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Weekend Wrap

This weekend I began tackling the yard again. Most importantly, the hornets seemed to have finally died off, so I could put the hay bale away from the house and get rid of that accursed nest. Yay, cleaned up back "porch" and mildly cleaned up back yard.

A few of the tomato plants are still growing, especially the parts near the brick wall. That surprised me and pleased me.

I cut enough kale to make kale pecoras, two rounds of kale chips, and put some extras into the fridge. That was about 1/3 of our available kale. We have LOTS of kale. The cloth covering has not only dissuaded nibblers, but protected them from the frost.

I've agreed to create Jen an inset spice rack for Christmas. I gathered data and drew up the plans. Now, I need to buy materials. I'll also need a better mitre saw and box. My current box simply isn't precise enough and my saw tears the wood up too much.

That leaves a present need for DesignGirl. I'll need to bug her again.
In The Hollow Hills (1973), Mary Stewart continues her feast of too many words. In this book, we have a novella length story padded out to gothic proportions. Merlin takes charge of the newly born Arthur and shepherds him towards adulthood.

When it comes to book, I'm the type to read every word. Not so with this book. Having learned my lesson from The Crystal Cave, I chose to skim, skipping paragraphs, pages, and even entire unnecessary chapters, finishing the book with far less pain and suffering than the first one. This is a book almost entirely of fluff, like a marshmallow put into a microwave until it's the size of a plate, and about as filling.

Don't mistake me for calling Mary Stewart a bad writer. She's a very good and competent one, but for needing a editor with the blood lust of Genghis Khan, hacking down this novel to a far more readable length with great prejudice.

This book misses too much for me. Every character is lacking, especially our protagonist, Merlin. I dare say that none of the characters go through any meaningful human arc. Likewise, I think that none of the themes go through any meaningful arc. Even Arthur doesn't have a meaningful arc, other than he grows up offstage, and so his development is entirely removed from the readers eyes. Rather than any meaningful story, we wander through a faux plot, much like a haunted house ride on rails, where horrors seem to come at us, but the rails always swerve us away from the terror just in time, and we quickly learn that we were never in any danger to begin with. The ride is predestined, just as the book was.

I guess that we were supposed to see all the complex machinations that went on behind the scenes to keep Arthur safe, but those machinations prove unengaging. To be honest, I just don't see the motivation in him. His reason for doing this? A vision. Is it political belief? No, but a little bit. Is it family unity? A little, but not really. Is it religious belief? A little, but not enough to make a difference. No, Merlin's actions originate entirely outside him, in a vision, about something or another. There will be a King, and Arthur will be king, and the king he will be, and he'll be a great king. I suppose that the future of the country is at stake, but I really don't care.

Not caring is the big thing. How can we spend so many words and so much time with these characters, yet care so little by the end?
To paraphrase 2001: A Space Odyssey, "My God, it's full of words."

Mary Stewart's beginning of her Merlin trilogy, The Crystal Cave (1970), is most certainly full of words. The book follows the early life of Merlin, advisor to Arthur, while also chronicling Britain before Arthur, putting the world of Britain into its proper historical perspective.

It's this historical verisimilitude which plays havoc with Arthurian Legend. The original Arthurian tales were invented and remixed in the Middle Ages, invoking a legendary past with all the historical accuracy of Xena: Warrior Princess. The Arthurian legends were never supposed to be accurate stories. They were a story cycle as outlandish as Xena, filled with colorful characters and wicked warlords who needed to get taught a lesson.

This prequel of a book shares all the problems of the Star War prequels, telling us a story that doesn't matter with an end that doesn't really interest in us. Although this story gives us the world that Arthur was born into, it fails to give us the reason that Arthur needed to get born in the first place. Arthur and Camelot existed as a force of goodness and light against a world of selfishness and self-interest. Although we do see some selfishness and self-interest people, we are left with the impression that anyone strong enough can and will take the throne. What need to we have of Arthur?

Merlin himself comes off as something of a wet paper bag. He gets visions, but he really isn't a wizard at all. His legend comes from the superstition of others. He bounces from vision to vision, but really seems to have no opinion on these visions at all, and seems to vie for nothing. Rarely can we predict what this character will do, mostly because he doesn't do very much, and what he does do, prophesy, he doesn't control. He often comes across as far too pat.

As for Uther Pendragon, you'd think he'd be a major character, one who everyone agrees was a pretty terrific king, but instead, he's just this guy who can't keep it in his pants. Is he the last great king whose legacy means a united England? I don't think so.

So as you've rightly concluded, I think very little of this books. It's quite well written, but all those pretty words cover over the fact that its foundation are meagre. I am left pondering what the point of this story is.

The ancient storytellers had it right. The story begins with Uther's affair with Ygraine, then quickly moves to Arthur. The rest doesn't matter because it doesn't really add anything to the narrative arc.

Weekend Wrap

Jenny was away for the weekend, so it was me and DesignGirl for the win.

The day began with breakfast at Nick's Diner. After a little Minecraft, we headed off to Minecraft programming glass.

In the afternoon, I began taking out the elephant grass in the front yard. I sheared it down. Next, I need to start shoveling, but not until next weekend.

I made a small shelf for the kitchen. I'm lifting up some jars off the counter so that the spice bottles get a little more space. I also want to put a spice rack into the wall near the cooking counter, but I should get Jenny's OK for that before I proceed.

DesignGirl went to a sleepover on Saturday night. I cooked chicken for myself. Jenny feared it was bad, so I found a high temperature recipe for it. Turns out, 450 degrees, cooking the wings on a rack on a pan, and 30 minutes gives you AMAZING wings. Tender and juicy. Gotta do that again.

Sunday was jammed pack with church, plus another party.

Jenny's not back until tomorrow, so I sent the girl off to school and I'll pick her up.

Load Balancer

Tuesday was a long, long day. It was the day to get the new load balancer working, and to do that, I had to work out how to write an haproxy script, complete with learning all the vocabulary behind the script, or at least enough to make it matter. I worked on that from 9am to 7pm. After that, we cut over, and lots broke again. At 9pm, we had everything tested and simmering along smoothly.


I followed that up with a brain dead Wednesday, which featured one nap on my sofa, and one nap of the cat upon me.

We had our parent-teach conferences yesterday as well. DesignGirl is doing nicely.

Quiet Weekend

This was a quiet weekend, to be sure. There just wasn't much going on.

I took DesignGirl to her next Minecraft programming class. She's got the head for code. Not a surprise, really. She always excited to be 'good' at something, which is as far as kids can see anyway. In kid language, making yourself get good at something isn't not being good at something. It's all relative. That much said, I do think that she has the head for code.

I'm beta reading a story for a woman. Comedy. The poor thing doesn't know comedy. I can write reams on the subject, because nobody ever really knows comedy, and so much of comedy must come from some inner sense. It's a wonderful example of how doing things right makes the results come out wrong. Comedy is the writing equivalent of a black hole. It distorts space-time around it, resulting in a set of story physics quite unlike that of a proper story.

In reading, I've headed into Mary Stewart's Merlin trilogy. It's a hefty tome. In buying the omnibus, I may not have done myself any favors. My hands literally get tired of holding the damned thing.

I took off on Friday to visit the dentist. I had two cavities. Ouch. After that, I needed blood drawn for my GI. After that, I went shopping for a yearly clothing refresh. I picked up three fitted shirts, with allowed me to remove three elephantine accommodating large shirts from my wardrobe. Yay to better fitting clothes.

The Dispossessed (Book Review)

Ursula LeGuin released The Dispossessed:An Ambiguous Utopia in 1975 to acclaim, winning a Hugo, Nebula, Locust, and Jupiter award for best novel. One of the novels in her Hainish science fiction universe, the work examines both communism and capitalism, against a backdrop of humanity and all the ways that it naturally works. The result is that neither communism nor capitalism come out of the story smelling of roses.

The story structure is that of one man's live, Shivek, told from two different points in time, switching back and forth. The first part are all the years that Shivek lives on Arras (a communist society). Interleaved with this is the tale of Shivek on Urras (a capitalist society). As the tale moves back and forth, you are given insights into the characters.

This is not a light tale, fully immersing itself into literary style science fiction. Many will start, and many simply won't finish it. You must lend yourself to this story, and even reaching the end, the story may not have lent itself to you. It leaves you with as many questions as ambiguities, and nothing in the way of answers.

I cannot deny that the book is brilliantly written and executed, but I also cannot deny that the book often feels dull and heavy, like too much to eat, all of it heavy. To read this novel is a choice, not an obligation. It should not go onto your must read list, but it should go onto your challenge list, and you should have a challenge list for exactly such books.

Completing the novel felt something of a relief, like opening the curtains, letting the world seem bright again.


So DesignGirl had her first sex talk with mom. "You do WHAT? You've GOT to be kidding me." She has learned about basic mechanics, much to her own disbelief.


This weekend saw the first of DesignGirl's Minecraft programming classes. Using Lua and the ProgramCraft mod, the kids are learning to program "turtles." These bots then go and do what you told them to do.

I sat in the first class. It was semi-chaos. The kids loved it.

For Halloween, DesignGirl wanted to be Astrid from How To Train Your Dragon. Heroically, my wife hit the internet, producing a cosplay quality costume for her in 24 hours. Yikes! Way to go, Jenny. The costume held up pretty well, with only the skirt being a pita. I wound up carrying my daughter's sword about.

Daylight saving time ended. How I hate the time transition.

In work, I took off the side panels to the gazebo. I also cleaned up some yard stuff that had been sitting around since the spring. The fig gave us one overripe fig. I ate it and didn't tell anybody, but it was overripe, as I said. There wasn't much joy there. I hope that the fig survives this winter so that we can get figs next year.

52 SFF Books - Free

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