Archive for steampunk

the liberation [book review]

Posted in Books with tags , , , , , , , , , , on July 9, 2021 by xi'an

The third volume of Ian Tregillis’ The Alchemy Wars arrived in the mail, and I could not resist bing-read it, induced by a heat wave that made anything close to serious work near impossible in the late afternoons… The characters are essentially the same, with two central (human) female characters whose trajectories once again converge to the critical point. Plus, two female robots playing a contrapunt. And the biblical Daniel, reborn from slavery into a free willed, tolerant and pacific being.

“The Clockmakers had been playing a losing game of catch-up (…) They were too soft, too coddled, too accustomed to standing atop the pile. They weren’t well suited to life as underdogs. They were not French.”

The core of the action takes place in Amsterdam, occupied by liberated robots, prone to pogroms as well as re-enslaving other robots. The weakness in the plot is that there is no strong reason these robots do not completely take over the formerly ruling Guild of Alchemists, and lengthy plot-resolving discussions between fighting characters always irk me no end, but the conclusion still feels proper, with the author not at all reluctant to hack at bits and pieces of his character to raise the body-count. À ls George Martin! And the mild philosophical musing about the reversal of dominant-dominated positions in this society are overall enjoyable if not particularly deep. Overall, a striking trilogy.

journal of the [second] plague year [away]

Posted in Books, Kids, Mountains, pictures, Travel, University life, Wines with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 12, 2021 by xi'an

Read Fred Vargas’s Seeking Whom He May Devour (L’Homme à l’envers), which I found on a bookshelf of our vacation rental in Annecy. And got more quickly bored by the story as it is plagued with the same defects as the ones I read before, from a definitive issue with Canadians (!), to an attempt to bring supernatural causes in the story and reveal them as fake by the end of the book, to a collection of implausible and caricaturesque characters surrounded by the usual backcountry morons that would rather fit a Paasilinna novel, and to the incomprehensible intuitions of Inspector Adamsberg. I also went through the sequel to Infomocracy, Null states, albeit this was a real chore as it lacked substance and novelty (the title by itself should have been a warning!).

Watched Night in Paradise (낙원의 밤), another Korean gangster movie, which seems to repeat the trope of bad-guy-on-the-run-meets-lost-girl found in my previously watched Korean Jo-Phil: The Dawning Rage, where the main character, a crooked police officer is radically impacted after failing to save a lost teenager.  (And also in the fascinating The Wild Goose Lake.) The current film is stronger however in creating the bond between the few-words gangster on the run and the reluctant guest Jae-yeon who is on a run of a different magnitude. While the battle scenes are still grand-guignolesque (if very violent) in a Kill Bill spirit, and the gang leaders always caricaturesque, the interplay between the main characters makes Night in Paradise a pretty good film (and explains why it got selected for the Venice Film Festival of 2020). Also went through the appalling Yamakasi by Luc Besson, a macho, demagogical, sexist, simplist, non-story…

journal of the [second] plague year [deconf’d]

Posted in Books, Kids, Mountains, pictures, Travel, University life, Wines with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 15, 2021 by xi'an

Read the third volume of Parker’s Engineer Trilogy, The Escapement. Which I found very slow-paced, with loads of mechanistic vocabulary I did not know, and it took me a while to read the book! Still, some sections are definitely worth reading, like the one on Necessary Evil, seen as the tolerance zone between exactitude and error, from and engineer viewpoint… And the final chapters are truly terrific, very dark and pessimistic, keeping me awake till the wee hours. Even though all pieces of the machinery fit too well in the end! But I also reflected on the ambivalent role of the very few women in this third novel, dooming the entire country while remaining stuck in the lover-wife-mother triangle, with no engineering or military role…

“He didn’t for one moment doubt the accuracy of the tables, but how on earth did the book’s author know these things? It could only be that, at some time in the past, so long ago that nobody remembered them any more, there had been sieges of great cities; so frequent and so commonplace that scholarly investigators had been able to collate the data-troop numbers, casualty figures-and work out these ratios, qualified by variables, verified by controls (…) to be inferred from the statistical analyses in a manual of best city-killing practice. Extraordinary thought (…) suppose the book was the only residue left by the death of thousands of cities, each one of them as huge and arrogant in its day as the Perpetual Republic—the Eternal City of this, the Everlasting Kingdom of that, squashed down by time and oblivion into a set of mathematical constants for predicting the deaths of men in battle.”

I also read La Saga des Écrins, by François Labande, in the iconic Guérin series, about the Écrins range in the French Alps, where we spent a fortnight last summer, a rather classical if enjoyable story of the climbers making firsts on the peaks of this “wild” area of the Alps. (As an aside, François Labande started Mountain Wilderness France, whose goal is to keep mountains as a place of wilderness and to clean them from artificial infrastructures.) The cover includes a very nice drawing of La Meige by Jean-Marc Rochette. I also read another delightful short story by P. Djèlí Clark, The Angel of Khan el Khalili. Obviously set in the same fantasy steampunk Cairo of the early 1900’s.

Still turning the crank of the new past machine, I made bigoli, the Venetian equivalent of soba noodles, with both an anchovies sauce and a clam sauce as well (if not from the Laguna!), a rhubarb clafoutis (not yet from our garden), Lebanese humus (without the skin!). Noticed a sharp rise in the price of BrewDog beers, thanks to the new taxes courtesy of Brexit! But still ordered a box of their Nanny State for the summer…

Watched the movie Jo-Phil: The Dawning Rage (!), which makes a great job of setting characters and installing a seedy atmosphere of violence and corruption but completely fails at delivering a convincing story, still gripping enough to watch till the end. And binge-watched a Korean TV series called Signal related to the stunning Memories of Murder (and a collection of real crimes in South Korea from the 1980’s to the last decade). While far from perfect, with a tendency to repeat some scenes twice, the usual theatrics of such series, and the paradoxes of temporal travel (!), the show is nonetheless one of the best Korean dramas I watched… Had  a quick look at the very Netflixy Shadow and Bones. To discover that the trilogy was merged with Six of Crows. Which is strange as the time lines completely differ. But logical if considering that Six of Crows is better written and paced than the earlier trilogy, albeit not outstanding. This is a 12⁺ YA read after all..!


false value

Posted in Statistics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on November 23, 2020 by xi'an

A very pleasant eighth volume in the Rivers of London series after a few so-so episodes! The relentless deadpan of Peter Grant is back full shape, the plot is substantial and gripping, new and well-drawn characters abound, and the story offers an original retelling of the Difference Engine. (Not that I have reservations about Gibbson’s plus Sterling’s 1990 version!) Including mentions of Jacquard’s loom, card fed organ automates, Ada Lovelace and Mary Somerville. Plus providing great satire on Ai companies with a hardly modified “Deep Thought” pastiche. Enjoyable all along and definitely a page turner that I read within three days..! And being strongly immersed in the current era, from the passing away of David Bowie to the dearful impact of Theresa May as home secretary. Presumably missing a heap of references to geek culture and subcultures, apart from Hitchhiker Guide to the Galaxy. And too many quotes to report, but some mentions of stats (“the Red Army had done a statistical analysis with demon traps just as they had with conventional minefields. The conclusions had been the same in both cases.” (p.50) and “Beverley climbed into the bath with a second-hand copy of Statistics for Environmental Science and Management” (p.69), which is a genuine book.) As often the end is a bit murky and a bit precipitated, but not enough to whine about. Recommended (conditional on having read the earliest ones in the series)!

haunting of tramcar 105 [book review]

Posted in Statistics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on April 20, 2019 by xi'an

A mix of steampunk and urban magic in a enlightened 1912 Cairo sounded like a good prolegomena and I bought P. Djèli Clark’s The haunting of tram car 015 on this basis. As it happens, this is actually a novella of 123 pages building on the same universe as a previous work of the author, A dead djinn in Cairo, which however is even shorter and only available as a Kindle book… I really enjoyed the short read and its description of an alternate Cairo that is competing with Paris and London, thanks to the advantage brought by the supernatural powers of djinns. (And apparently also gaining the independence Egypt could not secure under the British protectorate.) The English suffragettes have also their counterparts in Egypt and the country is about to decide about women right to vote. The story itself is nice if not stratospheric, with mostly well-drawn characters and good dialogues. (The core of the plot relies on smuggling sweets from Armenia, though, a rather weak link.) As in an earlier order, the book itself was not properly printed, with a vertical white band of erased characters on most odd pages, presumably another illustration of the shortcomings of the  print-on-demand principle. (Which means that I sent the book back to Amazon rather than leaving it in the common room.)