The Great Banksie Reread

As you’ll have noticed, I have mainly been reading books by Iain Banks lately. This is all part of something I’ve been thinking of as “The Great Banksie Reread,” which has been going on haphazardly for… five years, as I now see.

Turns out that when I started rereading his works back in 2013, as well as doing so only very intermittently, I also didn’t keep records as I thought I had. The ones I know I read, but didn’t blog about, are The Bridge, The Crow Road, Excession, Look To Windward, and The State of the Art — or at least the eponymous title story.

As to why I didn’t blog about them, I guess I just didn’t write about my reading in some years. But it’s oddly lax of me. Blogging about them was kind of the point of the reread, surely — as well as my own enjoyment, of course.

Anyway, all these posts are now tagged with “The Great Banksie Reread“.

The Great Banksie Reread

“Radically Interoperable and Universal”

In In Praise of Email Dan Cohen writes of how email got things right, long before some of our other ways of interacting online came along and got so many things wrong.

I’ve long thought that email was the killer app of the internet, despite the problems that many people have with it. Those tend to be not inherent in email, but caused by the way we use it.

Here’s one point he makes, in regard to the algorithmic timelines that are ruining Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram:

Although some email systems algorithmically sort email by priority or importance, that is not part of the email system itself. Again, this can be added, or not, by the user, and the default is strictly chronological.

Although my main problem, as I’ve said before, is with some clients that insisting that “chronological” mains “newest first.”

“Radically Interoperable and Universal”

REPL Reply

Hjertnes talks about the joy of a REPL:

A REPL or read eval print loop is what we called an interactive prompt back in the day when I learnt Python and Ruby.

He goes on to say:

For a REPL to make sense you need to be able to test small chunks of code. Like this function or this expression; or my typical thing, “would this work” or how the fuck was that syntax again?

I’ve sometimes found that they have a downside. When you are looking for code examples, then if a language has a REPL, very often the examples show the use of a feature in the REPL. Which may be fine, but is not so helpful if you’re trying to find out how to construct a class or a function.

Which point, to be fair, Hjertnes does address:

In other words, if your language require a lot of “foreplay” to run code, like declaring a namespace and a class etc (I’m looking at you Java and C#) it will probably not be the right thing. But if you can evaluate code without much fuss it is.

Java is supposed to be getting one soon, I believe, if it’s not already in version 9.

REPL Reply

The Wasp Factory by Iain Banks (Books 2018, 17)

Back where it all began, then: Banksie’s debut. It’s a bit dated, of course. Do you remember pay phones having pips? And “I must convince dad to get a VTR.” Who ever called it a VTR, rather than VCR? Outside of TV companies, at least.

Still a great, crazy story with an ending that, now, seems less believable than it ever did. Well, the whole setup, really: the idea that you could have a child and not register them, and keep them away from all need for interaction with the authorities. Even if you lived on a private island, that’s hard to imagine nowadays.

And I had forgotten what a misogynistic character the narrator, Frank, is. Which is, frankly, ironic.

I recall reading a theory once that Eric, the crazy, dog-burning brother, doesn’t actually exist, that he was all a figment of Frank’s supercharged imagination. I was keeping that at the back of my mind as I read this time, and I don’t think there’s much evidence of it. But I’ll see if I can track down the actual theory.

Here we go: “The Weaponry of Deceit: Speculations on Reality in The Wasp Factory” by Kev McVeigh. Originally published in the BSFA’s Vector magazine.

Reading it again now, McVeigh has a point: Eric can be seen as a metaphor for Frank’s masculinity. But I prefer to take it at face value: sometimes a crazy family is just a crazy family.

The difficulty in searching for anything to do with this novel nowadays is that it’s on the English Literature curricula of both the English A-Levels and the Scottish Highers. So there are lots (and lots and lots) of sites offering analyses of it for students plagiarise learn from. As well as all the Goodreads entries and blog posts you would expect.

And, oops! I’ve just added to the pile.

The Wasp Factory by Iain Banks (Books 2018, 17)

Trumping Through London

On Friday I went for a walk through central London with a couple of hundred thousand of my closest friends.

The march was due to start at 2pm from Portland Place. I was a little late. I went straight to Oxford Circus. I came out of the tube station and just stood and watched the people walking down Regent Street. It was amazing, and seemed endless. Then I saw these two with great signs:

Anti-Trump protestors with signs: 'If Adolph (sic) Hitler flew in today... They'd send a limousine anyway'; and 'Bloody Trump, combing over hair, taking our tax money.'

A Clash quote and a bad pun? Count me in.

I walked down the pavement alongside the march for a bit, taking more photos.

Anti-Trump protestors, London, July 2018

Anti-Trump protestors, London, July 2018

Before long we got to Trafalgar Square.

Anti-Trump protestors in Trafalgar Square, London, July 2018

Anti-Trump protestors, Trafalgar Square, London, July 2018

There were many speakers and a few musicians. Len McCluskey told us that the police had estimated the crowd was over 250,000, which was surprising, since they tend to underestimate. Anyway, if so, it was the biggest since the Iraq war demo. More amusingly, we were a bigger crowd than at Trump’s inauguration.

That said, I looked around and it didn’t feel that crowded. I’ve seen the O2 full, and I would guess that there were a similar 20,000 in the square.

But it turned out when I left that there were many, many people in the streets around the square. I guess they didn’t want to push forward because the square looked full. I’m quite glad about that.

The atmosphere was fantastic all day. The police presence was pleasingly low (or at least low-key), despite the stories of leave being cancelled and people drafted in from all over the country.

Did it do any good? Probably not, in the sense that it won’t have any direct effect on Trump. But it made a lot of people feel good, and it showed the world that we care.

Trumping Through London

Expecting leadership challenge, vote of no confidence… we could have a general election within weeks. Hope it’s not while I’m away on holiday.

Status

I feel strangely drawn to the idea of watching the World Cup today. It’s particularly odd, since there’s tennis on.

I visited Sweden once, so that makes me more-or-less Swedish, right?

Status

Matter by Iain M Banks (Books 2018, 16)

Closer to the Cultural action again, though a lot of this happens on a shellworld, one of thousands of weird, ancient, constructed worlds scattered through the galaxy. They are an incredible image, but in a sense they don’t matter.1 Most of the events that happen on the shellworld don’t have to be on it. Except maybe in this way: it allows Banks to tell a story that includes civilasions both at the musket stage, and at the godlike AI stage.

Civilisations on the various levels of shellworld are allowed to develop at their own pace, unhindered and unhelped by the more advance “involved” groupings in the teeming galaxy (at least in theory). And yet they know of the existence of the advanced, spacefaring races. I can’t help but think that that very knowledge would have a profoundly debilitating effect on any society. Imagine knowing the Culture existed, but that you were excluded from it.

This is exactly why the Culture generally doesn’t make less advanced societies aware of its existence. It’s the reason for Star Trek’s Prime Directive. Yet somehow this story works even with some of its protagonists having that knowledge.

I wrote about it a decade ago, when I first read it. I seem to have enjoyed it more this time. I didn’t notice the linguistic foibles, and while I was aware of the weird shadow-wrongness of the cover, I’m used to it, so it didn’t trouble me.


  1. See what I did there? []
Matter by Iain M Banks (Books 2018, 16)