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19 March, 2012

Dresden files

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , — Obdormio @ 00:00

Let me tell you, hypothetical cave person, about the Dresden Files. The Dresden Files is a series of books following the adventures of Harry Dresden, professional wizard and private investigator. He solves crime and wrangles monsters.

It is awesome.

OK, the first couple of books were decent, but not brilliant. They had a simple structure circling around the central case Dresden was on, and not much beyond that. From the third one though, it started growing into something more. The greater hidden world of wizards and faeries and monsters became more defined and arcs began to develop that spanned several books, like the war between the wizards and the vampires. There were still individual cases for each book, but they all began to tie together, as the contours of a magical conspiracy began to emerge. I can’t say too much on the subject, for fear of spoiling, but the story that runs across the whole series is shaping up to be really, really good.

I really enjoy the blend of hard-boiled detective story and fantasy. I have this idea that I don’t really like detective fiction, but since I did enjoy this, and also love the Watch books in Discworld, perhaps I ought to try some plain vanilla detective fiction to see if I’m wrong. Even so, though, it is the fantasy elements that I think really shine. The secret wizard society (which really does in no way resemble the one found in Harry Potter), the vampire courts, and the faeries. The depiction of faeries and their society in particular is inspired.

Harry Dresden himself is also a really good character, the kind of stubborn idiot who insists on doing the right thing,  at times from sheer bloody-mindedness, for fear of what he might end up doing if he did not. It echoes the same conflict in Vimes of Discworld, but is handled differently enough that I only thought of the parallel now, while writing that sentence. I really enjoy reading about him, and hope there will be many more books before the climactic showdown. Yeah, it’s a series so good, I don’t want it to end.

Some of the books I listened to as audiobooks; these were very well done, with James Marsters nailing the voice of Dresden and his world.

I watched a few episodes of the TV adaptation once I was a few books into the series, but I found that disappointing. They had made many changes which seemed quite nonsensical – changing up the best part of the universe, the magical society. The White Council of wizards had become the High Council of vague authority over everything, it was just weird. And a real shame, I think this could have made for a great series.

What am I saying, it has made for a great series – of books! Go read them!

1 March, 2012

In the Beginning

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , — Obdormio @ 00:00

In the beginning, there was nothing, only a great void, empty and lifeless. Then, at either end of it, two realms were created; one of smoke and ashes and ever-burning fires, the other of cold and snow and never-melting ice. The ice from the cold realm spread into the void which remained between the two, and there it met sparks from the realm of fire which melted it, and from the meeting of the two forces, a giant was born. And a cow. The cow provided him with milk, and fed itself on the salt stones from the cold realm. As it licked at a stone, a man appeared from within it, and came to life. He had a son, presumably with one of the creatures created from the giant’s sweat, who again had three sons. These three killed the great giant, plopped his corpse down in the void, and created the world from it – mountains from his bones, soil from his flesh, and the sky from his skull, that sort of thing. Finally, they took two logs of lumber, and made them into a man and a woman, and got the human race started as well.

I am currently reading a book which contains creation myths from various cultures all over the world. Not full holy books or epics, just salient excerpts concerning the creation of the world, the world order and mankind. The one I just recounted, as I’m sure you sussed out somewhere around the second sentence, is the Norse creation story, taken from Gylfaginning, a charming tale of a Swede getting swindled – just the sort of reading we like here in Norway. Though it would have been even better if he was a Dane.

In the beginning, the Plough married the Earth, and they had the Sea and the Cattle God. Then the Earth seduced the Cattle God, who killed his father and married his sister, the Sea, and had the God of the Herd, who also killed his father, and then married his mother (the Sea), who then killed her mother (the Earth), and they had a son who married his sister, the River, and killed both his father and his mother, and had the Shepherd God who married his sister, Graze-and-Poplar, and I think you see where this is going.

Ancient Babylonia was a bloody soap opera. I’m not really sure what lessons that particular tale of a generational bloodshed that puts the House of Atreus to shame imparts, but I am sure the ancient Babylonians saw their society reflected in it somehow. Mythology fascinates me, both the phenomenon as an expression of human culture and what it says about both the culture and humanity in general, and frequently also as stories in their own right. And what story could be more intriguing than the start of everything? As someone who endeavours to write his own stories, getting under the skin of the oldest and truest ones can only be a good thing.

In the beginning, there was nothing, which exploded.

OK, that one’s not in my book, that’s a Pratchett quote, and while I don’t mean to say that the scientists who work with this particular area don’t know what they’re talking about, I do think that the idea of the Big Bang has become a pretty much mythical event in the popular conciousness. Pop culture is, in a way, the mythology we produce in this day and age. I doubt there are many outside the labs who actually understand everything  about the theory; I am certainly not one of them.

In the beginning, the Earth fell from the sky – stones and mountains and soil and water plummeting down from the great Above to settle down here and into the shape of the world. From the soil, plants grew, and people too sprouted from the earth as little children, feeding of the soil. A man and a woman appears to give them clothes. As they grew up and became many, they cried out for dogs, and dogs appeared from the earth as well. Then people learned how to die, and society could get started.

That tale from Greenland is so refreshingly straightforward and unconcerned; I think it is my favourite so far, but there’s no guarantee it won’t have to share the limelight. I’m not very far into the book yet. I’m still at the beginning.


9 February, 2012

I Am Not a Librarian: Damn It, Dewey!

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , — Obdormio @ 00:00

As you might have noticed, I am a big fan of books – both in the abstract and as the physical object. I am also a big fan of systems and organisation. This might not be readily apparent to anyone peeking at my floors, but in my bookshelves order reigns supreme. I am also an avid LibraryThing user, which lets me keep a catalogue of my books which approaches a library standard. This helps me organise them, and with tags I can have all subjects well described.

That’s an organisation of ideas, though. Tags can tell me what a book is about, in general, but they are not very well suited to shelving. For that bastion of order, I need to use something else. Currently, my shelves are separated into three sections – once by format, then by content. Comics are separated from the prose books, which are in turn divided into fiction and non-fiction. Actually, since Understanding Comics is in the non-fiction section, I suppose it is more accurate to say that my shelves are divided into fiction and non-fiction, and fiction further subdivided by format.

Fiction is easy; it’s shelved alphabetically by author. Non-fiction is where it gets complicated. Shelving by author doesn’t really satisfy me there – I want books grouped by general topic, in an orderly fashion, by a real system. Enter the Dewey Decimal Classification. No, Dewey is too copyrighted for thorough discussion, let’s talk about the Melvil Decimal System instead. They’re both based on the work of Melvil Dewey, who I imagine felt some of the same desires I do for orderly shelves. I’m sure you have at least passing familiarity with his concept.  I’m no librarian; I have no training in library science or in classification, which I imagine is a lot more work, requiring a lot more patience, than it would seem on the surface. LibraryThing draws data about my books from libraries, however, so most of them have already been placed neatly into order in the DDC – whose numbers translate easily into MDS – by qualified professionals.

The problem is that Dewey’s system sucks. It doesn’t make any sense. The logic behind it is obscure, and the attitudes it codifies are out-dated and extremely ethnocentric. Let’s just look at the 2-range: Religion. These are the divisions Melvil thought necessary for books concerning religion:

  • 20 – Religion
  • 21 – Natural Theology; Secularism
  • 22 – Bible
  • 23 – Doctrinal Theology
  • 24 – Devotional; Practical
  • 25 – Pastoral Theology
  • 26 –  Church; Institutions; Work
  • 27 –  Christian History
  • 28 –  Christian Churches and Sects
  • 29 –  Non-Christian Religions

That’s not Christianity, that’s Religion. A whole big lot about Christianity, and a single section set aside for the rest of the world’s religions. No good. I am also not wild about the way the Bible is classed alongside books about Christianity, while The Homeric Hymns end up in the Literature section rather than with the rest of Greek mythology. It makes little sense to me.

Another problem area is the 4-range, Language. There are a couple of sections set aside for general linguistics, and then English, German, French, Italian, Spanish, Latin and Greek get their own sections, with the rest shoved into 49 – Other Languages. Norwegian is filed under German, while the equally Germanic English gets its own section. Latin has a section of its own, while three other Romance languages get one as well. It makes no sense, at least not today. Presumably, it made sense to Dewey.

I really want a more logical system I can use. I suppose it technically doesn’t even need to be robust enough for a public library. I have made some small attempts at making something logical, but it is no easy task – no wonder Librarians go to school for this kind of thing. I had some high hopes for the Open Shelves Classification, but that ended up not really going anywhere, so here I sit still.

It is a bit silly, I suppose. The MDS works, sort of, and the books are all in the shelf. I suppose I could just put them in willy nilly, based on what feels right at the time, but every fiber of me objects to such a chaotic approach. I’m sure there are smart people out there working on classification systems. The DDC is aggressively copyrighted, and its flaws well known, so alternatives are desired by people who are not me. Guess I’ll just have to wait, though I’m going to whine about it. I’m not a librarian, you see. I’m no good at being patient.

30 January, 2012

Mourning the Printed Page

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , — Obdormio @ 00:00

A home without books is like a body without a soul.

Cicero said that, with his customary artful understatement. Horace Mann apparently said that “A house without books is like a room without windows,” but I think the points go to Cicero on this one.

I don’t care for e-books. The news inform me that e-books are marching ahead, while the printed page is in decline – the hopelessly old fashioned book stores going out of business while purveyors of e-books grow and grow. Like the music and film industry before it, the publishing world must now adapt to a primarily digital model. That’s just the way the world turns.

I will get an e-book reader when they are physically indistinguishable from regular books.

I am not opposed to e-books on philosophical grounds; I actually think it’s a good thing that more obscure books become more easily available, and I can well see that an e-reader is practical on trips and plane rides. I just find the notion of reading off a screen profoundly unsatisfying. I know that many, if not most, e-readers do not have screens in the way that a laptop or a tablet does, but use e-paper instead. That is indeed nifty technology, and makes reading on them much less of a strain, but it is still a very different thing from actual paper – something I’m sure they’re working on.

A book is more than the text inside it. Oh, don’t get me wrong, the text is the most important part, but a proper book is something more. It is texture and weight and smell and the sound of the pages turning and the immense satisfaction of cracking it open. There is something magical about a room full of books, a big and beautiful library, that a tiny e-reader with all its storage space cannot match. Foolishly sentimental, perhaps, but I embrace that part of my personality wholeheartedly. And yes, paper books are heavy and require storage space, but I consider that a very good bargain. I am currently moving, and lugging boxes of books up and down stairs may be tiresome, but I would not trade satisfaction for a slight increase in convenience. As for storage space, I have no greater ambition than one day owning a house with a room that can properly be called “the library”.

Anyway, there are practical reasons why I don’t want e-books as well. I object to the idea of leasing books, paying for access, and that the access can be revoked again should the seller so decide, as when Amazon pulled back a book without warning. I think they don’t do that too much any more, and maybe the trend is towards my kind of model, where a file, once bought, is yours to do with as you please, but I would rather not jump into any risky sort of situation in this. I have not really gotten into the stream music services for the same reason; if I buy a copy of a song, I want to keep it and use it as I choose. I also scoff at DRM nonsense. I appreciate that piracy is a problem, but I will not meekly subscribe to solutions which only punish the lawful consumer. Paper books, I can read however and whenever I like.

So there. Through hopeless romanticism and stubbornness, I shall cling to my shelves and books, and not get an e-reader. It’s a matter of principle.

And we’ve seen how well I’ve stood on principle in the past.

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