The Lafayette Law of Value

Jul. 24th, 2017 09:13 am
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[personal profile] tcpip posting in [community profile] talkpolitics
I've been saying this for years, and commented on various 'blogs etc with this argument. It's well about time that I stated it in a single post.

Value is objective in supply.
Vale is subjective in demand.
Value is intersubjective in price.

That's the Lafayette Law of Value. Thank you.
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[personal profile] nairiporter
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[personal profile] nairiporter posting in [community profile] talkpolitics
Let me just start by reminding that last year, Erdogan and Merkel made a deal on the refugee issue. Back then, the migrant pressure on Europe was huge. Hundreds of thousands of refugees were flocking through the Aegean into Greece, and then using the so called Balkan route to go to West Europe, mostly Germany. Hundreds drowned in the Mediterranean. Merkel was forced to do something, or else she would lose her chancellor position. So in February last year she went to Turkey to meet with Erdogan. That mission was perceived by many as the most influential woman in Europe going to kneel before the Sultan, and beg for his help.

Then in March 2016 came the agreement with Turkey. It must have served its purpose well, because the number of refugees immediately dropped significantly. Turkey's part of the deal was to host the refugees, and in return it was promised two things: a political trump card, plus 3 billion euro for supporting the large refugee population.

Read more... )

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Jul. 23rd, 2017 02:29 pm
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[personal profile] johnny9fingers
So my old chum Aaron got married yesterday. I was best man, deputising for an unfortunately crocked Steve Asher, who is stuck Down Under and under doctor's orders not to travel. Aaron's whole family pitched up: the Hollywood crowd, consisting of his Dad, Laifun, Thomas, and Alexandra, who was there with her Bulgarian Fiancé, as well as Kate and Josh, Aaron's other siblings from Ted's first marriage.

Aaron married a distant cousin of mine so I was on both sides of the aisle, so to speak.
no dramas at the church; a sold C of E service of the traditional kind.
The reception was held at Aaron's house. Which is an 1890's large family house. Two staircases, bultler's pantry etc. Marquee on the croquet lawn. The wedding band did the gig, so I was on double duty and didn't get off my feet until 2.30am. Fuck-up over money so Aaron and I had to empty a local cashpoint to pay the band. Bit angry with the boss of the wedding band over that one. Never mind. Apperently Alexandra's upcoming nuptials are big news in Bulgaria. She's a very good-looking lass I suppose, and Ted Kotcheff is quite well known in Bulgaria, having some cultural significance and originally hailing from there. Mr K senior is looking a bit frailer than when I last saw him. Young Thomas is taking care of him adroitly. I like Thomas. Apart from the fact he's an exceptional musician and composer, he's also a nice guy. Mr K senior's second family are as cool as the first. First met Thomas at a UK premier of one of his compositions a few years ago. After the band packed up he played half an hour of flawless and beautiful Debussy in the parlour as antidote to the '60's and '70's soul, disco, and pop music that are the standard fare of the wedding band.

However the real stunner yesterday was Celine, who looked unbelievably beautiful. Good on Aaron, making an honest women out of her even if you had to drag her to the altar kicking and screaming... which you didn't, of course, but it still took you fifteen years and two kids to get around to doing it.
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[personal profile] mahnmut posting in [community profile] talkpolitics
...They go around and kill themselves.

Elon Musk may've become the umpteenth high-profile hi-tech celebrity futurist who has cried doom and gloom about the potential threat from AIs taking over the world and eradicating humankind on a whim...

...But apparently we're still a long way from there, as shown by the fate of this poor little R2D2 who somehow decided he had had enough, and plunged himself to a swift electrocution death in a water fountain in DC the other day.

Caution, the footage can be disturbing for the more robo-love inclined... )
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[personal profile] airiefairie posting in [community profile] talkpolitics
Today's portion of Friday nonsense features one Sequim, Washington resident who mowed the word AHOLE into their lawn so it could be viewed from space...

Oh, sweet neighbour relations...

Good fences make good possum highways

Jul. 20th, 2017 11:44 pm
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[personal profile] garote
Over this last winter, the fence around three sides of my house took a huge beating from the wind and rain. First the endless rain rotted the posts, then the wind shoved them over.

The previous owners of this place made some wonderful decisions about the layout, and some nice aesthetic decisions as well, but they must have been distracted when it came to the fence. The posts holding it up were all untreated wood hammered straight down into dirt. No cement footings. Not even gravel. In a relatively short amount of time, bugs ate so many holes in them that they just crumbled away.

Well, I knew a proper fence needed proper posts. I asked one of the local contractors how much it would cost to rebuild all the fences with cement and treated wood. He walked around with a measuring tape, thought for a little bit, and then said:

"About seven thousand dollars."

Holy crap-o-noley!! I talked to another contractor. He quoted me six thousand. That's still insane, but at least it's going in the right direction. I had a recommendation for a pair of handymen, so I called them up. It took them about six weeks to get back to me. They stalked around the fence, debated with each other like a Laurel-And-Hardy act about the best way to rebuild it, complete with waving arms and pacing in circles, and then said they'd get back to me with a quote.

Two months went by, during which my messages went unanswered, so I gave up on them. Perhaps I could do it myself?

I did some "research", in the form of ten YouTube videos and a bunch of web pages. It was technically possible, but a huge amount of labor. Some of the fence I could take apart and rebuild with better posts. Other parts of it, I would need to demolish and replace entirely, because the wood was too far gone. I made a list of tools, tried to research lumber prices, then got distracted by my day job.

When I came back to the task, it was because the rear fence was halfway collapsed into the neighbor's driveway, and the only way I could keep it upright was to rope it securely to a tree. It was time to confess:

Screen Shot 2017-07-17 at 6.21.32 PM

While I pondered my own imbecility, I had some tree-trimmers over to deal with the overgrown foliage in the back yard. They did very good work on an apricot tree that was overhanging the fence, and I complemented them on it, then said, "I don't suppose you know any people who are willing to rebuild a fence like this?"

Turns out, one of them knew a guy. Now I knew a guy who knew a guy. I got his number and called him that moment, while the arborists were still packing up their saws and mulching the leftover trimmings. He spoke fluent Spanish but only fragmented English. "Your cousin the arborist recommended you!" I said. "Can you rebuild a wooden privacy fence, with cement footings?"

He said he could. He came over the next morning and examined the fence while we chatted, then he took a bunch of measurements and said he'd consult about lumber prices and get back to me. Two days later he sent me an estimate: 3800 dollars.

Now, that's still a lot of money. But it's just about HALF of what the official contractor quoted me. I said, "Let's do it," and I cut him a check for 10% of the amount to get started.


Here's what the back yard looks like with no fence. Weirdly exposed!


Here is what a proper post-hole looks like. They dug each one two feet deep and tamped the soil down with large metal bars.


They used thread to line up the postholes precisely. Turns out the old fence wasn't quite straight. They brought in a cement cutter and took a notch out of the neighbor's patio so they could reposition the hole, then repaired the cement after pouring the cement for the posthole beneath it.


Hmmm, delicious concrete! Concrete is amazing stuff. It doesn't get wet and then "dry" like glue. It actually absorbs the water into itself, growing crystals that interlock with each other to make one solid object. This is why you can create concrete posts even underwater.


Now that is a proper post.


The next day, with the posts set, it was time to put the framing up and start rebuilding the fence. Check out all that fencing laying around!


They used treated wood for the framing as well, and cut it onsite. They also cut custom pieces for the corner of the fence, interlocking it with the neighbor's fence on the other side to make one continuous structure. The whole thing was put together with screws, rather than nails, which is the more modern way of doing things.

In the end, I figured it was money well spent. The guy showed up on time, took exactly as long as he said he would, put all the dirt and plants back in their spots, hauled away the old fence, and even re-attached my irrigation pipes to the new fence without damaging them. If he had a "Yelp" page I would have given him 42 stars.

Now all I had to do was apply sealer to the whole thing:


Warning: Applying sealer to a fence takes a very, very long time. My mistake was trying to do it with tools at hand, such as a paint tray and a roller. The smart way is to use a large spray bottle, which you pressurize with a hand pump. I switched to that partway through.


That is a crapload of fence. It was a crapload of brushwork.

But now, I have a fence that will last 20 years, as long as I keep re-applying sealant to it every couple years. Yaaay! Another thing off the maintenance list.... For the time being.

Chaos in London

Jul. 20th, 2017 01:28 pm
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[personal profile] kiaa posting in [community profile] talkpolitics
Here they are, the two negotiating sides on the Brexit. The folks on the left are the EU representatives, each prepared with a file of documents. On the right side, the British, gazing into the nothingness, empty-handed. Maybe they've memorized all details so they don't need any paper in front of them? Or maybe they're eco-minded and they're trying to save paper? Heh? All I know is, this picture pretty much sums up the whole situation: the EU has a clear vision of what it wants the Brexit to look like - in the meantime, the British side has no specifics on their side. You think those are normal negotiations? Well, think again.

Read more... )
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[personal profile] garote
This picture is pretty self-explanatory:


The question is, whatcha gonna do about it?

For a while, I explored the idea of replacing the carpet with laminate flooring. That exploration mostly consisted of trolling around YouTube for helpful videos:

Removing carpet and trim:
More installation:

The tools required seemed pretty simple. I already had a jigsaw. Just needed a special levered cutting instrument, sold specifically for laminate floor installation. Less than 20 bucks at any hardware store. I began looking at flooring samples:

Here's some dark laminate that sort of matches the upstairs... And here's an even closer match...
Here's the "underlayer" lining I'd need to install below the flooring, like pad under a carpet...
Here's a cheap installation kit...

Wow; I think I can actually do this!

Then I brought some samples home and placed them in the room and realized - they're all very dark, and they don't match the paint in the room, and a dark floor in a below-ground room would kind of look dirty anyway. All the lighter laminate flooring samples looked aggressively woody, so those didn't fit the room either. I wanted a subtle pattern, or no pattern at all.

The more I looked and researched, the more I realized it was also going to be a huge amount of labor to install that flooring myself, mostly cutting and fitting all those edge pieces. Why go through all that labor just to install something I wasn't thrilled about?

So I threw my hands in the air, and said, "bugger it; let's just get exactly the same thing." I cut a big scrap out of the nasty old carpet, and bicycled it over to a local carpet dealer.


In a couple of weeks they arrived with a big work van.


Then they tore up and removed the old carpet in less than five minutes. Look at that filthy stain on the underside! That's a spore factory for sure.


This pad's not much better... It's practically turning into dirt and crumbs right there on the floor...


Ten minutes later and they were laying down some nice new pad.


And on top of that, some nice new carpet, stretched over the tacks with some weird tool that looks like spare parts from a vacuum cleaner factory.


It was seven hundred bucks to do the whole room and the closet, replace the pad, and haul away the old carpet. That's a good chunk of money, for sure. But on the other hand, all the labor I had to put into it can be summed up like this:

1. Open the door and let the workers in.
2. Scrawl my John Hancock on a cheque.


It's proof yet again that I am not above throwing money at a problem, and admitting this:


Party on, dude!

Russia Minor!?

Jul. 19th, 2017 10:54 am
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[personal profile] fridi
The term has gone out of use for quite a while. In recent decades it was being seen as a disparaging term used by Russian nationalists and pro-Russian Ukrainian "traitors" who believe Ukraine should be part of neo-imperial Russia.

And now it's being resurrected, and in quite a quasi-official way:

Separatists proclaim a new state to replace all of Ukraine

In comes one Alexander Zakharchenko...

Russia Minor!?

Jul. 19th, 2017 10:51 am
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[personal profile] fridi posting in [community profile] talkpolitics
The term has gone out of use for quite a while. In recent decades it was being seen as a disparaging term used by Russian nationalists and pro-Russian Ukrainian "traitors" who believe Ukraine should be part of neo-imperial Russia.

And now it's being resurrected, and in quite a quasi-official way:

Separatists proclaim a new state to replace all of Ukraine

In comes one Alexander Zakharchenko, leader of the separatist People's Republic of Donetsk, the runaway region in East Ukraine that no one, not even Russia has recognized as a state. His actions in proclaiming the creation of the Republic of Malorussia (Russia Minor) have come as a surprise even to the Kremlin. Naturally, the EU deems it unacceptable, and Kiev is vowing to restore the territorial integrity of Ukraine.

Read more... )

What the house needs, it gets

Jul. 19th, 2017 12:13 am
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[personal profile] garote
You ever had to replace a garbage disposal? Me neither. Turns out it's trivial: You just unscrew the metal rings from two pipes, pull a plug from a socket, and the whole thing comes out.


There it is! One wrench to remove the connector pipe and set it aside, and you're ready for the new disposal.

Meantime, you can clean out the rest of the pipes. You'll probably find evidence of the last meal that finally killed the disposal off for good.


Mmmm, delicious! I think that's ... avocado skins?? Or maybe someone murdered Shrek.

The one that broke, and the replacement, are both called "In-Sink-Erators". Har har.


Here's some garbage disposal advice, straight from a repair technician I hired earlier this year to fix a dishwasher:

"Always run the water into the disposal when you're running it. You don't have to run it very long to chew everything up; usually just a couple of seconds will do it. There's no need to wait until it's full before you turn it on. If you want to keep the sink smelling good and clean the pipes, turn on the water, turn on the disposal, and squirt some dish soap in there. Let it run for about 10-15 seconds. Suds might come up from the drain on either side of the sink. That's good. Ordinary dish soap is fine but use Pine Sol if you want something tougher."

"A garbage disposal does not shred things, it just breaks them into chunks. I've seen people clog their pipes by putting all kinds of wrong stuff into a garbage disposal. Clothing, coffee filters, plastic or mesh bags, sponges, apricot pits, peanut shells... The general rule is, don't put anything down the garbage disposal that you wouldn't chew up with your own teeth."

"No bones. Would you chew up bones? Well, maybe you would if it was baked chicken and you were my grandma. She could eat a whole chicken down to like, a tiny pile of broken bones. But seriously, the bones people usually throw into a disposal aren't like that. Why make your disposal chop up bones, when you can just drop them in the trash? I dunno; people are weird."

"Don't put ice down a garbage disposal -- it doesn't sharpen the blades, contrary to what people on the internet say. That's like trying to sharpen your kitchen knives by putting them in a rock polisher; how's that gonna sharpen anything?"

THE MORE YOU KNOW (rainbow sound effects here)

Let's talk about vaccine marketing

Jul. 18th, 2017 02:14 pm
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[personal profile] dreamville_bg posting in [community profile] talkpolitics
I recently read an article elaborating on the fact that vaccines are so successful that we don't even realize how bad things would be without them any more.

It's a big question really, one I've often thought about: vaccines may've become a victim of their own success, you see. They're so successful in uprooting a number of deadly diseases that used to kill people by the thousands and millions, that we even don't realize how crucial they are. We've never seen the horror of an epidemic, and we don't realize how devastating it could be. On the other hand, in all fairness, there's the problem that the pharmaceutical industry tends to overhype the qualities of certain products to get more profit. And this naturally drives a lot of people away.

The article touches on these and a number of related issues, and concludes with the opinion that governments ought to be regulating pharmaceutical marketing as well, not just the vaccine market itself.

So my question is: should the state be regulating the pharmaceutical marketing, i.e. the way these sorts of medicines are being advertised? Should their side effects be clearly shown on the label, the way that's valid for cigarettes?

What about the marketing of various finance services, like loans for example? Should their riskier particularities be deliberately pointed out, for example the fact that if you take a loan of 1 units you'd eventually have to pay back, say, 2, 3 or more units depending on the loan period? This could make some potential customers reconsider using said service, which means a possible loss for the seller - but is it really acceptable to freely advertise all these trust-consuming sinkholes whose pushers somehow only present their good sides while keeping hush-hush about the potential pitfalls? Profit comes with a certain amount of responsibilities, after all.

How's that growth going?

Jul. 18th, 2017 12:03 am
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[personal profile] fridi
It seems the Trump plan for US economic growth relies almost exclusively on corporate tax cuts and tax cuts for the wealthy. A "let's put all our growth eggs in one basket and hope for the best" sort of approach. During his presidential campaign, Trump promised to create 25 million new jobs and generate an economy that trots along at a 4-6% annual growth rate. Apparently, neither Trump promise is going to happen any time soon:

Forecast of weak economic growth raises big questions about Trump’s populist agenda

Or it could be something else...

How's that growth going?

Jul. 17th, 2017 11:02 pm
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[personal profile] fridi posting in [community profile] talkpolitics
It seems the Trump plan for US economic growth relies almost exclusively on corporate tax cuts and tax cuts for the wealthy. A "let's put all our growth eggs in one basket and hope for the best" sort of approach. During his presidential campaign, Trump promised to create 25 million new jobs and generate an economy that trots along at a 4-6% annual growth rate. Apparently, neither Trump promise is going to happen any time soon*:

Forecast of weak economic growth raises big questions about Trump’s populist agenda

Read more... )

Or it could be more about the fact that the third wave of recovery following the Carter bubble is taking a little long to come, hmm? Picking up international growth numbers might save us, but the rates were not corrected and there is a lot of money sloshing around. To prevent a recession might be rather difficult given the parameters and optimism that seems to be rather misplaced.

* That, and the fact that Trump's plan assumed that the RINO congress led by McConnell and Paul Ryan would be able to pass legislation, which it so far has been unable or unwilling to do.

Ilium and Olympos

Jul. 16th, 2017 09:03 pm
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[personal profile] garote
I started these books quite a while ago, right around the time I got into the game Civilization V. It was part of a confluence of historical fiction and pop culture that planted strange ideas in my head, some of which are still simmering away and not ready for me to write about.

But this weekend I spent at least 12 hours applying sealant to a new fence - a very boring bit of manual labor - and I listened to some of Olympos to entertain myself. Afterwards I realized I'd never written any critique of these books at all. Not even as a brain-dump. So, when it got too dark to see the fence, I cracked open the laptop and started dumping. Spoilers ahead, and stuff.

The novel really can be boiled down to one word: Solipsism. The central idea here is that a work of genius in the arts can actually create and/or give access to an alternate universe based on that artistic work. In this case it's taken further because the fictional creations have their own agency -- for example, Cetebus busting in through the walls of an adjacent universe uninvited and unexpected.

The writer is clearly using Hockenberry as a surrogate not just for the audience, but for himself, as an aging, over-educated, but distinguished academic, thrust into a total wish-fulfillment situation where he gets to observe legendary historical events in close detail, describe and analyze them, and eventually interfere with them to suit his tastes, and engage in political intrigue - or just have sex with - the most prominent figures involved.

I wonder how much of that role was Dan Simmons just going, "wow, I'm in Troy, what would I do next? I know! I'd totally seduce Helen Of Troy! Time to arrange some wackadoo series of events to make that plausible..."

The second book - Olympos - was much more difficult reading than the first, for a number of reasons:

1. The critics are right: There aren't very many answers given for important questions, especially in the realm of science. The answers that are given, to explain central parts of the plot and the mechanics of the universe, are often dropped without comment into a single sentence, surrounded by acres of less informative or unrelated narration. If you stop the novel cold and chew on these little tidbits for a while, you can actually unravel a lot of the plot and history. If you don't catch them ... you're screwed.
2. An enormous plot point involving a far-future weapon of war - a post-nuclear submarine - poofs into existence at about the 85% mark. There is zero foreshadowing of it, and it gets only a few pages of context, but it turns out to be central in the motivations and destinies of at least seven of the major characters. It suddenly explains, in retrospect, about half of this entire very very long novel. Also, our friends the Moravecs spend 4/5 of the novel pursuing their own investigations on a trip to Earth, and then as soon as they blunder across this wrecked ship - by accident no less - they instantly abandon their business, without any discussion, and start dealing with the ship. While this happens, we are treated to page after page of dithering from Harman about the past and fate of humanity, straight from the sheep-shearing barn in Dan Simmons' head. What the hell?
3. The critics are right: Most of the action takes place in the last quarter of the novel. It's still fun getting there, but after spending so much time wondering "what the hell is going on?", suddenly everything is going on at once, and you have to just give up asking questions and roll with it.
4. The Moravecs provide great discussion, and by far the most color and humor in the novel, but they are ill-used. Their purpose in both Ilium and Olympos is to swoop in like robotic janitors and clean up whatever mess the humans get themselves into. They are Machina ex Deus acting as Deus ex Machina, whenever the plot gets too thick. After a while it creates the impression that they are crowbarred in from another novel - possibly a superior one - like The Fonz crashing into a Laverne And Shirley episode, jazzing things up, sucking all the attention out of the scene, collecting some applause, and then buggering off. The effect is that you want to follow them out the door and leave these stupid humans to flounder in the mud. I could listen to Mahnmut And Orphu Discuss The Classics for a thousand pages and not get bored. Pity it had to come woven into a turgid drama about some pathetic, clueless, almost entirely humorless teenagers slowly learning that there is more to life than dinner parties and breeding.

Setting aside things that are left totally unexplained, there are still lingering questions of plot. For such a long, long novel it's rather irritating that Simmons couldn't just toss us a single-sentence bone or two at the end. I can only conclude he meant to leave these questions unanswered. Where did Cetebus go? One moment he was there blasting thunderbolts at spaceships, the next moment he was gone. Did the beam at Delphi contain three million Earthlings - or not? Where the hell is Caliban? What happened to all the post-human gods, once Hephaestus took over? And what the hell is up with Odysseus and Circe?

Like I said, the keys to understanding huge parts of this novel are often tiny and scattered indifferently in acres of prose. I gathered what felt like many of them, but perhaps I missed even more, because I still have way too many unanswered questions.

If Caliban can free-fax (teleport anywhere at will) then how exactly was he "trapped" in orbit for so long? Wasn't there a better - and less grisly - way to feed him than moving all the medical pods there? (I can think of five better ways in less than a minute.)

There is one single instance where a character uses the Turin Cloth to actually interact with the Trojan war, not just observe it. Why mention that once, then never again? Why have the feature at all, given how easily one could disrupt the course of the war?

Why would Circe put the submarine into suspension, rather than just lifting it into space and chucking it into the sun? She clearly has the tools to do so. How in the bloody hell did Prospero know that Harman would enter the submarine? For that matter, why did he send him there in the first place? To teach him a lesson about Post-Human stupidity? Why the hell was the Atlantic Breach even there? Why would radiation poisoning slowly destroy all the proteins in Harman's body but miraculously leave his stores of vat-absorbed protein knowledge completely intact, for later transmission? That's just sloppy, Mr. Simmons. You talk up the storage capacity of DNA, then totally disregard the fact that it is incredibly sensitive to radiation.

Why were the Moravecs cruising through space in a pointlessly "steampunk"-derived spaceship, when they had far better technology just sitting around? Why would they turn their whole expedition around just to rescue one dying man in a fit of compassion, but rain fire down all around the Trojans and Greeks in their war with the gods?

Cetebus crawled through a huge doorway to get to Earth -- and since he/it can make those doorways at will, why didn't he consume the Earth thousands of years ago already? Is it because he was trapped on Mars by Prospero? If so, ... how? By big stone statues? How the hell did that work?

Also, why just Prospero and Cetebus? That's awfully arbitrary. Why isn't the universe crawling with other Shakespearean characters? Why isn't Loki running around, or Gandalf, or Sherlock Holmes, or Moses? There is some sense in the idea that Ariel and Prospero are emergent phenomenon, formed from the complexity of the engineered Earth the Post-Humans left behind. And okay, all the Greek gods flying around have a semi-comprehensible origin story, being Post-Humans who got a wild hare up their butts and decided to reform themselves into a pantheon and play in a sandbox. But ... Cetebus? Where the crap did Cetebus come from? Just ripped a hole in creation and came tumbling through? If you're gonna introduce a straight-up evil entity and declare it the villain, only to explain nothing about it, then yank it mysteriously away at the end of the novel without a fight or even an ending monologue like "I'll get you next time, Gadget, next time..." then why introduce it at all? No, seriously, just edit Cetebus right out of the novel. Hundreds of pages saved, and almost nothing lost.

Hey, don't get the wrong impression. Ilium and Olympos are still fine novels. For long stretches they are an absolute delight to read, and the weird veneer of semi-serious science over the fiction works better than you'd expect. Later on I'm sure I'll have more to say about the mental conflagration it was part of last year, but for now I guess the take-home is this: Greek mythology is a lot more interesting and influential than I thought. And: This could make a pretty good series of movies, if you cut out a whole lot of the boring Old-Style Human dithering.

Oh and one final thing: For a long time I had an old paperback sci-fi anthology sitting around my house. It was called "The Crystal Ship". Check out the cover art, and the summary of the first story, and tell me that isn't the direct inspiration for the orbital city in Ilium, including that crazy multi-seated transport platform visible in the corner of the cover!

Alvaro Soler: Animal

Jul. 15th, 2017 10:00 pm
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