Category: Stuff

Too Like The Lightning – Other People’s Takes

I’m still typing up notes but I thought it was time to look at other people’s reviews and takes on Ada Palmer’s book.

Intellectus Speculativus has strong issues with how gender is portrayed in the book. They make a strong case that it is problematic in a number of ways. Obviously, there is a distinction between the book’s representation versus how Mycroft deals with gender (likewise with religion) but they look at it deeper than that: https://intellectusspeculativus.wordpress.com/2017/04/26/the-problematic-presentation-of-gender-in-ada-palmers-too-like-the-lightning/ I’m back to the dilemma of whether this is a *good* book or a cynical one which partly hinges on whether the society here is intended to be (somewhat) utopian, or a disguised dystopia or a future history in which we are forced to draw our own conclusions (although then why has the author chosen this world to build?).

Meanwhile, Crooked Timber has gone full-in Ada Palmer with multiple articles on the book and some broader ackground by Palmer http://crookedtimber.org/2017/04/20/ada-palmer-seminar-begins/  This article by Lee Konstantinou offers a positive perspective by focusing on the Utopian faction in Palmer’s world http://crookedtimber.org/2017/03/20/ada-palmers-great-conversation/

The Book Smugglers doesn’t have a review but it does have an article by Ada Palmer about why as a historian she writes SF http://thebooksmugglers.com/2016/05/like-lightning-ada-palmer.html

The book has TV Tropes page http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Literature/TooLikeTheLightning

Strange Horizons has a review by Paul Kincaid with a strong opening “Had Too Like the Lightning lived up to its aspirations, it would have been one of the most significant works of contemporary science fiction. That, perhaps inevitably, it fails in this ambition leaves a book that is engaging, entertaining, and interesting, but that contains too many confusions and contradictions to be fully satisfying.” http://strangehorizons.com/non-fiction/reviews/too-like-the-lightning-by-ada-palmer/  I wonder if that captures the mix of feelings here – an ambitious work that for some (many?) doesn’t fulfil its ambitions?

The New York Review of Science Fiction takes a different tack and directly compares Mycroft to Alex from A Clockwork Orange http://www.nyrsf.com/2016/12/two-views-too-like-the-lightningby-ada-palmerreviewed-by-stephen-gerken.html

WIRED asks ‘Should this book have an index?’ https://www.wired.com/2016/08/wired-book-club-too-lightning-2/ well it should have a set of footnotes by the time I’m done 🙂

How much of this doubt about the book a reflection of the doubts we have about Mycroft.

Well, it certainly rates 10/10 for ‘capacity to generate conversations’. I can’t doubt ‘ambitious’ as a description and I think ‘significant’ as well. ‘Good’? Aye, there’s the rub.

Notes Ignota: Part the Fourth

Notes on Ignota
A collection of notes and queries on ‘Too Like the Lightning’ compiled by CAMESTROS FELAPTON, at the Request of Certain Parties.

Page numbers and text are from the 2016 Tor US hardback edition. Errors and typos are mine except where indicated. The notes are not authorised by the author or editorialised by the editor. I’m speculating people! Latin translations are my best guess from Google translate and I don’t really know much Latin – corrections welcome.

Page 31 Chapter the Third: The Most Important People in the World
•    Dante’s Purgatory. Dante degli Alighieri 1265 – 1321, Italian poet famous for his Divine Comedy. The Divine Comedy is in three parts, Inferno (hell), Purgatorio (purgatory) and Paradiso (heaven). Purgatory being the place in the Catholic conception of the afterlife where repentant sinners go before being admitted to heaven after atoning for their earthly sins. In the book Dante is guided by the Roman poet Virgil. Dante’s Purgatory is a mountain divided into terraces. Each terrace is assigned a sin and sinners repent that sin under guidance. At the top is the earthly paradise (i.e. another kind of utopia) the final spot before heaven.
•    ‘Krepolsky’s earliest spectacle cities’ – the top hit for the name Krepolsky is the tor.com extract of this book.
•    ‘a butler for his master’ – just noting that theme again.
•    ‘Square and compass’ – a masonic symbol intended to represent the measurement tools of stone workers. It often is shown with a ‘G’ inside, which would be appropriate given Martin Guildbreaker’s surname.
•    ‘Familiaris Regni’ – familiarise regis is a person who is part of a monarch’s entourage. This may include high ranking servants, courtiers and advisors but essentially people who speak to the king and act on his behalf.
Page 32
•    ‘Annus Dialogorum’ – years of dialogue? Actually explained later in the text.
•    ‘Sanctum Sanctorum’ – the holy of holies, the most sacred place inside a temple, in particular within the Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem where the ark of the covenant was kept. Masonic tradition claims descent from the builders of Solomon’s temple.
Page 33
•    ‘Black Sakura’ – sakura is the Japanese term for cherry blossom. Blossom keeps cropping up.
Page 34
Page 35
•    ‘set-set nets’ & ‘Cartesian’ – of or pertaining to Rene Descartes e.g. ‘Cartesian coordinates’ refer to his system of rectangular coordinates. More relevantly ‘Cartesian Theater’ is a term coined by cognitive philosopher Daniel C Dennet for a view of the mind in which our we see ourselves as sitting within our minds watching the input from the outside world. Alternatively given ‘set-set nets’ it is possible this refers to the Cartesian product which isa kind of multiplication of sets. For example the cartesian product of the set {a,b,c} and {1,2,3}  is {a1,a2,a3,b1,b2,b3,c1,c2,c3}. Maybe it’s both.
•    ‘It was common in our eighteenth century’ – Mycroft shifts to a dialogue format and says that it was common in the 18th century. Given he has expected us to keep up with a wider ranging set of references, it is odd that he points out how common dialogues used to be. Most famously, Plato’s work are written as dialogues and much later works (e.g. by Galileo) often presented arguments as dialogues.
Page 36
•    ‘Utopians’ – a subset of Mycroft’s society but also a reference to Thomas More again.
•    ‘Eureka’s bed’ – ‘Eureka’ being the famous exclamation of Archimedes the famous Greek mathematician who was later killed by a Roman soldier.
Page 37
•    “Good morning, Nepos’ – nepos was latin for grandchild and then later nephew, from which we get the term ’nepotism’. Julius Nepos was arguably the last of the western Roman emperors.
Page 38
•    ‘There is not no truth in such speculation’ Mycroft claims that this ‘awkward precision’ results from Martin translating from Latin. His statement implies that there is some truth in the speculation but is expressed as a negation.
•    ‘President Ganymede’ – this is another Troy connection. Ganymede was a beautiful youth who was adopted by Zeus to serve the gods on Olympus (there is a sexual implication). Ganymede was the son of Tros, who founded the city of Troy.
Page 39
Page 40
•    ‘cherry tree blooms pink’ blossom again
•    Machiavelli – Nicolo Machiavelli 1469-1527 is of course, well known. Enlightenment thinkers such as Denis Diderot saw his infamous book ‘The Prince’ as a satire i.e. that Maciaveli was attempting to warn people about tyrants rather than write a handy manual on how to be a tyrant.
Page 41
•    ‘Ojiro Cardigan Sniper’ Cardigan is a place in Wales and the Earl of Cardigan led the Charge of the Light Brigade during the Crimean war. The knitted waistcoat of British officers became known as ‘cardigans’. It is not really a name. ‘Sniper’ is another name-verb-name, a snipe is a bird, to snipe was to try and hunt such a bird hence ‘sniper’ for a person who shoots precisely from a distance. I don’t know if ‘Ojiro’ has military significance.

Notes Ignota: Part the Third

Notes on Ignota
A collection of notes and queries on ‘Too Like the Lightning’ compiled by CAMESTROS FELAPTON, at the Request of Certain Parties.

Page numbers and text are from the 2016 Tor US hardback edition. Errors and typos are mine except where indicated. The notes are not authorised by the author or editorialised by the editor. I’m speculating people! Latin translations are my best guess from Google translate and I don’t really know much Latin – corrections welcome.

Chapter the Second: A Boy and His God contd…

Page 19
•    ‘These men are called Aimer, Looker, Medic, Stander Yellow, Stander Green, Croucher, Nogun, Nostand and back there the late Private Pointer’ – most of the soldiers are named by the actions their stance suggest. Verbs to names.
Page 20
•    ‘origami animals’ – any culture with paper has some sort of paper folding arts but Japanese origami is the most famous – although cross-fertilised with Chinese and European traditions. Notably an important art form with ceremonial aspects during Japan’s Edo period 1603-1868. Yes, it is just one word but up until this point, you’ll note the references have all been to either Western Europe or the cultures that Western Europe regarded as foundational (Ancient Greece and Rome plus the Bible).
•    ‘Humanist boots’ – explained later in the text.
•    ‘Mestizo’ – a term that was used to describe a person in South America who was of mixed European/Amerindian descent.
Page 21
•    ‘anti-proselytory laws’ – numerous countries have laws against attempting to persuade people to adopt a given religion. In most cases these are laws aimed at wealthier Christian groups attempting to evangelise in other countries – this includes laws in Russia designed to help protect Orthodox churches from US protestant and Mormon missionaries.
•    ‘Chance, Providence, Fate or the whimsy of pool ball atoms’ – these seem to be the main perspectives on events in Mycroft’s society.
•    ‘Cielo de Pajaros’ – my Spanish is nearly as bad as my latin but I think this means ‘Birds of Sky’ like ‘All the Birds of the Sky’ I guess, if you want another Hugo coincidence.
Page 22
First page where I didn’t make a note. Hoorah!
Page 23
•    ‘Master, do you believe…’ – “master” here means the reader as previously established.
Page 24
•    ‘If Troy’s Queen Hecuba, impossibly mother to fifty sons…’ – Queen Hecuba, wife of Priam of Troy. A character in the Illiad by Homer obviously but also in multiple other classical works about Troy and the fall of Troy and the aftermath of the fall of Troy. King Priam had fifty plus sons (depending on your source) but Hecuba wasn’t mother to all of them. However, she did (according to legend) have lots of children most of whom ended up dead or enslaved (or enslaved and then dead) as a consequence of the Trojan wars. So Queen Hecuba is almost proverbially somebody with lots of tragic offspring. Yeah, yeah, you say, but what’s that got to do with the Enlightenment?
•    Time for some Immanuel Kant. Kant was a rare breed – a Scottish-German and one of the most insightful but unreadable philosophers ever. Here is the preface of one of his attempt to save metaphysics from scepticism:

PREFACE TO THE FIRST EDITION, 1781
Human reason, in one sphere of its cognition, is called upon to consider questions, which it cannot decline, as they are presented by its own nature, but which it cannot answer, as they transcend every faculty of the mind.
It falls into this difficulty without any fault of its own. It begins with principles, which cannot be dispensed with in the field of experience, and the truth and sufficiency of which are, at the same time, insured by experience. With these principles it rises, in obedience to the laws of its own nature, to ever higher and more remote conditions. But it quickly discovers that, in this way, its labours must remain ever incomplete, because new questions never cease to present themselves; and thus it finds itself compelled to have recourse to principles which transcend the region of experience, while they are regarded by common sense without distrust. It thus falls into confusion and contradictions, from which it conjectures the presence of latent errors, which, however, it is unable to discover, because the principles it employs, transcending the limits of experience, cannot be tested by that criterion. The arena of these endless contests is called Metaphysic.
Time was, when she was the queen of all the sciences; and, if we take the will for the deed, she certainly deserves, so far as regards the high importance of her object-matter, this title of honour. Now, it is the fashion of the time to heap contempt and scorn upon her; and the matron mourns, forlorn and forsaken, like Hecuba:
Modo maxima rerum,
Tot generis, natisque potens…
Nunc trahor exul, inops.
—Ovid, Metamorphoses. xiii

Yup, that’s Ovid who we mentioned earlier. “A moment ago I was endowed with the greatest things, so many sons and daughters, sons-in-law, and daughters-in-law and my husband.”

Now Mycroft mentions Queen Hecuba not to make a comment about metaphysics but about scandalous progeny. Kant though uses Hecuba as a metaphor for a mother whose children (the sciences) have gone off their own way and no longer acknowledge their mother. Of course, Mycroft is making his analogy about Carlyle whose profession and interest is…metaphysics.
Page 25 to 27
Aside from how Mycroft and others use gendered and ungendered pronouns, there is nothing specific to note here.
Page 28
•    ‘Cato’ – Cato the Younger famous Roman politician and opponent of Julius Ceaser
•    ‘At the dawn of the fifteenth century, Sir Thomas More’ – Mycroft has his centuries mixed up here. Thomas More was born in 1478 and hence did not exist at the dawn of the FIFTEENTH century. He did, however, publish his famous book ‘Utopia’ (in Latin) from which we derive the term ‘utopia’ in 1516. Mycroft meant to say the SIXTEENTH century.
•    ‘Persian judicial system’ – this is more or less as described from Thomas More’s ‘Utopia’. Technically it is a vassal state of Persia that adopts this unusual practice.
Page 29-30
•    Togenkyo – I think this is a Japanese rendition of the name of the place in the Chinese fable ‘The Peach Blossom Land’. A kind of Shangri-La like place i.e. another utopia.

That’s it for Chapter Two – other chapters don’t have quite so much

Notes Ignota: Part the Second

Notes on Ignota
A collection of notes and queries on ‘Too Like the Lightning’ compiled by CAMESTROS FELAPTON, at the Request of Certain Parties.

Page numbers and text are from the 2016 Tor US hardback edition. Errors and typos are mine except where indicated. The notes are not authorised by the author or editorialised by the editor. I’m speculating people! Latin translations are my best guess from Google translate and I don’t really know much Latin – corrections welcome.

Page 14 Chapter the Second: A Boy and His God
Oh, thank goodness. The story has actually started! Hopefully, this note taking lark will settle down after awhile…but not yet! The good news is, that while the novel does keep referencing things, it loops back to the same people, myths, places etc. so later chapters need shorter notes. This first page proper of the story has quite a few though.
•    ‘Carlyle Foster’ – another first name that derives from a surname (a variant spelling of the North of England town that is near the Scottish border). Most likely [later confirmed by the text] a reference to Thomas Carlyle 19th century Scottish philosopher and essayist. Carlyle expounded the great man/hero view of history (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/On_Heroes,_Hero-Worship,_and_The_Heroic_in_History ) At times seen as a liberal, he also later became notable for his reactionary view particularly on slavery https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Occasional_Discourse_on_the_Negro_Question The character of Carlyle in the novel seems to be quite unlike Thomas Carlyle in most things other than intellectual curiosity.
•    ‘March the twenty-third was the Feast of St. Turibius, a day on which men honoured their Creator’ – There are several St. Turibius but the one mentioned is probably Turibius of Lima who died on March 23 1606. A Franciscan missionary who notably sided with the indigenous population of Peru (up to a point obviously – he was also trying to convert them to Christianity. The Fansciscans were one of the three major Catholic orders that swept through South America along with Spain’s invading armies. The other two were the Dominicans (aka Nobody Expects the Spanish Inquisition) and the Jesuits. When dragging a pair of teenagers around the churches of Cuzco I differentiated the three orders as Franciscans = Gryffindor, Dominicans = Slytherin and Jesuits = Ravenclaw. Yes, trivialising but it works surprisingly well.
•    ‘Fisher G Gurai’ – note another first name derived from a surname. ‘Fisher’ is a common name in English and in German ‘Fischer’. I note it is a noun from a verb from a noun (fish – to fish – a person who fishes) and we’ll meet other names like that (Bridger, Sniper). Don’t know why.
•    Cousin – My note here says ‘A sensayers title? Like ‘father’ or ‘brother’ for a priest or monk’ This is incorrect but it is explained later in the text.
•    ‘Thisbe’ – a main character, whose name you may recognise from the play within a play “Pyramus and Thisbe” in Shakespeare’s a Midsummer’s Night’s Dream. However, the story of frustrated lovers is actually from Ovid’s Metamorphoses. One of the great trio of ancient Roman poets (the others being Virgil and Horace), Ovid notably found himself exiled by Emperor Augustus and ended up living in what is now Romania (the Black Sea port of Constanta has a very statue of him. For extra bonus trivia: the influence of Rome goes beyond statues of poets in Romania, the language is also a Romance language appropriately enough. Later writers influenced by Ovid, relevant to these notes, include Petrarch and Cervantes (and Shakespeare obviously).

Page 15
•    ‘each five centimetres tall’ – approximately two inches and suggestive of the standard 54 mm size of 1:32 scale toy soldier scale (1 inch of toy equals 32 inch of real person). Larger than the small plastic soldiers but smaller than the GIJoe/Action man style.
Page 16
•    ‘Bridger’ – another noun-verb-noun name and surname as first name.
•    ‘Voltaire’ – The pen name of Francois-Marie Arouet. The name is an anagram of Arovet-Li a latinised pun on ’The young Arouet’. In 1700, Voltaire would have been 6, so the learned crowds that Mycroft mentions would have been right to be sceptical and Voltaire probably wasn’t a wordsmith at that point or called ‘Voltaire’ but I’m just being picky. We all get Mycroft’s point. By the end of the century that 1700 presages, the dynasties of Europe would be much more worse for wear than the start including missing a few heads and/or colonies.
•    ‘Thou too, Mycroft Canner?’ – reputedly the last words of Julius Caesar after being stabbed by his former friend Brutus. Widely cited prior to Shakespeare, but the use in the titular play is probably the most famous use of it. Caeser was stabbed March 13 (the ides of March) 44 CE, i.e. 10 days and 2410 years before the setting of the story – which is nice if you like round numbers. Note that Mycroft makes us speak to him using the familiar ‘thou’ perhaps to better match the Latin (although he sticks with it). Thee’s and thou’s are now archaic in English but they lingered on in some dialects e.g. the “tha” in Northern English (increasingly vanishing).
•    ‘How can your servant answer you, good master?’ Mycroft casts himself as the servant and us as his master
Page 17
•    ‘…the priests of Pharaoh when Moses’s snake…” – I assume you all know this one but the biblical story is notable as it implies that Moses’s god was one of many gods but more powerful than the gods of Egypt. Also, in the context of the story, an overt BIBLICAL reference is possibly a tad scandalous given the way people of this era avoid things that suggest ‘cult’ associations.
•    ‘Ockham’ – William of Ockham 1287-1347 was a Franciscan monk (another one!) and logician who lived in Britain in the fourteenth century. Most famous for his principle of parsimony known as Occam’s razor.
•    ’No!’ Spanish punctuation
•    ‘a polylaw’ – explained later in the text
•    ‘a Mason’ The freemasons attempt to date their movement back to many time periods including antiquity. However, the movement really sprang up in the seventeenth and eighteenth century. In context, it’s spread through Western Europe and Britain’s North American colonies is contemporaneous with The Enlightenment.
•    ‘Sensayers live for metaphysics’ – Metaphysics is the study of being and what it is to be named after the main topic of the book by Aristotle that followed “The Physics”. By back-formation “meta’ has become a prefix to describe a subject beyond that of another, for example “meta-mathematics” is study of the structure of mathematics. Aristotle is, as you all know, the three of the big trio of Greek philosophy: Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle.
•    ‘the nonexistent Latin verb senseo’ – Latin, verbs turned into names and what ’sensayer’ means all appear here.
Page 18
•    ‘Mertice McKay’ – I’ve got nothing, sometimes I guess a name is just a name.
•    Romanova – looks like New Rome [text later confirms this but also looks like Romania.
•    ‘Let us create a new creature’ – which reminds me of Frankenstein aka The New Prometheus by Mary Shelley, which you all know as a central text in the origin of Science Fiction. Written in 1818, it is also a work of the Romantic aesthetic movement in the arts, which was to some extent a reaction against some aspects of the Enlightenment (e.g. Frankenstein as a man whose spirit of natural inquiry dehumanises him). In this case the ‘new creature’ is also a reaction to a social movement and comes in the form of the sensayer – a secular priest-like person. [Yes, I wrote this before Frankenstein makes a less subtle appearance later!]
•    ‘to diagram the derivation’ – ‘to diagram’ is usually applied to the grammar of a sentence than to the derivation of a name but Mycroft has a point.

Notes Ignota: Notes the First

Notes on Ignota
A collection of notes and queries on ‘Too Like the Lightning’ compiled by CAMESTROS FELAPTON, at the Request of Certain Parties.

Page numbers and text are from the 2016 Tor US hardback edition. Errors and typos are mine except where indicated. The notes are not authorised by the author or editorialised by the editor. I’m speculating people! Latin translations are my best guess from Google translate and I don’t really know much Latin – corrections welcome.

Notes are given in the order that I spotted something in a book. In some cases, a reference is later explained in the actual text of the book. In other cases, I’m guessing. I’ve not gone back to look for new things but in some cases, I have added further comments to an observation based on later information from the book. At this point, I haven’t finished the book (or even bought the sequel) so further revelations may come.

Character and author intent. Most of the book is narrated by Mycroft Canner, who is very obsessed with Voltaire and the Enlightenment. To what extent are his references the intent of the character or that of the author? Obviously it is both, but in general, I’ll assume that it is Mycroft trying to say something if the reference is Mycroft and Palmer is trying to say something when it is a reference outside of Mycroft’s control (e.g. his own name or that of sensayer Carlyle). Likewise, with possible errors, I’ll assume these come from Mycroft as a character.

Title Page
The book begins after its own 20th century front matter with an additional title page that implies that what follows is a book from the future by Mycroft Canner.

•    ‘A narrative of the events of the year 2454’
•    The year 2454 CE would be exactly one thousand years after 1454, which, un-coincidentally is the year that we start getting printed books with dates on their title pages. The Gutenberg Bible was printed in 1454-1455 and while not the first thing that Gutenberg printed, it wasn’t until 1454 that he started dating what he printed. Moveable type was not first invented in Europe but a combination of factors including a fairly standard & small alphabet across Western Europe, meant that print would have a profound effect on the flow of ideas in Western Europe.
•    1453 on the other hand, a thousand-and-one years before the events of Too Like the Lightning marked the Fall of Constantinople (which definitely coincidentally is where other 2017 Hugo Award nominee ‘Deaths End’ starts). The fall of Constantinople marked the start of the Ottoman Empire but also marked the final, final end of the Roman Empire. The Byzantine Empire was the heir of Eastern Roman Empire which kept going long after the Western Roman Empire had given up on that whole business.
•    A few decades later European powers are busy ‘discovering’ bits of the rest of the world and the whole idea of it being ‘The Middle Ages’ is just no longer tenable.
•    Speaking of the Roman Empire, the year 454 CE is a time of the death throes of the Western Roman Empire. The good news is that Attila the Hun died the year before and the bad news is the Emperor (now based in Ravenna because Rome itself is a mess) is busy stabbing generals. The generally accepted end of what was a messy collapse is 476 CE.
•    454/3 BCE is a time when Athenian hegemony is growing under Pericles. Euripides is writing plays and Greek philosophers are philosophising but you still have to wait a few decades for Socrates.

•    ‘…of all FREE and UNFREE Living Persons…’ – it is a future novel but some people are not classed as ‘free’.

•    ‘Qui vertiate desiderate, ipse hoc legat. Nihil obstat’ – He that wants truth should read. Nothing stands in the way. (I think – if it is a quote then I don’t know what from) [ETA] ‘Nihil obstat’ was used by the Catholic Church to indicate that book was OK to be printed, after which a Bishop would add ‘Imprimatur’ to give the go ahead. [h/t Andrew M]

•    ‘Gordian Exposure Commission Content Ratings’ – an in-universe trigger warning

Opening quote
•    ‘Ah my poor Jacques! You are a philosopher. But don’t worry: I’ll protect you. – Diderot, Jacques the Fatalist and His Master’ Denis Diderot 1713-1784 A key figure in The Encyclopaedia – the Wikipedia of the Enlightenment. Jacques the Fatalist is one of his most famous works of fiction and the title is self-explanatory. It is about a servant called Jacques who is a fatalist and is travelling with his master.
•    Masters and servants is a theme in literature of many times but in the revolutionary times of the late 18th century, it would make on new significance e.g. Beaumarchais’s Figaro in the Barber of Seville and the Marriage of Figaro. Notably, Mycroft Canner is placed in a social role akin to these kinds of fictional clever servants – technically at the beck and call of anybody and of a distinct lower social class but also an advisor to the most powerful and to the effective celebrity-aristocracy of 2454.

Page 13 Chapter the First: A Prayer to the Reader
•    The Enlightenment – a period of no real fixed dates but which refers to a culture of philosophical enquiry and emphasis on political liberty and humanist ideals centred around 18th century Europe. It is both a break from and a re-assertion of previous philosophical movements in Western Europe. Often radical and progressive despite itself. In its wake comes the 19th century and before it came 17th century thinkers like Descartes. Too big a subject to write about in a single note. Here read this Wikipedia page: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Age_of_Enlightenment and think on how much the Enlightenment greats would have loved and abhorred Wikipedia.
•    ‘Mycroft Canner’ – I should have noted this on the title page but I saved it for here. ‘Mycroft’ is not a made up name but it is a made up FIRST name. The name itself is a surname from the Peak District area of England. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle picked it up (possibly from the names of some cricketers) and used it as the name of Sherlock Holmes’s smarter older brother. [Edit]‘Sherlock’ appears coined as a first name by Conan Doyle (possibly again by joining cricket player’s names together or by co-opting a surname). A tiny bit of genius by Conan-Doyle in that both names look and sound so obviously English and yet would have been odd and unfamiliar to his audience. Names both foreign and inherently English have made them both powerful labels. ‘Sherlock’ always references Holmes and ‘Mycroft’ nearly as much (unless you are 19th century fan of Derbyshire County Cricket Club I guess). So ‘Mycroft’ as a name can’t help evoke somebody smart and somebody who advises the powerful. In Conan Doyle’s stories, Mycroft is emblematic of what we would now call ‘the Deep State’ – pragmatic, clever and tied to a kind of cynical utilitarianism.
•    ‘Canner’ – somebody who makes cans, a surname from the Midlands according to Wikipedia

No, we haven’t started the story yet.

Ironfest 2017

Yes, I probably should have gone on a March for Science on Saturday but I didn’t. Instead, I headed westwards to the Australian town of Lithgow.

Sydney, as a city, is quite famous but beyond Sydney, the smaller towns tend to be largely unknown. Partly this is due to the weird geography – Sydney itself is hemmed in on nearly all sides by major obstacles, so it sprawls in an unusual way (unlike, say Melbourne which sprawls more sensibly – it being an inherently more sensible city).

Westwards, Sydney’s natural limit is the Blue Mountains (‘is’ rather than ‘are’ I think). Not mountains even by relaxed English standards, the Blue Mountains is more of a heavily eroded plateau. However, steep escarpments, labyrinthine gulleys and thick bush meant that early British settlers found them a major barrier to westward expansion. Until helpful Aboriginal people explained the correct way to get across was to go over the top of them, following the ridge lines, they were an impassable barrier. The many hidden gulleys still contain secrets from remains of temperate rain forest to living things from the age of the dinosaurs.

Beyond the Blue Mountains there are still further hills of the Great Dividing range and amid those hills is the former industrial town of Lithgow. With a history of coal mining and metal work, its location meant it was also perfect for munitions production for the Australian armed forces.

In 2000 people in Lithgow decided to hold a bit of festival to celebrate Australia’s metal working industry. Nice idea. That festival grew and included aspects of Lithgow’s firearms and munitions history. That in turn, brought in people interested in military historical re-enactment. That in turn, brought in people interested in more general historical re-enactment including middle-ages type stuff. That (and the whole industrial vibe) brought in people really into Steampunk. And with people interested in building working models of R2D2 also turning up and the whole ambience of creative anachronism that arose from a big field full of Vikings watching Turkish dancers next to WW2 tanks, made everything look like the set of 1980’s episode of Doctor Who…so naturally Ironfest just embraced what it was becoming and had a Doctor Who theme a few years back.

Lots of photos below the fold…

Continue reading

Hugo 2017: Best Dramatic Presentation Short

Other posts on this topic: https://camestrosfelapton.wordpress.com/category/hugo2017ballot/

Best Dramatic Presentation Short! In reverse order:

  • No Award: I won’t be using in this category. What I’ve seen/listened too has been award worthy and I trust that what I haven’t seen is award worth also.
  • Not on the ballot: Game of Thrones Battle of the Bastards and The Door. Sorry GRRM but I haven’t watched them. Sad to hear about Hodor.
  • The Expanse: Leviathan Awakes. Yes, entertaining, competent Sci-Fi but not blow your socks away brilliant.
  • Doctor Who: The Return of Doctor Mysterio. An entertaining Moffat rom-com invades a Doctor Who episode that is invading a superhero origin story. Funny and clever and the only Doctor Who we got in 2016. But outstandingly good? Nope.
  • Black Mirror: San Junipero.  Speaking of heartwarming…Deeply touching and subtle science fiction with top notch acting. Really worth voting number one for this and definitely streets ahead of all the other TV nominees (that I’ve seen).
  • Splendor and Misery. Narrowly but significantly beats San Junipero for my top position. Futuristic but deeply connected to the past. Musically innovative and emotionally engaging. Really deserves a Hugo Award.