres' is a silly fad of our time unknown in the great storytelling cultures.

5. All writing is really first person. When you write in third person, you are also creating the invisible narrator who is telling the story. Try not to make that person you all the time.

6. All writing is also second person. When you write in first person, you are also creating the second person who is listening to or reading the story in the world of that first person. Try not to make that person me, because I don't like to read about love triangles with vampires and werewolves. Try not to make that person somebody who knows all the same stuff and thinks the same way as someone from your world, unless your world and the first person's world are the same world.

7. Don't have more than one differential equation per page on average, or more than three in a row on the same page.

8. In the next few centuries gender will become an optional extra for humans, so if you want your work to be appreciated by the far future, use only genderless characters.

9. 'A Viking never apologises and a Viking never explains.' (Hagar the Horrible) And the Viking sagas are still being read today. Coincidence? I think not.

10. 'Figuring out things for yourself is the only freedom anyone ever really has. Use that freedom.' (Jean Racszak, Starship Troopers)

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

You know that bump in Africa is really a dimple in the Atlantic Ocean?

Men of Dunwich was one of fifteen books I bought at the second-hand bookshop on campus last week. This is not as profligate as it sounds. The shop has a $1 trolley parked outside the door, which usually leans heavily towards things like obsolete first year accountancy textbooks. Yet I always have a look at it every time I go past - I cannot help it - and last week there was something interesting-looking about the Zulu wars and another called 'The World of the Phoenicians', so I took them in to pay. The woman at the counter was on the phone, and when I presented my books she just gestured to a corner where there were two cardboard boxes full of paperback books.
It turned out when she got off the phone that she had not yet gotten around to pricing them and putting them on the shelves, so was happy to sell them for $1 as well.

They were much more interesting than the usual sort of books on the $1 trolley. There was a lot of history, of a particular old-fashioned kind: lots of pre-20th century British history, from the Saxons up to the Zulu wars. Lots of the other sort of history you would learn in pre-20th century Britain: Classical Greek and Roman, with lots of primary sources: Tacitus, and Thucydides, and such. a smattering of more general history, a smattering of mythology, a bit of popular science (Gould and Feynman and such). And, er, not a few books on the 'history and sociology of sex'. You have probably already imagined yourself a personality belonging to those boxes of books. I certainly created a mental image of a donnish figure with a rakish streak, perhaps a retired academic in history.

Not until later did it occur to me that perhaps no such personality ever existed. You don't usually give the books you like away. And for every time you die or go into a home and liquidate your book collection, you are going to move house or have a general tidy a dozen times. I shudder to think at the personality that could have been constructed based on the box of books I gave to Saint Vincent de Paul when we left Guildford.

Maybe those boxes of books were sold by someone who had decided they were bored with 1066 and all that rot, and had repented of their youthful weakness for scholarly anecdotes about prostitutes in Victorian London. Maybe they weren't old books (as most of them were) because they belonged to an older person, but had been picked up by a student who liked to haunt second-hand bookstores and was leaving town.

I suppose used ebook readers will be interesting too.