MarkBernstein.org

Digital Humanities Manifesto (Version 2.0) is unsigned, but its author seems to be Todd Presner (UCLA).

Digital Humanities is not a unified field but an array of convergent practices that explore a universe in which: a) print is no longer the exclusive or the normative medium in which knowledge is produced and/or disseminated; instead, print finds itself absorbed into new, multimedia configurations; and b) digital tools, techniques, and media have altered the production and dissemination of knowledge in the arts, human and social sciences.

I think this characterization of the universe that the humanities study is a bit thin – there are many interesting things to know about the universe and not all of them concern the status of print – but it’s natural to focus on one’s own specialty.

This an interesting document, although its open source enthusiasm sometimes seems tinged with hostility (or contempt?) for working folk who might want to be paid for their labor. In calling for professors to "circumvent or subvert all ‘claims’ that branch out from the rights of creators to those of owners“, the manifesto apparently overlooks the empirically-verifiable fact that most of us are living in a capitalist society. Are digital humanists expected to move to Oneida or Brook Farm? If owners have no rights, then creators cannot realize the value of their work because they cannot exchange it. That might not matter immediately if you’re paid to teach and you create as a hobby, but what happens to those without a sinecure bestowed by the state or by a friendly billionaire?

The manifesto adopts a very pessimistic view of the value of knowledge:

Scholarship and art practice: a) are not‐for‐profit endeavors whose actual costs far exceed real or potential returns; and b) are endeavors that, rather than diminishing the value of IP or copyright, enhance their value.

This strikes me as a classic conflation of price and value. Surely, whether we paint a canvas or examine the economics of the late Roman Empire, we set out in the expectation that the work we create will be more valuable than our time and effort. We might be mistaken, the result might disappoint us, and accidents happen; still, no sensible scholar sets out to waste their time. Inefficient markets, ignorant patrons, and the caprice of consumers may impede the work’s value from being readily converted to cash, but its value is no illusion. Skill and knowledge are worth a lot; unique skill and knowledge are worth more. The humanities used to know this.

by Adam Goodheart

A well-written collection of interesting and often-revealing vignettes of the earliest moments of the American Civil War, of the time when, it seems, anything might have happened and a great deal did. Goodheart has a knack for capturing large movements in small moments, mixed with a historian’s care to avoid excessive extrapolation or sentimental generalization.

May 12 29 2012

RPG?

One of this week’s top iPad games is something called Defender Chronicles II. Supposedly, it welds tower defense and role playing games (RPGs).

This is bullshit.

Every abstract game can become an RPG overnight by gluing some stereotyped bits of stock narrative between episodes. There was a queen. She was besieged. There were monsters. And more monsters. And even more monsters!

You can do this in your sleep. And, apparently, they do.

It’s not an isolated case, either, and it’s not limited to translated titles or the clueless productions of precocious kids. What confuses me is whether these game peddlers know they’re lying, or really think that gluing a name and character sheet onto some parametric game mechanics makes something “role playing.” Yes, eurogames glue nearly-irrelevant metaphors to abstract game mechanics and nobody minds, but nobody buys a eurogame because they want to learn to build pyramids or buy art or settle Catan.


On a slightly more cheerful note, here’s a talk by Martin Jonasson and Petri Purho about “juiciness’ in games. “Juiciness” is an interesting term that stands, in essence, dor “nearly-gratuitous animation.”

The critical word here is “nearly”.

May 12 28 2012

Brick

Rian Johnson’s Brick is a fascinating movie. Straight film noire, it’s a hard-boiled crime thriller shot in a California high school. This is a familiar setup, but here it’s played absolutely straight: it’s pure hard-boiled noire, acted by people who happen to be very young. Occasionally, the seams do show: could a high school kid really have this much experience of women?

At other times, it works beautifully, as when Laura, a kid from school throwing a Halloween party, performs a sultry chanteuse with a jazz-backed recitation of W. S. Gilbert:

I mean to rule the earth, As he the sky
We really know our worth, The sun and I.

Only a high school student could play this straight, without a hint of irony.

The movie is currently streaming on Netflix. My queue is filled with movies like this, movies about which I no longer have any idea why they're in my queue or who told me to see them. But this one’s the real thing.

May 12 27 2012

Old Farts

Marco Arment (Instapaper):

I’m about to turn 30, I’m married, and we just had a baby. This will implicitly (and illegally, of course) disqualify me from working at almost any startup.

I’ve been the guy in charge so long that I’m not sure I’m entitled to an opinion, but I think that, while this may well be true, there must be some startups run by people who know what they’re doing. And they, at least, should know that good developers come in all sorts of packages.

The best I ever worked with was Tom Dowling, a FORTH wizard of the early PC era. He evolved, almost in isolation, a programming style that incorporated lots of what would, twenty years later, emerge as modern programming style:

  • tiny methods
  • smart accessors
  • design by refactoring
  • small teams for big systems

He was astonishingly fast and he was a fearless programmer who assumed the code would be fast enough and, if it wasn’t, that he’d find a way to make it faster. He was the perfect tech lead for a startup.

And he was not young. I was about 30. I was in the process of getting married. I was pretty much in Marco’s shoes, in other words, but I was the kid of that team. (I got brought in as an extra set of hands willing to handle UI-intensive chores that bored Tom.) He died several years ago.

If your startup isn’t looking for people like Dowling , it’s not looking for the people it needs. If startup managers have forgotten this, you’re looking at the wrong pool of startup managers.

May 12 25 2012

Planning

On returning from Hamburg, I started a big new project.

The Tinderbox code base is ten years from release 1.0.2. It’s in remarkably good shape, but it’s time for a thorough shakeout. We’ve got technical debt to pay up, and we’ve got new things to do and we’ve got a bunch of new ideas to build out, and everything will work better if the foundation is more solid.

I think this will lead to several new tools, and several new platforms. Exciting times.

Planning
Tinderbox 5.11.1 overview in Tinderbox

The first step — I did most of this on the plane from Hamburg — was literally to take stock. What, exactly, is Tinderbox? Each note in this Tinderbox map is a Tinderbox class file, generated by importing a directory listing into Tinderbox and using Explode. Most represent a single class, though a few (like CeresMapDrawingPolicy) represent a half dozen cooperating objects and a handful, like ExportElements or AgentActionExtras, represent 25 or 50 small classes. Adornments represent functional clusters like “XML handling,” “Agents” or “Graphic primitives.”

After sorting out lots of baggage we plan to leave behind, we’ve got about 350 of these objects and object clusters. We’re jettisoning hundreds of framework classes in this leap, too, though these aren’t shown on the map. And as we leave them behind, I think that the world pretty much leaves behind PowerPlant, the MacOS framework that became a classic in many senses. A tip of the hat, then, to Greg Dow and John Daub and MWRon and a bunch of other people I’m forgetting now for the foundation of the software on which we all depended for so much, for so long.

It wasn’t paradise, but it was home.

May 12 22 2012

Hamburg

Hamburg

A delightful time at Tinderbox Weekend Hamburg, where the Marine Training Center hosted a weekend of exciting and engaging discussions. With participants ranging from journalism to memoir, from the arts and the physical sciences to enterprise knowledge management, we had lots to explore.

And of course the Training Center’s simulators were fascinating to see – and sometimes shockingly realistic.

Hamburg

Special thanks this time to Linda Socias of Tafelzauber, who improvised a pair of delightful lunches at short notice. (I still want to know how to prepare the asparagus we had on Saturday, though I expect it will only work in spargelzeit and with better asparagus than one finds in Boston.)

I think this was the first Tinderbox Weekend in which just about everyone had already read the first edition of The Tinderbox Way. That’s amazing.

Stacey Mason has really got the introduction to Tinderbox nailed. And she’s got lots of new demos and screencasts that will soon appear at Tinderbox Tutorial Kit Volume 2. Of course, Mark Anderson remains the word’s premier Tinderbox consultant and troubleshooter.

Great Weekend, great company, great food, a lot learned!
I am still amazed what one can do with Tinderbox....Thanks again for the wealth of exampls on the [Tinderbox tutorial kit] USB stick – a real treasure. Plus I got some very valuable ideas on how to improve the visibility of my company using the timeline feature.
An interesting and inspiring #Tinderbox Weekend in Hamburg. Great location, great people, lots of new questions ;-)
The key connection [is] established between –in some cases– the 30 exchange of letters between the parties, each of which forms a necessary part of proving liability.  Based on the mapping features of Tinderbox, I can visually draw connections between multiple facts, people, and other parts of a case and SJ keeps them drawn/arranged in whatever structure I prefer, whether as interconnected nodes of information or as a hierarchy . – Stephen Casey
May 12 15 2012

Sinking Feeling

The power of rm *, or why you might want to pay attention to those error messages about “backup failed.” How Pixar Almost Deleted Toy Story 2.

May 12 14 2012

Triptych

by J. M. Frey

An SF meditation on the meaning of marriage, Triptych works by showing us a marriage which is not a marriage – one which inspires loathing in all sorts of people – and yet turns out to be one.

We begin (rather unpromisingly) with a pleasant day on an Ontario dairy farm, a day on which an spaceship crashes into our front yard and its pilot attempts to murder our infant daughter. A pair of special forces operatives – dressed in black, of course – arrive just in time to shoot the alien and save the daughter. One of those operatives is that daughter, now almost thirty, who has travelled back in time to save herself.

This complex setup gives way to a set of nicely drawn portraits of several marriages. We have the young agents, who are partnered but not married. We have the parents, who are married but seldom seem to be in the same place. We have the space aliens, who are likable and helpful refugees from an interstellar disaster who turned up on our doorstep and to whom earth has offered asylum. They’ve got some nice ideas – they have spaceships, after all. And they have some interesting ideas too, including the notion that marriage is between three adults. After all, if there are 24 (or, back home, 31) hours in the day, you need three shifts of keep an eye on the baby.

A Rose Fox suggestion from Readercon 2011. This year’s Readercon runs July 12-15.

One reason technical ebook sales might be front-loaded is that this makes sound economic sense for the purchaser.

Suppose you hear about a new book on Advanced Widget Techniques. You aren’t really building widgets now, but you’re planning to put a widget into your product this fall. You don’t expect to need any advanced techniques. You might be hiring a widget consultant to do the work in any case.

So, you definitely don’t need that new book yet, and you might not need it at all.

BUT, suppose it turns out that you do need it. Come autumn, you install your widget and the compiler starts talking about Error 1708, and suddenly you need those advanced techniques. But how long will it take you to remember that book, find it, and get it delivered? You could waste an hour tracking it down, and that’s a lot more expensive that buying the book. Your consultant might waste an hour tracking it down, and that’s a billable hour. And the consultant’s going to expense the book anyway.

So, buying the book before you need it might make sense, even if it’s likely you won’t need it at all.

I love to watch a good scholarly argument.

When I was in college, the Classics department bulletin board was once adorned with one of the all-time classics, the Times (London) debate about Homer’s “wine-dark sea.” This familiar phrase, when you think about it, makes no sense.

In what light do the waters of the Aegean remind you of wine? And what kind of wine? You would hardly call your pinot grigio “dark,” and your nice Tuscan red is really not very like the Mediterranean’s crystalline turquoise in sunlight, nor much like it’s dark blue gray beneath looming storm clouds. Columbus sailed the ocean blue.

Was the Med once red? Were there algae blooms in antiquity? Or was Greek wine blue? What are we missing?

People wrote letters, they wrote columns they wrote rebuttals. It went on for ages.

There’s another wonderful fracas right now in the TLS. Paula Byrne kicked it off with a note about a (terrible) pencil drawing she owns which, just possibly, is a portrait of Jane Austen. The case for this requires very close attention to all sorts of details. Who could have made the drawing? Why? Are the clothes right?

Then Roy Davids, who wrote the auction catalog, weighed in to defend that catalog’s skepticism. Then Richard Jenkyns, a professor, weighed in with additional reasons for doubt:

Dr Byrne treats the picture like a photograph – as though Jane Austen had visited an unattested friend who chanced to live due west of the Abbey and someone snapped her there. But of course portraits were not like that; the backgrounds signify. The sitter is a Londoner: she is at home with her cat beside her. No one would take a likeness of a person with somebody else’s cat. She may have been wife, daughter or sister of a Rector of St Margaret’s or a Dean or Canon of Westminster, or perhaps a literary lady who wrote about Westminster.

Then Dierdre Le Faye wrote a still longer and more detail refutation. If this is Jane, where are her books? Where is the topaz necklace Jane’s brother gave her? Where did all the rest of the jewelry come from?

The TLS articles are regrettably locked behind a paywall, but J. F. Wakefield, who blogs for the Jane Austen’s House Museum, has a good summary.

Front-Loaded Book Sales

It’s been an exhilarating day, as the new eBook of the Tinderbox Way: 2nd Edition has been flying off the virtual shelves. Thanks.

James Fallows has a new book. Paul Krugman has a new book. David Frum has a new book. Veronica Roth has a new book . They’re all talking about the many chores of talking about one’s new book.

Why does this matter?

Trade books — books sold in bookstores, have to pay rent. American book selling is a consignment business — booksellers can return unsold books and get their money back — but books take up space and your landlord isn’t going to give you back any of last month’s rent because nobody bought War And Peace.

Bookstores need to stock lots of different books because you never know what the next person who walks in the store might want. You do know, unfortunately, that if you don’t give them whatever it was they wanted, many will often leave and not come back. So you want to have lots of books on hand.

But, to make rent, you have to sell those books occasionally. Your best-sellers will make up for some slow-moving stock, but on average you need to turn over your stock about 3.5 times a year. If you have a tiny shop with 5,000 books, you’d better sell 15,000 or 20,000 books a year. Books have to earn their keep.

In addition, those unsold books are an asset on the publisher’s books. If they’re not going to be sold soon, the publisher wants to take the loss on them now in order to minimize tax liabilities. That increases the torque on books still more.

Finally, there are only so many ways that books can get attention. Free media helps a lot, so people go on book tours and publicists cajole reviewers and everyone tries to get on TV. Advertising apparently works in Europe, but seldom works in the US; when you see book ads, they’re aimed at bookstore decision-makers, not you. You’ve got bookstore windows and tables and endcaps. You’ve got store clerks.

If you’re selling in bookstores, you’ve got to start big and the clock ticks fast. I’ve known writers who received nifty awards when their book was already out of print.

Electronic books and new media don’t have to work this way. Some of the factors still matter: Eastgate carries more inventory than I’d like, though in the greater scheme of things it’s not that much. But simply being brand new need not play as big a role as it does when you’re dealing with printed paper.

Still, those first days are big. Sales of both editions of Tinderbox Way have been far more heavily front-loaded than a new Tinderbox release. My impression is that this has held true as well for other tech publishers in the eBook space. (Want to comment? Email me. ) I’m not at all certain I understand why this is true.

Marco Arment reminds us Why I Don’t Have Comments On My Site, quoting an absurd rant against him and his colleagues that appeared in a comment thread at The Verge.

This was the nadir of that thread, but most of the rest are dismal. Who wants to read long, evidence-free arguments about whether a free app will beat a $5 app? Who are these people who care so much about the cost of apps? Especially apps that cost less than a burger and fries at Five Guys?

If sites are going to have comment threads, they should (a) ban anonymous cowards, (b) require children to demonstrate that their comments are worth reading, and (c) require comments to be sufficiently lengthy to be worth reading. I think even that is inadequate.

Whatever happened to “MIND YOUR OWN BUSINESS? Nobody asked their opinion of whether Marco Arment is running his business properly. Are they betting on whether Marco makes a million or goes bust? One assumes he has studied his own business and its underlying technologies. Courtesy requires that we imagine he knows what he’s doing, absent clear evidence to the contrary.

Of course, nobody knows everything. You might know something that Marco has overlooked, and maybe that something would be valuable. If so, it would be nice to tell him. It shouldn’t be hard to find his email address, or to give him a holler. Why shout at him in public?

From time to time, I get a lot of flack about publishing business models from people who don’t appear to know very much about publishing. No reason they should: they’re in the business of writing and grading papers.

They probably don’t know a hell of a lot about raising chinchillas, either.

May 12 9 2012

Rampant

by Diana Peterfreund

At sixteen, Seattle schoolgirl Astrid Llewelyn learns a few things. Unicorns exist. They’re real: powerful, magical, and very dangerous. They can be approached only by maiden girls. And they’re terrible, bloodthirsty monsters bent on the destruction of humankind.

It turns out that there’s an academy in Rome, recently revived, that trains unicorn hunters. Summer in Rome will look good on college applications. And, though she’s not exactly proud of the fact, it turns out that Astrid is fully qualified. (In other words, we’ve got the Slayerettes all over again, albeit with poorly-funded and disorganized Watchers.)

To its credit, the book lets Astrid interrogate this strange mythology, and she does a credible job. Who makes these rules? What sort of crazy, patriarchal, Manichaean power thought that this would be a nifty way to run things? That interrogation is the strongest part of the book and ties neatly into Arcade Fire’s “Abraham’s Daughter”:

Just as the angel cried for the slaughter
Abraham’s daughter raised her bow.

The solution (and much else) is left to subsequent books. This book is structurally simple but written with a satisfactory directness and simplicity. The sense of place is shaky. That this is tourist Rome may be excused since our heroine is, after all, a tourist, and the cloisters of the Order of the Lioness are good, but school kids spending the summer in Rome would know the Metropolitana better than these do, and they’d notice more small, disturbing oddities about life in Italy. Yes, they're distracted by attacks from legendary monsters, but surely they’re also going to be noticing that the shampoo is different, the toilets have funny shapes, there’s wine with dinner (and two mains), and people park (and sometimes drive) on the sidewalk?

May 12 8 2012

Flash Points

Flash points: Reading electronic literature as a metaphor for creativity. 

The article examines how digital media and writing come together in pedagogical practices. If creativity can be prompted in such intimately felt moments by an interface or digital media experience, can the creation of electronic or digital literature also act as a model for learning within the humanities and the arts more generally, as the use of digital tools spreads?

“Flash point” here stands merely for “sudden realization”, the dawn of comprehension that students experience when they begin to understand a previously-opaque text. One looks in vain for anything here that pertains specifically to the digital, and much of the essay would work without change as a defense for teaching students to construe Latin hexameters.

Update: Anthony Grafton, “Can The Colleges Be Saved?"

In class and outside it, in casual conversations with other students and in intensive bouts of reading deep in the bowels of the library, a light still goes on for no reason anyone can supply, and a young person or a whole class suddenly sees a poem or a work of art illuminated in a new way.

by Charles Stross

This is the latest installment in the saga of The Laundry – a branch of Her Majesty’s Secret Service that is dedicated to securing Britain against paranormal phenomena and the eldritch horrors of the Elder Gods – that began with the wonderful stories of The Atrocity Archives. Doomsday approaches, the sleeper threatens to wake, and management wants to audit paper clips again.

The book includes a detailed and excellent description of the clandestine use of an operable Memex.

At times, the layers of irony here seem intolerably rich. Yes, we all miss Douglas Adams terribly, and yes, the long dark teatime of the soul still demands reflection. But ironic SF is hard: if you ever drop the ball, the whole thing collapses. Stross loves to walk right up to the line.

Krugman today offers an important warning on governments of national unity that strive to include all people of good will and good sense. If they fail, the alternative is, by definition, very bad.

The trouble is that the responsible policies aren’t — the austerity program that has defined being Serious in Europe is an abject (and predictable) failure. So voters take their anger out by voting against the insiders. And since all the respectable people are inside the political tent, backing and being identified with failed policies, that means a big vote for extremists right and left.

And yes, the echoes of the 1930s are very strong.

So now there are going to be Nazis again in a European parliament. Not crypto-Nazis, as in Hungary, but real, full-throated, and self-avowed.

Update: Link fixed. A correspondent writes, "Yes, there are Nazis again in a European parliament and yes they’re real Nazis, as real as they get. I’m happy to be living in Germany at the moment. Sometimes, the irony is strong enough to taste"

May 12 6 2012

Editing

At the Electronic Book Review, which is edited by English professors (or perhaps by their grad students), Curtis White opens an essay thus:

 In October of 2011, I posted an essay titled 'The Late Word' concerning the devolution of literary publishing on the Lapham's Quarterly website.

Quick: was White writing

  • about the devolution of literary publishing? or
  • about the deterioration of Lapham Quarterly’s literary publishing?

Most writers will commit occasional blunders like this. They know what they’re saying, so the second interpretation is, to them, invisible. Newspapers and weblogs, written on perpetual deadline, may not be able to afford the time to check.

But if you’re defending literary publishing, might it behoove one to edit?

A bunch of my colleagues are paid to read papers, but I’m told they seem to have forgotten to read mine. I’m taking the opportunity to remind the rest of you. Here’s a lost work, co-authored with Diane Greco. I’ve forgotten for whom it was written or where it appeared. It has its moments. Literary Hypertext and Its Critics.

Our dreams and devices will continue to pace, and occasionally outpace, each other. The future of serious writing lies on virtual surfaces richer and more malleable than paper, and these questions will better inform our understanding than nostalgic longings for an imaginary past, for the smell of ink and leather.

Via Krugman(!), Arcade Fire’s song Abraham’s Daughter, which runs under the closing credits of The Hunger Games.

Just as the angel cried for the slaughter
Abraham’s daughter raised her bow.

That’s quite a story!

Where does it come from? Outside of the recent song, “Abraham’s Daughter” seems to refer to women who worked for the North in the US Civil War. But surely this isn’t just a song. Is there a famous volume of feminist redactions of Biblical mythology that I missed? Email me.

Update: There's Talmudic precedent for Abraham’s daughter, though perhaps not for this particular exploit.

May 12 5 2012

Fear

Revisiting a paper on Fear I wrote for Journal of Curriculum and Pedagogy 7 (2), 2010. pp. 45-7, and concerning which I received no response in print or by post:

We hold in our hands the literary machines for which we have striven for a generation and for which past generations longed. We should use them without fear, and if we cannot, we should take care that the children do not see the irrational fears we cannot control but of which we are, or should be, ashamed.

A few papers you might have missed.

Renovation are under way here. Let me know about breakage.

May 12 3 2012

Reviewers

I submitted a paper to the Hypertext 2012 Narrative Workshop in the form of a dialogue. This was a bit of a stretch, but you never know. One of the reviewers wrote their review in the form of a dialog, too!

Him: Not all play. Ruskin's definition of the Gothic is a good mechanism through which to reflect on the nature of hypertext fiction. Changefulness, abundance, savageness, the grotesque - who can fail to be moved by the story of hypertext literature, cast as a grand romance!

Us: And the echoes of the Wandering Monsters?

Him: What, one damn monster after another?

Us: We didn't like to say.

Him: It's just a line. Besides who says that hypertext writers shouldn't lay in the stars and reach for the gutter.

Us: You are paraphrasing yourself. Or are we seeing patterns where there are none?

Him: I like patterns!

Us: Patterns upon patterns? Ribs beyond ribs? Structure for structure's sake? What would Derrida say?

Him: That there is nothing outside the cathedral!

Now that’s more like it! (Annotations mine)

I keep an eye on a few Wikipedia pages about topics on which I’m fairly knowledgable. A few of these, for one reason or another, are constant battlegrounds. I’ve long been skeptical* of Wikipedia’s ability to survive and grow, because it often seems impractical to beat back all the foolishness and idiocy. When you see the recurrent appearance of anti-Semitic slanders on pages of politicians and engineers who happen to be Jewish, you’re bound to despair.

But it might be getting better. One of the people who keep trying to damage the page about Dave Winer by minimizing his accomplishments turned up again last week. In the past, this has led to weeks of wrangling that left the page just a little better or just a little worse. This time, after a remarkably short delay**, the miscreant has simply been banned, banished indefinitely. So maybe we can get on with work.

* I’m not anti-wiki. I've keynoted Wikisym and I’ve been its program chair and I’m still on its program committee. I'm very skeptical of the wisdom of crowds, as I think anyone who has read 20th century history has to be, and I’ve noticed that academics sometimes use “crowd sourcing” to mean, “and then a miracle will occur.” But my complaint here concerns governance generally, and specifically the ability for one or two enthusiastic sophists to tie any wikipedia page in knots for an indefinite period.

** Everything is relative: the lead up to the ban involved something like six blocks

by Lev Grossman

In this second volume of the arc that began with The Magicians, Grossman continues to explore a magical world viewed in a strictly realist mode. Our focus again is Quentin Coldwater, who has graduated from Brakebills, the secret university of magic. In the company of his classmates, he’s bored and self-involved and he’s one of four kings of Fillory, a world of magic. But things are not quite right, and neither is Quentin, though nobody (least of all him) knows quite what’s wrong. Efforts to fix things inevitably lead to worse.

The brilliant thread here lies not with Quentin (who is something of a dope) but with Julia, the girl he admired back in his Brooklyn high school and whom he forgot after she failed the Brakebills entrance exam. The sorting hat sorted her out and she was supposed to forget the whole thing. Somehow, the spells of forgetting that were supposed to erase the memory of magic don’t quite work — she’s too smart, she sees the fuzzy edges in her memories — and these lead her into a dark subculture of underground magic, riddled with drugs and desperation. It turns out there’s an underground world of people who didn’t get into a good school, a world of community college magicians who swap tips and tattoos in dingy basement hangouts.

Julia is a student who will do anything for knowledge. There is a price to pay, and she pays it, but it’s not just a big bank loan.