MarkBernstein.org

by Cixin Liu, Ken Liu, trans.

In this fascinating first-encounter novel from China, two despairing civilizations – one human, one from Trisolaris (which we call Alpha Centauri) – make radio contact. A novel about the Cultural Revolution and its aftermath, and also about the politics of despair, this won both the Hugo and Nebula awards.

Jun 16 24 2016

Eligible

by Curtis Sittenfeld

A modern retelling of Pride and Prejudice by the author of the wonderful school story, Prep. The Bennetts live in a nice Tudor house in the Cincinnati suburbs. Bingley is an ER physician who recently starred in a reality TV series. Darcy is a neurosurgeon. Jane Bennett teaches yoga in New York, where her sister Lizzie is an up-and-coming magazine writer; both are nearing forty and their mother is very eager for grandchildren.

The surprising technical obstacle in this vivid (and in most ways very literal) retelling is Lydia, the younger sister who threatens to disgrace herself and her family by running away with the handsome and untrustworthy Mr. Wickham. There’s just no way to do that in modern dress, at least not romantically: who could be so unsuitable, what arrangement so unspeakable, that everyone would have to drop everything and fly to Chicago to track down the errant daughter? Sitttenfeld comes up with one answer, but it's a stretch. (In the wake of today’s news about Brexit and my recent immersion in the Mitford, I suppose eloping with a fascist, Trump-eter, or war criminal might serve, though even then Mrs. Bennett could forgive much as long as there was enough money in the family.)

Written in lots of tiny chapters, this may be a frothy book but it was a ton of fun.

An interesting research area for Tinderbox (which is now on sale, incidentally) is the discovery of emergent structure in Tinderbox maps. One aspect of this is simply discovering the geometries each user prefers for each problem.

This structure emerges as soon as we begin to work. For example, when we place a single note in a map

Spontaneous Grids

its mere presence might set up in our mind an implicit grid.

Spontaneous Grids

Your grid might vary. It probably will. For example, you might want to leave spaces or gutters between objects; some people will want larger gaps than others. Different shapes and different patterns of connection will also create distinct layout constraints.

Spontaneous Grids

An important stream of research on spatial hypertext involves spatial parsers – processes that recognize implicit structures and patterns. These can, for example, recognize that you’ve got a vertical list of notes and help you treat that list as a unit. Spatial parsers can also recognize and help correct small mistakes, such as unintentional misalignments.

Graphic design thinks a lot about grids, both how they can be respected and how they ought to be subverted. What is the latest design thinking about this? What’s happened since the Bauhaus? Email me.

by Charlotte Mosley, ed.

Lord and Lady Redesdale had seven kids. The boy was popular and well-enough liked, and died in Burma during the war. The six daughters were a handful.

  1. was Nancy (Naunce), gorgeous and a terrific novelist. She wrote equally terrific letters and had a fatal tendency to fall for gay men.
  2. was Pamela (Woman), who had childhood polio, a brief, bad marriage, was gay, and lived a retired country life. She is the only one of the sisters who didn’t publish books, but she could write, too.
  3. was Diana (Honks), the beauty of her age. She was the model for one of the muses in the floor of the National Gallery, and much else beside. After another brief, bad marriage, she married Oswald Mosley, leading man of British Fascism.
  4. was Unity (Birdy or Boud), who shared a room with #5. They didn’t get along, and drew a chalk line down the middle of the room. Unity filled her side of the room with pictures of brave Fascists; her sister plastered her walls with Lenin and company. In the 30s, Unity went to Germany and fell deeply in love with Hitler, shooting herself when England declared war on Germany.
  5. was Jessica (Decca), who eloped with a communist, moved to California, and wrote important exposés and was a leader in the civil rights movement.
  6. was Deborah (Debo), who became the Duchess of Devonshire, invented the stately home industry, and remained on speaking terms with all six sisters throughout the course of her life.

They knew everyone worth knowing, pretty much. They seem to have had uniformly bad taste in men, but never let that stop them. They wrote a lot of letters, many of them brilliant.

Charlotte Mosley – Diana’s daughter in law – selects and edits these expertly. The correspondence is huge, so even selected letters leaves us with a brick. Every letter has wonderful footnotes that identify almost everyone mentioned – a task made nearly impossible by the sisters’ fondness for nicknames and private jokes. The Queen Mother, for example, is always “Cake,” apparently because, at a wedding in the 1930s, she was strikingly enthusiastic when told that the couple were going to cut the wedding cake.

Fascinating interview with IF writer Bruno Dias on the craft of writing hypertext narrative.

What does it mean to give the player a choice that is enormously consequential to the character but almost entirely inconsequential to the plot?

The 2016 Summer Festival of Artisanal Software is here. Save 25% on Tinderbox, Storyspace, and lots of other great tools for writers and thinkers.

by Iain M. Banks

Second reading of this fascinating story about The Culture – a future civilization which has transcended routine scarcity, removing many sources of conflict and threatening to render narrative pointless. Further complicating the narrative problem is that the central character is a professional gamer, but since we’re talking about very advanced civilizations which have self-aware spaceships and such, the games can’t be described in much detail because they’re just too complex. Despite the challenges, this is superbly done.