Archive for November, 2009

Quote for today XXVI

November 29, 2009

Someone who had begun to read geometry with Euclid, when he had learnt the first theorem asked Euclid, “But what advantage shall I get by learning these things?” Euclid called his slave and said, “Give him threepence, since he must needs make profit out of what he learns.”

Stobaeus, Extracts ii. 31. 114, ed. Wachsmuth ii. 228. 25-29

To comment on Euclid (I gather commentaries were popular once upon time, so why not again?): not that there’s anything wrong with profit, especially if that profit means helping starving tots rather than just stuffing your own pockets (not that that’s intrinsically wrong either), but there are other equally valid and even better reasons to learn: and the chief of those, in this pompous and insignificant commentor’s view, is the reason that the very act of discovery and understanding is intensely pleasurable, and can be quite as intense, addictive and extreme as any physical or social thrill.

Also, you don’t need to wash your hands afterwards, unlike with certain types of sex and social encounters.

Of wanting to have someone else’s babies

November 27, 2009

It’s a shame some expressions would be all squicky if I used them.

One that comes to mind is the instinctive, irrational and seldom realized idolizing cry of “Ohmigosh it’s N.N.! I love your work! I want to have your babies!”

(Well, that cry has other problems too; what if the target recoils and screams “You child kidnappers again? Guards!“, huh?)

Now, that “works” if the adorer is female and the (uh) adoree a male; but modify those and things won’t work well at all.

  • Man to a man: “If I was homosexual and had a womb and all the requisite biological equipment, I would be deliriously happy if you impregnated me!” (Most probable answer: “Wait, what?” followed in some cases by “Let me ask my agent first.” or “Couldn’t you use some kind of a pouch?”)
  • Man to a woman: “I adore you so much I would not mind if a cunning surgeon switched our genitalia and you made me pregnant!” (Probable answer: “Well, I would.”)
  • Woman to a woman: “You, I and a sperm bank: what a dream it would be!” (Probable answer: “What a dream? Um, a bad dream?”)

Spare answers to most of the cases:

  • “I don’t see how that would be biologically possible.”
  • “Er, no.”
  • “Okay; drop your pants and bend over.”
  • “…and this is my life partner, Androgynia.”
  • “I have been waiting for this.”
  • “Hey, thanks for a nifty plot. Interested in co-authoring?”

Okay, that last one is much too improbable.

I wonder if there’s place for other extravagant expressions of utter adoration towards your favorite author/actor/august personage; such things are possible, but I haven’t heard them used.

  • “If you were in a car crash, I would donate you my liver. Even if it killed me. I’ve already stopped drinking, just in case.”
  • “I have made my flesh into a shrine to your genius. May I show it to you?”
  • “I read on your blog you had a rash. I have very good skin. I want to give it to you. I’ve already reserved a plastic surgeon. Can I have your rashy skin, or do you want to keep it? I’m not greedy.”
  • “Here’s my passport. I want you to have it so you have a secret identity. So if you need to leave the country after killing somebody, or something. Because if you did it, I’m sure they would have deserved it.”
  • “Your books saved my sanity. Especially when you came to my dreams and spoke to me. Tell me; who do I dispatch of next?”

Victory 2009

November 26, 2009

That is to say:

(Well, 23 days and 51 177 words, to be exact. Also a donation of $25.)

The monstrous product of mine was fun to write; and that was what I went in for. Now, since the thing’s in Finnish, it would not make much sense to share a chapter here — but since I’m in a jubilatory mood, I’ll throw a chapter at ya anyway. It’s the first one of the novel, and it is quite self-contained.

Since I’m feeling all flushed with some strange, unholy energy (Coca-Cola?), I put the same bit, roughly and quickly and almost sentence-for-sentence translated, after that. (Sentence-for-sentence is my excuse for the choppiness of the English version.)

So, feast your eyes on the weirdness that is the Finnish language: like backwards Latin with ten times the grammar! (more…)

God-shaped holes and voles

November 26, 2009

Why yes, it’s bad poetry! Recoil in horror, people of taste! There’s a cannibal in the house!

A GOD-SHAPED HOLE

I don’t believe in a God-shaped hole
I don’t believe in a ritual-shaped hole
The mind is not a jigsaw, but an ocean
And waters echo the wild years of past
The savannah, the burrows, the dinosaurs
Reptiles, fish-things, slow first crawlies
And the nameless thing, the gradient,
The slow transition from non-life to life
And back from that: rude mechanics,
Gene programs, wild instincts, and then
Imperfect awareness by the crude ape-man
Growing sharper, a blade honed on the world
Diamond blade with a smear of carbon inside
Quick to assume minds, to see faces, to err:
There’s no God-shaped hole, no need for faith;
Just that desiccated cherry over the wound
Of origins not from creation but a slow rise
Of evolution, unjumping, imperfect, and blind.

And, seconds after finishing the above, I knew I needed to write the below:

A GOD-SHAPED VOLE

If you so wish to look at it
Both vole and God are our friends of old
Both an away-branching from our current state
Both statuesque beasts, entertaining antics;
But not ones to watch your kids, or your state.

Vole is a small furry thing, seldom seen;
Vole is a pest, a carrier of disease
(Rat is just the name for your neighbor’s vole)
Voles are critters gnawing at the edges,
Unless they are Giant Radioactive Terror Voles,
From Planet G-D, which I can see from my house;
I guess don’t need to repeat that for the other:
The difference is your professor of biology
Can show you a glass-eyed old stuffed vole,
instead of “voles are only a metaphor of life!”

Also, and this is fundamentally true,
Not fundamentalist, but fundamental —
“Most vole species are”, you will see,
“Virtually indistinguishable”, so there.
One small, furry; the other imaginary, baseless:
A god-shaped vole, seen all over the world.
A god-shaped vole, girdling the human race.

And — though this probably ruins what small effect these two nuggets have — that last line is really supposed to read “girdling”, as in “completely removing a strip of bark around a tree’s outer circumference, causing its death”, which is what voles do. (According to Wikipedia anyway; if the next post up on Boing Boing is “Internet hit by ‘vole girdling’ spam worldhacks; Vole-Girdling Co. Inc.’s IPs perma-blocked from Wikipedia, Merriam, Webster’s”, I may have cause for trouble.)

So, you just sit at your desk and then wham and you look at Notepad and scream “What have I done? What have I done? A God-shaped vole, oh, the humanity!

And then you hit “Publish”.

And here’s a last bit that didn’t fit in:

If only there were volesteries,
And vonneries, and vole-thedrals,
and a Vole-Pope in a Vole-Can City;
Oh how nice and dandy life would be!

An order of Dis

November 25, 2009

Naughty e-mail program.

Shows this much of a post title: “Your Amazon.co.uk order has dis”.

I spend the eternity between click and load trying to come up with any word that fits except “disappeared”.

Or “disapparated”. “Disembodied the handler”? “Discombobulated my mind”? “DISINTEGRATED LONDON”?

Then I see it’s “dispatched”.

“Your order has dispatched”? Either (or rather probably) this is postal-speak, the sub has surfaced and the like, or then you should say “Your order has been dispatched”, right? I don’t even know what an order dispatching itself is supposed to look like — an order exploding, or an order growing hair, or even disintegrating, yes; but self-dispatching implies autonomy that I won’t have in books I order. That’s for Evil Dead and Discworld!

Probably I’ll see my Amazon.co.uk order taking a smoke break and a glass of whiskey next. “Instead of books, we sent you this malignant dwarf; he dispatched himself. Shop again!”

Two short and tasteless bits

November 25, 2009

A new study of war-related computer games finds they contain acts that, in real life, would be war crimes. As a consequence, a whole lot of people have taken their inner sniffy old lady for an outing.

Me myself I like my violent entertainment, and though in real life I’m the mildest person you’d ever meet, I say they’ll take my Derrick away when they pry it from my dead, cold hands!

Same for my Agatha Christies.

And Happy Tree Friends.

Don’t have many computer games at the moment, but if I had, no-one would regulate them out either.

Why, I even reserve the right to commit the ultimate horrible-bad thing in the eyes of these censor-happy loons, the right to seek out and consume detail-rich New Testament snuff porn, if I feel like it. I’m sure there’s fan fiction somewhere; please don’t give me links. I know the way to temptation and Rule 34 already.

(I don’t feel like that right now, but I reserve the right; it’s no-one else’s business and nothing that would drive me out seeking carpenters to crucify. (Come to think of that, isn’t tentacle porn the safest kind — I’ll be damned if I some deranged type can emulate that!) And if mere entertainment is denied, I can always go for fine art; the link is to something I find utterly inoffensive, and actually rather sweet; a judge in 1976 found it “blasphemous libel”.)

The report also suggests the games might be as kind as to point out the criminal aspects of the acts committed — I can’t think of anything reading that except a young gamer shouting “All in thirty seconds! Arson, Larceny, Double Homicide, Perjury, Property Theft and Triple Corpse Desecration with Libelous Blasphemy — woo! SUPER COMBO DESTRUCTION!”

(Then his friend says “Next, Misprision of Felony and Negligent Homicide! Gotta get ’em all!”)

(Not that there’s anything wrong with that.)

That’s a step away from a level-ending screen that reads “Crimes against humanity 14/26 DO BETTER NEXT TIME WORM” — which, while something that would be curious and fresh and harmless, isn’t what I gather these censorious types want.

* * *

And now for something completely different.

According to this nice little calculator, if the Sun was a centimeter across, the Earth would be a meter away, and the speed of light would be 2 mm/sec.

A light year would be 70 kilometers.

And — remember that the Sun’s a centimeter across, and the Earth is a meter away — a red giant star would be four meters across. Cor blimey, guv’nor.

I can somehow handle the idea that on this scale the closest star (Alpha Centauri) is 290 kilometers away; but to think that the galactic center is still 1.9 million kilometers away… sorry, my brain is broken again.

And don’t even think about how in addition to these few specks, all else is Emptiness.

Mohammed in a crapper*, that’s perspective. And there’s wordless horror in that cosmic awe, too.

* * *

* : What? I grew tired of “Christ on a crapper” and “Buddha in a pine tree”; to say nothing of “Zoroaster onna stick”, “Joseph Smith in a furry convention”, “Mother Teresa behind the glove compartment (soon a major Japanese horror movie)”, “Zeus in the pews”, “Torak at the urologist’s” and “Jim Jones in Guyana!” Varied blasphemous oaths, you know?

Godplaying

November 25, 2009

I’ve often heard it said it’s not OK for men to play God — to make new life and then abuse and kill it according to their whim, or to rule as they want over others without checks or balances or any law beyond their own whims and prejudices.

If it’s not OK for men to play God, why’s it OK for God to play God?

Just a thought.

* * *

Also, in a different sort of godplaying, finished the NaNoWriMo novel on Monday; or well, finished and finished — still have some 3000 words or so to plug in here and there, but am over the 50 000-word limit, and have written the “FIN” to the end of the file. (TeXnicCenter and MiKTeX is what I use; what ends with “doc” just means it needs doctoring into some better format.)

Feelin’ a little bit tired after that; but an average of 2100 words per day for 23 days is supposed to tire; an additional couple of hours staring at the screen (mercifully not usually blank) each day takes its toll.

Oh, and how the novel turned out? Well, it began with one plot; then lost it; then gathered clues and scenes and eerie intimations for 20 000 words; and then during the last 10 000 or so finally decided what it was all about. There’s going to be a lot of editing; won’t do to introduce characters and mysteries if you’re not going to explain them in the end.

Oh, the plot. Right. Well, in the most compact and bloodless way it turned out to be this: A graduate student discovers what happens when a “cult” of mathematics professors deludes itself thinking that their weird ritual-science pentagram-derived powers are proof for the existence of gods and souls. In Lovecraftian terms what they discover isn’t even Azathoth; but assigning names to it becomes the seed of their eventual downfall. Knew all the while it was a horror story; didn’t discover until the ending that it was a revenge story, too.

(“So, literary licence much?” — “Well, wrote in black-robed maths professors chanting ‘Euler Euler Euler’ in nameless cellars as something terrible rises out of the pentagram.” — “Okay.”)

A mild idea: News for TRIVIAL BEINGS

November 23, 2009

Someone ought to found a magazine for graduate students of mathematics. And one of a special kind and slant, mind you. Not one of those that bend down (and over) in their willingness to cater even to the furry, unsophisticated high school-level reader — no, but one that embraced the patrician and vaguely disquieting in-group tribalism of those that are not yet Ph.D.:s, but are no more mortal men and women.

(As for those that scorn the “no more mortal” bit, consider this. As every elementary school student knows, once you’re an M.Sc. or the equivalent, you get a third eye. For those with teacher training it’s in the backs of their heads, and thus nothing behind them is missed; those going for research have it in the middle of the forehead, which accounts for the frowns and folds that gather there. And as you get nearer to a Ph.D., the changes grow more… disquieting.)

(And you thought the common condition of being a “chalkdust albino” was all due to busy blackboard-work and staying inside too much? You sweet innocent fool; imagine Wilbur Whateley and a naked mole rat and you will get as close as your puny mind can comprehend to the glorious terror of full doctordom!)

Anyway, here’s my idea.

* * *

News for TRIVIAL BEINGS

subtitle: “a magazine of the nondoctoral ones”

byline: “You say ‘This ain’t no news!?’ — I say this is news to me!”

Columns and regular features:

  • Your Voyeristic Glimpse Into The Sordid Grad-Life of Another (“Graduate Student of the Month”, honestly titled)
  • A Word from the Other Side (written by an actual, real, official Ph.D.; don’t worry, not your advisor and all the names in the anecdotes are changed anyway)
  • Advice for Grad Lemma Slaves (agony aunt column, answering such dire questions as “Do professors ever sleep? If so, where? And do you really have to use wooden stakes?”, and “What is the meaning of life?” — the answers to these particulars are “No. See previous. Yes.” and “Lemmata.“)
  • TA-be or not TA-be (stories from the pearls-and-swine trade as one side calls it, or the trade of mysteries for obfuscations according to the other; or the one-baboon-and-many-gerbils trade according to the side that is not involved)
  • Tales of the Tenure Overlords (venting about the prof caste, the lecturer lot, the deathly docents of Mt. Doom, and the grantmasters of Yh and their foul geases and inquisitions of inconsequential trivia and miscellania)
  • Encounters of the Nonacademical Kind (when the “real life” intrudes: parents, siblings, lovers, plumbers, and various other people who persist in the delusion that studying mathematics has something to do with mere calculation; also the recurring and recurring disaster of how you almost found an implicit formula for the transcendental approximation of the restaurant bill division function minimizer for all real-valued Lipschitz continuous order functions and for any rational number of orderers that was not an integer… and then you noticed everyone else had paid.)
  • Noodling the Budget (culinary and monetary tips; also the occasional fashion tip, such as this: “During summertime wear a muumuu — you don’t need to wear a stitch of anything else! Imagine the savings on wear and tear!”)
  • Things Fall Apart; the Lemma Cannot Hold (poetry corner; mostly unspeakable, the high point being “Shakespeare’s sonnets, redone as expressions of a function theorist’s frustration, pt. XVIII”)
  • Asymptotically Towards the Doctorate (tales of procrastination; would most probably be the most lengthy column of these)
  • 101 Ways to Prepare Noodles (self-explanatory, really; way #34 is “You gots a lake? Fine, you gonna eat lake-trawled noodles with healthy blue algae coating tonite! Here’s how, bub —“)
  • Excuse-Fu (or the million ways of saying you spent yesterday playing solitaire without saying it; this zen column strives for morality in adversity and truth in equivocation, while still avoiding the blunt and ugly expression of the whole of it; also includes the occasional “What is truth anyway?”, examining what commonly used words and phrases really mean, and how you can use those real meanings to your advantage. “You will be lucky if you get him to work for you”, right?)
  • Demo Vu (TA-help; named for that disquieting French-named feeling of “I have seen this problem somewhere before — aha, the sod’s still pushing out the same exercises he did when I had this course! Prior solution bonanza!”)

Well, one can dream, right?

And besides, a single visit to your library’s magazine section will show there are many, many periodicals much more curious than this one would be.

Some notes on a problem of Pascal’s

November 23, 2009

So, Pascal’s Wager. I am sure you know it, but here’s a formulation anyway:

If you erroneously believe in God, you lose nothing (assuming that death is the absolute end), whereas if you correctly believe in God, you gain everything (eternal bliss). But if you correctly disbelieve in God, you gain nothing (death ends all), whereas if you erroneously disbelieve in God, you lose everything (eternal damnation).

Since I am a graduate student of mathematics, I am not equipped to leave utterances like this alone; and thus, a bit of probability tomfoolery to torture this anyway silly argument follows.

First, some horrendous simplification. Let us consider a system where one can believe in any one of n gods, or disbelieve all of them. Let us further say that either any single one of these gods exists and the others do not; or then no gods exist at all.

Let us suppose for simplicity’s sake that the existence of any particular one of these gods is equally probable, and that probability is denoted by p_G, while the possibility of all these gods being fictious is p_0. Naturally, np_G + p_0 = 1. (We will return to this, later.)

Now, let us suppose (we do a lot of supposing, don’t we?) that the choice to believe any particular one of these n+1 choices has consequences wholly determined by that choice; and particularly that we can assign some numerical values to the desirability of the end results of “not believing in a god that exists” (a_G^-, trad. “Hell”), “believing in a god that exists” (a_G^+, trad. “Heaven”), “not believing in a god when there is none” (a_0^+), and “believing in a god when there is none” (a_0^-). Here zero denotes the consequences of atheism being true, while G stands for the existence of some god; and please note that we assume that since there are n distinct and different gods, the adverse outcome of one of them being real occurs to all atheists — and to all who believe in any of the n-1 other gods!

(I apologize for that exclamation mark. Traditionally, exclamation marks and mathematical symbols co-occur only in crankery of Timecubical dimensions.)

For “simplicity”, we assume all these outcome-values are positive; the indubitable negativity of the various Hell-scenarios and lives wasted in futile worship will be handled with a minus sign.

Having introduced all this notation, we can say that the expected value of atheism, E(0), is the sum of the probabilities of the various outcomes multiplied by their assigned “values”, and can thus be written as:

\displaystyle E(0) = a_0^+p_0 - n a_G^-p_G,

while the expected value of believing in one of the gods, or E(G), is:

\displaystyle E(G) = -a_0^-p_0 - (n-1) a_G^-p_G + a_G^+p_G.

Now Pascal’s idea was that one should believe in God, because the latter of these values was inestimably greater, or E(G) > E(0); but please note that his simple system contained only atheism and one possible God (or n=1); while this system, and the reality it in its crude way emulates, contains several; in this case the indeterminate amount n.

If we try to simplify the expression E(G) > E(0), we note that because of our symmetric assumptions (“all gods are the same”), the multiplier n disappears, and after some trivial formula-juggling we are left with this:

\displaystyle p_G(a_G^+ + a_G^-) > p_0(a_0^+ + a_0^-),

or

\displaystyle p_G > p_0\frac{a_0^+ + a_0^-}{a_G^+ + a_G^-},

that is to say that that (and thus any) particular brand of theism is more profitable than atheism if the previous inequality is true. Assuming we are science-literate people momentarily afflicted with the probability-assigning disorder, we can agree that the probability of god’s existence (p_G) is not a big number; and being mathematics-literate, we can agree that the rational part of the right-hand side is by necessity something very small, the absolute values of eternal bliss and eternal torment being of necessity more than the rewards of one life well spent, or the losses of one wasted in futile rituals. Since the probability of anything (say of no gods, or p_0) is a number between zero and one (mathematically but not realistically including both), the right-hand side is something small as well.

Thus, naively, it seems the problem in insoluble: two very small numbers, and no way to see which is smaller.

To escape this, we make more perilous assumptions, and especially notice that, unlike with Pascal, this “belief in god” is actually “belief in a god”, namely one of the n gods assumed to be choices. Let us assume that the ratio of “earthly outcomes” to “divine outcomes” is some very small number 10^{-k}, where k is a positive integer. (See first endnote for why this number is not zero.) Let us also assume that for any of the gods the probability of that god’s existence is some very small probability p_G = 10^{-k}/n. (See second endnote for matters implicit in this.) Since for the probabilities of gods or none the equality np_G + p_0 = 1 holds, we can say that p_0 = 1 - 10^{-k}.

Thus, our result becomes

\displaystyle 10^{-k}/n > (1 - 10^{-k})10^{-k},

or, simplified,

\displaystyle 1 > n(1 - 10^{-k}).

What does this mean?

Well, bad news for the theists that wish to use this kind of argumentation, frankly. For theism to be “more profitable” in this crude sense, the above inequality has to hold: and as long as the combined probability of all gods considered (np_G = 10^{-k}) is a very small number (and as a probability it is naturally below one), the bracketed part of the right-hand side is very close to one; and in this case, as there are several gods to be considered (n>1), theism immediate becomes the less attractive of the two general alternatives. (Though if in Pascal and in a particular movie series “there can be only one”, or n = 1, the gamble is profitable in the crude sense described above.)

So there: with these particular assumptions, in this particular model of the problem, Pascal’s Wager is bullshit.

It naturally is so in any context; but in this particular one, it is so by mathematics even allowing that the basic probabilistic nature of the thing is tenable.

* * *

First endnote. The non-infinity of heaven.

Some may quibble that I have missed the entire point of Pascal’s Wager (as I have) with the statement that “Let us assume that the ratio of ‘earthly outcomes’ to ‘divine outcomes’ is some very small number 10^{-k}, where k is a positive integer”; and insist that since the joys/griefs of Heaven/Hell are infinite in duration and magnitude, the number should not be very small, but actually zero.

I don’t think that’s justified. (Also, it would wreck my argument.)

The number 10^{-k} is taken to be the ratio of “how preferable is an atheist’s life, and how horrible a life, your only one, wasted in futile rituals” to “how preferable is Heaven, and how horrible is Hell”. This author thinks there’s something quite horrible in wasting one’s only life, and something very valuable in using it well if that’s all one has; and, being of mathematical bent, the author also wishes to note that the mere fact that Heaven or Hell last forever do not mean their “preference value” (a made-up term) is infinity, no matter how much Pascal opined it to be: after all, one may, just as one solitary example, easily choose an always positive function whose integral from a zero point all the way to infinity is still a limited number, and not infinite.

That is to say,

\displaystyle \int_1^\infty \frac{1}{x^2}\,dx = 1,

and because of that Heaven and Hell don’t impress me much. Suck on that, Blaise Pascal.

* * *

Second endnote. On the choice p_G = 10^{-k}/n.

If we choose p_G = 10^{-k} instead, we arrive to the inequality

\displaystyle 0 < n10^{-k},

which immediately illustrates the problem of that choice: the simple addition of a god, no matter how curious, makes any theism a better bet, which is absurd! (Whether at this point in this kind of a tomfoolery the word “absurd” has any meaning is left to the reader.)

Indeed, the choice made in the main article (p_G = 10^{-k}/n) is better precisely since it (sort of) assumes that the various inferences for the existence of (some) god, and against atheism, are “shared” by the various possible divinities, much in the same way that Ken Ham and Harun Yahya use the same bogus arguments, and more devious theologians give “proofs” for some god, but not for any particular deity. Thus the simple invention of yet another god does not mean that the probability of atheism’s truth is automatically decreased.

If we assume that p_G = 10^{-k} as in this endnote, we only need to follow that with “we assume 10^k gods”, and theism is immediately true!)

Finally: the sharp-eyed reader may have noticed the two separate introductions of the number 10^{-k} into the logic above. This is purposeful, of course: partly to get at the desired pro-atheistic conclusion (hey, at least I’m honest!), and partly to illustrate that if the ratio of mortal and divine outcomes is somehow “commeasurable” to the probability of some divine reality, Pascal’s argument is in trouble. (And if the theist counters with the “Heaven and Hell are of infinite worth and horror!” canard I don’t see any reason why the atheist could not answer with the equally absolutist “The probability of any god existing is zero, so fuck you too!” retort; things will proceed by their own weight from there.)

Different choices and simplifications will of course lead to different outcomes; but given the fatuity of the argument in the first place, this has been more a mathematical diversion than any serious atheological piece.

Unfinished

November 21, 2009

(Of the three below, the first I will get back to; the second I don’t know about, and the third, probably not. The fourth type of unfinished series, as regards where I stopped in it, is of course the case where you reach for the next book and hear it hasn’t been published yet; see Scott Lynch, Patrick Rothfuss, etc. etc.)

A Song of Ice and Fire

Well, read A Game of Thrones over one winter holiday. (Christmas break, Celebration of the Birth of the Most Sacred Tarja Halonen, whatever.)

The book being huge, decided to have a break before the next part, and eventually read A Clash of Kings during the summer holidays some six months later.

Found this a working system; scheduled A Storm of Swords for the next winter holidays… and then blew it; had something else to read; forgot; and found myself geographically separated from the physical book for a long while after that, never quite able to remember to pick it up.

Currently am troubled by the choice of whether to recap the first two volumes by the handy-dandy abbreviation work of others; or whether to read them again. Basically it’s a problem of “This will be delicious because of its faint familiarity, and all the little details you forgot!” versus “This will be exquisite because of its virginal newness, and the turns you never foresaw!”, and as agonizing isn’t my cup of tea, I defer the decision of where to dive again into the bloody and glorious tale.

The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant

Borrowed the first volume from a library; read it; hated it.

A few years later happened across the first two trilogies in a used book shop; bought them on a whim, sure my bad experience had been just childish incomprehension. Some time later read the first volume; still hated it. (Gawd, the whiny flaccid thing!)

Am working up the conviction that the next time, really, the next time I’ll “get” the book. (If not, I’ll probably “throw” it.)

Sword of Truth, and other series

It starts like this: you read the first book and like it.

(Well, actually with the Sword of Truth it started with the third book, Blood of the Fold; for some reason, probably temporary derangement, I picked it up from a library and read it first. Soon after, insomnia and diarrhea figured heavily; not as a result of the reading, I hasten to add, but just because of the stresses of student life and my cooking. A lot of the book was read after midnight in a small room on a throne of ivory — but maybe this is not what you wanted to hear.)

Then you immediately borrow the second book, and like it as well.

A week or a few weeks later you go through the third (maybe for a second time, as the case may be); you like it, but not quite as much as the first two.

Then you have a bit longer break, then finally get around to reading the fourth, and it’s okay.

And eventually dagnabbit the library’s copy is taken by someone else when you’d like it, or you get lost reading something equally captivating for a longish time; and then you find yourself with the next volume in your hand, standing by the library shelf, and thinking: “I have no fecking idea of where I left the story.”

I think the last one of Goodkind that I read was Soul of the Fire, the fifth book; was years ago, it was. Would have to reread the first five to get at the last six. Don’t know if I ever will.

(Also, some say the books degenerate towards the end; can be. I don’t know. But I never had any trouble with the much-mocked “evil chicken”, and found the philosophical ideas — apparently Goodkind is an Objectivist, about whom I know little, and less of it is good — more entertaining though not better than the constant bland unthinking niceism that much of fantasy tends to go by. It’s nice to have something different, even if that difference means the main character is something of a dick.)

(Don’t believe the “but he’s presented as an idolizable hero!” bit either — I idolize who I want to. People can read the Old Testament for pleasure, too, even while recognizing the main character is a dick operating in a world of twisted horror. Indeed, there must be plenty of popcorn-worthy horror movies in the Good Old Book. And as for moral outrage, well, imaginary people have no rights.)

(Curiously though, even if I had no problems with taking a feces-spurting heroine-menacing evil incarnate chicken seriously, I have never been able to read anything about Tolkien’s swan-shaped ships without grimacing. And yes, I see the comedy potential in the evil chicken, but I think a reader of any unusual fiction has to learn to avoid the culturally instinctive cheap laugh. Not to mention that laughing at the fact that’s “it’s just a chicken!” is a bit like laughing that “it’s just a ring, your silly hobbits” — the point being that it’s not very useful to take all the realistic and sarcastic baggage along to a different world.)

(And then there’s the question of how good a writer Goodkind is, but what do I know about that? Others can judge that, and do, but I’m content to be amused by whatever I find appealing in my appalling ignorance of style and form.)

(How on earth did I drift into writing paragraph after paragraph of excuses for something I read years and years ago and barely even remember and certainly shouldn’t opine anything about?)

(Ah well.)

(One final thing: Felt obscenely nice to type “Terry Goodkind’s Chicken of Evil” into the Google search box to find a quote of that bit. If that was a movie title, I’d watch it.)