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Language Computeer
Fists of irony
Over the last week, I've been taking advantage of the local library.

Astronauts of the Future, by Louis Trondheim and Manu Larcenet.
Labeled Young Adult, by the librarians, and that seems perfectly appropriate. The two kids who are the centerpiece of the story are delightfully obsessed with demonstrating to each other that they are surrounded by robots and aliens in a vast Pod People/Truman Show style SF conspiracy, which leads to all sorts of kid-play secret-agent work. The twist pops up in a moment of unexpected awfulness, which could have taken a very very dark direction, but it swerves into a different flavor of whimsy and play instead.
The translation bristles awkwardly in a few places. For example, a "Professor Wahder" is introduced, and he says "the first one who giggles while saying 'Professor Water' or 'Water Prof' will be kicked out", which probably made more sense in French. At least I hope so. But these minor blemishes don't spoil the playful characterizations and the slightly hallucinogenic plot.

Vampire Loves, by Joann Sfar.
The librarians classified this one as Young Adult too, but that seems quite off. Ferdinand is a vampire, and a loser. He can't seem to get a girlfriend -- or keep them -- because he's so unsure and lonely. His "friends" walk all over him (the first story involves his ex coming back to try to make up after she slept with his best friend). Ferdinand's story is not a Goth tragedy ("vampires can't find love") -- it's a personal tragedy, and it's even slightly self-conscious: Ferdinand visits a Goth club. "[Ferdinand] finds it irritating to be in a place where everyone is trying to look like a vampire", the caption-narrator points out, and "he's even more irritated by the fact that he's a clueless old-timer in there. He knows neither the names of the bands nor the dress codes."
I'm uneasy about the Young Adult classification not because it's got "mature themes" in the violent or sexual sense -- though those themes are suggested, there's nothing to scar anybody's mind here -- but because I don't think that Ferdinand's hopeful, awkward loser-dom is going to be appealing to anyone who's still struggling through adolescence. Loves is a meditation on being an adult, and coping --perhaps not so successfully -- with the possibility that not everyone will love you.

Eastern Standard Tribe, by Cory Doctorow.
This is the second-most-recent novel from Doctorow, who hosts the usually-excellent but sometimes-pretentious linkblog BoingBoing. It is consistent with Doctorow's usual: his characters are flat, and the personal plots are a thin pretense to hang out numerous personal rants of his own. In this novel, a Torontonian [male] computer geek falls in love with an LA woman while they are both living in London. The main point? well, it seems like Doctorow wanted to rant about crazy women a little, and then to wedge in some discussion about the nature of collaboration and competition when time-zone and distance seem to matter less and less. The idea that timezone "tribes" would consciously compete for things like global-scale contracts is a ticklish one, and I ultimately find it unconvincing. Then again, since the protagonist begins the novel in a mental facility for paranoids, Doctorow may be trying to tell us that he thinks so too, but I think that's more of a post-modern hedge.
I wasn't impressed. Doctorow's techno-utopianism gets tiring, and his deus ex machina resolution of the personal and psychological stuff seems to be a trend (Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town and Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom suffer from these as well.)

Extra Bonus Entry: boobirdsfly and I saw The Bridge of San Luis Rey, a Strawberry Theatre Workshop adaptation (with puppets!) of the Pulitzer-winning Thornton Wilder novel. I really enjoyed it; both the story and the staging. Seems intensely relevant in the 21st century, since it's a story about finding out how to live with senseless tragedy. I'm inspired by this -- and other discussions with boobirdsfly to get back into reading "non-genre" fiction.

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The Morlock is a round, pale white ghost
in aviator sunglasses
a black polo shirt
two beepers, a phone and black velcro pouches
hide his belt like lichen on a branch
and a purple carabiner dangles a hundred jewels
that open a thousand locks.

He could be a night janitor, pale from sleeping days
but for two details:
long thinning hair, a string of afterthought on his back,
and a porkpie hat, carefully level with his eyebrows.
These two details serve as tokens of office,
signs of allegiance, badges of honor in
the libertarian under-troll brotherhood of bits.

I smiled to myself, admiring how clearly I knew him.
"You think you're such a rebel," I said in my mind
to the Morlock. "You're just part of the machine."

But when the bus came around the corner,
the street was full of shouting, signs and a cloth dragon,
going the other way, desperate anger,
saying "No!" and "not in our name!".

They climb the hill behind us,
hoping to take the freeway
hoping to be noticed,
hoping their resistance can mean something,
just like the Morlock.

And I, I didn't join them, I didn't shout "no",
I let them pass,
I stayed on the bus,
I went to work,
just like the Morlock.

From notes taken Thursday morning, 10/5

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I was sitting on the sofa in the living room, reading a book. boobirdsfly was in the bedroom, changing her clothes after a shower.

I heard a crick-crack sound from an outer wall and window, and felt the sofa shake a little bit, like a big truck had just pulled down the alley, fast.

"Did you feel that?" I asked D.

"Feel what?" she said. I decided it had probably just been somebody moving furniture downstairs, or dropping a box, or something.

A few minutes later, beckyb called, and I mentioned what I had observed. She reminded me that there are professionals for this task.

Turns out it really did happen. (here's a plot, there at 02:48 UTC).

[Update Monday: that makes this quake slightly less powerful than the Korean artificial quake.]
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