Mike Harrison on the books he read this year, which is as good a recommendation list as any.
"If you want to know about the inevitable end-state of the Tarkovsky/Strugatsky zone, you should look at the development of the Alps (& now the Himalaya). What was a nightmare is controlled into a form of play by skill, technique and equipment. What used to kill you is now so well understood that you can enjoy it. Or, to put it another way: what used to kill explorers first begins to kill only experts who push their skillset too hard then winds up only killing the tourist the experts usher up the mountain for money–and even then only often enough to keep up the activity’s reputation."
"The constant bolstering of the “world” _constantly reveals it not to be one_, ie never to be complete the way the world is. This seems to say more about the limits of writing & the act of suspension of disbelief (an immersion which can clearly be brought about in other ways) than it does about the actual need for a world to seem to be present in front of the reader. Also, it strikes me as a bit mad to be a fiction writer if you have to struggle desperately with the pretence that you’re not." MJH on world-building again.
"keep some parts of myself severely to myself, am thus able to maintain a deep fruitful disjunction between this real world & the real real world." (and: of _course_ the "Robin" commenting on MJH's blog is Robin Sloan)
"The lineage of luxury in art – from lapis lazuli, to bronze casting, gold plating or diamond encrusting – extends now to graphics cards, ray-tracing, skin rendering, reflection mapping and to processor speeds, hyperthreading, render farms and the complex world of outsourcing, government subsidies or mineral extraction. It’s important and interesting! Curators take note!" This is good / the Ed Atkins also sounds good.
Bookmarked for reference – Dan's lists are usually good.
Beautiful. (via Denise).
"King Lear would have killed it in Silicon Valley." More Maciej, and yes, it's great.
A Comprehensive and Totally Universal Listing of Every Problem a Story Has Ever Had | Andromeda Spaceways Inflight MagazineThese are also good. And funny.
Seems like a reasonable set of tools to help out with this.
"MailCatcher runs a super simple SMTP server which catches any message sent to it to display in a web interface. Run mailcatcher, set your favourite app to deliver to smtp://127.0.0.1:1025 instead of your default SMTP server, then check out http://127.0.0.1:1080 to see the mail that's arrived so far." Useful!
"The reason I am able to make Twitter bots is because I have been programming computers in a shitty, haphazard way for 15 years, followed by maybe 5 years of less-shitty programming. Every single sentence in the big preceding paragraph, every little atom of knowledge, represents hours of banging my head up against a series of technical walls, googling for magic words to get libraries to compile, scouring obscure documentation to figure out what the hell I’m supposed to do, and re-learning stuff I’d forgotten because I hadn’t used it in a while." This paragraph also represents my experience of both programming and how I write my toys; a slightly round-about set of experience to get to where we are now, with lots of reading the manual and doing things in dumb ways occasionally. Programming!
Yep, this all seems like a very good list to me. Filed away for the next time I have to do anything with maps.
Enjoyed this a lot: Kim Stanley Robinson on California, SF, and the relationship between the two. For me, timely.
"In this film I wanted to look beyond the childish myth of ‘the cloud’, to investigate what the infrastructures of the internet actually look like. It felt important to be able to see and hear the energy that goes into powering these machines, and the associated systems for securing, cooling and maintaining them." Looks beautiful: Timo's customary look in enveloping, three-screen 4K. Gosh. Also: the uses of stills-as-film is really interesting to me at the moment.
"One-thousand dollars invested at a 20% discount with 5% interest (calculating interest every 3 turns, but simple, not compounding interest) means a player will have starting debt of $1000. After three turns the debt is $1050, 6 turns is $1100, 9 turns is $1150, etc. Totally manageable. The banker is your friend and wants you to succeed."
A lovely game – almost a poem, but definitely Enough Game – by Holly Gramazio, about being a blackbird in a city. It made me feel many things, which is what the best writing does. Also, I shall now probably play it again.
"We foresee an amazing future where not only can your household devices communicate with each other, they can also communicate with us over the same Internet lines. How cool would it be if your fridge could post a Medium here on Medium every time it needed you to buy more milk? And that’s just one idea." There are many more ideas in this post.
17 February 2014
I couldn’t put this down.
I’m a fan of Harrison’s writing, so I might be biased, but this enthralled me. Much of his work veers between Fantasy, SF, and magic realism. This is at most only a little of the latter: a hazy set of tales spread over a year, from the perspective of a man – “Mike” – moving to the north to leave a failing relationship, and finding solace on the side of rocks and in the company of climbers. Not a failing relationship, actually, so much as a dwindling one. Nothing stops or starts here: things just fade in and out.
There is a plot, for sure, told in fits and starts, but threading ever-forward. And yet the magic of the book is in the telling. In some ways, it’s very plain prose – and yet it unpacks in your head, like dense poetry. It’s told with a very narrow depth-of-field: some scenes, some people are perceived acutely; others just float by, either out of Mike’s focus or ignored, either unconsciously or not. And, every now and then, out of the mist, the text just leaps out. I underlined quite a bit; I’m not sure how much sense it’ll make out of context.
It probably helps that I read most of it on holiday in the Peak District, not far from many of the places the gang are. “We’re just here in my book,” I’d say, as we drove along, and I thought about Mike, and Normal, and Sankey, and Gaz, and Mick, falling off walls, sheltering from the rain, arseholing along in a Robin Reliant.
It’s special, for sure. I’m not a climber, but am outdoorsy enough to understand some of the perspective – and, when I lack it, to remember the vested men and women extended on Malham Cove, and imagine who Mike is talking about.
Speaking to Rolling Stone about his novel Libra in 1988 – the year Harrison completed Climbers – Don DeLillo described fiction as an art-form capable of ‘rescuing history from its confusions . . . providing balance and rhythm . . . correcting, clearing up and, perhaps most important of all, finding rhythms and symmetries’.
David was a fireman, whose prematurely white hair gave him a kind but slightly overdressed look, like a professional snooker player.
When they spoke to one another it was in a language full of ellipses, hints and abrupt changes of subject, in which the concrete things were items and prices.
The wind pulled the strings of mucus out grotesquely, so that during the instant before they snapped they floated with all the elegance of spider-silk. Our fingers went numb, only to come back to life twenty or thirty feet up, at just the wrong moment, the size of bananas and throbbing with hot-aches.
‘It’s no good. I can see what to do but I can’t convince myself to do it.’
March is the hinge. There is always the sense that the year might as easily slam shut on it as open.
…jumped off with a thud and stared sulkily across at the abandoned explosives store with its fringe of rank weeds. ‘Looks like bloody Dr Who.’
Earth, 1997: everyone lives under the ground and wears identical clothes. Something appalling has been done to their sexuality and they walk round staring directly ahead of themselves. ‘Not much different to now.’ Every fifteen minutes a voice like the station announcer at Preston says something nobody can understand and they all walk off down a different corridor. Can the Doctor help them?
‘For fuck’s sake shut up,’ said Gaz, ‘and let’s go somewhere we can climb.’
When you hear an old song again like that, one you have not thought about for years, there is a brief slippage of time, a shiver, as if something had cut down obliquely through your life and displaced each layer by its own depth along the fault line.
…we went, as he put it, arseholing down the M6 with the radio turned up full: AC/DC, Kate Bush, Bowie’s ‘Station to Station’ already a nostalgia number. How many times, coming back after a hard day like that, has there seemed to be something utterly significant in the curve of a cooling tower, or the way a field between two factories, reddened in the evening light, rises to meet the locks on a disused canal?
One thick vertical bar crossed at three-quarters of its length by a thinner, shorter one, both enclosed in a parallelogram of shadow: a strange figure, the dark part the colour of earth and lichen, the bright parts green and gold. All morning the sun had been forcing it round to the north. It elongated itself to escape. Eventually it would go too far and break to pieces against the shelves of books, but not before the cat Rutherford had got down in it and wriggled with pleasure.
The life that goes on in cafes is domestic but minimal. Alone in one you pour your tea, unwrap a knife from a paper serviette that says ‘Forte’ or ‘Thank you, we hope you will call again at Marie’s’; there is as much comfort as you like to create out of the rattle of crocks or the slump of the waitress’s shoulders, and no further claim on you as there would be at home.)
On Sunday mornings the Railway Cafe at Grindleford is full of school teachers, up from the Midlands by Ford Fiesta to do climbs in the Hard Very Severe and low Extreme grades. They squeeze between the tables in the hot steamy air, shouting and talking and clattering their plates. The men, in their middle thirties, with longish hair and aggressive but neat beards, often teach maths or geography; some of them can play the guitar. They make thoughtful, steady climbers. Though they lack the imagination, the edge of nervous excitement, to be outstanding, they form the backbone of the sport. They occupy its middle ground. They decide its shape. If they have a fault it’s that they are too minutely concerned to use in the same way the same holds everyone else has used.
The moment you step into a landscape it becomes another one.
All Sankey’s things – the chipped Baby Belling on the draining board; the bits of unmatched blue and fawn carpet; the one-bar fire, the transistor radio, the stereo with its handful of dog-eared albums from the early Seventies – had a used but uncooperative look. He had assembled them, and while he was still alive his personality had held them together; now they were distancing themselves from one another again like objects in a second-hand shop.
‘You spend Christmas,’ I wrote, ‘surrounded by other people’s assessment of you’
If you look straight down an Inter-City second-class carriage, the landscape on both sides of the train flies past in your peripheral vision like images in a split-screen film. You have only an instant in which to recognise an object before it becomes a blur.
Without a word, he levered himself on to The Snivelling and climbed neatly and carefully, without slowing down or stopping, to the top of it. There, he waved his arms disconnectedly in relief. He let out a shout of triumph which made his face seem distorted and animal-like: I understood that Mick went climbing only to release this expression from himself. What it represented I had no idea. For a moment though I was awed, and almost as excited as he was.
Mick’s stories about his job are mixed with sentimental memories of ‘the rescue’, preserved in – and intricated with – an even older level of material from his school days. He often seems to forget I wasn’t there when this childhood sediment was laid down. His tenses saw violently back and forth as he tries to unearth what he wants.
You believe, as you make the first move, that you have already accepted the potential fall.
I played ZZ Top, ‘Deguello’: my aggression seemed endless. The music fell obliquely across the rock, illuminating it like a new wavelength of light to reveal brand-new ways of climbing.
Something seemed to lurch inside my knee, like a small animal trying to escape.
In a figure-four move, you try and sit on your own arm to extend your reach.
Cavers, anyway, are proud of their parties, which are predicated on a greater despair than climbers can ever experience, the knowledge that you are going down into the ground the next day, where it is dark and cold and smells like a hole in the road; or on a greater joy, which is that you have come up again.
He turned up ten minutes later, in a bruised Transit van belonging to his firm. Inside, it smelled of oil, Swarfega and old polypropylene rope.
‘Ever been? One minute nothing’s happening. They’re just cruising round the pace lap. The next it’s like Apocalypse Now in a cinema full of hot dog stands. You can’t see for cinders and all you can smell is fried onions. Fucking awesome!’
As if pigments could learn about what they represent, events understand themselves more accurately towards the end than the beginning, the freshly quarried boulders photographed at Millstone Edge have confirmed their outlines and no longer resemble melted lumps of sugar.
"…drawing, even at a representational level, is the construction of ideas. Therefore the conscious manipulation of ideas through the act of drawing becomes highly fruitful for a designer." More from Matt on drawing, and particular approaches aimed at unlocking drawing-as-thinking. Excellent as ever. I continue to vaguely try drawing in all workshops and for myself, and am still amazed by the number of people who, in design workshops, illustrate what they mean with sentences. For reference: I am a truly appalling draughtsman who was the despair of many an art teacher.
Both of these are great, and express some of what I've been trying to say in recent talks far better than I've expressed myself.
Rather good interview with MJH; covers lots of bases, carried out just before Light was published.
John Gray on M John Harrison – not just the Kefahuchi Tract trilogy, but also Viriconium and Climbers.
"…I feel like five or ten years ago we had a common critical vocabulary robust enough to talk about what is going on in low-agency, linear, or hypertext games, but that the community has shifted enough not to be using that vocabulary now that there are lots of such games to talk about." Emily Short's roundup of the 2013 IF Comp. Really good notes on the state of the modern competition; also good notes on the nature of interactivity. Worth your time.
"Had our correspondent developed the gift of foresight? No. He really had heard these stories before. Spend a few moments on Google and you will find that the tale of how Procter & Gamble developed the Swiffer is a staple of marketing literature. Bob Dylan is endlessly cited in discussions of innovation, and you can read about the struggles surrounding the release of “Like a Rolling Stone” in textbooks like “The Fundamentals of Marketing” (2007). As for 3M, the decades-long standing ovation for the company’s creativity can be traced all the way back to “In Search of Excellence” (1982), one of the most influential business books of all time. In fact, 3M’s accidental invention of the Post-it note is such a business-school chestnut that the ignorance of those who don’t know the tale is a joke in the 1997 movie “Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion.”" This is a brilliant article on the literature – and culture – of talking about 'creativity'.
"Why doesn’t popular fiction encourage writers as entertainingly skilful as this? Because we do not value the skillset itself, only the story it mediates. We long ago separated the skillset out and donated it to literary fiction. Danny MacAskill doesn’t tell a story. He just is. Indeed, by the look of it, he just is the skillset. As a result I cry every time I watch him perform, because the performance is so much more intense than anything I’ve ever made." Great writing, by a great writer, about a great performer. Perfect.
"The compass knows the map, son, it knows when the map is near. Let the compass direct you to the map but whatever else you do in this stained forsaken world keep them apart. Else there won’t be sufficient salt water in the oceans to quench the soles of yr burning heart."
Its fragments like this that make it easy to explain why I love Harrison's writing.