No. 118 (essentialsaltes) wrote,
No. 118

Gibson & Christie & Math & Kong

Yucky tummy woke me up last night; bad tummy! I feel okay at the moment, but still somewhat precarious, so I called in sick. So you're stuck with my book-blogging.

I finished William Gibson's Pattern Recognition a while back. I'm not a big fan of Gibson, but I heard good reviews and happened across it at the Festival of Books, so I picked it up and got it signed by Gibson.

On the whole, I have to say it's a lot like the other Gibson I've read: once you strip away the stylistic frippery, there's not much of a story there. There is a mystery that twists through most of the book, of a film being released in snippets across the intertubes. The mystery and the culture that surrounds it is the most interesting part of the story. Fortunately, the mystery has a solution. Unfortunately, the solution is relatively prosaic. That's okay - I mean few mysteries have adequately mysterious solutions. But even the protagonist, who has dedicated a large fraction of her brain to this mystery, seems underwhelmed and unchanged by the discovery. If there is any theme to the novel, it's obsession; but when she gets to the heart of her obsession, nothing happens.

A couple of the minor characters have obsessions over calculating devices, like the regrettable Timex Sinclair (I had one) and the remarkable Curta (I wish I had one). But since they have precious little to do with the plot, they seem to be stuck in there just as a thing Gibson knew something about and thought were cool. On the whole, not a bad novel, but not one I can really recommend.

I've been chewing rapidly through some Agatha Christie plays, which has been interesting since some of them I know from other forms: short stories and/or film. The plays are incredibly concise, and it's quite interesting to see how well she can draw portraits of characters with so few words. Witness for the Prosecution is probably the best of the bunch. The film version has expanded the tale, but is otherwise a pretty faithful interpretation.

Ten Little, ahem, Indians is probably the next best, although the set-up is so implausible, it's rightfully parodied in Murder By Death. Anonymous and absent personage invites various people to an unescapefromable location, and they start to die, one by one. In the short story, all ten little Indians die, but in the play, love is allowed a minor victory.

The Mousetrap, famed for having run for 23,000+ performances, has excellent character sketches, but the mystery stinks on ice.

I've also been re-reading Carl Boyer's History of Mathematics. It does a good job of mixing hard mathematical results with biographical and historical information. Everyone knows about Newton and Leibniz, but this was nothing compared to the squabbling, plagiarism, contests and feuding that accompanied the solution of the cubic in Renaissance Italy.

Speaking of this oneupsmanship sort of competition... I really enjoyed the documentary King of Kong, concerning the competition to achieve the world record score at Donkey Kong. It's like nostalgia, packaged with a Rocky movie. Some of the (extensive) bonus material was also great.
Tags: book, film, math

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