The Books of Babel

The first of the Books of Babel, Senlin Ascends, starts with Thomas Senlin and his wife Marya heading to the Tower of Babel for their honeymoon. They get separated before even entering the tower, Thomas enters the tower to seek Marya, and… ascends. This takes him through various “ringdoms”, such as the Parlour. His guidebook tells him that this is a theater district, so he expects to see a show, and is surprised to be told that he must play the part of the Butler.

I was fascinated by the Tower, by some of the people Thomas meets, and by the mystery of Marya. There were a couple of ways in which I wasn’t convinced by the character of Thomas. But the second book, Arm of the Sphinx, addressed one of them. More generally, I enjoyed the second book even more than the first. I admire the pacing: the rate at which we find out about the characters and the world, while given more mysteries to ponder.

Josiah Bancroft plans to write two more novels in the Books of Babel series. He self-published the first two, and now has a deal with Orbit to republish them, and to publish the third (which I believe he’s currently writing) and fourth. I look forward to the last two books, and to more covers by Ian Leino.

Ursula K. Le Guin, 1929-2018

On Monday, Ursula Le Guin parted from this world. I’ll link to one of the many appreciations online, then get on with my own appreciation.

A few weeks ago, I parted with most of my remaining books. I donated a few hundred of the dusty dead-tree things. About a dozen were by Le Guin, most of them decades-old UK paperback editions.

I don’t regret having parted with the books, even after learning of Le Guin’s passing. At first I was surprised at myself. Then I reflected, and realized that there are several reasons for the lack of regret.

Those particular instances of the books are just objects. The Left Hand of Darkness is important to me because of the writing, rather than because of the particular object with print on its pages that I used to own.

I’ll be able to re-read the books (again). There are e-books, libraries, pleasing new editions, and so on. Here’s herself on re-reading.

“If a book told you something when you were fifteen, it will tell you it again when you’re fifty, though you may understand it so differently that it seems you’re reading a whole new book.”

I may be able to re-buy one of my own Le Guin books. I’m thinking of The Dispossessed: it’s one of my favorites; and my copy of it was in better shape, and had larger and more pleasing type, than most of the others. If I don’t get to it in time, that’s fine: it will mean that it has found a new reader and a new home, many years and many miles from its first home with me. It will also mean that the Friends of the Library have sold it, thus raising money for the good things they do.

Books are wonderful. Libraries are wonderful. Ursula Le Guin is, and always will be, wonderful.

Black Mirror Season 4

Black Mirror is among my favorite TV shows ever: it’s up there with The X-Files, The Simpsons, and a few others. I’ve just watched season 4 of Black Mirror on Netflix.

Upon first watch, this is the weakest of the first four seasons. The writing just isn’t up the standard set by much of the first three seasons.

On a positive note, I watched all six episodes, and I regard it as six hours (or so) well spent. Each episode was very well done, in terms of performances, and thus probably in terms of casting and directing.

Here’s my current ranking of the episodes.

  • Best: Hang the DJ (episode 4). A clear winner. The best script of the season. I loved the chemistry between the leads.
  • Black Museum (episode 6). I suspect that Douglas Hodge’s riveting performance carried me over some flaws.
  • Arkangel (episode 2).
  • Callister and Metalhead (episodes 1 and 5 respectively). Possibly the two most different-from-each-other episodes of the season, which makes it hard to say which I preferred.
  • Crocodile (episode 3), a distant last, despite a good cast making the best of the script.

At most one of these episodes would make my “Best of Black Mirror” top ten. It’s not that the season was bad, it’s that it wasn’t Black Mirror great, or early X-Files great. Perhaps Black Mirror is one of those shows that should stop while it’s ahead, after a few (four?) seasons.

What did you think?

Gaming: 2017 to 2018

I love board games. By board games, I mean the sort of games that get described and discussed at BoardGameGeek.com (BGG). This includes board games, card games, apps allowing the play of such games,…

As 2018 replaces 2017 is a geeklist I recently posted to BGG. It is an account of my gaming in 2017 and of my plans for gaming in 2018. To summarize: More!

I hope that you have a great 2018, whatever your plans.

More Cycling, and First Del’s

What goes well with cycling? Many things, with food and drink being high on the list.

Del’s Frozen Lemonade is everywhere here and now: here being Rhode Island, now being summer. Tomorrow, being Labor Day, will mark the end of summer for many people and businesses. I expect to see fewer Del’s trucks and carts on my travels, starting September 5. But there is the Del’s storefront in Warren.

I stopped there to get a lemonade on my ride yesterday. I rode from Barrington down to the the south end of the East Bay Bike Path, which is in Bristol. On the way down I passed the Del’s store and a Del’s cart next to the path as it goes through Colt State Park. On the way back I rode right past the cart again, but didn’t ride right past the store!

Continue reading “More Cycling, and First Del’s”

Three Cycling Things

The East Bay Bike Path is rather wonderful. It’s never very far from the water; perhaps its name gives that away, and it is in Rhode Island.

It was a lovely morning to cycle up the path from Barrington to its northern terminus in Providence. A breakfast wrap and coffee at Amy’s Place fortified me for the ride back. It’s about 10 miles in each direction.

The second cycling thing of the day is not so positive. This afternoon, I tried out the Komoot app on my Android phone. Komoot allows you to plan your ride, provides navigation along the way, and… Well, I asked it to help me go to a particular bike shop right on the East Bay Bike Path.

Komoot seemed unaware of the bike path. It wanted me to turn onto a main (by Barrington standards) road. I ignored it, crossed that road, and got onto the path, heading toward the shop. Komoot advised me to U-turn, presumably because it thought I should be heading back to the road.

So I deleted Komoot from my phone as soon as I got home. Perhaps that’s harsh after one ride, but for me, bike ride planning and navigation needs to include bike paths, and especially the East Bay.

The third cycling thing of the day, and the bike shop in question, are one and the same: Your Bike Shop. It’s in Warren, the next town south along the bike path from Barrington. (There is another location in Riverside, which is on the way to Providence.)

I bought a mirror (this one by Mirrcycle, to be specific). They fitted it for me right away, then we discussed bikes and related matters for a few minutes. I’m happy to have Your Bike Shop as my local bike shop.

So it was a good cycling day. Two out of three ain’t bad, as the song goes.

Hello (from) Rhode Island!

Greetings from  the Ocean State! To be more specific, hello from Barrington, a town of about 16,000 people, south of Providence.

I used Google My Maps to show some of our early favorite places. Here’s a link to the interactive map, and here’s a link to a PDF of My Barrington.

The kids might disagree with my including their schools among the favorites. I hope that they like the schools, since the school system is one of the things that brought us to Barrington in particular when we decided to move to Rhode Island. Anyway, school starts on Monday (August 28).

We’ve been here about a week and a half. So far, so very good. More about Rhode Island, and about much else, soon. Thanks for reading!

 

My Own Devices

Mobile devices are on my mind at the moment. I have an iPad 2 that recently turned 6 years old. And I have a new Android phone, because my previous phone just bricked.

I didn’t expect the iPad 2 to last this long. I didn’t think that Apple products were meant to last, but to be cast aside for fresher Apple stuff. My iPad 2 hasn’t always had the gentlest of treatment.

But on it goes, insisting that its software–iOS 9.3.5–is up to date. What it really means is that it can’t go beyond that version of iOS. That’s a good thing. I don’t want it to go to iOS 11, under which some of my favorite apps will not run.

As long as it holds up, I will continue to use it for apps such as Polyhedra, Card Thief, Through the Desert,… and many more. I’ll also use it for email. It seems to struggle most with web browsing, although that may be the fault of the Guardian’s site.

My Android phones have been rather less long-lived. My Motorola Droid Maxx turned into a brick a few days ago. It was itself a replacement for a similar phone that suffered from terminal boot-loop.

I now have a Samsung J7 V (for Verizon, I think). So far, so good.

But I’m wondering whether the 6 year old iPad 2 will outlive the new phone…

Washington: From General to Statesman

Washington, Ron Chernow’s biography of America’s first president, is tremendous. I’m just over halfway through it. I’ve just finished the third and longest of its six parts: The General. Part Four is The Statesman: hence the title of this post.

Chernow deftly sums up a couple of striking things about Washington the General.

Throughout history victorious generals had sought to parlay their fame into political power, whereas Washington had only a craving for privacy…

He was that rare general who was great between battles and not just during them.

Indeed, maintaining the Continental Army, given the lack of resources, the differences among the thirteen colonies, and other obstacles is as impressive as any specific victory.

I’m looking forward to the last three parts: The Statesman! The President!! The Legend!!! Those are Chernow’s titles, but my punctuation. There’s a great cast of characters: not only Washington himself, but also Martha, Lafayette, and of course Hamilton. That said, I may spend some time with shorter and more fictional reading before I read the next 360-ish pages.

I’ve been reading Common Sense…

by Thomas Paine, and I’ll quote from it in this post. But hey, I just quoted Angelica Schulyer! Here she is, with her sisters, and other members of the Hamilton company, at the White House.

Now to quote T Paine himself. There’s a wonderful passage from toward the end of Common Sense. Here’s the setup.

We ought to reflect, that there are three different ways, by which an independancy may hereafter be effected… By the legal voice of the people in Congress; by a military power; or by a mob

And here’s the payoff.

Should an independancy be brought about by the first of these means, we have every opportunity and every encouragement before us, to form the noblest purest constitution on the face of the earth. We have it in our power to begin the world over again.

Feel free to share your own favorite quotes from Thomas Paine, Lin-Manuel Miranda, or…