Tuesday, August 30, 2011


A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin has been on my list for a while. It's the first book in the Earthsea Cycle. I was hoping that it wasn't going to be a sappy, Magikal flight over the rainbow, and I'm happy to report that it isn't.

I could see some similarities to some other fantasy stories from the same era, but no blatant rip-offs. Le Guin tells her story with a dignity and respect for the reader that more modern fantasy writers seem to lack: there's no sappy build up of tension, no endless cliff-hanging chapter breaks, and very little fancy jargon and spell lore. Le Guin's story simply takes place in a world where there is magic, or at least a world where they've figured it out. She doesn't get caught up in where it comes from and how its done, and what all the endless rules are, she just tells the story of what happens to this particular wizard. The fact that he can do some magic is just another facet of his character. Refreshing (which sounds funny, given that this book was first published in 1968.)

Le Guin is also a poet, who has a bunch of books published in both poetry and prose, and has scored a whole boatload of prizes for her work. I haven't read much of her stuff, but I do remember reading The Left Hand of Darkness back in the day. I don't remember the details of the book, but I do recall that the sexuality of the characters was flexible, e.g., sometimes male, sometimes female, but mostly androgynous. That was pretty racy when I was a teen, and I'm pretty sure Star Trek: The Next Generation did an episode based on a similar premise, years later.

I'm looking forward to reading the next installment, but I've also started on Asimov's Foundation, so I may have two classic SciFi series going on here soon.

Friday, August 19, 2011

the prince

This one has been on my list for a while, but it didn't take long.* Niccolò Machiavelli doesn't take up a whole lotta' room when it came to passing out advice to Princes. It seems that you can boil down the dos and don'ts into a pretty concentrated brew: a few small sips and you're ready to rule, baby!

Here's a li'l sum'n sum'n from the rules for new princes [Chapter VII]. In summary: Be like Francesco Sforsa, Duke of Milan. The Duke, taking advantage of help where he could get it, in this case from the King of France and the kindness of the Pope, moves in on Romagna and the Dukedom of Urbino. The trick thereafter, according to Machiavelli, is to hold your new princedom. The Duke did this in four ways:

"First, by exterminating all who were kin to those Lords whom he had despoiled of there possessions, that they might not become instruments in the hands of the new Pope."

Machiavelli then goes on to explain why killing not just your enemies, but their entire families, including the women and children, is a good first step. The four steps of the "Do it Like the Duke" method takes a few pages, but are summarized thus, near the end of the chapter:

"Whoever, therefor, on entering a new Princedom, judges it necessary to rid himself of enemies, to conciliate friends, to prevail by force or fraud, to make himself feared but not hated by his subjects, respected and obeyed by his soldiers, to crush those who can or ought to injure him, to introduce changes in the old order of things, to be at once severe and affable, magnanimous and liberal, to do away with a mutinous army and create new one, to maintain relations with Kings and Princes on such a footing that they must see it for their interest to aid him, and dangerous to offend, can find no brighter example than in the actions of this Prince."

See? Boiled down to its essential goodness. Like grandma's beef stock.

I was turned on to The Prince from a variety of sources. I know Machiavelli in the pop culture sense, and his name shows up most often in the term Machiavellian [adj - cunning, scheming, and unscrupulous, esp. in politics or in advancing one's career.] Though, I can't imagine why? Then he showed up in a story I was reading to my son, The Magician, as a character from history who indeed had a cunning, scheming personality, and was not, on the whole, very friendly to the hero of the story, Nicholas Flamel.

I most recently ran into him, as I guess one would expect, listening to an Open Yale course offered at iTunes U called PLSC 114: Introduction to Political Philosophy, with Professor Steven B. Smith. I really enjoyed Smith's lectures on the basics of political philosophy. There are 24 lectures in the class, which begins with Socrates, and covers Plato, Aristotle, Machiavelli, Hobes, Locke, Rousseau, and Tocqueville. The Prince is discussed over the course of two lectures, so I really got a sense for who Machiavelli was, and where he falls in the development of what we consider modern political systems.

The book itself is only 90 pages. I read a translation by N. H. Thompson, published by Prometheus Books, but you can read it for free on line, which you ought to do. We don't have that many princes running around anymore, but after you read this, and then think of someone like Musolini, its a wonder one doesn't see pictures of il Duce with a copy rolled up in his hip pocket.

* I started this blog post on August 19th. Its now the 29th, and I've finished another book,** and I'm working on a third.***
** A Wizard of Earthsea
*** Foundation/I, Robot

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

melrose arts marker

I picked up this home made style book mark at the Melrose Public Library. This colorful marker was placed there by the folks at Melrose Arts, which is, as they say on their web site "dedicated to encouraging the visual arts in Melrose, Massachusetts."

To that end, they have an Arts Festival in the Spring at Memorial Hall, and in the Fall, the Window Art Walk, which showcases local artwork in the storefronts and windows of businesses downtown.

This bookmark is made by layering (gluing up? collage? decoupage?) what looks like a black & white advertisement for a movie called "Gnomeo and Juliet", overlaid with colored crepe papers. These materials are glued down on a piece of yellow cardstock, with is stampped with the Melrose Arts logo and website address on the reverse.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011


The sixth, and final book in the Dune Chronicles by Frank Herbert...whew! This book--Chapterhouse: Dune--was a little slow on the start, but the last hundred pages got it going a little bit, and then it was over. Pow! Just like that. For me, I think a little more exposé in the first part of the book would have been better, instead of trying to cram all of the climax into the last fifty pages, and then not leave yourself some room to wrap up some of the loose ends.

Its all: She's got a plan! Its tricky though. I wonder what it is? I hope it works out! I hope they don't figure it out too soon. I think this one knows, or maybe she doesn't, or maybe she does and she's smart enough not to tell. I hope they know what they're doing. I hope this won't turn out wrong. I have a plan. for like, 300 pages, yo.

And then it just peters out at the end. It leaves the storyline wide open for Frank's son Brian, or whoever, to keep on running with it. I haven't read any of the post Dune stuff, but based on how this one ended[ish] I'm not sure sure it wouldn't be: Just keep on running with it! Past the end zone and up into the stands. Herbert went through a lot of trouble to develop some new characters, even civilizations for this second trilogy, and then just doesn't got far enough in the end to resolve them for me. Too bad, really, because as I said the last hundred pages or so was pretty good.

So was this the whizbang ending I hoped for? No, but it ended. It was like