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June 01, 2005


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Andrew Gray

"A folktale told entirely in Maoist slogans, with a running translation"

Oh, wow. I have the first couple of books of that series sitting here, waiting; I've poked them a couple of times but never bitten into it. This makes me want to plough through the first three just to read that.

(A year or so ago, I found someone rhapsodising about the play scene in Newton's Wake, went to the bookshop, & completely forgot what book they were talking about. I read the entirety of Ken MacLeod's back catalogue before finally getting to it... sometimes these approaches are worthwhile.)

What's The Matter With Kansas was released in the UK as What's The Matter With America; the text was a word-for-word copy. Even the foreword remained intact. There's a risk of giving an overgeneralised idea here, I fear...

Tony Zbaraschuk

That passage in Wolfe is absolutely brilliant. Clobbers the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis utterly, just as an incidental side-effect, and it's a very impressive tale.

Though I wonder... how much of it is the original teller's, and how much the translation?

Wolfe is too subtle for me a lot of the time, but when I can figure out what he's doing, he's often very rewarding.

Martin Wisse

I've just finished the first two books in the New Sun series myself, which didn't induce that reaction in me just yet, but I know I've only found half if that of what Wolfe put into it.

They're the type of books people can live their lifes around, if you see what I mean.

I can so related to that fear of being uncultured.

James Nicoll

I will work on it but not today, since my brain refuses to turn on.

Charlie Stross

"Godel, Escher Bach" was probably #6 on my own list -- I seriously considered it, but "The emperor's New Mind" managed to sneak ahead by a whisker.

If I'd weighted my answers more towards fiction, the Gene Wolfe tetralogy would have been there, too.

(Yes, I too can relate to the fear of being uncultured. Some time ago, my mother told me that she and my father were going away for a dirty weekend together in London. "So what are you planning to get up to?" I asked naively. "We're going to a scholarly conference on the Albigensian heresy!")


It's interesting to back-track along the chain letter's path. It goes through you, Charlie, then to Ken MacLeod, and then way over into Texan Libertaria. Then it slides into the hardcore Catholic blogosphere -- missing fellow shwi-er Matt Alderman by just one link -- and ends up in, well, American Catholic mommy-blogging. A lot of anxious Catholic mothers really worried about local sex offenders. Posting their pictures etc.

Martin, Charlie, rural Wisconsin doesn't have much high culture at all, compared to the Netherlands or Scotland (though Georgia O'Keeffe and Frank Lloyd Wright came from there, as did Clifford Simak), but it does have a vibrant industrial folk culture that took me a long time to appreciate. Pies and polkas and football and silly garden sculptures and Friday night fish boils and a love for the quirky and mechanical for its own sake. I know this fascinates Neil Gaiman, who moved to a town maybe 200 km from where I grew up. His loving description of the House on the Rock in American Gods makes that clear. And it's produced a hell of a lot of humorists.

(Sidenote: my hometown had the same contest for when the river would unfreeze as in American Gods -- putting a vehicle on top of the ice and betting when it would fall through -- although since the vehicle there was an open boat, it's a little unlikely that it carried the same cargo as in the book.)

I think Hofstadter has fallen victim to the Brain Eater. His translation of Pushkin was terrible, and yet he thinks it was hot stuff, and in a very brain-eaten way. Granted, he's had enough ups-and-downs in his professional and personal life to lose his prior equilibrium, but there has been a slow decline since GEB. Sad. (Hey, his early work on electron orbitals is being cited again, in new research about the Riemann zeta function!)

Wolfe... I could go on about Wolfe. One of the reasons I like SF so much is that there are these people no one outside of SF has ever heard of, who can write rings around workshop mainstream any day of the week, and do things only dimly contemplated by writers at Breadloaf. It's like having a great restaurant all to yourself, and cheap too! (Sometimes. Other times I want to apply the cinderblock solution to the genre. Repeatedly, until there is nothing but an ichor stain on the block left. And other times, well, I hate eating alone.)

Books that people can live their lives around... yeah. More than the sum of its words and pages; something with ambition and depth and humor and grace. Susanna Clarke tried that with her recent novel; I thought it was a little too long myself, but that's because I avidly followed her short fiction in Starlight. But it might be the Book of Gold for some. Ulysses does that for me; Tristram Shandy in some moods. Lolita, Moby-Dick. I suspect that Middlemarch will become that way for me, even though I don't particularly like it now. But it challenges me in a way that I respect.

To make a semi-serious analogy, writers are like neural hackers. They're trying to program the world's most sophisticated supercomputer through a very limited connection, using all the possible resources of the language. And they have to do it with very limited knowledge of the reader's underlying mental architecture.

A nearly impossible task. And yet, it still happens! We should celebrate this.

Andrew Reeves

As long as we're talking about good literature occasionally overlapping with science fiction, I'll bring something up. The other day, I realized that the heroine of Asimov's End of Eternity is named Noys Lambent.The funny thing is that "Noys" was the word that twelfth century neo-Platonists used for the world soul(off of Chalcidius's transliteration of "nous" in his translation of half of the Timaeus). So the woman who travels through time to save humanity has a name that means "Flaming World-Soul" or "Shining Cosmic Mind" (or maybe just "licking mind"). I often wonder if Asimov intended a name that fraught with meaning, or of it just seemed like two way cool sounds in a pulpy sort of way.

Bernard Guerrero

"A nearly impossible task. And yet, it still happens! We should celebrate this."

Hey, that means we _already_ fought the War of the Memes! Back in the 40s.

Bernard Guerrero

As an aside, can you recommend anything good on demyelination diseases and/or JCV?


Andrew, seems to me more likely a variation on Lois and Gladys. But it's a cool interpretation.

Bernard, yikes! Are we talking PML here? The JC virus is pre-existing in most of the human population; but only in people with severely compromised immune systems -- heavy chemo, AIDS -- is it ever a problem. If the body can come up with an effective immune response, the progress can sometimes be stalled, or more rarely, even somewhat reversed. But this is some scary stuff, not something you should be asking some weird guy with a blog about. Hope everything is all right.

Bernard Guerrero

No worries on my end (at least not yet), just my mind on my money and my money on my mind.

Specifically, I just dumped a nice chunk of my IRA into ELN at 6.80, based on the simple calculation that a 1/1000 chance of PML is better than a high probability of all kinds on nasty-if-not-acute neurological effects from MS. But in the midst of research, I found the idea that Tysabri is causing a virally-linked demyelination disease even as it is treating one interesting. There is clearly something big here that I'm not getting, for which circumstance you are often my go-to guy.

Bernard Guerrero, nerves of steel for as long as my oligodendrocytes will allow


Ah. I am much relieved. But you know, you don't have to hint.

Causing the PML, no. That's almost certainly the pre-existing JC virus. My gut feeling is that combination therapy with Tysabri enables the JC virus to proliferate. But, um, this has put a damper on the entire class of integrin antagonists in development, and this sort of thing makes the FDA skittish. So I'm not as sanguine as you are about the long-term.

Incidentally, Tysabri and the interferon type usually used in combination (Avonex) are both proprietary to Biogen, while Elan is only halfies with Tysabri. Biogen's previous worry was that Tysabri would cut into Avonex sales, which is their head and shoulders moneymaker. I'd expect BIIB to rebound before ELN. There's some competition in the pipeline, but it's in the pipeline.

Hm. Checking, BIIB took a hit today on Morgan Stanley comments; same reasoning, different conclusion.

Um. Hey, how about that Justice League Unlimited?


Hofstadter's 1976 paper had a remarkably long rise time, In the first four years after it was published, it was cited a total of 11 times, and 7 of those were papers by Wannier (Hofstadter's research advisor). Things started to take off the following year (1981), when it got 9 citations. It now has over 1000.

I agree about Hofstadter's decline. It's as if he poured so much of himself into that book that there wasn't much left.

(This comment is longer than it ought to be because of this sentence at the end that explains why it is too long.)

Charlie Stross

PML ...? Just did a quick google on it, then wished I hadn't. My sole surviving aunt has leukaemia; and one of my two living cousins has just been diagnosed with an inoperable glioma, so they're both on chemo. Joy, a whole new lethal demyelinating disease I didn't know about, and it arises in immunosuppressed patients.


On an, um, lighter note, I don't know if this was the case in Gaiman's book because I haven't read it, but the fun thing about the boat in our hometown was that they put mannequins in it, dressed in hunter/fisherman clothing. One was Pete, I don't remember the other name, maybe Ed? I remember one year they had beer cases in with them. I always found it amazing that no one molested them in any way, other than to give them beer.


It's interesting to back-track along the chain letter's path

I tried the same thing. From me to Canadian libertarians, to American libertarians, to conservative catholics (including a priest), to catholic mommy-bloggers, to a sex blogger .. and there I lose the chain.

This book-tag thing is a good topic for those folks who investigate internet social-networks.

William Boston

Claudia, I have come across some MISA yoga folks in Berlin, where I live, and heard about the arrests in Romania. Searching the internet I came across your posts, from 2004 I think, and would like to make contact to ask some questions. Check out my Web site and if you'd like, send me an email. Thanks in advance. Best regards, WB


Go to gregorianbivolaru.com
if you like to know more.

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