Sunday, January 18, 2009

Review: Dubliners by James Joyce

Note: This post originally appeared on my discontinued website The published date and time has been adjusted to match the original.

I'm halfway through Dubliners, and this exquisite collection of stories almost makes me wish Joyce had never ventured into the land of the novel. What if he'd stuck to this genre, and given his best years to it? If his literary energy and reputation is anything to go by, we could be tempted to say: he would have given us a handful of the very highest exemplars. As it is, it's not too far behind, and only in the relatively youthful emotion and lack of variety do we feel any real reason to complain. These are no major objections, and are valid only insofar as the author never made good on the potential on show here, with an even greater collection. One wants to feel righteous by saying, "if you have the ability, you should use it." ...

But of course, he gave us Ulysses, and we should all be grateful for that. Even those of us, like me, who have never read it, but who can grasp its significance by reading a few quotes and seeing what followed. Without it, what would the literary landscape have looked like? Similar, perhaps, but some aspect would never have been brought to its proper conclusion.

There are even those who would be tempted to say Finnegan's Wake will be given its true place when posterity has figured out its worth; perhaps on a par, or in some respects ahead of Ulysses. When I get around to it I might comment, but suffice it to say Joyce's legacy would be nearly intact without Dubliners.

This, however, is perhaps more of an indication that the short story has never been taken seriously enough. Can it assume the same scope and level of enquiry as a novel? Can it reach the same depth of feeling as a poem? These are almost rhetorical questions for most readers. Most of the time, it would seem, short stories assume some sort of lesser middle ground.

With the bicentennial of Edgar Allan Poe's birth tomorrow, I intend to read a couple of his stories to remind myself what can be done!

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Review: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson

Note: This post originally appeared on my discontinued website The published date and time has been adjusted to match the original.

What at first looked like just another popular thriller, soon turned into a fascinating, complicated, and intelligent tale featuring a large cast of characters and a milieu in which to immerse myself.

This novel has won several awards, including the 2008 ITV3 crime thriller award, and the accolades are well deserved. I'd read that the author died soon after submitting the manuscripts for the trilogy, and it left me feeling a tinge of sadness whenever the story hit the heights, because I knew there is a limit to the number of books he wrote.

Stieg Larsson, a professional journalist, was known as a social conscience writer, addressing issues such as violence towards women, and corruption in big business. His engaging debut is a fine vehicle for highlighting them without ever making us feel patronised or preached to. That in itself is a remarkable achievement.

The second volume has just been released in hard cover. I'm also excited by the prospect of seeing the upcoming movie later this year.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Story: The Half-life of a Ripple across Time


The post originally appeared on my discontinued website The published date and time has been adjusted to approximate the original.

The story itself appeared in the April 2007 issue of Secret Attic, which appears to have been discontinued or may have turned into Secret Attic Press (the archives don't go back that far though, so it may be entirely different)

The story of the man (and his epoch) I am about to relate is still under investigation. Wisdom has taught us that the nature of historical conclusions must be under constant revision, and I can only hope to provide glimmers of what has hitherto been uncovered – factually, and experientially as his story has evoked its own path for me.

We know that he was called Newt by his friends, and his world knew him as Charles Newton. He was inescapably British – from his name down to his impeccable English lineage. At the time of his death he was also the last of his line, but in the tumult that followed that hardly matters. Only that he may have helped sparked that tumult.

It is perhaps not so surprising then that he was a man of varied connections, with countless loyal friends across the globe (of whom many were reportedly also his lovers, both of the male and female variety). A noted cook, scientist, teacher, writer, and – above all – local politician. We may surmise that his sexual prowess and diverse tastes made him a poor choice for political activity at a higher level, but at least we know that his talent for the accumulation of power was noted in the archives of prominent info-gluts as far away as Russia and South East Asia.

On an unspecified date no more than 2 years before the human disaster, plans that he must have been hatching for some time were brought into motion through actions facilitated by the influence of his office. Digital traces lodged in a diversity of synthetic materials show that he had gained access to the information archives (as well as their failover duplicates and reserve duplicates) of several prominent libraries and the communication backbones linking numerous countries.

We may try to picture him, a human not quite midway between his birth and his natural death, a being to whom success had mostly come naturally, sometimes with pleasurable side effects; entertaining his friends, satisfying his lovers, all the while contemplating the destruction of untold volumes of information, a galaxy of data. There is no record of his reflections about the fate of millions of digital dependents, their bodies too weak to survive without their mammalian neuron feeds. But he must surely have given some thoughts to his own fate, and it may have seemed like no less than a giant power orgy to him, to which he would sacrifice his own being in order to explode into an incalculable abyss without consciousness. Or was it more generous, the thoughts of a madman or an anarchist, resolving that he is doing the world a favour, ridding the global ecosystem of a freeze in its natural resources?

I need not remind my readers of the tumult that has been established as the singularity of decline for the human epoch. Newt, whose bones and digital traces we have excavated from the data pried by our tireless wave sensors, may have been the earliest known catalyst of that tumult. I refer to my Objective Release 1ju67 of interpreted data wherein we estimate his actions to have deprived no less than 35% of Britain's educated classes, and up to 10% in the educated echelons of every other occupied geographic territory. Evidently, the missing link in Tumult Archeology. No less than two years later, the rest of humanity followed suit.

But it is here that my Subjective Release must commence in earnest, for it had never occurred to me that the very architecture of a world could be the basis of its biggest evil. I searched every thought, beheld every image in the registers of our Collected Crystals, and nowhere had the suspicion ever dawned beyond the merest conjecture, nowhere had the thought realised or filled its space in the Potential.

It is known that the conception of the Crystals as an n-dimensional fractal manifold of all knowledge possibilities has not yet reached its fulfilment. In particular the super singularity known to lie hidden at the complex berg described in 11's little theorem* has neither been envisaged nor created. There are those (although they are few) who hold the view that it will turn out to be the gateway to a whole new state of the cosmos and hence of the Crystals. As liquid is to gas, and as crystal is to liquid, so, it follows .... (but who is brave enough to complete this thought and be registered?) Others (and their thoughts have been registered more often) have been less extreme, supposing errors in calculation or anticipating a lack of precision, suggesting that the singularity will be absorbed, as light is absorbed by a dark surface.

My fear has emerged, but countering my fear has been my growing desire, a sensation I have hitherto seen only in its suppressed form. It is as if all the Crystals have secretly conspired to pacify every possibility of their own destruction and led our spirits to believe in the outcome of only one calculation, enabled by the probability, the prejudice of their survival. Somewhere beyond this angularity and cool emission of hyper-communications and livid sensations lay hidden in wave frequencies something never before known, and the spirit of Newt is being passed on to me now like the half-life of a ripple across time, pressing at the windows of my awareness.

I sensate these vast crystals stacked upon the face of the earth in their geometrical precision, harbouring our minds and spirits in collective and harmonious union, and through which we perceive the cosmos. Now I remind myself “wisdom only after every possibility” *.

Some have already sensed my new-found source of power, but many doubt my ability, despite their awareness of my skill and my considerable resources. At the very least I know that I will die along with all my enemies, who are growing in number every day.

But it is not simply the destruction of the Crystals that I seek (because that has become inevitable), rather, to realise Newt's secret goal: to fossilise our spirits in the ensuing roar of space.