November 30, 2003

Ex Libris Reviews

I've just uploaded the December Issue of Ex Libris Reviews.

If you've been reading this weblog all month, the only thing of note is a brief bit at the beginning--Ex Libris Reviews is now seven years old, and I've got a few comments on its history.

Posted by Will Duquette at 11:01 AM | Comments(0)

The Stone Monkey, by Jeffrey Deaver

I have a couple of thriller series I keep up with if I happen to see them on the racks at the grocery store. Patricia Cornwell's Kay Scarpeta series is always good for a gritty, gross read when you just want something light and sort of entertaining. Jeffrey Deaver's Lincoln Ryhme series is another. The kicker with this series is that the forensic detective, Rhyme, is a C4 quad with movement only in the ring finger of his left hand. The premise is that the enforced lack of movement helps him channel his razor-sharp intellect into paths that wouldnít be obvious to someone distracted with things like, oh, working hands. This, of course, also forces him to have a host of supporting players to help him solve the crimes he can no longer investigate on him own. Prime among all of them is a working CSI, Amelia Sachs, who walks the grid at crime scenes with Rhyme hooked into a cell phone connection as she does it. And there is Thom, his immaculately dressed, gay attendant, taking care of his bodily needs and making sure he doesnít overdo it in his desire to solve the crime. There are other beat cops and detectives that float in and out but the main action almost always takes place in Rhyme's apartment/forensic lab with all sorts of cool equipment and assistive devices. And it helps that a romance has developed between Rhyme and Sachs which, thankfully, have the physical details of their love life kept off stage.

In this installment, a boat full of fleeing Chinese dissidents is blown up offshore of New York by a well-known smuggler in an effort to avoid capture. Two families, a couple of individuals and the smuggler survive and then mysteriously disappear into the Chinatown neighborhoods of New York. The mystery begins with why he scuttled the boat and evolves into a desperate chase to find the smuggler before he offs the two families. Fortunately, one of the survivors is a Chinese cop who has a charming way with broken English and some investigative methods that are not purely scientific.

I have to admit, I didnít see the ending coming and was surprised. And the Chinese cop kind of grew on me as the book progressed. I'll probably read the next one when it's out in paperback. It's a light read to curl up with on the couch on a cold November afternoon.

Posted by Deb English at 09:42 AM | Comments(0)

November 28, 2003

Colour Scheme, by Ngaio Marsh

Marsh's next outing combines her knowledge of New Zealand and the theater as Alleyn visits New Zealand to do counter-espionage work during the early days of World War II. The action takes place at a seedy hotsprings resort in a rural area of New Zealand, the temporary home of a diverse cast: the vague retired colonel, owner of the resort; his foolish wife; their mousy daughter; her uncle, an irascible doctor who sees Japanese spies under every bush; a sharp businessman with his eye on the hotsprings--and on the colonel's daughter; a justly famous Shakespearean actor, and his entourage; assorted layabouts; and an entire Maori village.

This is one of the first of Marsh's books that I ever read, and it's different than I remembered it. I found the beginning exceedingly tedious, but that might simply be because I had my head deeply into a programming project, and found it difficult to concentrate on anything else.

Overall, not a bad read, but not my favorite either.

Posted by Will Duquette at 11:50 AM | Comments(0)

November 26, 2003

Notebook made the Wikipedia!

My Notebook application has been getting a lot of attention lately, but it seems I've hit the big time; Notebook is explicitly mentioned in the Wikipedia entry for the word notebook.

If you're not familiar with Wikipedia, it's a collaboratively built on-line encyclopedia with quite a fantastic amount of information. It's a fun place to surf.

Posted by Will Duquette at 02:37 PM | Comments(0)

Snit V0.91

Howdy!

I've just uploaded V0.91 of Snit, my Tcl object framework, to the Snit's Not Incr Tcl home page. There are some important bug fixes and a couple of new features; see the README file for details, if you're so inclined.

Posted by Will Duquette at 12:19 PM | Comments(0)

Portrait of a Killer: Jack the Ripper, Case Closed, by Patricia Cornwell

First, I have to say the only reason I picked this book up is because I enjoy the Kay Scarpeta thriller series by Cornwell. It's a closet pleasure and one I usually donít tell friends who know my normal reading tastes, but there it is. So, when this one came out I browsed it a bit and decided to wait for paperback before reading it

And I found I didnít like it. At all. First, the book is badly written. Really badly written. I had a hard time following her line of reasoning because she jumps from one scenario to another with no logical path or connecting point. She's purporting to examine the remaining evidence and yet she occasionally lapses into a fictional mode when describing the victim's thoughts. My biggest problem is with her analysis of her suspected killer, an artist named Walter Sickert. With no real evidence, she tries to build a profile of the adult based on some childhood operations that, again with no evidence, traumatized him sexually and turned him into a psychopath. And she uses his art as further proof of his mental state which seems to me to be iffy at best. She makes glaring suppositions about his ability to fake the various handwritings in the Ripper letters. She can't actually put him near the scene of any of the murders and since his body was cremated after death, there is no possibility of using real DNA analysis of his DNA vs. what is left on envelope flaps or licked stamps. How she could title the book "Case Closed" is beyond me. She raises a few questions but really has no decisive evidence one way or the other.

I also should have realized that the reason I donít usually read true crime novels or books is because I donít generally care for the genre. Authors include photos of crime scenes that are gruesome at best and Cornwell felt it necessary to put photos taken of the Ripper victims in her book. They were not pretty though thankfully fuzzy and in black and white. I have too vivid an imagination to read books like this. I was expecting something a little deeper and found instead something that is supposed to titillate in a sick, twisted way. No thanks.

Posted by Deb English at 10:01 AM | Comments(1)

November 24, 2003

Old Testament Parenting

If you've not seen this, you should really go take a look; it's one of the funniest bits of Internet humor I've seen. It's one of the things that comes around in e-mail every once in a while, and every time it comes around I read it and chuckle.


Posted by Will Duquette at 11:37 AM | Comments(2)

November 23, 2003

Disney Hall from the Inside

Fair warning: I'm mostly down with a cold, so my lucidity is questionable. In particular, I'm noticing a tendency to leave out word here and there.

Last night, Jane and I were fortunate enough to hear the Los Angeles Philharmonic play Ravel, Saint-Saens, and Francesconi at the new Walt Disney Hall. This was a bit of a fluke--we were given tickets--but it means that I can now weigh in on the whole Frank Gehry-isn't-it-a-ridculous-building debate.

I'd previously only seen pictures of it, and as it was dark I didn't get a really good look at the outside. But what I could see looked just plain silly. This is a truly foolish-looking building, and it reminds me of my brother's rule about buying presents--if you can't find anything good, buy them something strange.

Inside, the most notable elements were lobbies and corridors that twined about with no particular rhyme or reason, little signs with the names of rich donors everywhere (even the stairways were named after particular individuals), and lots and lots of exposed Douglas Fir. The columns in the lobby were meant to evoke trees; I know this because there were large notices on metal stands that told me so.

It's interesting to contrast the entry area of Disney Hall with that of the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, which is just about as old as I am. It's a tall, elegant building, with massive crystal chandeliers, rich carpeting, and lots and lots of marble--symbols anyone would understand. Everything about it speaks of luxury, wealth, and the establishment. I'm not sure what the entry area of Disney Hall is trying to say, but I find it interesting that it was felt necessary to post signs to let us in on the secret.

We found our way to the Concert Hall Cafe, where we ate a couple of delightful little chocolate tortes, and then investigated the L.A. Philharmonic Store, and then went up to our seats.

Whoa.

The auditorium more than makes up for the foolishness of the rest of the ball. It's unlike anything I've ever seen, a fascinating, curving, swooping space of Douglas Fir with banks of seats on all four sides. It's a far more intimate space than the Dorothy Chandler, and the acoustics seemed to me (I'm no judge) to be just fine.

The seats are a little narrow, and there is no leg room whatsoever--if you had to leave in a hurry, everyone between you and the aisle would have to stand up.

But other than that, I have no complaints. As a concert hall, it was a fabulous place to sit and listen to music.

Well, mostly. The first piece on the program was a new piece called "Cobalt, Scarlet" by a contemporary Italian composer named Francesconi. This was the U.S. premiere, and the composer was in attendance. It was 24 minutes of sound that reminded me of two things: labor and delivery, in that it was long, drawn out, and painful, with occasional moments of excitement; and (sporadically) the opening moments of Sondheim's "Sweeney Todd"--you know, where all the steam pipes go off at once?

I suppose that artistically it was pretty much the equivalent of Disney Hall's exterior--a product of great skill and attention to detail, a wonderful example of the chaos that results when all rules and standards have been swept aside.

Posted by Will Duquette at 01:48 PM | Comments(0)

November 22, 2003

On Delaying Gratification

Late in June of 2002, I began work on Notebook, my personal notebook application. I was using it daily by the second of July, but it continued to grow and evolve, and by the twelfth of August it had begun to get unmanageable--or, at least, annoyingly complex. Now, the second or third time I run into a software problem I like to find a way for the computer to solve it for me. I needed help structuring my code, and the result was Snit, an object framework for the Tcl language.

My goal, of course, was to implement Snit, and then update Notebook to use it, and then begin to clean-up and extend Notebook. Instead, Snit took most of my attention for the next month--and then in mid-August I went to the 9th annual Tcl conference, where I made a short impromptu presentation about Snit at an open "Works in Progress" session. There was a certain amount of interest, and a host of suggestions, and what with one thing and another Snit occupied my time for quite some time thereafter. Every time I thought I was done with the darn thing, someone would make another suggestion, or point out another problem to be solved. And that's continued off and on right up until the present.

During the past year I'd managed to work on bits and pieces of Notebook, and even managed to release a new version some while back...but not until this morning did I manage to convert the largest and most complex piece of code, Notebook's beating heart, into Snit--over fifteen months after the first line of Snit was written.

And they say men can't commit.

But seriously, this is where the fun starts. I've got a long list of changes and features I'd like to do, and almost every one them involves changes to that largest and most complex piece of code--and now that that piece of code is implemented using a clean framework I can start refactoring its design and setting its house in order. All the old cruft is cleaned out of the way, and there are clear skies ahead.

Seriously, this is very cool.

(Have you looked at Notebook yet? It's very cool too....and it's constantly getting cooller.)

Posted by Will Duquette at 05:34 PM | Comments(0)

November 21, 2003

More on Master and Commander

Ian Hamet has seen it, and liked it; Terry Teachout saw it as well, and had this to say:

No, Master and Commander doesn't reproduce the essence of Patrick O'Brian's books, which is the inner life of Stephen Maturin. It's a completely exteriorized view of the Aubrey-Maturin novels. But what a view!

Which is exactly right, and I wish I had said it.

Posted by Will Duquette at 08:57 AM | Comments(0)

Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World

I went to see the movie Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World last night, and I must say I was impressed. As a long time fan of Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey/Maturin series I had carefully kept my expectations low so as not to be disappointed. The finished product is much better than I had hoped, and though there are any number of absurdities I find myself rather more approving than not.

Spoiler warning: if you haven't seen the movie or read the books, you might not want to read further.

My first grounds for worry was the title, which is the concatenation of two of the titles in the Aubrey/Maturin series--the first book, in which Jack Aubrey is indeed a master and commander, and the tenth, in which Jack has long been a post-captain. I was afraid that the movie was going to be some kind of unholy conglomeration of disparate plots.

In fact, although the movie does draw on a fund of small incidents from here and there in the series, the plot is roughly based on the latter of the two books, The Far Side of the World, though there are some amusing changes. In O'Brian's novel, H.M.S. Surprise is ordered to follow the United States frigate Norfolk, of 32 guns, into the Pacific. The Norfolk has been sent to wreck havoc on English whalers; Surprise is to stop her from so doing. That's right--the bad guys are Americans. I imagine the producers found this unpalatable, but in any event the movie moves the action from during the War of 1812 to some seven years earlier, and transforms the Norfolk into the French privateer Acheron--which, though French, is not only American-built but is astonishingly like the American 32-gun heavy frigates which British ships didn't encounter until years later.

But that's by the way. I did not expect the plot to follow any of the O'Brian novels very accurately, if at all. What I was hoping for, at best, was an extra-canonical tale with the same characters and setting.

Fan-fiction, in other words.

What I got was a tale that, for all its changes, followed one of the books much better than I'd expected, and got quite a lot absolutely right.

To begin with, the visuals were perfect. H.M.S. Surprise, an old friend, was a delight to see. I can give the movie-makers no higher praise than this--I sat through the closing credits, as I always do, and when the Industrial Light and Magic and Weta Digital visual effects credits were scrolling by I was dumbfounded. It literally had not occurred to me, while watching it, that there were any special effects at all.

After the visuals, the sound was right. It's difficult while reading about a battle at sea to really picture the chaos and the smoke; it's even more difficult to imagine the sounds--the booming of the guns, the shouting, the small-arms fire, the rattle of splinters hitting the deck.

Next, the tone was right. It would be impossible for a two-hour movie to capture all the richness and nuances of a twenty-volume series, and to his credit Peter Weir chose to focus on just one aspect. The movie is a sea-story from start to finish. The ship is right, the foremast hands are right, the weather is right, Killick's grumbling is right, Tom Pullings is perfect (though William Mowett is a little too old), and the incidental details are (almost all) right. Jack is the competent leader of men and expert seaman; Stephen is the physician and naturalist. The other aspects of their characters simply do not appear.

Best of all, the movie makes no attempt to explain or to provide background. It simply tells a story; if you know the background you can enjoy it that much more. In particular, it doesn't simplify the background so that it can be manageably explained within the movie.

In short, Weir and company made a movie that will enhance my future enjoyment of O'Brian's series, and that's no small thing.

All of that said, there are a number of things I simply have to gripe about.

The first is the casting of Billy Boyd as Aubrey's coxswain, Barrett Bonden. Boyd captures Bonden's cheerfulness well-enough, and I can't fault his acting. But damn it, Bonden's supposed to be a champion boxer, not a hobbit. Every time Boyd came on screen I could hear Gandalf saying, "Fool of a Took!" Actually, I can't remember whether Boyd played Merry or Pippin; the two characters have so far been roughly interchangeable in Jackson's movies.

The second is the actor who played Stephen Maturin. Maturin is supposed to look older than he really is, and have a forbidding eye. The actor they chose looks far too boyish. He played the role well, though the script didn't show off Maturin's sense of humor.

Russell Crowe's Jack Aubrey was a little too good to be true, though that was the fault of the script, not Crowe's acting, which was excellent. My favorite moment is when Aubrey looks over the rail at a lovely Brazilian girl--not long after we see him writing a letter to his darling wife Sophie. For just a few seconds the air is full of sexual tension--Aubrey knows he has no time for dalliance, but oh if things were different. In that single moment Weir illuminates an important side of Aubrey's personality that would otherwise have been ignored.

But Weir's Jack Aubrey is a little too fond of making rousing speeches to the crew, and a little too witty. In the scene where Aubrey tells of how the great Admiral Nelson once asked him "in the most natural way" to pass the salt, Weir has Aubrey play it for laughs--and very well, too--which strikes me as wrong. It's a bit of narrative straight from one of the books, and I've always read it as Aubrey telling the story perfectly straight--aware, of course, that the remark is trivial, but nevertheless impressed with the great man's manner, and with his politeness to a young officer.

Maturin also gets his share of absurdities. Weir turns O'Brian's novel into a story of pride. Aubrey, we find, has exceeded his orders by following the Acheron past Brazil; he intends to capture the privateer come what may. It therefore falls to Maturin to argue with Aubrey over whether they should turn back, and the discussion grows quite heated. And yet, that's entirely wrong. As ship's surgeon, Maturin would have given Captain Aubrey his opinion of the health of the crew and the need for fresh food, and would have argued passionately about making landfall if it were necessary for that reason. As a republican and philosopher, he'd occasionally make remarks, more in irritation than in anger, about the hierarchical nature of the navy. And as Jack's friend he might have asked, calmly and without anger, whether they ought to turn back, and his friend Jack would have answered in the same vein. He'd never presume to question Jack's command of the ship--except where botanizing and naturalizing is concerned.

The scene in which Stephen remonstrates with Jack for breaking his promise about spending a week at the Galapagos Islands is straight out of O'Brian's novel--but even that isn't played quite right. Stephen knows perfectly well that all such promises are subject to the requirements of the service (though he'd rather not admit it), and Jack's perfectly correct that Stephen's completely irresponsible about time while he's gathering specimens. Thus, Stephen's speech should have much less cold anger and much more pique--in the book it remains a serious disagreement, but it also provides some comic relief.

Nevertheless, Weir and company did a fine job. If they weren't quite true to the spirit of O'Brian's books, I think they were as true as they could have been within the bounds of producing a salable movie. I don't know how the movie will strike someone who has never read O'Brian's work, but it worked pretty well for me.

Posted by Will Duquette at 08:39 AM | Comments(0)

November 19, 2003

I'm a Flippery Fish

Turns out I was mistaken; I'm not a Wiggly Worm at all. The entry I saw at the Truth-Laid Bear's ecosystem was for the old version of my blog. I submitted my current blog address and I find that I'm a Flippery Fish!
Posted by Will Duquette at 09:09 PM | Comments(1)

Master and Commander

Arts and Letters Daily lists a couple of articles related to the movie Master and Commander. The first one is about Patrick O'Brian and C.S. Forester and how they both fictionalized their pasts; it's interesting though I wish it went into more detail.

The second is about all the things the movie gets wrong, and no, I've not read it.

Posted by Will Duquette at 05:05 PM | Comments(0)

Nothing beside remains...

Aaron Haspel has a rather testy post on Shelley's sonnet "Ozymandias". Be sure to check out the comments; he doesn't get to have it all his own way.
Posted by Will Duquette at 05:02 PM | Comments(0)

The Culture of Therapy

I found this article thought provoking, though possibly because it caters to my prejudices. I've never been in therapy, nor intend to be.

Posted by Will Duquette at 02:40 PM | Comments(2)

Wooden Ships

I've not yet seen Master and Commander (I'm going on Thursday night) so I've been avoiding all of the blog posts about it that are floating around. But here's a neat post about the warships of Jack Aubrey's day.

Posted by Will Duquette at 11:54 AM | Comments(1)

November 18, 2003

Panther: First Impressions

In general, I like it.

If you're a Mac nut, you've probably already read reviews and descriptions of Panther, so I won't try to hit all of the details. I'll just hit a few highlights.

First of all, the new appearance is nifty. Some folks really dislike the "brushed metal" look of the window frames, but I think it's cool.

Second, "Expose" is too cool for words. Here's the easy way to switch between the dozens of open windows on your desktop: press F9. Instantly, all of the open windows on your screen shrink and jostle about until all of them are completely visible. Click on the one you want; everything gets big again. That sounds awfully complicated, I suppose, but it's fast. And it takes much less thought than mousing over to the dock to find the little icon for the window I want. Then there's the F10 key. Press that and it's just like F9 but only the windows belonging to the current application are affected. And finally, there's F11. Press that, and all the windows scatter just past the edges of the desktop--leaving your whole desktop visible, so you can find that one important icon. It's going to take me a while to get used to using Expose, but it's a good habit to pick up.

X11 is nicer, too, in addition to being a 1.0 product instead of a Beta. It's mostly like it was in the past, but has some new options: you can invoke X11 programs from the Finder, and minimize them on the Dock.

The other two programs I've played with so far are the Safari web browser (which is mostly unchanged) and Apple's Mail application, which is mostly unchanged but has a few important additions. First, it's faster, which is nice. Second, it now gives you a threaded view of your e-mail messages, which makes finding things easier...I think. You can turn it off if you don't like it. And finally, it makes a nifty zooming sound when it sends an e-mail message.

They say Panther is faster than Jaguar, and that may be so; I'm not sure.

So, so far, so good!

Posted by Will Duquette at 09:00 PM | Comments(0)

Creation: When Did It Happen?

This is the second of the two essays I promised, inspired by an e-mail exchange about Creationism vs. Evolution. The first is The Two Books.

In my first essay I talked about the relationship between the Book of Spirit, the Bible, and the Book of Nature, the universe around us. Both, I said, were created by God, and both reflect God's character. Also, both require interpretation. I explained a little about why I consider the Bible to be authoritative; but I also said that I do not neglect the Book of Nature.

In this essay I'll talk explicitly about the problem of creation--just how God created not only we human beings, but also the planet Earth and the universe in which we live.

A literal reading of Genesis has God creating the universe in seven days; a careful study of the chronology of the old Testament by Bishop Ussher dated the Creation to sometime in the year 4004 BC. Impossible, cry the scientifically minded. The Earth is millions of years old. The universe is billions of years old. And, I must admit, the scientific evidence is compelling. So how do we reconcile these two points of view?

I'm going to leave that question hanging for a bit, while I make some observations. If you go outdoors and look around, you'll see many things happening all at once. Perhaps the breeze is blowing, and the leaves are fluttering on the trees. (Yes, they're still fluttering--it might be November, but this is Los Angeles.) And as they flutter, they are converting sunlight to energy. Birds are singing, and digesting the worms they caught early this morning. A sprinkler waters a lawn; some of the water evaporates and joins the clouds gliding by over head. Everywhere you turn, and no matter how closely you look, things are in process. They are in the middle of doing something.

Now, when I see something in process--a sprinkler watering a lawn, or a cloud gliding over head--I not only see what it's doing now, but I can infer something of its history. If I step outside and see a cloud floating from east to west, I can assume that five minutes earlier it was further east than when I first saw it.

Every day, all over the planet, there's an uncountable number of these processes going on. And almost every one of them, when you examine it, has this kind of history attached. Some of them are longer lived than others, and the longer-lived, the longer the history that we can infer.

Now, suppose you're an omnipotent diety. You've got a neat idea for a universe, and you want to create it. It's going to be a fancy place, with all kinds of interlocking, inter-related processes going on at the same time. It seems to me you have two choices of how you're going to get all of those processes off of the ground. You can create your world so that it starts with literally nothing happening, and somehow arrange for the processes to get started little by little, or you can create it with everything already up and running. A creationist would expect the latter; an evolutionist the former.

Here's the kicker--if I'm a resident of this new world you've created, I can't tell which way the trick was done.

Suppose you created the world with nothing happening, and let all of the various processes get started little by little until finally all the glory of life on Earth is in motion. If I, a resident in your world, were to look around and study all of the processes I could see, I would see that some processes were of short duration and some of long duration. And if I found the longest-lived processes I could, and traced the history of each backwards to its beginning so far as I was able, I should eventually be able to identify a point in time at which everything seemed to begin--and that moment would likely be the moment of creation.

In our would we would need to take into account not only the processes in Earth's ecosystem, but in the heart of our Sun, and in the universe at large. And in fact, when we do that we do find a point in time at which everything seems to begin--the Big Bang.

On the other hand, suppose you opted to create your world with everything already going on--say, around 4004 BC. Every process in progress at the moment of creation would still (by virtue of being in progress) have an implied history attached--a false history, because it never really happened. If I, a resident in your world, were to examine all the processes I could find I would have a very difficult time identifying the moment of creation, simply because it would look just like every other moment. I would be unable to distinguish between false history and real history. More to the point, if I worked backwards, all of the false history might conceivably still point to a moment when everything started, just as it did in the previous case.

In short, if an omnipotent God created the Universe then I, as a resident of that Universe, cannot tell from what I see around me just how long ago the moment of creation was. In the long view, it might have been billions of years; in the short view, it could have been six thousand years ago--or six minutes ago.

Let me put that another way. We've found fossils of prehistoric creatures. The geological stratification suggests that they died millions of years ago, long before mankind was on the scene. I cannot tell, just looking at the evidence, whether the universe is really that old--or if God simply created the Earth complete with fossils because that was simply part of creating the necessary backstory for the moment of creation.

This is one reason why I said I didn't know, when asked whether I believed in Creationism or Evolution. I really don't know. This universe is God's creation, and he could have done it either way. If he created the universe six-thousand years ago, then all of the evidence for human evolution is part of the false history.

(As an aside, I find the notion of false history unpleasant in the extreme. God could have done that way--but it seems to me inconsistent with his truthful character.)

But wait--that's not the end of the story. Having gone to all of this trouble over just when the moment of creation was, I'm going to suggest that it's something of a meaningless question.

We so often forgot that God is not bound by time. God lives in Eternity, and Eternity is not simply "forever", not simply an endless succession of moments, one moment after another. Time is, in fact, part of creation. (Modern physics bears me out on this, incidentally; in Einsteinian terms, the three dimensions of space and one of time are inextricably bound together. It makes great sense in Einsteinian terms to speak of "spacetime"; none to speak of space without time.)

Now, when I speak of God creating the universe six thousand years ago as opposed to billions of years ago, it's as though I'm trying to spare him some effort--or, at least, some boredom. Why, after all, should God have to sit through billions of years of galactic, stellar, planetary, and finally human evolution just to get to the good part--us?

But God lives in Eternity. In our terms, that means that he doesn't need to sit through the history of the universe moment by moment--that in fact, he can see it as a whole thing, as an entire creation. In my previous essay I compared God to an author writing a novel. A novel's story might span years or even centuries, but the writing of it usually occupies but a small span of the author's life. And just as an author imagines his tale and writes it down, imperfectly, so God imagines his creation and creates it, perfectly.

Remember, again, that God is all-powerful. We live in a world that appears, after study, to have an extremely long history. Either it really has an extremely long history, or it was created in such a way that it appears to have had an extremely long history when in fact it doesn't. But either way, God must have imagined that history, and it seems to me that for God, imagination is the better part--perhaps the only part--of creation. If, in order to create the universe circa 4004 BC with everything already in progress it would be necessary to imagine the false history that would lie behind those processes--stars and galaxies forming, and dinosaurs walking the earth--how can that history be false? How can it not be part of his creation?

So, finally, that's where I stand. God is all-powerful, and I'm surely in no position to tell him how to do his work. But it seems to me far more likely that if the world appears to be billions of years old that it really is billions of years old; even if we humans are the Main Event it isn't as though it was more difficult or somehow wasteful for God to go to the extra effort.

But at the same time, that doesn't mean that the universe evolved randomly, or that human beings necessarily evolved solely by the interaction of random chance with the law of survival of the fittest. It might appear that way, looking only at the physical evidence. But I don't believe (being a Christian and a Theist--but I repeat myself) that God just set up the starting conditions and the rules of operation and let the universe go; he created the universe all at once, as a finished work of art. We, living within his creation, live in time; for us the end of time is not yet. For him, creation is done--and the Book of Nature, as with the Book of Spirit, says only what God wants it to.

Canny readers (if any of you made it this far) might now be asking how I can square this view with the notion of free will. I can--but that's another essay.

Posted by Will Duquette at 08:37 PM | Comments(1)

It's a fair cop....

Norman Rockwell
Golly Gee!! You are NORMAN ROCKWELL. You are a painter of simple, everyday happenings.
You tend to avoid the outrageous and stay well
within the guidelines of society. Your friends
count on you for your loyalty and level-
headedness.

Which famous artist most reflects your personality?
brought to you by Quizilla
Posted by Will Duquette at 05:43 PM | Comments(3)

November 17, 2003

Man Bites Panther

Sure enough, once I installed the new Developer Tools and rebuilt X11 Emacs, it works just fine! So we are now good to go for future development work, and I can go to bed with a happy heart.

Total time spent installing Panther and related tools, plus recompiling Emacs: two and a half hours.

Most serious problem: boredom while waiting for the installers to finish.

Only glitch encountered: I had to ask Fink to recompile Emacs for me.

I'll probably have a little more to say about Panther tomorrow. But for sure, Expose is way cool.

Posted by Will Duquette at 10:06 PM | Comments(0)

Prowling is the word...

I've got Panther installed; I simply requested an upgrade from OS X 10.2, and everything went swimmingly. All my data is available, and all of my applications appear to be working just fine.

Of course, there is one fly in the ointment: my Emacs isn't working! Wouldn't you just know it. The version I downloaded the other day simply isn't working. I'm going to try rebuilding it as soon as I get the Apple Developer's Tools installed.

Posted by Will Duquette at 08:56 PM | Comments(0)

The Panther Will Prowl Tonight

The X11 version of Gnu Emacs is working just fine; better, in some ways, than what I'd been using. So I think I'll probably try installing Panther tonight.

If you don't hear from me tomorrow, you'll know what happened....

Posted by Will Duquette at 05:04 PM | Comments(0)

November 15, 2003

From 0 to Geek in Ten Seconds

So last week I went out and got a copy of the new version of Mac OS X, code-named Panther. I was all prepared to install it on my PowerBook and experience the joy of faster code and prettier windows.

And then, before I installed it, I discovered that my Emacs wasn't going to work properly on Panther.

You clearly do not appreciate the gravity of that statement. Let me repeat it.

My Emacs wasn't going to work properly on Panther!

Well, OK, let me explain. It's like this: I'm a programmer. I write software for a living. I write software for fun. And for a working programming, the one essential tool is his text editor. It's like the drill sergeant says to the recruits at Marine boot camp: "This is your weapon. You will eat with it, you will sleep with it, it will be your best friend." Except that in my case, that tool is a text editor.

And my text editor of choice is called Emacs. I can do amazing things with Emacs without conscious thought that would take ten times as long with any other editor. I've got Emacs on every computer I use regularly (at present that's my PowerBook, my old Windows laptop, my Windows desktop at work, and two Sun workstations, also at work). It works pretty much the same on all of them, and it makes my life ever so much smoother.

So the danger of being bereft of Emacs is serious enough that Panther is still in its box.

Today, though, things are going better; I've worked out an alternative.

See, the Emacs I've been using is a binary I downloaded of an old build of Gnu Emacs only partially made over to use the native Mac windowing system. It's out of date, which is why it won't run on Panther. A much better version is available, but the guy who's been porting and maintaining it has consistently refused to make any binary or source distribution available (possibly because it isn't officially released yet) and has been telling everyone to just download the latest code from SourceForge and build it. I've been unwilling to do that; the latest code might be stable, and it might not. On top of that, for it to run on Panther I'd have to build it on Panther, which means that there'd be a hiatus in the availability of Emacs.

(If there are any other diehard OS X users out there reading this, they are no doubt thinking that OS X comes with Emacs pre-installed. They are right, but it's a non-GUI version that only runs in a terminal window and doesn't support the mouse. Not good enough.)

But today I realized that there was another alternative. In addition to Aqua, the native windowing system, Mac OS X also supports X11, the windowing system used on most Unix computers. And Emacs has run perfectly well on X11 for years. And there's a group of people called the Fink Project (Fink is German for "Finch", i.e., the bird, so you can stop snickering) who've been packaging lots and lots of Unix software for use on the Mac. And one of the packages they provide is the X11 version of Emacs.

So I spent the day first downloading Fink and installing it, and then (via Fink) downloading and building and installing Emacs for X11. I had to do a little fooling around, but now I've got it configured just the way I like it, and I think it'll do the trick.

I'll spend a few days using the X11 version to make sure it really works for me...and then the Panther can prowl freely.

Posted by Will Duquette at 06:00 PM | Comments(1)

Who ya gonna call?

I just overheard my four-year-old playing quietly by himself:

They're going to take over the world! Better call 911....

It's good that he knows what to do in a situation like that.

Posted by Will Duquette at 04:41 PM | Comments(0)

November 14, 2003

More Later

I've written a rough draft of my follow-on to Wednesday's The Two Books; I want to let it sit over night, and then proofread it for foolishness tomorrow.
Posted by Will Duquette at 07:40 PM | Comments(0)

Looney Tunes!

I'd been meaning to write a lengthy post on the Looney Tunes Golden Collection DVD set, and now Ian Hamet's done it for me.

My only additional comment is that I've having to send my copy back to Amazon for replacement; there's a glitch in the middle of Rabbit of Seville, right in the middle of Bugs Bunny's Carmen Miranda act. Of course you know, this means war.

Or not, really, because Amazon gives you 30 days. I just need to get off the stick.

Posted by Will Duquette at 04:36 PM | Comments(0)

November 13, 2003

Death and the Dancing Footman, by Ngaio Marsh

When one thinks of traditional English murder mysteries one immediately thinks of country houses, billiard rooms, breakfast buffets, dressing for dinner, butlers, maids, and all the rest of the trimmings. And yet this, Marsh's eleventh novel, is only her second country house mystery. (Her first was also her first novel, the underwhelming A Man Lay Dead.) And like the first, it's about a house party with a gimmick. And just as this one is immeasureably better than that first novel, so it also has a better gimmick.

Jonathan Royal is an unmarried middle-aged gentleman of means whose chief amusement seems to be observing the behavior of other people. After bankrolling a successful play, he decides to try his hand at a different kind of drama: a house party made up entirely of people who are at odds with each other. I won't go through the list, as that's part of the fun; I'll simply say that it's a wonder that the murder doesn't happen as soon as the party assembles, instead of rather later.

Inspector Alleyn makes a remarkably late appearance in this one, his latest in the series to date; although he's mentioned as an acquaintance by one of the characters early on in the book, he doesn't actually appear until page 183. Even then he doesn't have much to do; once he's questioned everyone and done an experiment or two, the answer's obvious (to him, anyway).

I had trouble getting started with this one at first, in part, I think, because the thought of a house party composed of enemies rather put me off. But I must also confess that I was deeply involved in our projects during that stretch of time, and hadn't much brain left by the time I opened the book.

Posted by Will Duquette at 06:51 PM | Comments(0)

The Criminal Kind

Aaron Haspel has posted some comments about a book on what criminals have in common--on what makes a criminal a criminal. It's on older book (1980's, I believe); I'm curious if there's been any follow-on research since then.
Posted by Will Duquette at 05:02 PM | Comments(0)

More on Pullman

The article about Rowling, Lewis, Tolkien, and Pullman I linked to the other day has occasioned a lively discussion over at Amy Welborn's place.
Posted by Will Duquette at 04:56 PM | Comments(0)

November 12, 2003

I'm a Wiggly Worm...

...in The Truth-Laid Bear's blogosphere ecosystem.
Posted by Will Duquette at 04:58 PM | Comments(2)

The Two Books

Recently I exchanged e-mail with a fellow who thought because I was a Christian I must necessarily be on the Creationist side in the Creation vs. Evolution sweepstakes. He seemed rather disappointed when I said I wasn't--though not a Christian himself, he said he was definitely on the Creationist side of things, and thought that Evolution was manifestly untrue.

My position on the subject is rather more complicated than the tag "Creation vs. Evolution" would imply. On the one hand, I don't read the opening chapters of Genesis as a precise description of how the world was created; nevertheless I do believe that the universe is God's creation. On the other hand, I don't think that random forces produced modern human beings; nevertheless, all those fossils had to come from somewhere.

I've been pondering this ever since, and I've decided that there are two related topics I'd like to expand on. The second, which I'll address in another post, will contain some thoughts I've had on the nature of creation, and how creation and evolution can play together. This one, however, is on the two documents I believe God has left us--the Book of Spirit, and the Book of Nature--and the relationship between them.

The Book of Spirit is, of course, the Bible; the Book of Nature is the physical universe we find all around us. Both reflect God's character, and both have much to teach us.

As a Christian, I believe that the universe is God's handiwork, and as such makes manifest his desires and his character. There's much we can learn about God from studying the world around us. He loves diversity, but he also loves order in that diversity. And as Professor Haldane famously (and no doubt facetiously) remarked, he's surprisingly fond of beetles. I won't say "inordinately," as Haldane did; from our study of the world it should be clear, if nothing else is, that God's likes and dislikes aren't exactly the same as ours, but I'm confident that he has his reasons.

Now, the Book of Nature is notoriously difficult to interpret. The history of science is the history of ideas that were once judged correct and were later found to be inconsistent with reality. On top of that, no matter how well we interpret the Book of Nature it can't tell the whole story. If you ask why the sky is blue, science will tell you that sunlight scatters and bends in the atmosphere, leaving only blue behind--but that doesn't really answer the question. That only explains how it works, not why. Science has much to say about mechanism, and little or nothing to say about meaning.

And that's where the Bible comes in. The Book of Nature tells us much about How and What; inspired by God, the Bible tells us Why--or, at least, as much of Why as we are capable of understanding and need to know.

A digression on the inspiration of Scripture. There probably are Christians who believe that God dictated the books of the Bible to the original authors as an executive dictates a letter to his secretary, but it's really more complicated than that.

God, for some reason I do not know, likes to work through people. I'm sure St. Paul spent hours on his letters, pondering just which word to use. I'm confident that St. Luke revised the book of Acts with great care before sending it on its way. And no one with any sense for style would ever confuse St. Luke's writing with St. Paul's.

In truth, the Bible as we know have it is the work of many minds and many hands: those who witnessed the events of which it speaks, and remembered them; those who wrote them down; those who edited the documents into their final shapes; those who determined that these writings would become part of the Biblical canon, while those writings would be abandoned. And all of this work was done by human beings. And yet, God was behind all of that work at the same time. He helped St. Paul find the right words; he helped the early church fathers winnow the many writings about Christ down to those in our Bible. No doubt he arranged for some of Paul's letters to go astray, lest they lead us astray; not even even saints bat a thousand. In the end we have the Bible, which, though the work of human hands, says just what God wanted it to.

And the importance of the Bible is that it is God's communication to us, in which he tells us that which we need to know but cannot infer solely from examination of the world around us. The Bible does not supplant the Book of Nature as a source of knowledge, but it augments it; the one lends meaning to the other. For this reason, the Book of Spirit and the Book of Nature can never truly contradict each other.

Now, back to the opening chapters of the book of Genesis. Does Genesis attempt a scientific discussion of the beginning of the world? Of course not. Genesis isn't about mechanism; it's about meaning. It tells us the things we need to know to make sense of God's creation. So what are these things?

First, Genesis tells us, simply, that God is the creator; that the universe, and all that is in it, is his creation; that we are his creatures. This is his universe, not ours.

Second, it tells us that we screwed up. We are fallen people, and we live in a fallen world. Some folks make much of Eve's sin, and blame her for Adam's sin, but as I see it there's plenty of blame to go around. It wasn't just Man who sinned; it wasn't just Woman; it was the whole damned species.

Now, if you were to ask me whether I believe in a literal Garden of Eden, with a literal Adam and Eve, and fig leaves and all that, I'd answer, categorically, "I don't know."--an answer I'll elaborate on in another post.

But grant, for the sake of argument, that there was a Garden. You know what people are like. Do you really think that two kids stuck in a garden with a forbidden fruit wouldn't eventually give in to temptation and take a bite? Perhaps his name wasn't Adam, and perhaps hers wasn't Eve, and perhaps the real story was a lot more complicated than the tale that was passed down, mouth to ear, to the one who first wrote it down. Perhaps it happened much longer ago than the Bible indicates. Nevertheless, I suggest that the essence of the story remained unchanged, and is clear to this day--that given a choice between joyful union with God and the short-term gratification of their own desires, Man and Women made the wrong choice.

And we still make the wrong choices. G. K. Chesterton said that Original Sin was the only religious doctrine that was experimentally verifiable, and he's clearly right. How many saints do you know?

And that's the point of the rest of the Bible--first, verification that perfection is not in us, and then the Good News of how to get out from under our sins and back into joyful union with God.

Does the Bible tell us everything there is to know about God? Of course not. Consider all that we know about the Universe, and how many volumes it would take to write it all down--and consider that God stands in relation to us as an author does to his novel. Which is more complex, the novel, or the author who writes it? But if the Bible doesn't tell us everything, yet it tells us what we need to know, until that blessed day when, the race complete, we can see for ourselves.

Posted by Will Duquette at 04:51 PM | Comments(2)

November 11, 2003

Church and State, by Dave Sim

Church and State is the next volume in Sim's massive saga of Cerebus the Aardvark, and I do mean volume, as in "voluminous". In fact, it's two volumes, together comprising 1200 pages of aardvarkian lunacy.

I read Church and State in two installments, about a month apart, which I don't think hurt the story any.

In the first volume, which I very much liked, Cerebus is named Pope of the Western Church of Tarim. It's a political move, and the result of much pulling of strings by a variety of players; he's a compromise Pope named only because the powers that be think he'll be easily manipulated. After all, Astoria had him performing like a trained seal as Prime Minister of Iest in the previous volume, High Society.

But the fact is, Cerebus (who begins to refer to himself as "Most Holy") is tired of being manipulated. Most Holy is tired of working hard when everyone else gets the credit. Most Holy is tired of being pushed around. Most Holy is tired of not getting to enjoy the spoils of his position.

So he takes his show on the road.

Which is to say, he abandons the Papal Palace in ritzy, upper-class Upper Iest and moves with his bodyguard into a beat-up hotel in sleazy lower-class Lower Iest. After he's harangued the crowd for a while, there's no chance of any of his erstwhile handlers getting near him. And just what does he ask his adoring crowd of peasants to do?

I can't tell you, but it's funny.

And so Volume I continues, with Most Holy having to learn to live with the consequences of his own success. And it ends with a quite shocking turn of events which I nevertheless found hysterical, having read the early parts of the series.

So far, so good; Church and State, Vol. 1 was a good read, and more fun than High Society.

So then I read Church and State, Vol. 2, in which we find out why a lot of this maneuvering has been going on. It turns out that once an age, one person, properly equipped, can actually try to meet the Divine Tarim and become his avatar, the Messiah of the World. If he succeeds, something glorious will happen; if he fails, there will be great devastation, and no one will be able to try again until the next age. On gathers that nobody has actually managed it.

I won't go into details about what happens, except that I found the second volume of Church and State to be a bit of a disappointment. There are pages and pages of beautiful (?) drawing during which very little actually happens--it's much more slowly paced than his earlier work. There are many episodes which make almost no sense, comic or otherwise. And the final payoff was more of a rip-off--bad theology, with heavy-handed irony and ridiculous sneers at the United States' space program. (Yes, really. Why? I have no idea. But apparently the Challenger blew up to show us that we should have known better. Gag.)

But there were some pretty funny bits anyway; I especially liked the scenes with Mick Jagger and Keith Richards.

Will I get the next volume, Jaka's Story? Probably; it's considered to be the zenith of the series, apparently, after which it's all downhill. After that, who can say.

Posted by Will Duquette at 09:12 PM | Comments(0)

Rowling, Lewis, Tolkien, and Pullman

Here's a fabulous article which contrasts Rowling's Harry Potter, Lewis' Narnia, and Tolkien's Middle Earth with Philip Pullman's saga His Dark Materials.

(Via Brandywine Books.)

Posted by Will Duquette at 04:03 PM | Comments(0)

November 10, 2003

Good Grief!

I happened to take a look at the web log today, and found to my great surprise that I hadn't posted anything since last Thursday. I guess I've been involved.

And indeed it's been a busy few days. Thursday night was my writer's group night; we meet about once a month. Then on Friday I went over to a buddy's house for the evening; this is an exceedingly rare event these days, and accounts for why I didn't post anything on Friday.

Saturday morning saw the beginning of the Out of Africa Mission. Archbishop-elect Henry Orombi of the Anglican Church of Uganda and his team have come here for a week long mission to ten of the churches here in my home town. I'd met Bishop Orombi before, as he's visited our church in the past; consequently, I not only got to hear him speak Saturday morning, but also at church yesterday morning. This was a Great and Good thing.

Saturday afternoon and evening I don't have any really good excuse for not posting, except that I was working on Notebook. By the time I was done I was pretty well braindead, and so probably wouldn't have written anything worth reading.

And then yesterday was remarkably busy. There was church in the morning, of course. Jane had a meeting early in the afternoon, so I had to get lunch for the kids and keep an eye on them; after that, David had a friend over to play. And then Jane and I got to go out to dinner and to a meeting of the Los Angeles chapter of the American Anglican Council. Not a terribly romantic destination, I admit, but change is coming to the Episcopal Church, and this was our chance to get a heads up--plus we got to hear Bishop Henry yet again. I'll probably have more to say about this in the coming weeks.

So, really, I've just been busy. That state of affairs will likely continue this week as the mission proceeds (there are events Tuesday and Wednesday nights) but I'll try to keep posting anyway.

Posted by Will Duquette at 04:55 PM | Comments(1)

All Creatures Great and Small, by James Herriot

I haven't been doing much serious reading lately. I will take down a well worn, familiar book and read bits out of it without completing the whole thing. Austen and Dickens are good for that. Or I will start one and lose interest a few pages in, abandoning it to the pile next to my chair. That's where "The Odyssey" is living at the moment. Someday.... However, I must read before turning out the light at night. It's a habit I have developed and one I find difficult to avoid if I want to fall asleep without time spent brooding.

I took this book off my shelf while looking for something to hold my interest for the 20 minutes I read before sleeping. The flyleaf is inscribed with a "Happy Birthday from Mom and Dad, 1978" which means I was a sophomore in college when I read it the first time. I donít recall reading it since.

And what a treat it is! The chapters are short enough that I can finish one quickly and the stories he tells are amusing and sad and vibrant with his love for the countryside he lived in. I had forgotten the war between Siegfried and the secretary and the impossible escapades of Tristan. And I had completely forgotten the character of Tricki Woo, the little Peke dog who provides James with treats and good things all in appreciation of good care whenever the dog goes "flop bott."

It's a good book to revisit if you are looking for enjoyable stories well told, something to soothe the mind and quiet the noises of the night.

Posted by Deb English at 04:37 PM | Comments(1)

November 06, 2003

A Storm of Swords, by George R.R. Martin

This is the third volume of Martin's lo-o-o-o-ng saga, "A Song of Ice and Fire", and I don't want to say too much about it because I don't want to spoil the plot. Suffice it to say that it's a worthy successor to A Clash of Crowns; see that review for my general comments.

I embarked on the 1128 pages of this book with patience in my heart, and I enjoyed every moment of it thoroughly. Even the walking corpses.

Posted by Will Duquette at 05:57 PM | Comments(2)

November 04, 2003

Need a Notebook?

Last summer I wrote a program called Notebook for managing my notes on various topics. A notebook is a collection of pages, as many pages as you like, with hyperlinks between them. It's a lot like an editable website, except that it's quicker and easier, and it's also programmable. If you know how to program, you can extend Notebook in a variety of ways. You can find out more about it here.

Just the other day, someone I'd never heard of released an
article on "wiki" software. A wiki is, in fact, an editable website, a lot like Notebook but available from any web browser. The author cites Notebook as a neat application in its own right, and a good starting place for people who want to know more about wikis since it has the same feel but doesn't require a web server.

Me, I just think it's neat that people I've never met and never exchanged e-mail with are happy enough with Notebook that they are telling other folks about it.

Posted by Will Duquette at 07:53 PM | Comments(3)

The Dread House of Lego

Whilst out and about with my two boys this evening (fetching home a copy of Panther for my PowerBook, as it happens), we discovered that there's now a Lego Store at the Glendale Galleria.

Not only is there now a Lego Store at the Glendale Galleria, it's directly next to the Apple Store where I went to get my copy of Panther. With two small boys in train, I had about as much chance of avoiding the Lego Store as--

I can't think of a comparison that's strong enough.

Now, I'm a Travelled Gentleman; I've been to LegoLand California. I've seen the Big Store at the Beginning that stands at the entrance to LegoLand...and while it is, indeed, an impressive sight, I've always found it to be somewhat disappointing. They've got too much in the way of souvenirs, and too little for the diehard LegoManiac.

About the Dread House of Lego at the Glendale Galleria, I have no such reservations. It's a Perilous Pit of Plastic Temptation. Not only are the walls lined with Lego sets large and small, they have the big, hard to find sets for sale. There's a Star Wars Imperial Walker (the four-legged kind) that's at least a foot and a half high. There's an Imperial Star Destroyer that's three feet long. There are shelves and shelves of Star Wars sets, Harry Potter sets, robotics sets, NASA sets (including a Mars Exploration Rover that looks remarkably like the ones that are currently on the way to Mars), Soccer sets (soccer Lego? But apparently it's popular), and everything else.

And if that's not bad enough, there's the Back Wall, which is studded with the Bins of Doom. Each bin is filled with one color and shape of Lego brick. There are about a hundred bins, and the bricks are in colors that have never before been seen in the world of Lego. For $12.95 you get what looks to be about a 36 ounce cup with a tightly fitting lid--and as many Lego bricks as you can cram into it.

This is Pure Evil. And had I not just bought a copy of Panther I might well have succumbed. And it really is Evil, because 36 ounces of Lego isn't a whole lot when you've got a Big Imagination. You have to keep going back for another cupfull. And then another. And that will begin to run into Serious Money.

Lego fans have been screaming for just this sort of thing for years--I just hope there aren't any bankruptcies.

(Oh, and yes, my kids did blow their allowances there.)

Posted by Will Duquette at 07:45 PM | Comments(5)

November 03, 2003

A New Treat from Google!

Here's a Google feature I bet you didn't know about.

Go to Google, and do a search on your phone number (including the area code). If your number is listed, it will return a page showing your name and address, along with links to MapQuest and the like.

If you'd rather not have your name and address quite so available in this way, you can click on the telephone icon next to your name and address, and Google will give you instructions on how you can have Google block your phone number.

I found out about this in an e-mail message I received today, and at first I thought it was probably a hoax--but just to be sure, I gave it a try. Sure enough, up popped all of my contact information. I've asked them to block it; apparently it takes about forty-eight hours.

Posted by Will Duquette at 04:54 PM | Comments(0)

November 02, 2003

The Convergence, by Sharon Green

Now this book is just too silly for words: an absurdly earnest mixture of Modesitt-style fantasy, pop psychology, and romance novel shtick. Let me tell you a little about it.

There are five branches of magic, Air, Earth, Fire, Water, and Spirit. Every person in Green's world is more or less capable in one of these areas. Most people are Lows. Some are Middles, and some are Highs--and every person revealed to be a Middle must go to the capitol and be tested to see whether or not they are Highs. Our tale concerns five such people, one from each of the five aspects. This is Very Significant, for the nation in which they live is ruled by the Ruling Blending. The Ruling Blending is a team of five people, one from (of course) each of the five aspects, who have not only learned to merge their magic together, but who won their place through fierce competition.

This competition is held every twenty-five years, and the winning Blending rules the nation for the next twenty-five years. A great deal is at stake, here, and so of course there is great incentive to skew the results. Our five heroes are not supposed to win, and of course they will, though not in this book (it's the first of five in a series called, natch, "The Blending").

So who are our charming five? First, there's a sea-captain who has no interest in being a High, even for the power the position holds; he just wants to live on the sea. Why? Because although he's a rough, tough, extremely handsome well-built man, he's claustrophobic. He simply cannot stand to be cooped up inside.

Then there's the astonishingly beautiful young woman who has been seriously traumatized by a forced marriage to elderly sadistic lecher whose business interests her father wished to control. The old lecher is dead, now, and her father wishes to marry her off again. She'd rather die.

Which brings us to our young gentleman, the sheltered, protected son of one of the highest-born ladies in the realm, one of those poisonous women who live through their children. He's never before been anywhere without his mother, and he has no idea of how the world works. But he's extremely handsome, and remarkably well-built, because one of the servants showed him how to exercise.

Then there's our astonishingly beautiful lady of the evening with a heart of gold, the leading courtesan from a major provincial city. She's no interest in being a High, either, but coming to the capitol to be tested got her out from under the thumb of her erstwhile madam. Remarkably, she's the one with the least emotional baggage, even though she doesn't think that love is real.

And finally there's the farmer's son from the boondocks, a truly decent salt-of-the-earth type who sincerely wants to be a High. He's hampered by two things: the fear of trying to use more magical power than he can control and thereby turning himself into a vegetable, and the narrow and limited moral code he grew up with that tells him that the courtesan's profession is simply wrong, a problem since he's rapidly falling in love with her--and she with him, although she doesn't believe him. Have I mentioned that he's extremely handsome, with a hard body from all that farm work?

And so all of them have baggage, and all of them have issues, and oh, they all have such wonderful and growthful advice for each other, and such astonishing insights into what makes everyone else tick. It's like inviting Oprah Winfrey into your fantasy novel. It's so wonderful to watch all of them growing into healthfulness. And then, of course, five of them are such wonderful people, not like any of the other folks in the story, all of whom are twisted, evil, manipulative users--at best.

I'll give the author this much--despite all the anachronistic pop-psychology and the absurd characters, and despite the five-fold symmetry that means we get to hear about all of the testing and training in five times over in five slightly different yet still tedious flavors--despite all that, I say, she managed to hold my attention to the end of the book. I'm not sure whether that means that Ms. Green can really spin a tale, or whether she just pressed enough of the right buttons amid all of the unintentionally hilarious wrong ones to keep me going.

I've given the book to Jane to read, because I want her opinion. I know a little bit about being a man, having been one lo these many years, and the leading men in this tale don't strike me as being men. Instead, they strike me as a romance novelist's fantasy of what desirable men should be like. But it could be that I'm doing the romance genre a disservice, as I don't read them.

I'm mildly curious about the next book in the series, as the whole testing/training/bootcamp kind of tale appeals to me for some reason; it's why I like L.E. Modesitt, Jr.'s books. But it's not a good sign when you find yourself giggling at a book rather than with it.

We'll see what Jane says.

Posted by Will Duquette at 09:24 PM | Comments(0)

November 01, 2003

Ex Libris Reviews

I've just posted the November issue of Ex Libris Reviews, our monthly book review. If you're a regular reader of this weblog, then you've already seen my reviews and Deb English's reviews, but you haven't seen Craig Clarke's reviews. So go see 'em!
Posted by Will Duquette at 03:11 PM | Comments(0)