MarkBernstein.org

by Marie Brennan

A young lady of the rural gentry develops a certain passion for natural history, both of her native Scirland and most especially of dragons and their kin, creatures of remote lands. In time, she marries a tolerant young man of considerable means who shares a certain amateur interest in natural philosophy, and they join an expedition to a remote Balkan-like land where dragons may be found amidst colorful (if superstitious) villagers.

I’m not entirely sure that this story is best told in fantasy or whether, if we do want a fantasy, whether the setting chosen here – the technology seems to be last 18th century while manners are mid-19th and fashions later still – is ideal. Despite the dragons (and some nice archeological interludes) the world is not very strange.

May 15 29 2015

The Whites

by Richard Price (as Harry Brandt)

Cited by Joyce Carol Oates as carrying much of its narrative on the back of interrogation, this is a book with a ton of energy and buckets of interrogation. Police officers interrogate each other, interrogate their subordinates, interrogate their wives, and also interrogate suspects. An impressive feature here is the rich array of transient incident that drifts through the lives of police officers; ever night brings three or four fresh runs, each with its own random miseries.

May 15 20 2015

Feed

by Mira Grant

This 2010 series-starter and Hugo nominee is not without shortcomings. It’s another zombie apocalypse and, knowing itself late to that party, doesn’t always take its zombies seriously. It’s a power fantasy about preternaturally smart and capable teenage bloggers who are so competent that we usually forget they’re teenagers. The early chapters have barrels of exposition once we get past the stock James Bond opening chase, and minor characters are frequently reduced to their function, which leaves the world thin. The core technical problem of the YA quest – how do we get agency in the presence of parents? – is settled here by establishing a pair of (very interesting) parents and then failing to even think of them for weeks on end. Much of the science fiction – the world of 2040 where bloggers dominate new media news – was already coming true by the time the book was published, and our hero’s amazement at her sysadmin’s ability of spin up virtual servers as needed is terribly 2008. Finally, this is a book about politics, but its politicians are not very well drawn and their politics is indistinct; I can believe we’ll have viral zombification in 2040 but I’m really skeptical that we’ll have liberal Republicans.

There’s a lot of wish fulfillment here. In the future, not only are weblogs a dominant and profitable medium, but every A-List blog employs a department of “fictionals” to fill the audience’s demand for stories – and poetry! When our heroes need to hire a head fictional, they find a simpatico young blonde who happens to be a terrific sysadmin and who wants them to call her “Buffy”.

And yet, there really is something here. There’s a competent thriller eventually, sure, but beyond that there are vistas of real strangeness. These are children born after the end of the world. They expect to die, because that happens a lot in their world. They expect to do amazing things because they were brought up that way and that’s who they are. They don’t spend much time mourning the lost, zombie-free world. They’re out to ride fast bikes, fight off zombie attacks, buy cool equipment, and manage their site’s chat boards and merchandising. They do that well, and, in the intervals, they get out the news, poetry on deadline.

May 15 18 2015

Scott Rosenberg

Scott Rosenberg on links: Will Deep Links Ever Be Truly Deep?

Every time a writer or speaker creates a project by laying out ideas in a program like Tinderbox, DevonThink, Scrivener, Workflowy, Evernote, or [your favorite here!], she is living out a little of Bush’s Memex dream.

A series from Brent Simmons on How Not To Crash. Part 2: don’t enumerate mutable collections, because no one’s that smart. Good advice.

Obviously, you’d make an exception for really huge collections, collections so big that the copy is expensive. But in that case, you probably don’t want to be enumerating the collection in the first place, not if you can help it!

You might also be wondering about small collections enumerated in tight loops. You’d be wrong. Either the outer loop is small, in which case the copies don’t cost much, or the outer loop is not small, in which case your operation is at least quadratic and you’re probably headed for trouble.

From Rupert Brooke, “Heaven.”

But somewhere, beyond Space and Time.

Is wetter water, slimier slime!

And there (they trust) there swimmeth One

Who swam ere rivers were begun,

Immense, of fishy form and mind,

Squamous, omnipotent, and kind;

And under that Almighty Fin,

The littlest fish may enter in.

The theme of this dinner was borrowed from Paradise Lost. This week, my car nearly gave out, my hearing aid nearly gave out, and now my iPhone won’t charge: it was time for a low pressure meal. The straightforward recipe for a low-pressure meal is to get a holiday joint and roast it, but that seemed to dishonor all the expenses just incurred in order to delay even great expenses. So let it be a challenge.

  • “Gin” juniper Grissini ❧ Gougeres ❧ Hard Cider on the porch
  • Braised fennel, absinthe butter, salmon roe ❧ more cider
  • Homemade agnolotti stuffed with sweet potato and bacon, in fennel broth ❧ White Bordeaux
  • Duck breast, smoked over alder and tea ❧ Vaqueyras
  • Chicken legs braised in hard cider ❧ Tempranillo
  • Salad
  • Cake

They work got off on an instructive foot as I carefully weighed my pasta eggs sans shells to get the flour to three significant figures, and then added 3:1 flour when everyone knows pasta requires 3:2. So I had precisely twice as much flour as I ought, and naturally this worked not well, or at all. Much mystery ensued, followed inevitably by a double batch of pasta and more fresh fettuccine and strozzapreti than we really need.

Thanks to the pasta production, I never did figure out great names for the courses. But we’ve got the apple thing going in the appetizers and the chicken legs, the lcorice-tinged fennel in the first course (“Black it stood as night, Fierce as ten furies, terrible as hell, And shook a dreadful dart.”), and of course it’s bathed in seas of fire. The agnolotti are allegedly papal miters, they’re also filled with something orange. The duck breast is smoked,

May 15 6 2015

Guidelines

Writers’ Guidelines for Fallen London, the stylish interactive Web Fiction from Failbetter.

Weather: It never more than drizzles in Fallen London. There’s no wind unless Storm is up to shenanigans. The temperature doesn’t change much.

Is it possible to read series bibles of completed series – Buffy, say, or Babylon 5? Where? It might be an interesting comparison.

Thanks, Stacey Mason

May 15 4 2015

The Virgins

by Pamela Erens

An accomplished and skillfully-written prep school story that takes its characters seriously. The students here are not so much young as simply inexperienced: they know a lot, they have strong opinions and determined characters and they are not fools, but they haven’t done any of this before. Bruce Bennet-Jones, the unreliable and unpleasant narrator, looks on as his classmate Seung Jung wins the love of the girl Bennet-Jones cannot possess, the new girl in school, Chicagoan Aviva Rossner. Fascinating, strange, and serious.