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Archive for May, 2008

Review of The Salmon of Doubt by Douglas Adams

Incidentally, am I alone in finding the expression ‘it turns out’ to be incredibly useful? It allows you to make swift, succinct, and authoritative connections between otherwise randomly unconnected statments without the trouble of explaining what your source or authority actually is. It’s great. It’s hugely better than its predecessors ‘I read somewhere that …’ or the craven ‘they say that …’ because it suggests not only that whatever flimsy bit of urban mythology you are passing on is actually based on brand new, ground breaking research, but that it is research in which you yourself were intimately involved. But again, with no actual authority anywhere in sight. Anyway, where was I?

The Salmon of DoubtIt turns out that The Salmon of Doubt – the unfinished novel Douglas Adams was working on (up to a point, anyway) when he died on 11th May 2001 – is the lesser part of this volume. The first eleven chapters of this Dirk Gently story were collated from various drafts located on Adams’s various computers, by his editor, Peter Guzzardi. It further turns out, when you read the rest of the collected material here, that Adams had given up on the story as a third book in the Dirk Gently duology, and had realised that it would work much better as a sixth volume in the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy trilogy.

It’s been a long time since I read the Dirk Gently books – less long since I read the Hitchhiker’s books – but these eleven chapters made me very happy and very sad. Happy because they were a pleasure to read – funny, intriguing and well-crafted. Sad because they will never be finished – there will never be another Dirk Gently, Hitchhiker’s or any other kind of Douglas Adams book.

After an initial chapter set in DaveLand, featuring the enigmatic Dave in a kind of post-apocalyptic far-future paradise, the story returns to the present and Dirk Gently discovers, almost by accident, he has been hired for a job. He doesn’t know anything about the who, how, why, when, where or what, but he does know one thing: detective mainly consists of following people. So he chooses someone and follows them. He’s a bit rusty at it, though, and he ends up overtaking them on the pavement, decides to turn around, bumps right into them and hops on a nearby bus in a panic.

He sat on the bus for a few seconds, completely stunned at his own ineptness. … Normally, if you were tailing someone, it was a problem if they unexpectedly jumped onto a bus, but it was almost more of a problem if you unexpectedly jumped on one yourself.

The Salmon of Doubt (the unfinished novel) takes up about 80 of the 300 pages of The Salmon of Doubt (the volume of miscellaneous writing). The rest of the book consists of articles, newspaper columns, interviews, a couple of short stories, and so on. These are divided – completely arbitrarily, as far as I could see – into three sections: ‘Life’, ‘The Universe’ and ‘Everything’. The whole is bracketed by, at the beginning, a prologue by Adams’s editor, Ed Victor, and an introduction by Stephen Fry; and at the end by an epilogue by Richard Dawkins.

A friend of mine at school once had some studio tickets to see David Frost’s show being recorded, but we ended up not going, I watched the show that night, and the Beatles were on it playing ‘Hey Jude.’ I was ill for about a year.

The subjects of the various pieces of writing range from Adams’s life to technology to why humans felt the need to invent God to the millennium to travel to miscellaneous musings to the earliest known published writing by Adams – a letter to The Eagle. One of the best – and longest – is a piece originally conceived as a comparative test drive of a submersible jet-ski thing and a manta ray. Only it doesn’t wuite work out like that – naturally. The two short stories are entertaining reads, but both conclude with rather weaker punchlines. The most interesting piece is a speech he gave to the scientists at Digital Biota 2, entitled ‘Is There an Artificial God?’

My complaints about the collection itself would be that the contents list isn’t good enough – it only lists the main sections of the book, not the individual pieces – and it’s too short: I wanted more.

People will then often say, ‘But surely it’s better to remain an Agnostic just in case?’ This, to me, suggests such a level of silliness and muddle that I usually edge out of the conversation rather than get sucked into it. (If it turns out that I’ve been wrong all along, and there is in fact a god, and it further turned out that this kind of legalistic, cross-your-finger-behind-your-back, Clintonian hair-splitting impressed him, then I think I would choose not to worship him anyway.)

The impression of Douglas Adams this book gives is that of a passionate, intelligent, slightly annoyingly middle class man who, for all his lampooning of the absurdities of life, would probably find the world a much duller place without them. It would be a bit mawkish to say that the world is a duller place without Adams – we still have all his work to enjoy over and over – but that he left his work unfinished is a melancholy thought indeed.

Where do you get the inspiration for your books?

I tell myself I can’t have another cup of coffee till I’ve thought of an idea.

Categories: Literature, Reviews

windrow

wind·row /ˈwɪndˌroʊ, ˈwɪn-/
-noun
1. a row or line of hay raked together to dry before being raked into heaps.
2. any similar row, as of sheaves of grain, made for the purpose of drying.
3. a row of dry leaves, dust, etc., swept together by the wind.
verb (used with object)
4. to arrange in a windrow.

[Origin: 1515-25; wind + row]

Source: Dictionary.com.

Arrhendur arrows and Morgaine’s bolts pursued them without mercy, cutting down the hindmost in windrows of dead and dying.

Source: The Chronicles of Morgaine, C J Cherryh.

Categories: Lexicon

pervisible

I can’t find any dictionary entries for ‘pervisible’, although there are a number of uses of this word on the internet (some of them typographical anomalies; many of them in Spanish). ‘Per’ as a prefix indicates ‘very’ or ‘utterly’, as in ‘perfervid‘, so, logically, ‘pervisible’ would mean ‘highly visible’, ‘unmistakable’.

One of the uses of ‘pervisible’ I found was the text of the book in which I originally discovered it. So here is the word in context:

Vanye looked up, the sword clenched in his fist; and Roh’s shape drifted amid the light and the sound, pervisible, larger than life.

Source: The Chronicles of Morgaine, C J Cherryh.

Categories: Lexicon

bedight

be·dight /bɪˈdaɪt/
verb (used with object), –dight, –dight or –dight·ed, –dight·ing. Archaic.
to deck out; array.

[Origin: 1350-1400; ME; see be-, dight]

Source: Dictionary.com.

in her imaginings she saw them as they must have been the day that they followed their king into this place to die, all bedight in their finest clothing, young and beautiful, and the dome rang with their voices.

Source: The Chronicles of Morgaine, C J Cherryh.

Categories: Lexicon

Travel news

Had an e-mail today from one of my recruiters – not Mi-Young this time, but Min – saying that she’d received my documents and taken them to Immigration; they should be processed in ten days. I’m assuming that’s working days rather than calendar days, but you never know. Then she’ll e-mail me my visa number and I have to make an appointment with the Korean Embassy for an interview. You shouldn’t need an interview if you’ve already had an E-2 visa (or so I’ve read), but – whatever.

I’m planning to spend this weekend at my late grandparents’ house in St Helens to pick up some of my possessions (my smart black shoes, which I’ll need for Korea (I’ll be going to at least one wedding, probably more, and the hagwon is likely to have the occasional event that I’ll need to dress up for), and there’s a few things I could probably get a few quid for on eBay), to help with the decorating and to avoid my sister’s boyfriend and their alarm clock with two backs.

Then the following weekend I intend to go down to Bristol and see Lawrence, and possibly a couple of other friends. I’ve rung Alex about a dozen times in the past week or so, without answer – I had to restrain myself from getting paranoid about it. Finally got a reply to a message I sent him on Facebook today, and it sounds like he won’t be available, though he did invite me to come down in about a month’s time – of course, by then I hope to be on the other side of the world.

The week after that will hopefully be visa week. Yay. A trip to London and more friends to visit. Hopefully.

Categories: Employment, Life, Travel

Review of Dealer’s Choice edited by George R R Martin

Dealer's ChoiceEven from the opening page I could sense that this book (the eleventh Wild Cards instalment) would be a return to form for GRRM’s superheros and mutants shared-world saga. The writing had a sparkle to it, and the narrative was a much more effective multiple viewpoint, third person limited mosaic novel. And Martin was a contributing author for this volume.

Which is just as well, as an important part of the plot concerns his creation, Tom Tudbury, the Great and Powerful Turtle – one of the best Wild Cards characters. Also along for the ride are Bloat and the denizens of the Rox, Billy Ray (Carnifex), Australian shaman Wyungare, and another old favourite, Modular Man.

As the book opens, the Turtle has recently seen Dr Tachyon, Jay Ackroyd and Mark Meadows off on their journey to Takis – a story which is told in book ten, Double Solitaire and takes place over a good few months. By contrast, Dealer’s Choice covers a period of about three days (or less). The military is intent on dealing once and for all with the joker and jumper base on Ellis Island; meanwhile, Bloat, governor of said base, is equally determined to fend off anything the government can throw at them. Dealer’s Choice is the story of that fight.

It’s pretty intense, with the story darting back and forth between the sides, each having a moral imperative to win, while the individuals waging the war struggle with their consciences and come to desperate conclusions. There are two or three incipient romances in amongst all the fighting, and the climactic scenes provide heart-rending experiences all round. And, unlike, say, the conflict with the Swarm earlier in the series, there is no obvious division between a good side and a bad side – which raises the tension still further as this four-book sequence within the the Wild Cards series draws to a close.

This was by far the best of the Wild Cards books I’ve read recently. However, after reading four in a row, I’m going to take a break before I move on to volume twelve.

Categories: Literature, Reviews

You’re bleeding

‘You’re bleeding,’ she said to Ray.

He looked down at his side. ‘Yeah,’ he said. ‘I do that a lot.’

Pugnacious Billy Ray (AKA Carnifex) has super-strength and heals much more quickly than normal.

Source: Dealer’s Choice, edited by George R R Martin.

Categories: Literature, Quotations