Archive for Greek mythology

a journal of the plague year [lost September reviews]

Posted in Books, Kids, Mountains, pictures, Travel with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 12, 2020 by xi'an

Read a (red) book I bought in Chamonix last January (sounds like last century, at the very least!) at the Éditions Guérin bookshop, The Bond, by Simon McCartney, translated in French as The Ghosts from Denali. It starts more or less like a traditional mountain climbing story, with a pair of cocky young climbers attacking a new and difficult route and managing the opening despite severe adverse circumstances, which is what Simon McCartney and Jack Roberts did for the north face of Mount Huntington in Alaska, having run out of food and facing the constant threat of collapsing seracs. It however turns into a inner introspection as McCartney gets stranded on the mythical Eiger Nordwand (just like many before him!) after his large group keeps breaking their Charlet Moser icepicks due to the cold (!) and end up being airlifted. He later manages a Winter climb of the Eiger and reunites with Roberts to attempt the south face of Denali, never climbed before. This is when the book takes off, from the sheer difficulty of the route to the amazing unpreparation of the climbers, to Simon’s cerebral embolism building up and bringing him a hair away from death, to the altruism of several other climbers on the mountain to bring him down from the death zone, especially Bo Kandiko, and to a trauma-induced complete break from climbing when McCartney got out of Anchorage hospital. This is gripping and moving and unbelievable. The book received a Banff Mountain Festival award and no wonder. The story told by McCartney is actually seamlessly completed by diary excerpts by Roberts and Kandiko, where they question their own involvement against the very real danger of dying from staying with McCartney, much more than giving up their own attempt against the deadly mountain. A terrific mountaineering book, truly. As a sad coda, Roberts died ice-climbing Bridal Veil Falls a few days before McCartney’s attempt to reunite with him.

Spent several evenings baking fig jam when returning from the Alps as the fig tree was full! And ended up with a total of 35 jars. Resulting into a full “marmalade closet”, as in the past weeks my mom home-made the same amount of peach jelly and my wife’s mom even more rhubarb marmalade jars. Enough to stand a whole year of lockdown, jam-wise. And ate some of the few but tasty peppers that grew in our garden, for the very first time, despite the welcomed tomato and squash invasion! Also ate a terribly greasy risotto in a supposedly highly noted restaurant…

Started watching Dark on Netflix, a German dark time-travel fiction. But while I enjoyed the complex story, the play of the young actors, and the appeal of watching a show (and a Greek play within the show, with Ariádnê and Thêseús of course!) in German, the endless paradoxes of time-travel and the duration of the series made me stop after a few episodes, the town of Winden keeping most of its mystery for me.

FALL [book review]

Posted in Books, pictures, Travel with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 30, 2019 by xi'an

The “last” book I took with me to Japan is Neal Stephenson’s FALL. With subtitle “Dodge in Hell”. It shares some characters with REAMDE but nothing prevents reading it independently as a single volume. Or not reading it at all! I am rather disappointed by the book and hence  sorry I had to carry it throughout Japan and back. And slightly X’ed at Nature writing such a positive review. And at The Guardian. (There is a theme there, as I took REAMDE for a trip to India with a similar feeling at the end. Maybe the sheer weight of the book is pulling my morale down…) The most important common feature to both books is the game industry, since the main (?) character is a game company manager, who is wealthy enough to ensure the rest of the story holds some financial likelihood. And whose training as a game designer impacts the construction of the afterlife that takes a good (or rather terrible) half of the heavy volume. The long minutes leading to his untimely death are also excruciatingly rendered (with none of the experimental nature of Leopold Bloom’s morning). With the side information that Dodge suffers from ocular migraine, a nuisance that visits me pretty regularly since my teenage years! The scientific aspects of the story are not particularly exciting either, since the core concept is that by registering the entire neuronal network of the brain of individuals after their death, a computer could revive them by simulating this network. With dead people keeping their personality if very little of their memories. And even more fanciful, interacting between them and producing a signal that can be understood by (living) humans. Despite having no sensory organs. The reconstruction of a world by the simulated NNs is unbearably slow and frankly uninteresting as it reproduces both living behaviours and borrows very heavily from the great myths, mostly Greek, with no discernible depth. The living side of the story is not much better, although with a little touch of the post-apocalyptic flavour I appreciated in Stephenson. But not enough to recover from the fall.

Among other things that set me off with the book, the complete lack of connection with the massive challenges currently facing humanity. Energy crisis? climate change? Nope. Keep taking an hydroplane to get from Seattle to islands on Puget Sound? Sure. Spending abyssal amounts of energy to animate this electronic Hades? By all means. More and more brittle democracies? Who cares, the Afterworld is a pantheon where gods clash and rule lower beings. Worse, the plot never reaches beyond America, from the heavily focused philosophical or religious background to the character life trajectories. Characters are surprisingly unidimensional, with no default until they become evil. Or die. Academics are not even unidimensional. For instance Sophie’s thesis defence is at best a chat in a café… And talks at a specialist workshop switch from impressive mathematical terms to a 3D representation of the activity of the simulated neuronal networks. Whille these few individuals keep impacting the whole World for their whole life. And beyond… By comparison, the Riverworld series of Phillip José Farmer (that I read forty years ago) is much more enjoyable as a tale of the Afterworld, even if one can object at “famous” people been central to the action. At least there are more of them and, judging from their (first) life, they may have interesting and innovative to say.