The Library Basement
Reading under ground

Readings For October 2014

Published: 2014-12-11 20:56:00
Category: books Tags: readings Susanna Clark

I finished just one book - a great big book.

Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clark

Susanna Clark's Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell was a break-out award winner which seemed right up my alley. It certainly has its charms, and I had an overall fair impression of the work. Yet there were a few issues which will preclude a recommendation from me.

The main criticism I will level against this novel is its length. I think Clark had a big story to tell, and there is nothing wrong with that (Sanderson reader here!). She even ironically employs multi-page footnotes in the documentary style of prose. This leads to a lot of back story and world building which is charming, but leads to a bit of a long slog.

I feel the amount of exposition and detail ultimately detracts from the finished product. What ends up clocking in at over 1,000 pages in paperback could have been accomplished in about 400. I also feel that the story did not really get started for about 300 pages, which was frustrating.

(Nerd nit pic here: I hate free-energy magic systems.)

I feel like Clark could have broken this up into multiple parts, and the universe of this novel could yet produce some great fantasy storytelling. But this one was just a bit too much for me. LocalWords: Norrell

Time for Oregon to re-examine capital punishment

Published: 2014-11-07 20:54:00
Category: politics Tags: Oregon capital punishment

John Kitzhaber was re-elected to a fourth term as Governor of Oregon. This in and of itself is a remarkable achievement. The situation is even more interesting when considering the swarm of scandals which Kitzhaber successfully swatted in winning. Yet I would like to focus on a single issue which did not end up playing as prominent of a role in the campaign as I thought it would: capital punishment. Given the relative silence on this issue during the campaign, and given the governor's re-election, I think it is highly significant for the near future of Oregon politics.

Capital punishment was up for discussion because early in his term, Governor Kitzhaber effectively halted all capital punishment proceedings in the state. This came to a head because a particular death row inmate had forsworn further appeals and was electing to die.

Kitzhaber was deeply troubled by the memory of the two executions which happened during his first pair of terms. Likewise, he questioned the logic of a death row system which effectively only proceeded to execution if the inmate gave up and asked to die. Therefore he issued an indefinite stay on this inmate's execution. Moreover, the Governor announced that no other executions would proceed during the duration of his term in office. (He was not commuting the inmates' sentences, so it is possible that a subsequent governor could reverse course and executions could continue.)

This act raised various levels of controversy. On the first level, the inmate wanted to reject the clemency and demanded to be put to death in spite of the Governor's action. The case went to the Oregon Supreme Court, which ruled that the Governor's power of reprieve is unconditional.

Above that, some citizens were upset that Kitzhaber was unilaterally stopping capital punishment in Oregon. This, they argued, was contrary to the law and the will of the people of Oregon, and against the intent of the clemency powers given the governor in the state constitution. In this, the Governor was essentially shirking his duties.

I was among Kitzhaber's supporters in this move. And now the Governor has been re-elected with this policy still standing. I believe this possibly signals that Oregon voters are ready to remove capital punishment in this state.

The only way to know for sure would be to have an initiative on this topic in the next election. Oregon voted the death penalty into law in 1984. That is more than a generation ago. Popular opinion on gay marriage changed in ten years, and Oregon voters reversed themselves on marijuana legalization in only two. It's time to put the question to the people again. I believe the measure would pass, and the death penalty will be repealed in Oregon.

In addition to his personal objections, Kitzhaber is ultimately calling for the same re-examination. The system should be scrapped or fixed, he says. Let's find out the will of the people.

O Bazan, Where Art Thou?

Published: 2014-11-02 15:30:00
Category: κτλ Tags: music David Bazan

David Bazan is the greatest Christian songwriter of his generation. This remains true in spite of him no longer being a Christian. Even now his reflections and critiques of Christianity are more powerful than the vast majority of believing artists.

His faith, or lack thereof, has formed the thematic core of his work throughout his career. Bazan cannot (or will not) move on the from the topic. This is fine by me as a listener.

Yet his music is a lot more than his faith. It is beautifully written, brilliantly executed. I love Bazan's songs; I sing along. In this spirit I am embarking on this piece. It is not a review, per se, but a remembrance.

"Edgy"

In his early role as a Christian indie artist, Bazan was perhaps best known for being "edgy." Bazan's "Christian" band Pedro the Lion's first E.P. Whole was about drug addiction, after all. He continued to push the envelope in addressing themes of sex, infidelity, loneliness, suicide, corruption, murder and doubt. And then to make his edginess double-bladed, he liked to perform old hymns.

The aforementioned themes were virtually absent from any contemporary Christian music, which is almost always vacuous and expressed in empty positivity. For young Christians like me who themselves liked to think of themselves as "edgy", this produced an immediate and intense affection for Bazan's music.

At last there was a voice of honesty in Christian culture! Honesty is in some sense the central task of art: to let an unflinching eye gaze upon a subject, and to render it into a new medium. In pop Christian music the medium is whitewash.

I should not say that Bazan was alone as a Christian artist. There are other artists, other favorites of mine, who worked at the same task by degrees. However in my estimation, Bazan fulfilled the role best. Perhaps too well.

It seems inevitable in retrospect that this envelope-pushing would lead to Bazan's exiting the faith. With each new album, the edge was being pushed further and further, until Achilles' Heel, the last under the Pedro the Lion moniker, led right to the border:

Who shall I blame
For this sweet and heavy trouble
For every stupid struggle
I don't know
I could buy you a drink
I could tell you all about it
I could tell you why I doubt it
And why I still believe it
And why I need it
And what the Pharisees don't see

But more on that later.

Winners Never Quit

"Winners Never Quit cover art"

My favorite album of Bazan's is Pedro the Lion's Winners Never Quit. It is only 8 tracks and about forty minutes long, but it packs a big punch. The album relates the story of a corrupt politician and his loser brother. Spoiler alert: the politician kills his wife and then himself after she uncovers his bid to steal an election, and the brother survives to have a second chance. You know, good wholesome music.

Briefly: this album is a masterpiece.

First, the music. I love the simple orchestration, and I love the way this simple combo was recorded. Clearly articulated, I feel like I can picture a live band playing the music. Yet Bazan did a good job not letting the simple kit limit the range of sound. On the contrary: we hear folk guitar, vintage indie rock, an ethereal ballad, and some more aggressive fare. They are all heard distinctly, and match the voice of the lyrics.

More important than the production, however, is the composition. Bazan's use of recurring motifs sprinkled through the songs bring make a coherent whole of the album. The listener hears an echo of a previous tune (with which I am obliged to sing the lyrics, being like that). These lead to a thematic tightness which is emphasized in the music, not in spite of it.

In addition, Bazan employs a number of tropes to underline the lyrics to great effect - e.g. "now that's the sort of smack that leaves a bruise" followed by accented attack, evoking the same.

Bazan's music is always good, but I feel like Winners Never Quit is his best example of music being an integral part of the story telling.

Lyrics are the other side of that coin, and here Bazan excels as well. It is a short album and he has a big story to tell, so he has to be economical. It feels cliche to say "show, don't tell" regarding the literary arts, but that is exactly how this album works. Consider the following:

My jail shoes on
The well-kept cemetery lawn

Two lines, nine words; but also: exposition, advancing the plot, revealing the scene, and setting the emotional tone. I think the real challenge in all of this is keeping the lyrics from sounding over-wrought or pretentious.

Yes, Winners Never Quit: a joy to listen to; a joy to sing to yourself; a joy to think upon. Do yourself a favor and have a listen. In my opinion it is the best album of Bazan's career. Probably not the best in each individual element, but the best complete package.

Collaborations

Before commenting on Bazan's religious metamorphosis I wish to bring attention to his musical collaborations outside his own projects. Pedro the Lion and Bazan's current band have always truly been a one-man show. Bazan provides almost all of the creative inputs, and his band plays with him on the road. But that doesn't make Bazan a lone wolf by any stretch. He's making great music with friends, if only in fairly limited doses.

Perhaps the most fruitful of all Bazan collaboration's is with T.W. Walsh. Walsh was a touring member of Pedro the Lion and received some writing credits on Achilles Heel. But more exciting for me was Bazan and Walsh's synth-and-drums project Headphones. The orchestration was a great vehicle for some fresh songs from Bazan. My favorite was "I Never Wanted You" which starts out as cruel parting shot in a breakup but is revealed to be the desperate deflection of a heart-broken man.

More recently Bazan has made an album in a new group - Overseas. It is not clear to me what the future of this collaboration will be, but it was interesting to listen to Bazan participating as a member of an enterprise. You can definitely hear his influence (especially in the songs for which he provides vocals), but it is not dominating.

To end the list of collaborations I have saved Bazan's work with Jason Martin of Starflyer 59. I hold a great affection for Martin (and probably should commit a post to him someday). It was at a Starflyer show that I first heard Bazan play. He was touring in support of Control, the follow-up album to Winners Never Quit. I stood riveted throughout his performance, even overcoming my initial annoyance that Martin had flipped the bill and let Pedro the Lion perform last.

So two of my favorite bands sometimes toured together - bonus! But my joy at this collaboration was fulfilled to an even greater degree when Martin and Bazan started making music together. This culminated with a few songs being published of their direct cooperation:

  • "Broken Arm" on the Starflyer 59 box set Ghosts of the Past
  • "Lost My Shape" - the same lyrics as "Broken Arm" but different music on Bazan's Curse Your Branches
  • "Messes" - the same music as "Broken Arm" but different lyrics on Bazan's Strange Negotiations
  • "Eating Paper" on Strange Negotiations

I hope that someday Martin and Bazan will retire to leisure and be able to make music with each other as often as they please. And Bazan very well may lead me to another favorite musician through his future collaborations.

The Conversion

Bazan has definitely affirmed his exit from the church in interviews. In following his history of musical releases, it is not exactly clear which album is his last "Christian" one. I know many Christian listeners regarded Control as the final straw - here Bazan violated sacred taboos against curse words and explicit lyrics. And there was really no doubt by Strange Negotiations, where Bazan put a semi-nude woman on the album art, I think, to send a very clear message.

I look squarely at Curse Your Branches as the conversion - not of the artist himself, but of the thematic core of his music. This is what I like to call the "God and alcohol" album, where each song seems to wrestle with one or the other, until the final cut "In Stitches", which handles both:

I need no other memory
Of the bits of me I left
When all this lethal drinking
Is to hopefully forget about you

And it is in this same song that teases the listeners:

I might as well admit it
Like I even have a choice
The crew have killed the captain
But they still can hear his voice

There's doubt in doubt.

Of course Bazan shuts the door again in the final verse, and the song ends in an unsettled fashion. But that is what the listeners love to hear.

Incidentally, Bazan's newest music featured on his website is still dealing with Christian themes:

I was trembling with goose-flesh The first time I prayed to speak in tongues

And so on. So the conversion is over, but the conversation is not.

If I look up and the sky's not there...

Did Bazan take believers with him? This seems to be the biggest charge levied against him. It is one thing for a grown man to decide to leave the faith. But it is quite another for an influential musician with an impressionable (mostly younger) audience to do so.

Or, another way to ask: will I let my kids listen to him? Of course they won't want to listen to anything dad does, but hypothetically speaking. Yes, I think so, when they are a certain age. I want them to be able to face tough questions and be stimulated by ideas which are not necessarily "safe" by the standards of Christian culture. However, I will of course at all times accompany that with voices "on the other side," as it were.

That's my recollection of David Bazan for you. Lover of his music, stung but not scandalized by his conversion, thankful for him sharing his experiences.

Currently on the stack

Published: 2014-10-26 13:53:00
Category: books Tags: on the stack

You have a book shelf, but you probably also have another stack of books. This other spot houses your queue of books to read, or maybe reference works. You love this stack of boos, and you look at it wistfully, wishing you had more time to read.

This is my current stack of books:

"Stack October 26, 2014""

That's:

  • The big Liddell & Scott Greek lexicon
  • The General Class amateur radio manual
  • Randall Munroe's What If?
  • Tolstoy's The Kingdom of God is Within You
  • The NRSV
  • THe Loeb volume Select Papyri III: Poetry

Translation ex nihilo

Published: 2014-10-19 12:21:00
Category: Christianity Tags: translation

Join me in a thought experiment. A team of biblical language experts has been convened to produce a new translation of the Bible into English. However, none of the translators have ever read the Bible before, and they have no knowledge of Judaism nor Christianity. How would their translation differ from the received tradition?

Against his will

Published: 2014-10-16 21:08:00
Category: quotes Tags: Leo Tolstoy

A man cannot be placed against his will in a situation opposed to his conscience.

~ Leo Tolstoy, The Kingdom of God is Within You. Trans. Constance Garnett.

The operative concept is the will. If one is seemingly forced to go against it, the reality is that one's will truly preferred to preserve what was being threatened.

Readings for September 2014

Published: 2014-10-09 21:32:00
Category: books Tags: readings Leo Tolstoy

We took a vacation and had other distractions. Sadly I don't get so much reading done on vacations these days, but this too shall pass.

The Kingdom of God Is Within You by Leo Tolstoy

I found this re-read to be very stimulating. As a matter of fact, I marked up the margins with a pen and dog-eared a bunch of pages, something I feel quite certain I have not done since my college days. Tolstoy's writing requires response.

I may yet commit some of those marginal notations to blog posts, as I was planning when I first penned them. I think the primary value for me in reading this work is to reflect on Tolstoy's challenges to traditional power structures and to compare how my views fit with his.

As I often say, I am a Yoderian, meaning I support "legitimate" violence only as constrained by law in a legal system. Extra-judicial violence, especially wars of aggression, cannot conform to Christian standards. But Tolstoy is right there, questioning everything, and that has value. This book is recommended for mature readers.

Periodicals

  • Harper's October 2014

Readings for August 2014

Published: 2014-09-02 05:40:00
Category: books Tags: readings Thomas Merton Mark VanSteenwyk

If I had to choose a theme for this month, it would be cloistered anarchic hacking.

The Seven Storey Mountain by Thomas Merton

Thomas Merton's The Seven Storey Mountain is the account of his conversion to Catholicism and call to his vocation in a Trappist Monastery. I had seen this work recommended by a number of my favorite authors, so I was keeping it on my mental "to read" list (which should probably be written, due to the failings of memory). Having read it, I can easily see the source for the affection which so many have for this writing.

Merton's style is excellent. He stretches the first twenty-eight years of his life past 400 pages, but it is kept engaging. I think my favorite feature of Merton's was to write mostly directly, but then to occasionally throw in the most whimsical observations. These were usually brief and sparse, and were used to great effect in my opinion.

The story is compelling as well. I found myself rooting for Merton. But what I think I liked best in this work was the look into monasticism. I had never known much about the cloistered life (and still don't, honestly), but The Seven Storey mountain paints a vivid picture of the appeal of monastic life. At times I found myself thinking - "What good are these monks? All they do is pray!" And then immediately felt silly. This precisely exposes the rift in worldview between monasticism and modernity. If you are interested in more, then it is certainly recommended.

That Holy Anarchist by Mark VanSteenwyk

After completing Merton's autobiography, with all of its Catholic orthodoxy, I felt compelled to mix things up and read from the radical side of the Christian spectrum. This began with a re-read of Tolstoy's The Kingdom of God is Within You (which is still on-going at the time of writing). However, whilst in the general neighborhood, I happened across Mark VanSteenwyk's That Holy Anarchist.

I was already familiar with Mark's work on the Jesus Radicals site and the Iconocast podcast. So when I came across this slim primer on Christian Anarchism, I was immediately interested.

First of all, in line with true anarchist principles, That Holy Anarchist is not protected by copyright and available on-line for free. So if you are interested by this review, there is nothing stopping you from reading the book (and buying it to share if you like).

I believe this is the best, most succinct primer on Christian anarchism which I have encountered thus far. It is not over-long (I read it in a single sitting), and not hard to understand. In addition to this, Mark avoids to the temptation to "theorize" Christian anarchism - he lays out the arguments but does not try to make an airtight case. In this way the book comes across more as food for thought than a forceful argument, which may be useful in attracting new readers to the philosophy.

I myself remain a Yoderian, so Mark didn't win me over. This work is recommended if you'd like to trouble your notions of Christianity and state power.

Periodicals

  • 2600 31:1 - I liked this issue of the hacker quarterly better than I did the other one I had read.

  • Harper's September 2014

Tolstoy documents American pacifism

Published: 2014-08-12 05:58:00
Category: Christianity Tags: ethics Leo Tolstoy

I have commenced re-reading Leo Tolstoy's The Kingdom of God is Within You. I first read it four years ago. It was a challenging read. This book of Tolstoy's is primarily concerned with offering a defense of the Christian principle of non-resistance to evil (Matthew 5:39). Tolstoy's interpretation calls for absolute non-violence for Christians.

(He makes this theme so central to his Christianity, he ends up being a redaction critic, attributing almost anything "mystical" in the balance of the New Testament as being added to distract from the earl church's desire to distract from Jesus' teaching in the Sermon on the Mount.)

In the first section of The Kingdom of God Is Within You, Tolstoy reacts to critics and supporters of his previous work (What I Believe). In doing so, he lists authors and movements pre-dating himself which held essentially the same viewpoints about non-resistance. What interests me is that the list is dominated by American institutions - the Quakers, the Mennonites, etc. Apparently in the late 19th century, the US was known for having a bunch of Christian denominations which were dedicated to peace.

This is not the case now. Many of those historical institutions have declined in relative prominence, and some of the same have softened their stances on non-violence. On the world's stage, American Christians are now probably best known for sanctioning state aggression. But I am proud to recount that we used to have something of a reputation for refusing the call to arms.

I will probably have several posts inspired by Tolstoy's work as I read through.

Readings for July 2014

Published: 2014-08-11 05:46:00
Category: books Tags: readings Ursula K. LeGuin John Scalzi

You can't always read as much as you want.

The Tombs of Atuan by Ursula K. LeGuin

In reading The Tombs of Atuan I have completed LeGuin's Earthsea cycle. I read the whole thing out of "order", which is of course the proper way to read this series. The narrative focuses first not on Sparrowhawk, but on a young girl Tenar on a far island. Tenar has been selected as a young girl to be the figure head of her people's cultic religion. It is as a thief that Sparrowhawk comes to Atuan, meets Tenar, and begins the relationship at the heart of the cycle.

In Atuan LeGuin is trying to portray a caricature, I think, of a rotten culture. The place of worship is patrolled by spirits who exhibit malice and fear of change. The narrative becomes an account of Tenar's courage to confront the wickedness and free herself. In doing so she alienates herself, which seems fitting (and is one of my favorite fantasy tropes).

This was not my favorite Earthsea novel - that distinction will remain with The Farthest Shore until another read-through of the cycle. But, as with everything LeGuin I have read, this is recommended.

Red Shirts by John Scalzi

John Scalzi. Making fun of Star Trek. What more could you want a sci-fi comedic novel? Not much more, if you ask me. Red Shirts is the tale of those expendables on away missions who always seem to die needlessly. Scalzi launches from this premise into a fun plot which gets more distance than I had guessed before reading it. Certainly recommended.

Periodicals

  • Tin House #59 - I have now completed my first ten issues of Tin House. Each issue is still a treat.
  • Harper's August 2014

Readings for June 2014

Published: 2014-07-24 20:34:00
Category: books Tags: readings Dave Eggers

In which I reach the nadir of summer reading.

A Hologram for the King by Dave Eggers

I realized upon seeing this book that I had never read Dave Eggers' fiction. Yes to his autobiography, A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius. And yes to his novel-biographies of What is the What and Zeitoun. But never pure fiction. A Hologram for the King therefore grabbed my attention, and I picked it up.

Eggers is definitely trying to capture zeitgeist in this novel. After all, the premise is that a hard-on-his-luck salesman goes to pitch technology to the Saudi King - a definite attempt to evoke the modern feeling in America. Yet I am grateful that there is more to the storytelling than an appeal to the current spirit. Timelessness is of course a requirement for any good fiction. Being timely only helps with sales.

I enjoyed the read, but not immensely. Eggers tells a good story, and makes you love the protagonist in a Willy Loman sort of way. So yes, by all means, read and enjoy the story.

Periodicals

  • Harper's July 2014

  • Harper's February 2014 - Playing catch-up with some missed back issues. For some reason it bugs me to miss Harper's issues.

Readings for May 2014

Published: 2014-06-14 20:58:00
Category: books Tags: readings Brandon Sanderson Michael Lewis

I am OK with having a back-log of periodicals.

Words of Radiance by Brandon Sanderson

Brandon Sanderson's new novel Words of Radiance is a book of feats. First of all, just look at it, if you get the chance. Take in its girth. The hardback is large. So large, that it defies binding. Yet somehow the good people at Tor found a way to make almost 1100 giant pages stick together in one book. And they even had to cheat a bit, removing the headers from the pages and slamming text far North into the traditional margins.

The second feat is that of storytelling. In adding a second volume to The Stormlight Archive, Sanderson is spinning quite a yarn. A huge story with many characters and plot lines is starting to converge. And Sanderson does a decent job making the reader care about just about everyone on the many pages of the book. At times I think the restrained scope and style of LeGuin is optimal, but I also like me a good, long fantasy novel. So recommended, but remember to read The Way of Kings first if you have not already.

Moneyball by Michael Lewis

This is probably the most popular baseball book of the past two decades and somehow I had not read it yet. But I had the opportunity to borrow it from my father and dove right in.

I really enjoyed this outsider's look inside baseball. In following Billy Beane and the Oakland A's, Lewis does much to help explain the weird economics of Major League Baseball. Now a decade on from the book, it is interesting to look back at the players featured in the novel, as well as at the A's themselves. After a bit of a downturn, the club under Beane is back on top, and still with a very low payroll.

While I enjoy that low-payroll teams can be successful, I have been disturbed by another recent trend in the bigs: an owner can still make a profitable enterprise out of a non-competitive team. If that can be fixed, baseball will be all the stronger. Recommended.

Periodicals

  • Harper's June 2014 - "The Second Doctor Service" by Daniel Mason was a very compelling short story. I was engaged throughout, and left thinking about it for days.

Fun with LXXM-Corpus

Published: 2014-06-13 20:56:00
Category: language Tags: nltk Greek LXX

Once I have a text available for natural language processing, there are a few basic tasks I like to perform to kick the tires. First, I like to run the collocations method of NLTK, which gives common word pairs from the text. For the LXXM, here are the results:

  • ἐν τῇ
  • ἐν τῷ
  • ὁ θεὸς
  • τῆς γῆς
  • καὶ εἶπεν
  • λέγει κύριος
  • ἀνὰ μέσον
  • τὴν γῆν
  • τοῦ θεοῦ
  • ὁ θεός
  • τάδε λέγει
  • πρός με
  • πάντα τὰ
  • ὁ βασιλεὺς
  • οὐ μὴ
  • οὐκ ἔστιν
  • τῇ ἡμέρᾳ
  • οἱ υἱοὶ
  • τῷ κυρίῳ
  • τοῦ βασιλέως

If you disregard the stop words, you can get a decent idea of the fundamental thematic content of the text.

Now for the silliness, using the n-gran random text generator:

ἐν ἀρχῇ ὁδοῦ πόλεως ἐπ' ὀνόμασιν φυλῶν τοῦ Ισραηλ παρώξυναν οὐκ ἐμνήσθησαν διαθήκης ἀδελφῶν καὶ ἐξαποστελῶ πῦρ ἐπὶ Μωαβ ἐν τῷ ἐξαγαγεῖν σε τὸν ἱματισμόν

A categorized, tagged Septuagint corpus

Published: 2014-06-09 20:27:00
Category: κτλ Tags: nltk LXX technology

Last year I created a version of the SBLGNT for use as categorized, tagged, corpus for natural language processing. Now I have done the same with a Septuagint text. I am calling it LXXMorph-Corpus. The source for text and tags is my unicode conversion of the CATSS LXXMorph text. There is at least one category for each file.

The text is arranged with one book per file. Certain books in the source LXXMorph text are split where there is significant textual divergence (manuscript B and A, or the Old Greek and Theodotion). Each file has one or more categories (e.g. pentateuch and writings).

Since there is no punctuation in the source text, the files are laid out with one verse per line. A better arrangement from an NLP perspective would be one line per sentence (thereby preserving the semantic structure). Maybe someday we'll have a freely-licensed LXX text which will include sentence breaks.

Each word is accompanied by the morphological tag in the word/tag format (NLTK will automatically split word and tag on the slash). The part of speech tag is separated from the parsing information with a hyphen, which enables the use of the simplify tags function in NLTK.

Here follows an example of how to load this corpus into NLTK:

from nltk.corpus.reader import CategorizedTaggedCorpusReader

def simplify_tag(tag):
    try:
        if '-' in tag:
            tag = tag.split('-')[0]
        return tag
    except:
        return tag

lxx = CategorizedTaggedCorpusReader('lxxmorph-corpus/', 
    '\d{2}\..*', encoding=u'utf8',
    tag_mapping_function=simplify_tag, 
    cat_file='cats.txt')

Now through the lxx object you have access to tagged words - lxx.tagged_words(), simplified tags - lxx.tagged_words(simplify_tags=True), tagged sentences - lxx.tagged_sents(), and textual categories - lxx.words(categories='former-prophets').

This is a derivative work of the original CATSS LXXMorph text, and so your use of it is subject to the terms of that license. See the README file for more details.

Readings for April 2014

Published: 2014-05-26 07:53:00
Category: books Tags: readings Michael Crichton Orson Scott Card

Reading continues.

Micro by Michael Crichton

There was a time in life when I was devouring everything by Michael Crichton I could get my hands on. As time went by my tastes have changed. And with the passing of Crichton, there were not more opportunities to read his work anyway. Except that his estate had arranged for posthumous releases of works in progress. The first was Pirate Latitudes, which I found to be decidedly half-baked.

This new offering, Micro, is co-authored by Richard Preston, so it has a more finished feel to it. And it is a vintage Crichton story-line: corporate use of bleeding-edge technology leads to mayhem. I will warn the reader that the premise of this book is essentially "Honey, I Shrunk the Kids" in an action/adventure format. I would recommend this for any die-hard Crichton fans out there.

Speaker for the Dead by Orson Scott Card

I really loved Ender's Game, so I've had its sequel Speaker for the Dead queued up for quite some time. I also studiously avoided seeing the film adaptation of the former. Orson Scott Card once again came through with a very thought-provoking tale, well-executed in the science fiction genre.

Card's fiction seems to always address religion, though in this novel it is a major theme. You have the Catholic colony on a lonely planet reacting to the intrusion of the Speaker, who is a sort of "priest" for a new "humanist religion." The Speaker is of course Ender, who through relativistic spaceflight is still running around thousands of years after his xenocide. Ender gets the opportunity for a chance at redemption, as it were, because for the first time since the buggers, humanity has discovered a new sentient species.

I have only read three Card novels, but they have all stuck with me. He is an excellent story teller, and he does not let his genre get in the way. Rather he uses science fiction to create the alternate realities in which tough questions can be addressed. In other words, he is very much like LeGuin, and I love him for it. Recommended.

Periodicals

  • Harper's April 2014
  • Tin House 58
  • Harper's May 2014

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