November 5th, 2008

xtc

Well, hot dog! We have a wiener!

I know I'm late to the party, but I am pleased with the result of the presidential election, so congratulations to President-Elect Barack Hussein Obama! (So this guy is going to be leader of the free world, and the Firefox spell checker still doesn't recognize his first or last name? What's with that?) I mention his middle name mostly because I'm glad it's apparently only a very vocal minority who thought that it made him a secret Al Qaeda operative. (What, did people think his middle name was the secret clue they had to follow? How do they know the ACTUAL clue wasn't that his initials also stand for "Browser Helper Object"?) He might not be able to accomplish any huge changes, but he has a calm and composed demeanor, and seems likely to listen to someone other than the voices in his own head that supposedly come from God. And for once, the election wasn't really a lesser of two evils (or at least two bozos) kind of decision. Obama much more likable than Kerry, who apparently left all his charisma back on the swift boat. And while I think McCain made a lot of mistakes in pandering to the Religious Right, and I thought some of his policies sounded disturbing, I can't say I bear him any particular ill will. He doesn't give off the impression of being a callous yahoo like Bush does. And even Palin, now that she's no longer a threat (well, except to wolves and that dumbass who knocked up her daughter), is likely to be someone I'll remember more as amusing than horrific. That is, unless she decides to run in 2012, but I think at this point there's more chance of Dan Quayle making a comeback.
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Minotaur

Fairyland, Elfland, Flatland, and Lineland: Fine Countries All!

No, those aren't places I was considering moving if McCain won the election, but rather locations from the books I've read recently. Charles Dodgson really didn't write that much other than the Alice books under his famous pseudonym of Lewis Carroll, but he did turn out a two-part novel, published as Sylvie and Bruno and Sylvie and Bruno Concluded. And this was years before Kill Bill did much the same thing, stopping right in the middle of the plot and making audiences wait for the second part. The story has multiple plots going on at the same time, one concerning the Sub-Warden of Outland becoming Emperor through trickery, and another about the author discussing theology and philosophy with his friends. The author enters the fairy world when he falls into a dream state, and several Fairyland characters (including the two from the title) visit the real world on occasion. Confused yet? If not, you probably will be if you try reading the story, unless I'm just dumb. There's a lot of the same sort of wordplay, warped logic, and general inventiveness that the Alice books have (and as I'm sure I've mentioned before, they played a major role in shaping my own sense of humor). Some of the real-life discussions are also interesting, but I do have to wonder if it would have worked better simply concentrating on the fantasy parts. Also, Bruno's baby-talk speech patterns are pretty annoying, although he does have his moments. Anyway, one of my favorite parts involves a character known only as "Mein Herr," who comes from a country where everything is taken to absurd logical extremes. In the election season, this one passage was particularly amusing:

"The next step (after reducing our Government to impotence, and putting a stop to all useful legislation, which did not take us long to do) was to introduce what we called 'the Glorious British Principle of Dichotomy' into Agriculture. We persuaded many of the well-to-do farmers to divide their staff of labourers into two Parties, and to set them one against the other. They were called, like our political Parties, the 'Ins' and the 'Outs': the business of the 'Ins' was to do as much of ploughing, sowing, or whatever might be needed, as they could manage in a day, and at night they were paid according to the amount they had done: the business of the 'Outs' was to hinder them, and they were paid for the amount they had hindered."

The other book I finished recently was Flatland, about a two-dimensional world inhabited by various geometric shapes, whose forms reflect their social classes. One square mathematician is taught by a sphere about the third dimension, but is jailed for heresy when he tries to share the information. There's some definite social commentary here, but I think it might have been the mathematical fantasy aspect that I found the most interesting. It makes me think of how, in sophomore algebra, we learned that a graph of an equation in two variables is a line, and a graph of an equation is three variables is a plane. I wondered what the graph of an equation in FOUR variables would be, and I figured it must be the entire universe, which would be awfully hard to represent on graph paper. It was actually my teacher in that class who first loaned me a copy of Flatland, but I ended up returning it without reading it. It was only just recently that I got around to reading it (I got my own rather beaten-up copy at a church book sale), which didn't take long.

Next on my reading list is Piers Anthony's Harpy Thyme, which I just got in the mail today. Stay tuned for future book reviews!