critical failure

As part of the move, we let go of some of our books that were in poor shape, planning to replace them with newer copies after arriving. I've just bought five of Dorothy Sayers's Peter Wimsey novels. This time, I ordered the HarperCollins trade paperbacks instead of the mass market paperbacks we had formerly owned, hoping for more careful proofing of the text—some of our mass market versions had egregious errors. (It's also getting hard to find current mass market editions of a lot of books; people who want an inexpensive and compact read seem more often to buy e-books.)

So I set out to reread Unnatural Death, the one of the five that I haven't reread lately. And on page 17, I found the following passage:

". . . I'm not just being the perfect listener. I have deceived you. I have an ulterior motive," said he, throwing off his side-whiskers and disclosing the well-known hollow jaws of Mr. Sherlock Holmes.

As presented, this has the narrative voice—that of an omniscient and impersonal observer—describing Wimsey's revealing his true identity. But that's clearly absurd; Wimsey and Holmes are two entirely different people in different fictional universes, and for that matter Wimsey has no side-whiskers.

The problem is that the quotation mark doesn't belong after "motive." It belongs at the end, after "Holmes." The whole final line and a half is still Wimsey speaking, making a silly joke out of revealing his true identity, in the fashion that Sayers made characteristic of him. And that's how I remember reading the passage in an older copy of the novel. It seems clear that the redactor was misled by the phrase "said he" into thinking that it marked the end of Wimsey's speech, and that what followed was the voice of the narrator rather than that of Wimsey, and was reliable narrative rather than ironic self-description. But the result is absurdity.

This is the sort of subtle failure that a copy editor can fall into by applying rules mechanically rather than thinking about the actual meaning of a passage.

Happily I haven't yet found any other such mistakes, so I'm hoping this edition will be generally reliable.

it is accomplished

When we moved from Riverside to Lawrence, we abandoned several pieces of furniture that were no longer in good shape, planning to replace them when we got here. That was helped out by a housewarming gift from my sister of funds for purchases—but hindered by a lot of stores being closed or, if open, unwilling to deliver. We acquired a half-height bookshelf, a couple of two-shelf bookshelves, and a nightstand online, and there we were stuck for a while.

Eventually, though, Nebraska Furniture Mart started delivering, and we went there and placed an order. It ended up being three different deliveries: two ceiling height bookshelves, and then a computer desk (which I have nearly completely assembled), and finally, this morning, a love seat. At this point our apartment is fully furnished at last!

It's a great relief to have the love seat; we haven't been able to sit side by side for half a year, and now we can, which means a lot. And my having the desk gives me my own space for work, directly in front of a window, which lets me look out at the sky when my brain needs to cool; and since I'm no longer using C's desk to work on, we've been able to set it up for her to use her desktop, and take the smaller monitor off the entertainment shelves. In a day or two I'll take everything off the top of it, fold it down, and put up framed photographs on the wall behing it. And since her large monitor doubles as our video display, we'll be able to sit together and watch DVDs on it . . . (Our living room's a bit small, but it puts the monitor at a comfortable viewing distance, which is a nice fringe benefit. Back in Riverside it was a bit of a strain to watch across our long living room.)

We have a few more pieces of art to put up; I have a pencil sketch of Supergirl at the framing shop now (bought at Comic-Con in the 1990s), which will go up above my desk, alongside the window. But things are finally coming together, and it's an immense relief.

looks interesting

I get announcements of upcoming video series from Amazon Prime and Netflix, and usually I just delete them. But the latest one from Netflix listed a series titled The Queen's Gambit. That was a familiar title to me: I have read a novel by Walter Tevis (better known for The Man Who Fell to Earth) with that title, several times, and it's actually my favorite of his novels—a story about the first woman to become a chess grandmaster. So I took a look, and yes, it's based on Tevis's novel, and the preview shows mostly scenes I recognize as having taken place in the novel. It's starting 23 October and I have to take a look.

The same listing also had We Have Always Lived in the Castle, based on a novel by Shirley Jackson that I've also read more than once. That sounds promising too.

dream encounter

I had a curious encounter in a dream the night before last. C and I were in a different apartment, a large one with three bedrooms. It was Christmas Eve, and we had friends visiting. Then there was a knock at our door. When I answered it, we had unexpected visitors, who turned out to be John W. Campbell and his wife, coming by for a Christmas Eve visit.


A few days ago, tracking down a reference, I got out my copy of The Issue at Hand by William Atheling, Jr., a pseudonym of James Blish (an allusion to Ezra Pound's writing music criticism as "William Atheling"). That led to my reading both that and the second volume, More Issues at Hand. One chapter in the second volume was about Theodore Sturgeon. It was mostly laudatory, but at one point Blish referred to his own work turning Star Trek scripts into stories, and commented that he thought that Sturgeon's two scripts were unusually poor work and he thought them an embarrassment to Sturgeon.

That really surprised me! One of those two scripts was the first season "Shore Leave," which I thought was an entertaining light episode, at least as good as "The Trouble with Tribbles," the best-known comedic episode. The other was the first episode of the second season, "Amok Time," which did more than any other episode to define Vulcan culture. It seems to me to be a perfect example of Sturgeon's motto "Ask the next question" applied to Vulcan claims to logic. C and I have rewatched the first two seasons of Star Trek on Amazon Prime, and we both found those episodes among the best.

Overall, I find Blish an intelligent critic, even if I disagree with him. But I'm really unable to imagine what he finds so deeply flawed in these episodes.

good news, bad news

Our new bookshelves arrived yesterday and are occupying most of one wall of the room we're using as an office. I spent the afternoon taking books out of boxes, and got the shelves almost completely filled, and looking very nice. However, I was missing my copy of James Joyce's Ulysses, which C gave me a few years ago.

Today, I realized that I had two more boxes sitting next to our shredder, with papers piled on top of them. When I opened those, I found one box completely filled with hardback and trade paperback books (including Ulysses!) and one with graphic novels.

There's no way I can fit all of those onto the residual shelf space. So we have to buy one more set of shelves. My thought is to use it for the graphic novels, which will take up just over 100 shelf inches, and put it in the bedroom. Fortunately we still have an unoccupied wall (other than the art, which is about 5' up, leaving room for a set of shelves). The problem is going to be finding a set of shelves that's the right size.

But at least we haven't lost any books.

Addendum: We've ended up ordering two three-shelf bookshelves from Home Depot, to be delivered next week. That's more shelf feet than we need, but we couldn't find a single set that had quite enough width. They're actual wood rather than "engineered wood," so they should last longer and look better.

spare me

Amazon just offered me a new edition of Alan Garner's The Owl Service. I've heard about Garner for decades, but never read anything by him; and a glance at this book made it look somewhat interesting.

But it also had an introduction by Philip Pullman. And as is too common with Pullman, this was partly about his distaste for Tolkien and how much better he though the current work of fantasy was than The Lord of the Rings.

I'm really weary of Pullman's comments about Tolkien. At least "Oo, Those Awful Orcs!" was an actual review of The Lord of the Rings; however much I disagree with Edmund Wilson's opinions, it was in order for him to present them there. But Pullman can't seem to leave Tolkien alone. It's hard not to take his comments as obsessive and as an expression of what Nietzsche called ressentiment: the desire to tear down an achievement or a character that one cannot match. He can't just say, as Ayn Rand had Howard Roark say to Ellsworth Toohey, "But I don't think of you."

This is a real disincentive to buying this book, or at least this edition. If I take a look at Alan Garner—whom I am curious about—I think I'll find an older edition, or a different book of his.


Today is the final day of the playtest for GURPS Furries. I've being doing the revision during the playtest, so I expect to turn in a final draft at the end of the month.

After that—I've just signed the contract for my next project. This is going to be a large book (by current GURPS standards), and one that covers an established GURPS domain from a new angle. I expect it will come out sometime in 2021; I anticipate finishing the first draft this year, but not the revised or final draft.

those who forget history

In a recent blog post, John Scalzi wrote about "the days where a kid’s first introduction to the genre was a Heinlein or Asimov novel, smuggled out of the adult fiction section of the library or bookstore like samizdat." That's a nice rhetorical flourish, but it leaves me wondering what planet Scalzi's libraries were on. One of Heinlein's major bodies of work was the twelve "juveniles" (we would now call them "young adult novels") that he wrote for Scribner's, directed specifically at younger readers and meant to be bought by libraries. My library had all the Heinlein juveniles and many of the Norton juveniles in the "children's" section, and I read both series repeatedly. (I wonder if Scalzi also intends to dismiss Norton as unmemorable?) Even Asimov had a juvenile series, the Lucky Starr books, though I don't think they were up to the standards of the big two.

Scalzi seems to hold the history of the field in such contempt that he can't be bothered to describe it accurately. It seems a rather adolescent attitude for a man who's past fifty.


I've been watching for the announcement of volume 3 of Minna Sundberg's postapocalyptic dark fantasy series Stand Still Stay Silent on Kickstarter. A couple of days ago the author mentioned the Kickstarter would open today. It did, and I've funded it sufficiently to get a copy when it's released. Total funded is approaching three times the minimum required as I write this.

This is one of my very favorite graphic narratives. The art is astonishingly good, which is why I'm invested in printed copies. The worldbuilding is interesting, and the characterizations work for me. The backstory about most of humanity being wiped out by a plague to which only a few people are immune seems disturbingly timely, but the main story is about the ongoing reconstruction two generations later . . .