Book Chatter: Robert Charles Wilson

Robert Charles Wilson is a pretty good writer. I've read four of his books now, and I keep picking them up. Yet... it's gotten to the point where I'm already pretty certain I know how they'll end, and so I wonder - how long can an author keep up a formula, and still have it be satisfying? I understand that mystery writers frequently do dozens of books this way, romance authors hundreds. I just didn't expect one of the more popular scifi authors of recent to be so completely on a grid.

To his credit, Wilson's characters are appealing, well molded if not deeply. His technological settings are fascinating, invoking interesting views on economic and government systems, though with a light brushstroke... And his concepts... well, his concepts are fantastic ornament to the frame he uses repeatedly. I'd love to see any one of them dived into in greater detail, to understand how these technologies and philosophies really change the lives of people, instead of just setting them in play for a lather, rinse, repeat action escalation and denouement .

I'll probably keep reading, though. Maybe I haven't hit Wilson's best work. Or maybe his next novel will step outside the momentarily awe-inpspiring but ultimately empty answers he finds for his characters.


Hooray Sincerity!

Thank you, Stephen Colbert, for endorcing sincerity. (The bit about the Lincoln-Douglas drinking game wasn't bad, either).

Now will saying “yes” get you in trouble at times? Will saying “yes” lead you to doing some foolish things? Yes it will. But don’t be afraid to be a fool. Remember, you cannot be both young and wise. Young people who pretend to be wise to the ways of the world are mostly just cynics. Cynicism masquerades as wisdom, but it is the farthest thing from it. Because cynics don’t learn anything. Because cynicism is a self-imposed blindness, a rejection of the world because we are afraid it will hurt us or disappoint us. Cynics always say no. But saying “yes” begins things. Saying “yes” is how things grow. Saying “yes” leads to knowledge. “Yes” is for young people. So for as long as you have the strength to, say “yes.”
From the current king of straight-faced sarcasm, that means a lot. A great piece all around.


Le Parkour

A vague comment on a Making Light open thread led me into an amusing hour or so of research about the French originated phsyical art called parkour - including discovery of a local parkour group. I have to say, previously being able to be fit enough to do indoor wall climbing was inspiration to get fit. Being able to act like Spiderman? Entirely more motivating.

I understand this is mostly practiced by younger kids, but there's something natural and great about it.

The brief definition, from American Parkour:

Parkour is the art of moving through your environment using only your body and the surroundings to propel yourself. It can include running, jumping, climbing, even crawling, if that is the most suitable movement for the situation. Parkour could be grasped by imagining a race through an obstacle course, the goal is to overcome obstacles quickly and efficiently, without using extraneous movement. Apply this line of thought to an urban environment, or even a run through the woods, and you're on the right path. Because individual movements could vary so greatly by the situation, it is better to consider Parkour as defined by the intention instead of the movements themselves. If the intention is to get somewhere using the most effective movements with the least loss of momentum, then it could probably be considered Parkour.

I discover this with the same sort of delight with which I discovered urban exploration - something going on all around me, in familiar places, which I somehow had never seen before. I like that the world is dense and rich, and that I am constantly learning new things which exist. Maybe someday, once I'm a bit more fit, I'll be flying over walls too. Maybe.


Notes from Berkeley

Yesterday evening I wandered down to Telegraph Ave, on a vague quest for Blonde Redhead CDs or an interesting bar. I found neither. Telegraph is empty on an early summer evening - everything closes up as the sun starts to set, barred shut tight. The area feels seedy. Walking there down Oxford, though, is nicer than walking down Shattuck as I usually have. The campus smells green and nice, and there are people playing frisbee or jogging. Next time I get it in my head to go to South campus, I'll cut through instead.

Sometimes, this town seems small. Particularly when I notice how it is lacking in good bars - which is a blessing and a curse, recalling that the last time I had a local I liked a lot, it resulted in two badly sprained ankles and a vow never to return.

I miss Snow. After 2/3 of a bottle of sake, in particular. The winding, esorteric conversations we have when drunk or slightly so are unique.

I love TGI Sushi on University. I've been going to TGI since I lived in Campbell, where their first location was - a tiny hole in the wall in a strip mall, run by Chris, the charismatic chef and proprietor. I moved to Mountain View and they seemed to be following me - they opened a larger restaurant there, but it never captured the cramped charm of the original.

Finally, I moved here to Berkeley, and they opened down the street. This one is their largest location. The food is always tasty and well priced, the service pleasant, and the atmisphere... well... it varies, I guess. I often go there alone, so the Korean pop music and anime videos keep me entertained. Their waitresses used to wear sailor fuku, but recently changed to a more mundane apron type uniform. When I asked the waitress what happened to the fuku, she said, "We're all grown up now, no more sailor suits." Probably for the best.

While I'm on the topic, I love the Takara Sake Company. Their Nigori sake is affordable, local, and delicious. I've hooked a number of people on it. The shake it requires before pouring adds to the ritual that sake already feels like. It tastes velvety and sweet, and it's almost entirely too easy to get drunk on, as many headaches have evidenced.

Last night no exception.


Long distance computer <3

In response to Momus's article research request:

I'm about to write my next Wired column. I've decided it's going to be about the effect of information addiction on the life of couples. And I'd like your help, because I don't want it just to be me going on about me.
This is what I wrote, slightly edited since for coherency & caps:

My relationship is long distance, and for us, all communication is concurrent with browsing. Even phone chat is assumed to be backed by a half-watched browser window, refreshing rss feeds... There isn't any jealousy. I hear the clicks and typing in the background, as does he... It's just part of the audible landscape. Multitasking is a known quantity.

My boyfriend and I have been seeing each other for nearly three years, almost two of those separated by about 700 miles. We chat on the phone frequently, but more often than not, we are bound to computers, talking in text.

We paste links and excerpts back and forth in a steady stream. Sometimes one of us will note, "I'll read that one later," so that we're both clear an even conversation about it can't occur yet. We queue things up. We conference, later, and share our conclusions.

When we visit, we try to get away from the lcd glow, but the frequent times we still end up clicking in the same room at his house, I usually sit on his couch with a laptop on my lap, and he sits at his desk, across the room. We often narrate outloud bits of what we're reading, or send each other links in im, the same way we do when we're across state lines. When he finds something interesting, I will hang over his shoulder, so our ears and the temples of our glasses touch, and observe together. It's a comforting gesture, something I think fondly of when we're apart. When we are at my house, we sometimes sit side by side on my couch (which is the same as his couch, for reasons inexplicable) and put our feet up on my table, side by side. "our laptops love each other," I think I once told him. Mine, iBook, the more feminine. His, the Powerbook, clearly masculine. Without wires, co-browsing is cozy.

We are inherent researchers. We love information. We love sharing information with each other. There is nothing more satisfying than giving a piece of information to someone you know will eat it up, digest it, and return something more than data.

Book Chatter: Murakami & Dreams

I just finished re-reading The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami. I can't even remember when I read it last, or where I was, which is odd to me. I think it's the only one of Murakami's books I hadn't re-read until now - probably due to its 600-page length, but maybe because of something else.

Muarakami has a unique ability to twist my mind, I sometimes think. His characters live in a world where mysterious and magical things happen - but more often than not, it is dark, and sinister, and somehow more real to me than the types of magic I've encountered in other literature. He captures something about dreams that I find unnerving and immersing at the same time.

My brain gets strange when I read Murakami. I find myself detatched, in more than the normal reading-escapism way. I stay up too late, I eat too little. I have always found it hard to explain to others what his books are about. The back copy manages a decent synopsis, but there's something beyond the characters or storylines - not a theme, but a feeling.

Maybe it's not normal to have literature affect you this way, I wonder. To be so thorougly transported to another place that reality seems not quite as real seems unseemly for an adult. Fortunately or unfortunately, though, the book ends, and early summer twilight comes in the window, decidedly real. Sushi for dinner sounds good.


Too many CDs, too little music

I didn't mention 900 cds in my previous post just to ostentatiously brag. I spent a good chunk of my salary on music from the time I was first employed - not out of any desire to outdo anyone, but out of pure obsession. I listened to all of it. Great swaths of music, all day, every day. The genres changed over time - a lot of it was IDM, at first, and then I graduated to indie rock, and then Canadian post-rock... I had a hunger for music that I found constant feed for, on the local radio stations of the South Bay (the regions only redeeming feature) and the recommendations of friends.

But then, at some point, it all dried up. I don't know if I got jaded, or if the music genuinely changed, or if I'm just turning into one of those old people who only listen to their old Smiths albums, but I just haven't listened to much music in the last few years - and I've bought even less.

I sometimes wonder how many CDs I bought just because I heard they were good, and listened to them out of some kind of obligation. Now, I pre-screen anything I might purchase. soulseek is my music sharing application of preference (and in fact, you can find my library there as [redacted]). It lets me discover that no, I don't like Coheed and Cambria. No, I don't like Wolfmother, no matter how hyped. Yes, I do actually like Bloc Party.

I think the last album I actually bought was Ladytron - Witching Hour. It's a gorgeously constructed, anthemic, haunting album that I've been listening to for at least six months.

Six months? That should be decades in music years! I should have gone through at least thirty discs since then.

In an email conversation with my friend Kasey, he wondered why he likes some things and doesn't like others. "Context," I posited. The same way that certain visual aesthetics were charming in 2002 and are tired and old now, things get a tarnish of banality once they've been around for a while, once everything looks the same. The quest for novelty is exhausting, and I don't have the expendable income I once did.

Maybe I'll have to settle for a new album I love every six months, a couple a year. I don't feel bad for the music I download and try out - my closet full of plastic discs tells me I've tithed my share to the music industry, and I've earned the privilege of screening out things I'd stop listening to after a week anyway.

When the RIAA men come to my door, I'm using the "Insanity Due to Boring Music" defense. Wait for the headlines.