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  • Beyond the Beyond links to an interview with Darran Anderson, a writer of cartographic fiction.

  • Centauri Dreams notes that 2028 will be a time when microlensing can b used to study the area of Alpha Centauri A.

  • The Crux engages with the question of whether or not an astronaut's corpse could seed life on another planet.

  • The Dragon's Gaze links to a study that gathers together signals for planetary companions orbiting nearby stars.

  • Joe. My. God. notes that the only gay bar in Portland, Maine, is set to close.

  • Language Log notes the proliferation of Chinese characters and notes that a parrot could not be called to the stand in Kuwait.

  • Lawyers, Guns and Money notes that the last time the Chicago Cubs won, Germany was an empire.

  • The Map Room Blog notes the discovery of an ancient stone map on the Danish island of Bornholm.

  • The Planetary Society Blog examines some of the New Horizons findings of Pluto.

  • The Power and the Money's Noel Maurer argues that Venezuela is now a dictatorship.

  • Towleroad notes
  • Window on Eurasia notes a Russian cleric's call for the children of ethnically mixed marriages in Tatarstan to be legally identified as Russians.

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It's that time again!

  • Clifford, fellow graduate of the 2003-2004 Master's English class at Queen's University, blogs at Love and Fiction, where he promotes his fiction writing and does a non-trivial amount of essay-writing himself. This essay exploring the reasons why people devote large amounts of time to their chosen specialties (see Malcolm Gladwell's thesis of ten thousand hours needed to become truly skilled) is a case in point.

  • Australian Russell Darnley's blog, Maximos' Blog, is concerned with the natural and built environment of Australia. His poist showing a trip on Sydney's only tram line is fun.

  • Recommended to my by History and Futility co-blogger The Oberamtmann, the New APPS blog is a group blog concerned with art, history, and politics. This post analyzing race in the Netherlands' Christmas figure of Sinterklass is a case in point.

  • Patrick Cain, once map blogger for the Toronto Star, has patrickcain.ca now. His maps--including this set showing where Toronto war casualties in certain battles died--are grand.

  • Finally, Tim Maly's Quiet Babylon examines the interactions between computer technology and human identity. This short fiction, examining an ordinary man's uneasy relation with a perhaps excessively technophile lover, is worth reading.

  • Go, read!
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    I like this Castrovalva post about the contradictions of realism in fiction and writing.

    [I]t can often be the case that the more a writer adheres to autobiography, the more fantastical the narration becomes. Witness Huysmans and DeQuincey as obvious exmaples. One might also note that the division Shields draws between etoliated artifice and the crudity of raw experience is surely a false one; as John Bayley's The Uses of Division : Unity and Disharmony in Literature was at pains to point out, the most interesting work of many realist writers is often their more fragmented and inchoate. For me, writers like Lawrence, Eliot and Hardy are great precisely because of how untidy their novels often are. With all of that said though, in the end I probably sympathise more with Shields than with Smith. From Isherwood and Pessoa onwards to Coetzee and Sebald, writing that defies the division of reality and invention has become a hallmark of the age. Equally, it's difficult not to notice that if our age has any genre it has obsessively explored, it would have to be biography, even those of people who are still living and have done apparently little to merit the attention. Put simply, we live in an age where experience is a heavily circumsribed or heavily mediated concept.
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    • 1948's bloggers have chosen to merge into another group blog, The Invisible College.

    • Claus Vistesen takes a look at how post-Communist central Europe may get hammered by global and local credit crunches.

    • Richard at Castrovalva takes on the new sub-genre of fictive biography and what it might say about an ailing realist novel./li>
    • Aziz Poonawalla argues that tribalism, not Islam, is responsible for the low status of women in Pakistani (and Afghan) society.

    • Charlie Stross has started a list of things that someone born in 1990 would take for granted.

    • Ken MacLeod argues that two effects of Sputnik were creationism and the new maths.

    • Douglas Muir at A Fistful of Euros has two more posts (1, 2) on the contest between Tadic and Nikolic. His conclusion? Even if Nikolic wins, Serbia's future prospects will only be delayed, not wiped out.

    • Language Hat links to fascinating material on the French influence on the Ladino language and culture of Sephardic Jews from the 19th century on.

    • Peteris Cedrins at Marginalia reflects on Belarus, a country closely linked by geography and history to his Latvian city of Daugavpils.

    • Strange Maps has a map showing the predominance of different religions in the counties of the United States. The broad swathes of Baptism in the greater South and Roman Catholicism elsewhere predominate, although Mormonism in the area of Utah and Lutheranism in the Midwest can also lay claim to notable geographic domains.

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    Urville is the creation of Gilles Tréhin, a Belgian-born autistic savant who created the fictional city of Urville from the mid-1980s on, starting with Lego and proceeding onto increasingly detailed sketches. Tréhin's Urville is located in "Provence insulaire," a fictional archipelago located off the Provençal coast near Cannes that enjoyed a precocious urbanization under the Phoenicians and developed by the 21st century into the largest city in France and a global centre. The book Urville is a superb collection of Tréhin's Urville-related drawings and notes, a sketched counterpart to the sort of tourist photo guidebook that one might buy at an airport on arrival and departure, replete with detailed images of Urville's various districts and notable buildings. The below YouTube-hosted documentary provides more background of Tréhin and Urville.

    Although Urville works wonderfully as a sampler of an alternative reality, but it fails to pass the litmus test of uchronical plausibility for purists: How could such a major Mediterranean metropolis be founded nearly two and a half millennia ago and have so little impact on world history? Almost certainly there wouldn't be a Fifth French Republic founded by De Gaulle, or al-Qaeda suicide attacks in New York City on 11 September 2001. I'd suggest that the existence of a Provençal metropolis just as influential as Paris would have significant effects on French history. Look at Spain, where the national capital of Madrid in Castile is rivalled by a rich Mediterranean Barcelona that's the centre of a vibrant Catalan culture and the historic nucleus of the non-Castilian kingdom of Aragon. In a world where Urville did exist, I'd be inclined to bet on the existence of, if not a broader Occitania, then at least an autonomous Provence. This significant point aside, I'd still recommend Urville to fans of alternate history, on the sole condition that they don't get too excited about the background implausibilities of Urville--it's a well-executed book with an interesting that deserves a readership.
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  • Richard at 1948 takes a look at Sarkozy's recent successful entente with Libya, which may both indicate the relative weakness of Germany and French interest in Sarkozy's Mediterranean Union project.

  • [livejournal.com profile] angel80 has an series of stunning photo posts (1, 2, 3, 4, 5) produced during a vacation in the area of Lake Mungo in what I think counts as the Australian Outback.

  • Bert Archer points to a New Yorker article that traces the origins of celebrity culture in art all the way back to Gustave Courbet.

  • Edward Hugh at Bonoboland looks at what might be the beginning of an Italian economic meltdown, precipitated (he argues) by a wildly unsustainable public pension system that no one seems able to reform.

  • Centauri Dreams highlights the implications of the discovery of a planet in orbit of a red giant star for the future of our solar system's worlds.

  • [livejournal.com profile] creases' short story "Revelation of the Lamb in Four Parts" in unheimlich, as good as anything by Shirley Jackson.

  • Henry Farrell at Crooked Timber starts off a discussion about the alleged links of the pre-natal testing of fetuses for congenital defects and illnesses with eugenics, and goes on to social democracy, and Progressivism. It gets bogged down in a flamewar, of course.

  • Razib at GNXP wonders whether Confucianism is set for a revival in China.

  • Joe.My.God reports that Victor Willis, founder, songwriter, and original lead singer of the Village People, is going to be writing a tell-all biography wherein he claims that the Village People and their songs never had a gay subtext. (His commenters have their say.)

  • Jeff at the Tin Man remarks on the acceleration of information flow over the past two centuries.
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    Over at Reason,, David Weigel's "It Can't Happen Here" examines the burgeoning popularity of Islam-conquers-the-world technothrillers. Weigel judges them, as he should, to be profoundly silly.
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    [livejournal.com profile] nhw raised the question of whether Margo Lanagan's wonderfully and horribly compelling short story "Singing My Sister Down" is a work of speculative fiction. Myself, I think that it is on the pattern of Shirley Jackson, in her The Haunting of House Hill or better yet "The Lottery". The speculative elements don't lie in the setting so much as they do in the basic assumptions, in the stories' depiction of a world subtly twisted. Freud's concept of the uncanny is central in this; worlds almost but not quite (and how not quite!) like our own are unsettling.
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    I've just read Australian writer Margo Lanagan's "Singing My Sister Down", from the collection Black Juice, and the tears are still in my eyes. My God but that Lanagan can write.
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    Writing in his regular column in fab, Brad Fraser announces ("No more dead fags, please") his profound unhappiness with the conclusion of Brokeback Mountain.

    I am so tired of dead faggots. They’ve been a staple of literature and drama for so long, I’m surprised they’re not outlawed. In humankind’s first recorded saga, Gilgamesh loved the only man who was his match, Enkidu. But Enkidu was killed by the gods to punish Gilgamesh for his vanity. This set a deadly precedent for man-on-man love that continues today. In fact, the 20th century was particularly enamoured with dead fags, especially in film (although the plays of Tennessee Williams give movies a run for their money). From the very first Academy Award-winning film, Wings, to The Children’s Hour, Rebel Without a Cause, Midnight Cowboy, Philadelphia and Boys Don’t Cry, to name only the most obvious, Hollywood has heaped praise and awards on its deceased queers. Even more disturbingly, it is always the “gayer” character who dies. Like Plato in Rebel and Ratso Rizzo in Cowboy, Gyllenhaal’s Jack Twist is the one who wants to talk about his feelings and have a relationship, so naturally he gets axed. I know a lot of people adore this tragic love story thing and I wouldn’t be so cynical about it if gay love stories had a happy ending once in a while. But on those rare occasions when they do, they’re instantly relegated – mostly by straight male critics – to a homosexual subgenre and die a sad death at the box office.

    He has a point. And yet, E. Annie Proulx is a fiction writer known for her relentless realism, relentless even when depressing because it's true, because it's how the world is. In the intermountain West of the 1960s, 1970s, and early 1980s, would it have been likely for this story have had any other outcome but what we first read then saw? I hae ma doots. It's depressing as all hell, but maybe it's better--politically, dramatically--to press for happy conclusions for stories fortunate enough to be located in the times and the place when happy conclusions are possible.
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    Last night's viewing of Ghost in the Shell has made me think more about the potential queerness of reproduction in science fiction. It's something that I first touched on last July in relation to Arthur C. Clarke and just a couple of days ago with Ryman and (perhaps?) Butler. Last summer I'd written about what I thought was a serious problem with science fiction's ability to cover relationships in general, but I think that I'm at least partly wrong. Without giving away spoilers for last night's excellent anime, the question of problematized technologically-mediated reproduction in the late modern age seems to be something that science fiction can be good at doing. Perhaps this is a byproduct of a weakness of the genre, perhaps it's a strength, likely it's a bit of both.
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    As is her wont, [livejournal.com profile] matociquala wrote a fantastic post on writing, this one on the importance of real life, of the life experiences of people not at the epicentre of great events.

    Seven paragraphs. )

    This, in turn. brought to my mind of a passage from the very end of Derek Jarman's last film, 1993's Blue

    Our name will be forgotten
    In time
    No one will remember our work
    Our life will pass like the traces of a cloud
    And be scattered like
    Mist that is chased by the
    Rays of the sun
    For our time is the passing of a shadow
    And our lives will run like
    Sparks through the stubble.

    As a reviewer argued, Jarman recites this last bit "as if this is a good thing, because it allows us to concentrate on our love, which is what really matters. Freed from self-conception as artists, queers, or anything else, we are free to become what only death can make us, human, and hence free to realize the true potential of our estate. Beyond words, beyond names, beyond subject and object." Something interesting can be done with this; doubtless, some things already have been.
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    The acute [livejournal.com profile] mhw considers this question "Just because you're Canadian doesn't mean we hate you", on the defensiveness of Canadians about their nation's apparent reputation as a warm and friendly nation (is this right). A fun exchange in the comments:

    [livejournal.com profile] rfmcdpei: "Usually when the "good Canadian" is brought up the "ugly American" is lurking somewhere. Or not lurking, as the case may be."

    [livejournal.com profile] mhw: "Which always amuses me while making me despair at the same time, because in the novel the Ugly American was actually the good and helpful guy."
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    I picked up Kazuo Ishiguro's latest, Never Let Me Go, up on seven-day loan at the Toronto Reference Library this evening. The ending has been spoiled for me by the numerous reviews, but then I spoiled myself for the end of Season 6 Buffy the Vampire Slayer and still enjoyed the conclusion. It's all about the mechanics, about how it gets to that conclusion, I tell myself.
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