?

Log in

entries friends calendar profile Previous Previous Next Next
Two audiobooks, one rant as promised - Qualified Perceptions
firstfrost
firstfrost
Two audiobooks, one rant as promised
Two audiobooks:
The Grand Sophy (by Georgette Heyer)
Another audiobook. Sophy can kind of do no wrong, and this is lighter and fluffier than some other Heyers, but it's fun popcorn.

William Shakespeare's Star Wars (by Ian Doescher)
This is adorable, if you do not have a moral objection to derivative works. I strongly recommend the audiobook, which does a really good job with the voices, plus sound effects and music, and it also makes all the elisions sound natural instead of looking weird. In addition to converting all the movie dialogue to iambic pentameter (and stealing shamelessly from every Shakespeare play ever), there are also a lot of soliloquys given to R2D2 and Darth Vader and others. I think my favorite additional content is the pair of stormtroopers guarding the Falcon on the Death Star, who have a kind of pair-of-fools conversation before going and getting killed by the PCs, but it's too long to excerpt here. Here's a nice small quote.
Han: 'Tis but the ship that hath the Kessel run
Accomplish'd in twelve parsecs, nothing more.
Imperi'l starships have I slyly 'scap'd,
But nothing more of that. And neither do
I speak about bulk-cruisers small, but vast
Corelli'n ships, yet nothing more, no more.
I shall not brag about her speed, good Sir.
Suffice to say the ship shall fill thy needs,
As she's the fastest e'er. But nothing more.
Luke: [aside] Aye, nothing more, I wish he'd hold his peace.
This man, it seems, doth love his ship far more
Than ere I saw a man his woman love.
It's a novelty item, but it's one of the better ones I've listened to.
One rant, as promised:
Inferno (by Dan Brown)
So, mjperson bought me this book so I would rant about it. Thus, I dutifully took notes. As it turns out, a lot of the notes become obsolete, because 1) it's not clear what's going on at the beginning 2) many of the people are being sneaky and not doing what they claim to be doing (with a lot of help from the author in disguising it), and 3) Mr. Brown really enjoys his red herrings, but he is not satisfied to simply drag them across the trail of the plot, but must instead run up to the reader and wave them madly about while shouting "LOOK AT THE PRETTY FISH!". So I'm skipping all the things for which I thought "Why the *heck* are you doing this thing? It makes no sense!" when the answer is "That wasn't really what you were doing." However, I still have some complaints. And, spoilers ahead. Really, serious spoilers. For the end of the book and everything.

  • I started out by marking the opening quote: "I am the Shade. Through the dolent city, I flee. Through the eternal woe, I take flight." What is this word "dolent"? That is not a word. It is not in the dictionary. But to be fair, I checked the OED. It was in the OED, an archaic word for "sorrowful." And... one of the quotes the OED cited was in Longfellow's translation of Dante's Inferno: "Through me is the way to the city dolent; Through me the way is to eternal dole." Okay, Mr. Brown, you win this round, though Longfellow's is more poetic than yours.

    But then, we got to:

    [Langdon narrates a dream, where someone says "I am death."]
    "'I am death'?" Sienna asked, looking troubled.
    "That's what it said, yes."
    "Okay ... I guess that beats 'I am Vishnu, destroyer of worlds.'"
    The young woman had just quoted Robert Oppenheimer at the moment he tested the first atomic bomb.
    No! Agh! Robert Oppenheimer said "I am become death, the destroyer of worlds." And (mjperson points out), he's referencing Krishna rather than Vishnu anyhow. How is it possible to leap from "I am death" to Oppenheimer if you don't think Oppenheimer used the word "death"? Are you doing this intentionally to mess with me? (Probably not.) We'll call it 1-1 now.

  • I kind of admire the starting premise, which pares down Robert Langdon to his purest form: a riddle-path-quester. At the beginning of the book, he is suffering from amnesia, so he doesn't know what the heck is going on, but he has an Art History Clue on him in a secret pocket, so he is off! And being chased by people and occasionally shot at, for tension, but the important thing is he has a Clue, and his character class dictates that he follows clues and is good at it. Thus is there a plot.
  • On the other hand, there is something unsatisfying about "Robert Langdon works on solving the riddle path that he already got halfway through solving yesterday before getting amnesia." The reader didn't see him solve it the first time, but we've also all had to redo work that we lost, and it's really frustrating. I am frustrated on his behalf.
  • Somehow, everyone else involved seems to have bought into the idea that Riddle Paths and the Solving Thereof is the most important thing. On the previous quest through this riddle path, Langdon and his buddy steal the Art Object that has the Secret Message. Langdon clearly understands that the secret message means "look here", because it takes him about three seconds to figure it out the second time around. However, he and his buddy must flee, and they split up. Rather than do the thing to read the message, the buddy takes the object, hides it in an Artly Historical Place, leaves a cryptic message for Langdon hinting at where he has hidden it (thus constructing another step for Langdon's new riddle path), and then conveniently dies of natural causes.
  • This "everyone does riddle paths" thing includes the bad guy - why the heck does he construct a riddle path in the first place that leads to where his Nefarious Plan is due to go off? (Why is his nefarious plan even on a timer in the first place?) The answer seems to be something like "He's deranged, and he wants his nemesis to understand his brilliance, and he wants his nemesis to be equally brilliant in riddle-path-solving" (alas, she is not, and has to hire Langdon. But at least she knows who the go-to guy is for riddle paths.)
  • And while I continue to hammer this point, why does the Secret Conspiracy put Langdon on the path of solving the riddle path that they do not want solved? Later, they change their mind and decide that they want it solved after all, but at the beginning, their game goal is "keep anyone from finding out what the plot is." They do this by mindwiping Langdon so that he forgets the past day of riddle-path-solving he has been doing for the good guy team, and then switch him over to re-solving the riddle path for the bad guy team, while being chased by the good guy team such that they can figure out where he's going. It would be much simpler to just take the clue away from Langdon in the first place, if what they want is for the plot to not be found, but "don't solve the riddle path" just doesn't seem to be a thing that anyone in the DaVinciVerse can envision.

  • Enough about riddle paths. The main bad guy is the Brilliant (but deranged) scientist, who is fixated on the idea that the world is destined for overpopulating doom. The Black Death was keen and useful in bringing about the Renaissance, so what we really need now is another plague to sort things out. (Actually, his plan is a partial-sterility plague, we eventually find out, but Mr. Brown has been nailing the "Black Plague" red herring to the reader's face all book). When the main bad guy is depicted as not totally rational, that's fine. But once he starts wearing the hat of Guy Who Says Hard Truths rather than hat of Deranged Villain, then I want to shake him. The character mocks the WHO for thinking contraception will help - but really, we have a lot of data on this, and "wealth and education and women's autonomy" appears to be the solution. Most of Europe is currently in negative population growth. So when what sounds to me like Authorial Viewpoint starts saying that the only way to fix inevitable doom is by across-the-board sterilization (or partial genocide), I disapprove.
Minor Quibbles
  • If the two tenets of your company are "Never make a promise you cannot keep." and "Never lie to a client. Ever." then why is the name of your company yacht and secret base the Mendacium?
  • "In the fourteenth century, Italian literature was, by requirement, divided into two categories: tragedy, representing high literature, was written in formal Italian; comedy, representing low literature, was written in the vernacular and geared toward the general population." I don't have any quibbles with this, I just found it fascinating that 1700 people highlighted it (as the Kindle helpfully points out). 1701 people now, because I did too.
  • "If I were to take this piece of paper and tear it in two ..." He paused at a table, picked up a sheet of paper, and ripped it loudly in half. "And then if I were to place the two halves on top of each other ..." He stacked the two halves. "And then if I were to repeat the process ..." He again tore the papers, stacking them. "I produce a stack of paper that is now four times the thickness of the original, correct?" His eyes seemed to smolder in the darkness of the room.
    Elizabeth did not appreciate his condescending tone and aggressive posture. She said nothing.
    "Hypothetically speaking," he continued, moving closer still, "if the original sheet of paper is a mere one-tenth of a millimeter thick, and I were to repeat this process ... say, fifty times ... do you know how tall this stack would be?"
    Elizabeth bristled. "I do," she replied with more hostility than she intended. "It would be one-tenth of a millimeter times two to the fiftieth power. It's called geometric progression. Might I ask what I'm doing here?"
    What is it with explaining exponential growth with stacking pieces of paper? This one only stacks the paper up to the sun, not the width of the universe, and it does not spend pages and pages on it, but it is still the wrong analogy. I so love Elizabeth (who is the head of the WHO and familiar with exponential growth) for refusing to be wowed here.
  • During the confrontation between Elizabeth and the Deranged Villain, she takes a cell phone photo of him to report him as a deranged villain. (Yay Elizabeth, again!). When she looks at the photo she has taken, she gasps, recognizing the famous person she has been talking to. What the heck?
  • "She probably thought if she shot you with a blank, she could make you understand she was not an assassin after all and that you were caught up in an illusion." Okay, no. Shooting someone (even with a blank) is not the best way to convince someone of your good intentions. If only thing you can think of is that you have to convince them that your gun has blanks, maybe you should try shooting yourself with it?
  • Many of the characters seem to confuse Darwin with God. Evolution has no intentionality. "Resisting evolution" is not inherently immoral. Here's the most egregious example:
    "And as a Darwinist," she continued, "you know that nature has always found a way to keep the human population in check -- plagues, famines, floods. But let me ask you this -- isn't it possible that nature found a different way this time? Instead of sending us horrific disasters and misery ... maybe nature, through the process of evolution, created a scientist who invented a different method of decreasing our numbers over time. No plagues. No death. Just a species more in tune with its environment -- "
  • After the virus has infected the world (!!!), there is some discussion about trying to cure it. It's a tailored viral vector that targets reproductive genes (and of course the genetic mechanisms of female fertility and male fertility work exactly the same way...). However, it is suspected that trying to fix things in the future will be too dangerous, because mucking with genes can cause Unforeseen Side Effects. The deranged villain's mucking with genes was probably safe (other than the sterility) because he was a super-genius, so that's okay.

  • I'll also note the complaint that mjperson had, which I think is completely reasonable: the entire book is pointless. As of the beginning of the book, even as of the first run through the riddle path, the Nefarious Plan has already happened. Getting to the end of the riddle path is by definition too late to stop it from going off. For some reason, that didn't bug me - I think I was focusing on character stupidity rather than construction flaws at that point, and it seemed like the only way around the contradiction of "Langdon can't fail to solve his riddle path" and "the deranged villain has the authorial hat of truth and his doomsday plan is necessary". But it definitely is a weird construction flaw.

Tags: ,
Current Mood: cheerful cheerful

7 comments or Leave a comment
Comments
lillibet From: lillibet Date: March 12th, 2014 02:26 pm (UTC) (Link)
Very satisfying rant, thank you. I was particularly struck by the refusal to look at the actual data--Brown's hallmark seems to be to drag out a well-known theory, present it as a shocking secret, rather than something anyone who pays attention to such things would know, and "solve" it with the most ridiculous, end-of-times solution possible. His pearl-clutching over the existence of the CERN supercollider in Angels & Demons was particularly risible to me, since you don't need to be anything more than someone who glances at science headlines to know that one.
firstfrost From: firstfrost Date: March 12th, 2014 02:52 pm (UTC) (Link)
CERN used to have a web page explaining about the antimatter in Angels and Demons and how you couldn't get more energy out of an explosion with antimatter than you put into generating it in the first place.

I can't find the page any more on their site; instead, I find a page talking about CERN having an exhibit at the Frankfurt Book Fair in 2012 with science books and interactive media stuff and "the antimatter trap used as a prop in the Hollywood blockbuster Angels & Demons".

So I guess CERN has decided to embrace the publicity rather than worry about the antimatter fearmongering. :)
marcusmarcusrc From: marcusmarcusrc Date: March 12th, 2014 03:13 pm (UTC) (Link)
I had to go back to your last review to confirm that, in fact, 2 of the books you just read did the exponential paper thing and you weren't just describing the same book twice.

jsburbidge From: jsburbidge Date: March 12th, 2014 03:47 pm (UTC) (Link)
"In the fourteenth century, Italian literature was, by requirement, divided into two categories: tragedy, representing high literature, was written in formal Italian; comedy, representing low literature, was written in the vernacular and geared toward the general population."

WTF?

As Fermi once said, this isn't even wrong.

There was no such thing as "formal Italian", at least in any sense that we would take the term. In 13th-14th Century Tuscany, "high literature" was written in Latin, which could be called "formal Italian" if you want, but this does not correspond to normal usage. Oh, and except for the "high literature" written in the langue d'oc which leads to Dante's homage to Arnaut Daniel in the Purgatorio.

Dante's De Vulgari Eloquentia is an argument for the acceptability of "literary" writing in "vulgar" Italian across all modes. And indeed, the 14th Century, following Dante, has tragedies as well as comedies written in Italian, such as Il Filostrato, which stands directly behind Chaucer's Troilus and Criseyde.

Plus there's lots of literature which isn't easily defined as tragedy or comedy, including Dante's own Vita Nuova and all the works in the dolce stil nuovo.

Also, whose requirement? It's not as though Italy was united, or had the equivalent of and Academy ruling on literary works.
firstfrost From: firstfrost Date: March 12th, 2014 03:57 pm (UTC) (Link)
I will happily class this note as another quibble.

But it makes me wonder if I could have crowdsourced my entire rant by quoting random sentences on the theory that they all had an error one way or another. :)
countertorque From: countertorque Date: March 15th, 2014 03:33 am (UTC) (Link)
Stop reading Dan Brown.
kirisutogomen From: kirisutogomen Date: March 23rd, 2014 07:17 pm (UTC) (Link)
To be fair, the same misunderstanding of evolution is behind all kinds of quasi-respectable junk like the Gaia Hypothesis.

Oh, and Krishna is often considered the eighth avatar of Vishnu.

Edited at 2014-03-23 07:20 pm (UTC)
7 comments or Leave a comment