Friday, June 30, 2017

Almost Infinite Complexity, Chapters 17-36

Perhaps all this needed was a little change in mood. After muddling through the set-up, I was treated to an attempt at a hostile takeover of Hell, a tour of the suburbian Hell, a hopeless romantic with a bad case of one-itis for his Dulcinea, Cooper's arrest, a fluke discovery of the almost infinite;y complex equation, Thisbe's death, and Old Scratch offering Cooper a real job--manager of Hell. With the exceptions of Thisbe's bumbling investigation and Gormley's antics, this middle section held my interest.

Thisbe comes off as an idiot. Granted, this isn't because of lack of intelligence, but because of lack of perception. She leaps to a conclusion based on her obsession with Dean. After all, the guy she likes couldn't be at fault, so the sinister man must be the loser chasing her. Everything afterwards comes from the rationalizations used to justify her false read on the situation. And, frankly, the effect makes her look stupid. But then there are reams of quotes online talking about how easy it is to fool the smart. It's almost a relief when she's removed from the board.

Not that all Thisbe's problems would go away if she turned her affections to Cooper. Thisbe's a bit of a bum magnet, and none of the choices available to her are good ones, especially the pedestalizing Cooper. It's her own fault, really, and tragic in the proper moral sense. But then she is bait to damn Cooper's soul, as Old Scratch waves the possibility of reuiniting with her in front of Cooper to sweeten the job offer. Of course, Cooper, the romantic idiot, is drawn in.

I've enjoyed the little nuggets of wisdom hidden in the text, whether it is the skewering of religiousity, or pointing out the insane love for science by those who have never fired up a Bunsen burner in anger--echoing my own experience with the IFL Science crowd.  Most of these little aphorisms are short enough that skimmers will miss them.

The dialogue is a little too natural at times. As JWM pointed out last time, people actually do talk like this. Because of the sequential nature of storytelling, most dialogue is streamlined, removing the verbal punctuation, excessive grammar, and constant interruptions that characterize a conversation. And, as linguist John McWorter has pointed out in his lectures and books, most speakers don't wait their turn, but instead talk over each other. Equation captures many of these elements, and, in the process, also illustrates why most dialogue is idealized. Because many speakers really do work their mouths while their brains think...

What's left? Well, the Devil's bargain is on the table; time to see what the fine print is hiding...

Friday, June 23, 2017

An Equation of Almost...There

My earlier post on An Equation of Almost Infinite Complexity took the book out behind the woodshed, but in all fairness, J. Mulrooney writes like a boss.  My enjoyment was hampered by the central conceit of the book (i.e. personal politics and a cast of characters all trying to get one over on each other).  Which says nothing about how well written the book might be.

As Nathan has mentioned a few times, J. Mulrooney has a gift for turning impressive phrases.  He also manages to spend a few chapters setting up some great scenes.  His characterizations are deft as well.  Every character has their own specific personality that suffuses every scene.  Even relatively minor characters like the Indian mathematicians are presented as separate and distinct with their own goals and motivations. 

Oddly enough, I found myself enjoying this specifically Canadian novel.  The Canuckness of An Equation goes well beyond, "it's set in Canada, I guess".  Their judging respect and contempt for Americans.  Cooper's iron-clad politeness, and even the relative amicableness of Julius in the face of Thisbe's constant hypergamy, ring true to many of the Canadians I've encountered (and as a Michigander that number is higher than for most Americans).  The weather, the governmental processes and the interplay between the local PD and the RCMP, they are all nice departures from the usual LA or NYC or NO setting of most literary type novels.

Speaking of great one liners, here's a few of my favorites:
  • To judge by the number of Holocaust movies, the world is now seventy-five percent Jewish.
  • It was as if the baby boomers, after a lifetime of careless destructions of all the good and lovely things in the world, finally admitted that Elvis Presley was only someone whom they had pretended to like because he annoyed their fathers.
  • And, although he did not know the Baltimore catechism as well as his father did, Maconachie nonetheless knew enough to disapprove of devils using hellfire to heat their homes.  At the least, there was a zoning violation.
Good stuff.  I'm actually looking forward to Mulrooney's next book based on the strength of his writing in An Equation...etc.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Professor Housley's Lectures - Geek Gab

Last week our very own Nathan Housley, Pulp Archivist and literary critic par excellent, was recently interviewed on Geek Gab: On the Books.  So full on insight are he and the injustice Gamer that one episode couldn't contain it all, and the clock ran long without anyone noticing.

Is he a man either wise beyond his years, or an old man full of youthful exuberance?  It's a mystery (appropriately enough, given the subject matter).  Listen, and decide for yourself!


Monday, June 19, 2017

Almost Infinite Complexity, Chapters 10-16

Cooper gets the job, and now has to produce. As he crams in as many odd actuarial equations into a spreadsheet in the hopes of reproducing the results of Gormley's book, he is given two quants to help him. He distracts them by making them build a computer database. They return, job finished, in awe of Cooper's methods. The math is trash, but it works as a predictive model, so it's awesome.

Old Nick Scratch fires Gormley, and bides his time. Cooper owes the devil a favor, but either Satan is playing the long game, or, as he puts it, humans are so inventive at damning themselves, so why work? Gormley lands on his feet and becomes yet another of Cooper's assistants

Thisbe fends off Gormley's wandering hands and Cooper's fumbling advance while she chases after Dean. She makes a complete hash of reading the situation and thinks Cooper is blackmailing Dean, so she starts needling Cooper. Eventually, she tries to sabotage him by proving his death record wrong.

Finally, someone breaks into Mr. Scratch's basement. The cops arrive, question Cooper, and leave, but not before the devil hints that there has been another death on his premises...

Folks familiar with Game will recognize Thisbe as the classic Alpha Widow, or the woman who was once loved by a high-status man and, now discarded, can't let him go. She does get another hit of her drug here, but her obsession with Dean distorts the lens through which she sees the world. If Dean is all that and a bag of chips, why would Cooper hold any blackmail against him? Dean also occupies a position at the pinnacle of the Game hierarchy, while Cooper's place is much lower but not yet pinned down. We'll know for certain when things go south on Cooper...

So far, Mulrooney is a master of exquisite sentence-smithing, with subtle constructions, negations, humor, and rhetoric, but, like a stick figure mosaic made of jeweled tiles, the parts are greater than the sum. It's a bit of a slog through modern literary fiction--good sentences, a leavening of SFF tropes, and all the unlikable characters you can shake a stick at. It might be time for another Reader's Manifesto...

Thursday, June 15, 2017

July's Puppy: Who Fears the Devil? by Manly Wade Wellman

Where I've been is places and what I've seen is things, and there’ve been times I’ve run off from seeing them, off to other places and things. I keep moving, me and this guitar with the silver strings to it, slung behind my shoulder. Sometimes I’ve got food with me and an extra shirt maybe, but most times just the guitar, and trust to God for what I need else.  
I don’t claim much. John’s my name, and about that I’ll only say I hope I’ve got some of the goodness of good men who’ve been named it. I’m no more than just a natural man; well, maybe taller than some. Sure enough, I fought in the war across the sea, but so does near about every man in war times. Now I go here and go there, and up and down, from place to place and from thing to thing, here in among the mountains.  
Up these heights and down these hollows you’d best go expecting anything. Maybe everything. What’s long time ago left off happening outside still goes on here, and the tales the mountain folks tell sound truer here than outside. About what I tell, if you believe it you might could get some good thing out of it. If you don’t believe it, well, I don’t have a gun out to you to make you stop and hark at it.
With these words, Manly Wade Wellman introduced John the Balladeer, also known as Silver John, and the strangeness of Carolina mountain hollows and Pennsylvania folk magic. With naught but his silver six-string, John walks the Appalachians in search of a good tune, encountering witch men and folk monsters along the way. Whether driving off a son of the Salem witches, challenging a Biblical giant, or escaping the snares of the house-like gardinel plant, John rises to the occasion with his command of folklore, music, and good old horse sense. After all, with a little homespun faith, a good song, and a jingle of silver in your pocket, Who Fears The Devil?

Please join the Puppy of the Month Club in July as we read Manly Wade Wellman's Who Fears the Devil?, exploring the works of one of America's celebrated fantasists.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Almost Infinite Complexity, Chapters 5--9

Let's see, two chapters of how Thisbe followed the Approved Girl Power College Life Checklist into unhappiness before being swept up into a whirlwind romance that ends abruptly when her boyfriend sells his soul to the devil, a misspelling on a sign leads Cooper to try to free Keiter from the furnace of Scratch using hops-free beer, Old Nick himself hands Gormley's Death Note little black book of Death's appointments to Cooper in hopes of pushing him closer to the titular equation, and Cooper uses Death's book to bluff the insurance company even further, fending off Thisbe's attempts to scuttle his project. Finally, Cooper has dinner with Thisbe, where they recall old friends and old college-day embarrassments.

I fear that I've made this sound more amusing than it really is.

The air of the Hitchhiker's Guide has departed, leaving a rather dry ramble through flashbacks and history with an occasional step towards the delivery of the Equation of Almost Infinite Complexity. There's a few clever moments, but not enough to really enliven the read. And while Gormley does evoke Discworld's Death, he lacks the charm of the ONE WHO SPEAKS IN CAPS.

Perhaps this book is too subtle for me.

But I'm still waiting to see just how Cooper's lies fall apart on him

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Bad Puppy! Bad Puppy!

I feel a need to apologize for selecting An Equation of Almost Infinite Complexity as this month's selection.  Of all the books we've read over the past year, it definitely ranks among my least favorite. 

I'm a huge fan of the unreliable narrator trope, particularly when it's used to present a point-of-view character who isn't nearly as smart as the reader.  One of my all time favorite books is Ring Lardner's You Know Me Al, that makes a tremendous amount of hay out of this idea.  Lardner makes it work by using a deft touch and a character who is actually and in point of fact dumb.  In An Equation, most of the characters are presented as smart in one way or another, and then behave in ways that don't fit with an actually intelligent person.  They ignore obvious social cues, never think to do obvious actions, and generally make a hash of everything.

Add to that the issue that all of major characters are unlikable, and most of the minor characters as well.  Every single one is so caught up in their own miserable lives they can't stop and think for a moment.  They use and abuse everyone around them in ways that make no sense.  They have inflated senses of self-import, they blunder through the plot, they all remind me of Ignatius P. Reilly of A Confederacy of Dunces, and I don't like spending time with any of them.  These are the sorts of people that I avoid like the plague in real life, and if it wasn't for my guilt for inflicting them on my fellow Contributors, I'd have - as Nathan so aptly puts it - walled this book a dozen chapters ago.

(I'm only three-quarters of the way through this book after three weeks of effort, and keep getting distracted by other things to read.  For example, there's this interesting book in my queue called Dangerous Gamers that I really want to get to soon.)

It's also strange how the fantastical parts of the story feel so bolted on.  It's the tale of Death losing his appointment calendar and the machinations of those who would use that knowledge for power and money.  Yet somehow, it feels like an Oprah style workplace drama novel.  It's frankly surprising to me that this wasn't a stronger contender for a Hugo, given how very much it feel like one of the novelettes that were nominated this year.

The last quarter of this books is going to take some time and effort for me to get through, but I'll soldier on and let our faithful readers know whether or not Mulrooney pulls a last minute save out of his hat.

Friday, June 9, 2017

Almost Infinite Complexity, Chapters 1-4

When an expected cash-out lawsuit falls through, Cooper finds himself without money, with mounting bills, and a ton of laywer's fees. At his lowest point, Mr. Scratch, as his next-door neighbor prefers to call himself, throws a party. The devil offers him a deal--a lucrative position as a creative actuary for the Seals Insurance Company. 

Cooper flubs the interview.

To save his prospects, he boasts that he can calculate to the very moment when an individual will die. By bluffing his way through with lies overheard from other actuaries, he cons his way into the job.

Now he has to deliver on his boasts. But events continue to distract Cooper, such as meeting the beautiful Thisbe, discovering that Death lives with Mr. Scratch, and finding that Mr. Keiter, a man Death killed at Mr. Scratch's party, now exists as a 12 inch spectre burning away in Mr. Scratch's furnace...


I'll admit, I'm not a literary type, and Vox Day, the editor of Castalia House, is far more enamored of literary fiction than most of us who blog for Castalia House. (He's also far more into gonzo. Check out Loki's Child by Fenris Wulf some time.) So I was a little hesitant to dig into An Equation of Almost Infinite Complexity. However, the madcap idea of a dude bluffing his way through a job offer from the Devil by promising to create what amounts to a psychohistory of the individual caught my attention. You just know that a Faustian deal is around the corner.

But that deal is slow in coming. The Devil makes no coy attempts to hide who he is from Cooper, who seems to be living within a huge Somebody Else's Problem Field. Rather, we are treated to a rather droll party, where the height of amusement is watching Cooper trip over himself as he attempts to muster the courage to interact with Thisbe. Well, that and Mr. Keiter's death and discovery in the furnace below. It's a dry humor, trust me, like watching Arthur Dent bumble through the Hitchhiker's Guide universe, although An Equation of Almost Infinite Complexity is spiritual fiction instead of science fiction.

The story is strange, outside my comfort zone, but has potential to develop in a myriad of ways. Let's see where it goes.