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- Robinson L on I, Reader at 20:30 on 25-03-2017 - link And remains Mrs. Bailey throughout? So, a philanderer, then. I suppose that's not too surprising.
- Arthur B on I, Reader at 01:43 on 25-03-2017 - link Mrs Bailey is alive and well for both the other novels.
Robinson L on I, Reader
at 18:30 on 24-03-2017 - link
I listened to I, Robot on audiobook eight or nine years ago and I found it all right, despite, as you say, Asimov’s very basic characterization. The 1950s family dynamic and attendant sexism definitely stuck out for me in the first story.
Speaking of sexism, the part about Liar! which stood out for me the most was the way Susan Calvin talked Herbie into self-destructing—thus eliminating their only lead on the secret of robot telepathy—out of spite over Herbie leading her on about her romantic prospects, even though she herself acknowledges he was only following the First Law and so therefore was not acting as a moral agent. These women and their emotions, amirite?
Also, I loved the way the story just brushes aside the whole issue of not only telepathy but robot telepathy, and all the scientific implications thereof, and uses the fact that Herbie is destroyed at the end as an excuse never to revisit this earth-shattering revelation again.
I remember most of the stories to some degree of detail, with the exceptions of Reason and Escape!, about which I can recall practically nothing even with your plot summaries; are they particularly unmemorable, you reckon?
I remember Little Lost Robot being good, but something bothered me about the test they did to flush out the robot, like Calvin and her team were missing something obvious. Maybe it was only that just because the theoretical example you give of how the rogue robot might kill a human by dropping a heavy weight on their head, it doesn’t mean you can’t come up with a more practical and less unwieldy test for flushing out the rogue robot than actually dropping a huge weight on someone’s head (almost).
I also remember disliking the ending to Evidence because of the perhaps unfair inference that people only take principled stands on demanding their civic rights in matters such as, e.g., refusing to accede to a search without a warrant when they’re actually guilty of the thing they’re being accused of. (The same way cop shows often bug the heck out of me in the way they depict civil liberties as exclusively obstructions to the pursuit of justice because those shows exist in a magical universe where the cops not only never abuse their power, but also are never mistaken when they make assumptions based on circumstantial evidence.)
this “don’t be afraid of central planning” message must surely have raised suspicions back int he Cold War era
Probably. Although David Harvey has pointed out that the USA basically had a centrally planned economy during World War II, which was a model of efficiency (and therefore, scared the crap out of the capitalists who were working alongside FDR to make all that happen); I wonder if Asimov was drawing upon that history at all. One line I remember from that story was something about Marx and Adam Smith having run their course and both winding up in the same place at the end, which I found pretty rich considering, well, see below.
The whole “Machines need to run the world because humans aren’t capable of organizing themselves” angle from Evitable Conflict really ticked me off. At best, it’s patronizing; at worst, it reinforces incredibly skeevy narratives about how because ordinary human beings are incapable of managing ourselves, we need superior beings (lacking all-knowing Machines, all-knowing technocrats are the current fad) to manage us for our own good, because obviously they know what’s good for us better than we do. The 2007-08 financial crash and the emergency manager program in Michigan and consequent water crisis in Flint being two major contemporary examples of this kind of thinking in action.
(I’ve only listened to the first Foundation book, but I’m given to understand that at the end of the trilogythe Second Foundation becomes just such a group of elite benevolent overlords. And psychics, at that, so exactly the kind of elitism that Philip K. Dick was apparently prone to criticizing, and quite rightly in my view.)
Never read The Rest of the Robots. If I can get my hands on a copy of it on audio, I may check it out for the sake of Galley Slave; the others don’t sound particularly appealing to me.
From your description, it sounds like The Caves of Steel would be worth a read. The 1950s gender sensibilities are repulsive, but not a deal breaker in themselves, and the book itself sounds pretty interesting. Depending on how much I like it, I may move on to The Naked Sun, but probably won’t bother with The Robots of Dawn. Showing a middle ground between Earth and Solaria sounds like a decent thematic premise for a third novel in terms of the world-building, but it sounds like Asimov mostly squandered the potential there.
it’s harder to get a raging controversy happening out of a process which makes wuzzy, adorable babies happen
Possibly my favorite line of the review.
I’m curious about one thing: you mention Bailey having a wife in The Caves of Steel, but in later episodes you describe him flirting with and imply he has sex with other women. Does his wife die or divorce him at some point, or is he supposed to be a philanderer? (From your description, I somehow doubt Asimov was prescient enough to write his reader surrogate character in an open marriage – especially if he started in the 50s.)
- Shim on When He's Right He's Right, When He's Wrong He's Frank Belknap Wrong at 20:50 on 18-03-2017 - link Well, when you put it like that... no rush though, maybe bring it along to a game? Unless you're desperate to get it out of the house, I mean.
- Arthur B on When He's Right He's Right, When He's Wrong He's Frank Belknap Wrong at 12:38 on 18-03-2017 - link I can post you the book if you like, I'm not going to reread it and you can be amused by the cheap production values.
Shim on When He's Right He's Right, When He's Wrong He's Frank Belknap Wrong
at 19:03 on 16-03-2017 - link
On Chaugnar Faugn: I've never read the story and, given your review, don't intend to (a shame, because some aspects of the entity as I've seen it mentioned it sound moderately interesting).
I did run across this depiction of a monster which is my current headcanon for Chaugnar Faugn; the "dude with elephant head" being clearly the half-baked rambling of some Brits who once saw a photograph of a statue of Ganesh.
Arthur B on Musings on Race in Fantasy or: Why Ron Weasley isn't Black
at 17:31 on 16-03-2017 - link
Interesting to see this one pop out of the archives, seeing how, whilst Ron is still not black in Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Hermione is.
I am with you on the utter uselessness of "dusky" as a description of someone's skin colour. So far as I can make out, it can apply to anyone who is not an actual albino.
http://keysersose.blogspot.co.uk/ on Musings on Race in Fantasy or: Why Ron Weasley isn't Black
at 16:41 on 16-03-2017 - link
I had a similar argument with my writer chums the other day, and Harry Potter was the example we used as well.
Generally, fantasy writers treat white as default (consciously or unconsciously), and expect the readership to assume characters are white unless otherwise specified (again, consciously or unconsciously). That annoys me, so I have a somewhat petulant policy of mentally depicting all characters as black unless their ethnicity/race is actually specified.
Harry Potter actually deserves some praise for never specifying the race of characters, which is a thing a lot of authors do dp. Rowling implies ethnicity through character description, or with stereotypical "ethnic" names, but she never goes so far as to tell you that Hermione is white British or Dumbledore is Persian. This is better than when a writer tells you a character is black (when skin colour has no apparent significance to the story or setting). I assume this is a middle-class, white guilt thing where they feel it necessary to indicate there are indeed people of colour in their book, but it kind of backfires because they only mention a character's skin colour when they are not white, implying white is the default setting. It is also usually the case that these POCs are relegated to support characters, and the author has reinforced the fact that the protagonist is lily-white. If I was a non-white reader, I might have imagined the protagonist up to a point of matching my ethnicity. The lack of mention initially communicates that I can imagine what I like. But then this stupid rule about pointing out the brown people asserts the white-is-default rule, and that means my mental image must be wrong.
This issue also came up when reading the Kingkiller series, in that one of the characters is meant to be non-white, but it wasn't apparent to most of the readership because the character was described as "dusky" skinned, which could be used to describe anyone from Megan Fox to Grace Jones. Qvothe has the red hair, and the references to pubs and lutes imply a generic European medieval setting, but now there is this weird alternative problem where the description is so vague, it is basically pointless description except to imply everyone else isn't dusky coloured (and so therefore white). Qvothe himself has read hair, but is also from some cultural equivalent to Romani/Travellers. Fine, I think. Qvothe is black too.
Arthur B on Machen Fairies Grim Again
at 22:07 on 12-03-2017 - link
I get that to a certain extent, but he seems to combine that awareness with a certain paternalism. There literally isn't a single powerful woman in his work - at least in the stories collected in the above collections - who isn't some sort of vile sorceress. (See the Green Book narrator, see the Green Book narrator's nanny, see Helen Vaughn, see the nameless woman in The Three Impostors, see the nanny in Change, see the lady of the house in The Bright Boy.)
I would say, in fact, that The Great God Pan and The Inmost Light are the only examples where a woman goes off the rails because a man did something vile (and in the case of Pan it isn't even the woman the vile thing happens to - Helen Vaughn didn't get trepanned, her mum did).
Basically, for Machen the problem isn't that women are oppressed and subjected to the power of men so much as men don't use that power in the wise and caring way God intended. Every time they try to take power in their own right, someone suffers for it and the result is sin and degradation.
Ichneumon on Machen Fairies Grim Again
at 20:42 on 12-03-2017 - link
To which I would respond that Machen seems unusually aware of the shittiness of his own society in its treatment of women and girls for a man of his time. Not that his attitudes are especially progressive, but it seems that when a woman does something frightening in a Machen story, it's usually instigated, directly or indirectly, by a man doing something similarly vile; "The Great God Pan" and "The Inmost Light" immediately spring to mind. The narrator of the Green Book is something of an exception until one takes into account her age and the environment in which she has been raised: If you were a teenage girl in an upper-middle-class Victorian household, constantly stifled by societal expectations, wouldn't you be tempted to rebel in some way? Mayhap a secret way, a secret and nasty one...? I feel like there's a certain sympathy for the girl in the text, while also being terrified of what she can do and what she is becoming—the desire to save a soul that does not know what they are *really* doing, but knowing that it would always be too late.
The other exception which immediately leaps to mind is in The Three Imposters, but there are a lot of other open questions about that character.
Arthur B on Machen Fairies Grim Again
at 10:57 on 11-03-2017 - link
Ah, but Ambrose/Machen doesn't say that this stuff was evil because it was based on flinging curses at people, does he? Moreover, he talks up how sanctity and sin can look very, very similar, which raises the question of whether there's a context where hanging out with these beings and flinging curses is spiritually justified. (I mean, if you think all power through supernatural violence is illegitimate on the face of it then a great swathe of the Old Testament becomes indefensible.)
To be fair to Machen, in his wider body of work there do seem to be examples of a more positive/sacred interaction with these things and powers. See, for instance, the poltergeist subplot in Out of the Picture - the kid at the centre of that genuinely seems to be innocent and it seems to be happening as a sort of alarm bell to notify of danger originating elsewhere, rather than as a curse of the sort the Green Book's author uses. Likewise, see Opening the Door, where the guy who makes contact with the is a perfectly innocent clergyman whose mind is very much on very abstract theological stuff.
But taken by itself, The White People doesn't give us much of that. And also some of the use of curses therein seem justifiable but textually condemned anyway - for instance, there's the witch who kills those guys with curses because they were going to force her to marry one of them. Extreme, yes, but in context it seems like her only way out of the situation; then again a Victorian reader would probably have far less of a problem with marital rape than we would.
Ichneumon on Machen Fairies Grim Again
at 00:56 on 11-03-2017 - link
See, I'm not so sure given the implied nature of the magic that the narrator learns. Many of the rituals that she describes have resonances with folk traditions regarding curses, particularly the bit with the clay effigy. It's power through supernatural violence. Machen draws heavily on old Welsh tradition rather than straight Catholicism: The cultural context of a group which converted to Christianity very early but, as illustrated in the Mabinogion, retained a healthy appreciation of the supernatural as something multifaceted and not necessarily about God or the Devil so much as something inherent in reality that could heal or hurt the body, mind and soul. To curse is evil because it wounds; to wield black magic is to wound the world. It's taking without asking, presuming divinity without paying one's spiritual dues. There are alien forces in the world which, by their nature, have power humans are not supposed to have, and with whom humans ought not make stupid deals. Unfortunately, the author of the Green Book is not old enough to have the emotional maturity to recognise any of this, and already has some very scary friends...
I suppose I just find it interesting because I like the idea of the difference between mundane and metaphysical evil being the difference between maiming something on a mere physical level and fucking it up on some weird Platonic ideal one, and how it squares with my very Ligottian paranoia about the fragility of reality. The way Ambrose talks about roses singing, in particular, nails something of that moment that nobody wants to have when the worm turns and all you can do is go, "Am I crazy or is the world crazy? Is it both? Was this always the case?" Which is to say, I feel like Machen's cosmicism carries an interesting flavour precisely because it has an intelligent, neurotic religious man's terror of either being proven horribly wrong or horribly right.
Arthur B on Machen Fairies Grim Again
at 08:24 on 10-03-2017 - link
N is not included, I'm afraid.
Likewise, you seem to miss the nuance of how Ambrose distinguishes what we might call white magic from black by suggesting that the former seeks to reinstate that ancient, fluid and unified nature of reality, while the latter seeks to grant mankind powers which were never theirs to begin with, even before the Fall; and that a "genius" may inadvertently combine aspects of both the saint and the sinner in their methods
Not really, that's just a restatement of the whole "white magic is attaining to higher realms in an approved way, black in a disapproved way" thing - the distinction between awful powers humans should never have had and awesome powers over the universe that are ours by right seems arbitrary and loops back to "It's that way because God says so," which even if it is satisfying for the purposes of real world religion makes for a lousy story feature.
Ichneumon on Machen Fairies Grim Again
at 20:19 on 09-03-2017 - link
Was "N" not in any of these? Because there is a passage in that one relating to the Fall which puts Ambrose's theory of evil in "The White People" in a far more interesting, almost Gnostic context: "'When man yielded,' he would say, 'to the mysterious temptation intimated by the figurative language of the Holy Writ, the universe, the universe, originally fluid and the servant of his spirit, became solid, and crashed down upon him, overwhelming him beneath its weight and its dead mass.'" Likewise, you seem to miss the nuance of how Ambrose distinguishes what we might call white magic from black by suggesting that the former seeks to reinstate that ancient, fluid and unified nature of reality, while the latter seeks to grant mankind powers which were never theirs to begin with, even before the Fall; and that a "genius" may inadvertently combine aspects of both the saint and the sinner in their methods. Of course, what Machen considers to be the natural order of things is defined by his devout Catholicism and opposition to positivism, but like Lovecraft, there's this undercurrent of the frustrated mystic in Machen, albeit less so given his embrace of the miraculous.
It's probably worth noting, too, that Machen's introduction to The House of Souls suggests that the scrapped novel which you allude to from which "The White People" was pared would have been far more like a novel-length version of the Green Book itself than "A Fragment of Life".
(Machen is a really important influence on my writing and I love his work to death despite his occasional flaws, so I apologise if I seem defensive.)
Robinson L on Derleth Forsake Me Oh My Darling
at 20:00 on 03-03-2017 - link
Between this and the basic introduction to the Mythos, it’d almost make sense if this novel were serialised in a magazine
You know, just a couple of sentences before I read this, I was thinking to myself, ‘This sounds like a scenario originally written for serialized format like a Dickens or Collins novel.’ You can imagine how simultaneously jarred and vindicated I felt to hit this passage.
- Arthur B on Lumley's Little Bites at 08:39 on 02-03-2017 - link I have it too but if you're keen to review it then I say go for it.
Ichneumon on Lumley's Little Bites
at 23:45 on 01-03-2017 - link
Possibly it is a nod to the fact that one of Lumley’s stories - The Night Sea-Maid Went Down - appeared in The Starry Wisdom, an infamously hyper-surreal collection of Lovecraftian tales which showed a joyous disregard for the stodgy old Mythos “canon”.
I actually own a copy of this one. Should I find it, I would gladly give it a review. It's very, very odd.
Arthur B on Dermore I See Of Him, Derleth I Like
at 21:09 on 01-03-2017 - link
It'd take a really, really big stretch to imagine that Hastur is especially important to even a tiny fraction of Lovecraft's own work. Lovecraft only really namedrops Hastur in The Whisperer In Darkness, and in context it's entirely possible that the reference is a load of bullshit thrown out by the Mi-Go and their human allies to throw Wilmarth off the trail.
Robinson L on Dermore I See Of Him, Derleth I Like
at 18:00 on 01-03-2017 - link
Lovecraft didn’t especially mind the term “Cthulhu Mythos”, but he vetoed Derleth’s original suggestion, “The Mythology of Hastur”, for the very simple reason that Hastur didn’t feature in any of Lovecraft’s stories beyond some very occasional name-dropping. Derleth, conversely, had used Hastur very prominently in his own Mythos writings (most prominently in The Return of Hastur), so pushing that tag for the overall body of work by various hands kind of feels like a self-aggrandising move on the part of Derleth.
I suppose if one were inclined to making the most generous possible interpretation of Derleth’s motives here—which for the sake of funsies I suppose I am—one could speculate that the relationship between Derleth pushing “The Mythology of Hastur” for the shared universe Lovecraft created and Hastur’s prominence in Derleth’s own works was correlational rather than causational. I could see Derleth reading about Hastur in one of Lovecraft’s stories and developing a fanboy fixation, going, ‘Oh, man, this Hastur guy must be super important to Lovecraft’s fictional universe.’ This would explain Derleth’s reasoning that the mythology should be named after Hastur, and what’s more natural for someone with a fanboy fixation on a cool mysterious character than wanting to write stories about him? Just a thought.
Derleth described this as “posthumous collaboration”, and as well as this being impossible - at best, you can have “posthumous completion” of an unfinished tale - the end result contains far too much Derleth and far too little Lovecraft
Amusingly enough, I recently read a review of the new James Baldwin documentary I Am Not Your Negro which describes the film as a “posthumous collaboration” between Baldwin and director Raoul Peck. (Although, despite the rave reviews, the people I know who have seen the movie found it pretty underwhelming. My stepmother thought that basic everything that was brilliant in the movie was the stuff taken from Baldwin, and Peck’s contribution added nothing.)/tangent
at least by spoiling an otherwise good story with racism Derleth can claim to have written a truly Lovecraftian tale.
Oh man, this was *priceless*.
Arthur B on Matthew Reilly Hits the Exclamation Mark. Bam!
at 20:54 on 28-02-2017 - link
Tackled Six Sacred Stones and gave up about halfway through. I almost hesitate to say it, but it kind of took Reilly's wild overescalation a bit too far; there's just too much stuff going on, and each thing going on is just a little too similar to all the other things going on, and it's just a big confused mess.
He also goes all out with the diagrams and has a really messy chapter structure, to the point where it almost feels like a pile of first draft notes rather than a finished product.
Arthur B on Lumley's Little Bites
at 10:58 on 22-02-2017 - link
No need - I don't feel like I'm missing out horrendously from not having read it.
Looking at The Taint, it's a collection of Lumley's longer Mythos stories, which I think helps a bit since he's able to develop his ideas more convincingly.
Shim on Lumley's Little Bites
at 22:38 on 21-02-2017 - link
The Horror at Oakdeene, a rarely-reprinted Lumley story that, based on what I am able to discover about it, seems to be a fairly simple “asylum inmates attempt to summon a Great Old One” deal
I actually have this one - it's in The Taint. Happy to pass it along if you'd like.
Happily it also contains The House of the Temple, which I agree was one of the strongest stories and is a good implementation of the trope. My take from that very small selection of 7 stories is that Lumley works best when he shakes off the Derleth/Lovecraft style and writes something a bit looser and more natural.
- Arthur B on Lumley's Little Bites at 13:59 on 19-02-2017 - link I think it was a combination of the Necroscope series losing my interest and the Titus Crow novels being rage-inducingly bad.
Helter Shelter on Lumley's Little Bites
at 11:18 on 19-02-2017 - link
Excellent review as always.
May I ask what it was that put you off Lumley in when you were younger?