What happened?
Twelve years!
You hit me with a cricket bat!
Ha! Twelve years!

Sunday, September 17



By Greg Egan

This is perhaps the strangest book I have ever read.  The premise is simple enough: Seth and Theo are newly graduated surveyors from the town of Baharabad.  Their town has a problem - the River Orico is drying up, leaving them without a reliable water supply, and the next-closest river is already heavily settled and unlikely to welcome a new town.  So it's up to the surveyors to head out and find a new place for the people of the town to settle.

First strange thing: Theo is a brain slug.

Second strange thing: Seth is blind to the north and south.  He relies on Theo's use of sonar to ping things in those directions.  In fact, everyone is blind to the north and south - they can see east and west, and up and down, but can't see anything in the so-called "dark cone".

Third strange thing: This is because light doesn't travel in those directions.

Fourth strange thing: Seth and Theo live on one side of a hyperboloid, infinite in all directions but with finite surface gravity.  The Sun "orbits" that hyperboloid, slowly baking everything behind its orbital path to ash, so that all the world's inhabitants - even the vegetation - must continually migrate to new and more hospitable lands.

Then it starts getting weird.

If you read Flatland or The Planiverse, the authors make it clear that they're describing a universe with only two spatial dimensions.  With Dichronauts, it's more complicated than that, because their universe is four-dimensional just as ours is; it's just that instead of three spatial dimensions and time, it has two spatial dimensions and two temporal ones.

That is, north and south are a timeline just as future and past are.

And that means, for example, that the people in the book can't turn around - they can't rotate left-to-right, though they can flip upside down and stand on their hands - any more than you or I can turn pastwards and walk into yesterday.

And in the entire book, no-one turns around.

The rest of it pales into comparison beside that, at least for me.  Water flowing uphill, our heroes falling off the edge of the world, the sex life of brain slugs...  In the entire book, no-one turns around.  Everyone in the story is facing east the entire time.

Egan is a mathematician, and has created a web site explaining in detail the geometry involved.  Little of this is given directly to you in the story, though the characters do know they live on a hyperboloid, and assumed it was infinite right up until they fell off it.  They don't discuss north and south in terms we'd understand, only in terms they understand, and you're left to figure it out.

Oops, spoiled that.  Sorry.

Still, recommended if you like weird hypotheticals that play out as relatable stories and not just as mental exercises.  If you're new to Greg Egan I'd suggest perhaps starting with Permutation City or Schild's Ladder instead; they're not necessarily better but are more accessible.  (The middle part of Schild's Ladder is a bit dry, all research and politics, but the third part where the heroes finally enter the alien universe is a pure delight.)

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Monday, September 04



Now that is more like it.

Not a perfect Deadpool film, but quite a good one, and vastly more entertaining than the stifling Civil War.  Being Deadpool, it is of course ultra-violent and utterly profane, so probably not one for the kiddies.

The main problem is that it's the origin story, and we've had enough goddam origin stories.  Getting the gang together stories are still cool (Avengers, Guardians) but it's time for the origin story to be buried for good.

Apart from that it succeeds at what it set out to do, and showed it in the cinemas, making $750 million at the box office on a budget of less than $60 million.  The Avengers made twice as much, but on four times the budget, so that's a pretty spectacular return.

Recommended - if you like that sort of thing.  If you've read any Deadpool comics, you know what to expect, and you get it.


Good and hard.

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Sunday, September 03


Captain America: Civil War

I hadn't seen it before because it sounded tedious and stupid.

It is.

And I'm saying "stupid" in the context of a film series where past outings have included a giant flying alien mecha-snake as the chief villain.

This is a charmless, joyless, tiresome piece of crap; four hours of unlikable characters throwing the idiot ball back and forth.

At least it was on Netflix.

One star for.... No. Zero stars. Avoid.

I went back and watched the first hour of The Avengers. While it's also overlong and flabby with an indifferent plot, the dialog, characterisation, and action sequences are on an entirely different level to Civil War. Avengers is a fun film with some significant flaws; Civil War is drudgery.

The Avengers:
Steve Rogers: I wanna know why Loki let us take him. He's not leading an army from here.
Bruce Banner: I don't think we should be focusing on Loki. That guy's brain is a bag full of cats. You can smell crazy on him.
Thor: Have a care how you speak! Loki is beyond reason, but he is of Asgard and he is my brother!
Natasha Romanoff: He killed eighty people in two days.
Thor: He's adopted.

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