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Илья Below are the 10 most recent journal entries recorded in the "Илья" journal:

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December 8th, 2016
01:59 pm

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Reading log
William Golding, The Inheritors (1955, re-reading). In Northern Eurasia during the Upper Paleolithic, a band of eight Neandertals (two young men, two young women, and old man, an old woman, a little girl and an infant) think that they are the only humans (using the word to mean all animals of the genus Homo) in the world. They are omnivorous scavengers (modern paleoanthropologists think that the historic Neandertals were actually skilled hunters, though I don't know whether this was known in 1955), do not possess specialized weapons or wear clothing (both things are untrue of the historic Neandertals), live in peace and worship Mother Earth. Instead of complicated language and thought they have telepathy. The band encounters an expedition of about a half dozen behaviorally modern humans (a few young men, an old man, a young woman and a little girl), who travel in dugout canoes with sails, hunt with bows and arrows, make pottery, wear clothing, create art, drink mead, and have a religious ceremony that was apparently inspired by the deer-man painting at the Trois Frères cave in southwestern France. Unlike the Neandertals, modern humans are capable of murder and genocide, intrigue, and passionate sex. All this fascinates but confuses the Neandertals who observe it. Modern humans kill most of the "forest devils" and kidnap the infant on the request of one of them, a nursing mother whose own infant has died. Presumably, after the events of the novel the infant grew up among modern humans, and became as much an ancestor of the later humanity as they.

It is my understanding that Golding's novel was not meant to be paleoanthropologically accurate; he wanted to illustrate the concept of the Fall of Man from Christian theology: it is the capacity for thought of modern humans that makes them capable of doing good and evil. The problem is that the Neandertals are a poor model of the prelapsarian humanity. They were a sister species to modern humans, like coyotes are to wolves and polar bears are to grizzly bears, adapted to life in a different environment but fundamentally the same kind of creature with the same nature. At the Shanidar Cave in northern Iraq there is a buried Neandertal man; according to the Smithsonian Institution's paleoanthropology site, he "most likely died from a stab wound to his chest"; another Neandertal man buried in the same cave "experienced a crushing blow to his head" and a fractured bone in his foot, but both injuries healed and he lived for many years after them; the Smithsonian site says that "he would probably not have been able to survive without the care of his social group". It looks like there was no Fall of Man because early humans were just as capable of doing good and evil as modern humans.

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December 3rd, 2016
12:06 pm

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Ursula K. Le Guin, Rocannon's World (1966). Earth now supports two species of orangutans, two species of gorillas. two species of chimpanzees, but only one species of humans. However, 100,000 years ago in addition to modern humans there were also the Neandertals, the Denisovans, the Flores hominin, and perhaps more species of archaic humans. Imagine a fantasy novel set on a planet that, likewise, supports several species of humanoids, some of them telepathic, like the Neandertals in William Golding's The Inheritors. The novel is embedded in the larger science-fictional Hainish universe of Le Guin, which thrusts the planet into an interstellar war between civilizations far more technologically advanced than those of the native humanoids, like neolithic New Guinea was thrust into the Pacific War between Japan and the Allies. Some of Le Guin's worldbuilding makes no sense, but the writing is so beautiful it makes up for this flaw (I wonder whether "ovipoid" mammals is a typo for oviparous, or an unexplained science-fictional concept).

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November 28th, 2016
02:14 pm

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Joan Slonczewski, The Children Star (1999). Over the last few weeks I read or re-read three novels and about 50 short stories by Ursula K. Le Guin, which made a great positive impression upon me. The only other woman science fiction writer I've read in the last few years was Lois McMaster Bujold. I knew that Slonczewski is also a woman science fiction writer, so I checked out this book. However, the quality of writing is so poor, the characters so flat and the plot so illogical that I stopped reading after the first few chapters and skimmed the rest.

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November 27th, 2016
12:30 am

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Ursula K. Le Guin, The Left Hand of Darkness (1969, re-reading). Since reading The Inland Whale by Le Guin's mother Theodora Kroeber, a retelling of nine California Indian legends, I came to perceive much of Le Guin's science fiction as fan fiction based on her mother's book: she describes humanoids slightly biologically different from Earth humans, and imagines their social organization, religion, legends. In this novel, the humanoids are neither inherently male nor female: they are sexless three weeks of the month, and can be either male or female during the remaining week (improbably, the year, day and month on their single-moon home planet are almost of the same length as on Earth); a pregnant or lactating humanoid stays female, but after the child is weaned, goes back to sexlessness. The genetics of it are never explained, nor is the lack of prohibition of incest except when conceiving children. It is hinted that the native humanoid protagonist broke the taboo when he/she had a child with his/her brother/sister, which caused the brother/sister to commit suicide; when the Earth human protagonist teaches him/her telepathy, the voice in his/her head is the dead brother/sister's.

Other than this concept, this novel is mostly an Arctic adventure story and a boring tale of political intrigue involving two governments, a medieval one (a sentence having to do with it made it to Bartlett's Familiar Quotations: "The king was pregnant") and a cartoonishly totalitarian one. The writing is beautiful, though.

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November 24th, 2016
03:11 pm

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Ursula K. Le Guin, The Unreal and the Real (2012). According to the The Internet Speculative Fiction Database, Ursula Le Guin has written over 150 pieces of short prose fiction. This 2-volume anthology has 38 pieces that she herself chose as her best, the first volume more realistic ones, and the second volume more in line with the conventions of science fiction and fantasy. I read her collection The Compass Rose a week ago, and A Fisherman of the Inland Sea some 20 years ago, so many of the stories were already familiar to me. One story in the Hainish cycle describes a race of humanoids where sixteen girls are born to each boy; in their society, men are little more than sex objects and inseminators, denied education and normal jobs. When interstellar masculinist imperialists demand that men be given equal rights, cultural tensions result. This story made me look up Fisher's principle from evolutionary biology: a mutation that brings the ratio of the sexes closer to 1 to 1 will spread through the population like wildfire; perhaps in the imaginary biology of the humanoids all such mutations are lethal. Another story looks at a mouse in a maze from the point of view of an intelligent mouse. The mouse refers to the human researcher as an alien, although mice have been pests of humans for 10,000 years; surely, they must have gotten used to us. There is a dark ghost story involving slavery, rape and murder set in a Bronze Age caste society. There is a story gradually revealed to be about a wolf who is a were-human. There is a story about feathered humanoids, among whom one person in a thousand grows wings during puberty and can fly. I cannot say that all or even most stories touched me emotionally, but a few did very much so.

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November 17th, 2016
02:05 pm

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Hanya Yanagihara, A Little Life (2015). A friend of mine is a big fan of this book, which made me try three times to read it. The protagonist is an orphan raised in a monastery where the monks molest him, and one monk runs away with him and pimps him to truckers in addition to having sex with him himself. When the police discover them, the monk hangs himself. The boy continues practicing homosexual prostitution; near his fifteenth birthday a sadistic john kidnaps, rapes and tortures him; when the boy tries to run away, the john runs over him with his truck, maiming his body. The boy's psyche is already maimed; he regularly cuts himself, which is not good either for his physical health or his mental health. Now, what would you expect the boy to be during the rest of his life? Probably to remain a prostitute on the streets of Spokane or Boise or Oklahoma City, and to die of AIDS or a drug overdose before age 30. You wouldn't expect him to become a wealthy corporate lawyer in Manhattan, would you? And if you read that in the second half of his life the boy was helped by people as altruistic as the people in the first half were sadistic, would you believe what you read?

One of my favorite stories is about how I tried to get my daughter to read Henry Kuttner. She read the sentence "We called Lemuel "Gimpy," on account of he had three legs", closed the book, and said, "A human being cannot have three legs." I asked her, "Can a wolf speak like a human being?" "No." "But in "Little Red Riding Hood" a wolf speaks like a human being." ""Little Red Riding Hood" is a classic fairy tale." "And this is classic science fiction." The thing is, different genres of fiction have different conventions about suspension of disbelief, and if a work of fiction breaks the conventions without a good reason, it is a bad work of fiction.

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November 13th, 2016
11:27 pm

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Isaac Asimov, Nightfall and Other Stories (1969). A few weeks ago my daughter told me that at school, they discussed the concept of the perfect car. I said that the perfect car carries people and things from one point to another instantly with no need for a road - i.e. it is a teleportation door. I remembered that there is a story by Isaac Asimov that features such a door. Looking through local used bookstores, I found a 75-cent old paperback with just this story, "It's Such a Beautiful Day", and 19 more. One more story is a classic, "Nightfall", about a planet in a sextuple star system at the center of a globular cluster that only knows night once in a thousand years, which makes its humanoids go insane (the orbital dynamics of it is highly suspect, and I don't think 20-year-old Asimov worked it out). Other than that... let me put it this way, Robert Sheckley was a much better writer.

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11:41 am

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Ursula K. Le Guin, The Compass Rose (1982). A collection of 20 short stories, each very different from the others, some with fantasy or soft science fiction elements, and some realistic. The best story, in my opinion, supposes that nonhuman animals (ants, penguins, weasels, frogs and more) have language, literature and art, and asks: given the great biological differences between these animals and humans, what would humans make of their literature and art? The scariest story is similar to Ken Kesey's One Flew over a Cuckoo's Nest, but instead of a rogue nurse the antagonist is a dystopian totalitarian state.

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November 8th, 2016
11:00 am

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Golem


Похвастаюсь, что я эту песню слышал в субботу в Портленде; на вопрос "What is the capital of your state?" давался ответ: "Salem".

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10:06 am

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Батяр-бенд Галичина
Вчера nagunak дал ссылку вот на какую милую песенку:



Текст.

Я был во Львове всего полтора дня четыре года назад, и видел проявления ностальгии по временам Второй Польской Республики, например, эту реставрированную вывеску (контекст). Как эта ностальгия может сочетаться с культом ОУН, которая боролась против Польши - не спрашивайте меня.

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