‘Shadowmarch’ By Tad Williams


I recently finished Williams’ Memory, Sorrow and Thorn series and this book (the first of four in a new series) is both better and worse than the earlier series. Better in that Williams has a better handle on how to manage the plots and characters, making it seem less sprawling than it really is. What is, in truth, place setting for future volumes, feels more organic. It also feels more mature, in a sense. The political scenery feels more realistically entangled.

There is, however, nothing so wonderful as the lengthy opening of The Dragonbone Chair, which lets you immerse in the quotidian life of the future hero as a lazy kitchen helper, as well as get solid glimpses of the forthcoming plot through his eyes, in part.

I will definitely keep reading, though I won’t rush out and get the second volume right now.

 

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Triplanetary


The first of the Lensman novels by E.E. Smith, aka, E.E. ‘Doc’ Smith, Triplanetary never mentions Lensmen and you might not even know that it’s a series, except that the masterful, manly, monogamous, and magnificently named hero (Conway Costigan) is begging for more appearances.

Clearly the product of serialization, you can see where each installment began and ended. Pirates attack a space liner/cruise ship, but Costigan and Captain Bradley escape and lead a counterattack against the evil pirates. Then aliens appear and wipe out everyone but Bradley, Costigan, and a love interest. (Cliffhanger!) The escape from the aliens and send super technology info to Triplanetary, a space super spy/military agency, who finally and fully defeat the space pirates – but the aliens are back! (Cliffhanger!) Manly men in awesome space ships fight the aliens to a draw and peace is achieved.

The end.

Smith tries really hard to make his science believable by the standards of the day (he first wrote it in the thirties) and I’ll probably read more of these.

‘American Philosophy: A Love Story’ By John Kaag


Within this relatively brief book (less than 250 pages) is a beautiful meditation on the evolution of American philosophy as a unique branch of thought, from Ralph Waldo Emerson through the 1920s, more or less. The conceit holding it together is the private library William Ernest Hocking, a once prominent philosopher who was deeply influenced by William James (the dominant figure in American philosophy, as this book sees it). The books in his library, discovered in a poorly climate controlled and slight dilapidated house in rural New Hampshire, cover almost the entire history of philosophy, but also religion and poetry, and illustrate how great American philosophers, like James, Hocking, and Emerson, and also others, like Josiah Royce and Charles Peirce, are both part of and outside of the main stream of western and world philosophy.

Wrapped around that excellent book is a depressing sort of autobiography about the author’s failing marriage and probable drinking problem (the former is sort of resolved – though he’s clearly a terrible husband; the latter feels like it’s sitting there, like a drunken turd in the corner of Hocking’s library). Kaag does not come across as very likable, but does come across as anxiously self- justifying. I have resolved to read more James and to read the copy of Hocking’s The Meaning of God in Human Experience that has been sitting in my library for far too long. I might also resolve to read some more academic books by Kaag, but not until the bad taste has faded.

People I (Used To) Like Resigning Because Of Credible Allegations Of Sexual Harassment/Assault


The first time I saw Charlie Rose’s PBS show, it was that now famous interview with the late David Foster Wallace. While few interviews since rose (pun intended) to that level (mostly because few figures are as interesting, intelligent, and polymathematic [is that a word?] as Wallace), I still watched his show many times over the last two decades (though I never watched 60 Minutes). And now he’s gone for some truly heinous behavior. Not even run of the mill chauvinism, but some crazy creepy stuff.

Can we still rewatch that David Foster Wallace? How terrible am I for having some small part of me that wishes he could somehow continue?

Similarly, with Al Franken. He seemed less appealing in a moment that is crying out for the Democratic Party to nominate a woman and/or a person of color for president in 2020, but he once would have been among my favorites for the nomination. Progressive, pro-labor, outspoken. Also, he seemed tailor made to take it to the Party of Trump, née the Republican Party. And now? How do I feel? I don’t want him anymore. I can’t. But I still want to want him.

Egg Temple


We were obliged to come here because we had promised five hundred eggs if our prayers were answered. Actually, I think my mother-in-law promised. Or my better half. Clearly, I’m not sure. But someone promised in such a way that also sort of obliged me, so we all went.

I didn’t take pictures because this was not a tourist location, but a place for legitimate Thai supplicants and for people like my in-laws, who were fulfilling their end of an asked for boon.

You got flowers and incense and a candle and lit the latter two and place the incense in a sand filled brazier and the candles seemed variously left around. The flowers were placed in a large clay jar.

Wrapped around them when you purchased the flower/incense/candle package was a paper prayer and square of thin gold foil. The foil was pressed onto a Buddha covered in them in a room just beyond the incense and candle room.

The eggs were placed on a shelf when you did all this and when we were done, my mother-in-law instructed me to get them again. She left one behind and we took the rest, which were now blessed.

The Royal Crematorium


To my mind, the word ‘crematorium’ sounds industrial, but that’s the way it was translated into English. The remains of the late king, Bhumipol the Great, are not here, but my first impression would have been of a strangely joyous necropolis.

The construction of the place where the king remains are to be cremated was an elaborate process, with strict traditions. At the same time, the king had ruled so long that I doubt there was anyone involved in the process who had worked on it before.

I am not Thai, but I have learned to respect King Bhumipol. More importantly, that it is important to respect the love of the Thai people for him. The closest I can think of to explain the reverberations of his passing is that it combined the nationalist shock of the assassination of Kennedy with the spiritual impact of the death of the long-reigning Blessed John Paul II.