Lacking Natural Simplicity

Random musings on books, code, and tabletop games.

Recent Viewing

  • Master and Commander: the Far Side of the World. Inspired by the novels by Patrick O'Brian, directed by Peter Weir, screenplay by Peter Weir and John Collee. This is a good movie, providing a vivid and realistic depiction of life on board a frigate in the British Royal Navy of the Napoleonic era, and that is its primary merit. Although it is not based on any one of the novels directly, drawing on events from several novels, the resulting story is reasonable, and reasonably focused. The movie does capture to some degree the relationship between Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin, but it is less successful here, since most of the formative events in their friendship take place long before the movie starts, and would take too much time to explore in full.

    In the end, I think Aubrey and Maturin would have been better served by a film of the the book Master and Commander.

Recent Reading

  • The Shining Company, by Rosemary Sutcliff, 1990, Recorded Books, 1994, read by Ron Keith. Based on The Gododdin, the earliest surviving North British poem, this is the story, seen through the eyes of a young shield bearer, of the British resistance in the 7th century to the Saxon invasion of North Britian. As usual, Rosemary Sutcliff does an excellent job of bringing us back in time. Ron Keith does a very good reading of the story.


I ought to find and read more Rosemary Sutcliff books.

Recent Reading

  • Eagle in the Snow, by Wallace Breem. Well written but depressing novel of "General Maximus and Rome's last stand", to quote the cover. I'll have to look for his other books, The Leopard and the Cliff and The Legate's Daughter.

Recent Reading

  • The Road to Middle-Earth, Revised and Expanded Edition, by Tom Shippey. (Copyright 2003). Most literary critics have regarded Tolkien's fiction with disdain, denied that it could have any merit for an adult reader, and have consistently misunderstood and misinterpreted it, when they have bothered to read it at all. In Shippey's words, it makes “[...] many literary critics avert their eyes, get names wrong, write about things that aren't there, and miss the most obvious points of success.” Shippey's book starts with the idea that this disdain may be a reflection of the antipathy between the proponents of “Lit.” and “Lang.”, between the literary critics and teachers of literature on the one hand and the philologists, including Tolkien, on the other hand. Shippey examines how Tolkien's professional background led to and influenced the creation of The Lord of the Ring and shows the subtleties involved in that creation that are almost inevitably missed by the literary critics.

Science fiction and fantasy often regarded with disdain by literary critics, frequently even more than other “genre” fiction. I think literary critics are looking for certain specific criteria when they judge a work and are not willing to consider that their criteria may not, in fact, be universally useful in judging all works. In effect, they are blinded by their preconceived notions and miss the things that make some science fiction or fantasy good.

In practice I think that the criteria for judging science fiction and fantasy and the criteria for judging literature are overlapping sets: some criteria are shared, but there are additional criteria that must be considered when judging science fiction or fantasy, and some of the criteria for literature don't apply.

Recent Reading

  • Wildtrack, by Bernard Cornwell. One of his modern period nautical adventure novels, written early in his career. Enjoyable.

  • Quicksilver, by Neal Stephenson. Quirky and interesting historical exploring seventeenth century scientific thought and political intrigue; rather prolix, as one would expect from the ground it tries to cover. Enjoyable to those who don't mind a big book.

  • The Shadow of the Lion, by Mercedes Lackey, Eric Flint, and Dave Freer. A very good, though demanding, historical fantasy of magic, religion, politics, and romance in a richly imagined Venice of an alternate 16th century. While I am reminded to a certain degree of the Merovingian Nights shared-world anthologies (there were some close but not exact parallels) this is ultimately a very different story.

Recent Reading

  • Master of Rain, by Tom Bradby. This is an interesting murder mystery set in the late 1920s in Shanghai.

  • Sign of the Unicorn, by Roger Zelazny. This is the the third novel in the first Amber series. I listened to the unabridged audio version from Sunset Productions over the course of a week or so in my car going back and forth to work, and enjoyed it immensely.

Recent Reading

  • Point of Honor, by Madeleine E. Robins. This is a “hardboiled Regency romance”, with an intelligent, resourceful heroine living living as an outcast from society, murder, blackmail, political intrigue, ranging from low stews to high society balls. Very well written.

Recent Reading

  • Nice Princes in Amber, by Roger Zelazny. This is the first book in the first Amber series. I listened to this unabridged audio version from Sunset Productions, read by the author, in my car of the course of a couple of weeks. I've always enjoyed the Roger Zelazny's fiction, and the Amber books in particular, so it was interesting to see how they stood up in their audio versions; overall, quite well. I reread both Amber series every five to ten years or so.

Recent Reading

  • The Iron Hand of Mars and Poseidon's Gold, by Lindsey Davis. It's interesting to see Falco in Gaul and Germania in the first book, and to see how Falco deals with his absentee father in the second.

  • Orlando: A Biography, by Virginia Woolf. (Surprisingly, if I recall correctly, the film version is a fairly good adaptation.)

Recent Reading

  • Silver Pigs, Shadows in Bronze, and Venus in Copper, and I'm working on The Iron Hand of Mars, by Lindsey Davis. Prompted by reading one of the later books in the series One Virgin Too Many, I've been re- reading Lindsey Davis's Marcus Didius Falco books. So far I've re-read the first three, and I'm working on the fourth. These are all very good books.

  • Shadow Warrior, Book 1: The Wind After Time, The Shadow Warrior, Book 2: Hunt the Heavens, and Shadow Warrior, Book 3: Darkness of God, by Chris Bunch. Adequate space opera.

  • Titan, Wizard, and Demon, by John Varley. Fantastically inventive, these are wonderful books.