Orwell would have had something to say about their use of “unanimous”:

The judges praised her “whole set of amazing stories” and said they believed that “if George Orwell had been here he would have been unanimous in choosing our winner”.

(Emphasis mine.) From the Guardian.

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When you manage your dependencies with Maven, the transitive dependencies mean you can find you’re using a library that you never explicitly said you depended on (because some library that you do depend on included it). This can lead to confusion, as I learned today.

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Inversions by Iain M Banks (Books 2018, 15)

Ah, the Culture novel that some still think isn’t. I feel sorry for anyone who ever read this without knowing about the Culture first. The denouement must be completely mystifying.

The Special Circumstances game applies here, but of course we have absolutely no way of knowing what they’re up to. A Culture agent, alone on a backwards planet (technology at the level of muskets), acting as doctor to a king who’s maybe not quite as bad as some of the other rulers on the planet (or maybe, let’s face it, just as bad).

It’s unusual not to get even the slightest hint of the galaxy-spanning machinations that must be going on behind the scenes, but of course the narrator is a native of the planet and knows nothing about even the existence of other planets.

In some ways it feels like something of an exercise for the author — stunt writing, as Charlie Stross calls it — but luckily the characters are engaging and the stories (there are two running in parallel) are very well told.

Inversions by Iain M Banks (Books 2018, 15)

Espedair Street by Iain Banks (Books 2018, 14)

This is not a book about an imaginary rock musician: it’s a book about guilt.

Of course, it is about an imaginary rock musician too, but reading it now, for the third or perhaps fourth time, it’s striking to me how totally it’s about guilt. And not very subtly, either. It’s right there at the start of chapter 2:

Guilt. The big G, the Catholic faith’s greatest gift to humankind and its subspecies, psychiatrists . . . well, I guess that’s putting it a little too harshly; I’ve met a lot of Jews and they seem to have just as hard a time of it as we do, and they’ve been around longer

I had forgotten that the character of Daniel Weir (or “Weird”) was brought up as a Catholic. I don’t think any of Banksie’s other characters were. The man himself wasn’t. Not that it makes a lot of difference: his (and our) Scottishness has a lot more impact on his character — and his characters — than any religion his parents may have had.

As always, I had forgotten some key parts, but I remembered more of this than of most. It’s still great.

And I realise that these notes are becoming more about me, and what I remember, than about the books. But that’s fine. It’s my blog, after all, and as much as anything these are for me. They’re just out there in public in case anyone else is interested.

Anyway, if you haven’t read any Banks, then this would be a damn fine place to start. Though it’s interesting to note that — set as it is in the 70s and early 80s — it’s so dated that it feels almost like a period piece. One example: one of the members of the band buys an IBM mainframe and transfers recording-studio tapes to it, so he can play any track at the touch of a button. Something we can do from our pocket computers today.

But there was one point that I thought seemed anachronistic. Maybe not, but aluminium takeaway cartons? Chinese & curries? In 1973? Hmmm. I mean, it is in the foaming metropolis of Paisley, not Balloch. And even we had a Chinese by 1980, 81, or so. Still, I wonder when those things started to become commonplace.

Espedair Street by Iain Banks (Books 2018, 14)

I can think of only one reason to take refugee children away from their parents at a border, other than sheer cruelty. That is to scare other families, so they won’t try to reach your country.

There’s word we use for causing fear for political ends: that word is terrorism.

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Against A Dark Background by Iain M Banks (Books 2018, 13)

Back to the great reread. Some thoughts here. This book is 25 years old. Twenty-five! I think I’ve read it twice before, but (and you won’t be surprised here if you’ve been following along) I don’t remember much about it.

I didn’t recall, for example, that Sharrow, the protagonist, was a noble; or that it’s set as we approach the decamillenium on and around what I at first assumed to be an Earth colony, although one that is long detached from Earth. And it’s in a similar state to the last one I read, Feersum Endjinn, in that we’re in a decadent stage, where technology was more advanced in the past, but things have been lost or forgotten.

The most notable example of that, of course, is the Lazy Gun, the big maguffin at the heart of the story. I had thought it was semi-mystical, or at least alien in origin. But now I think maybe not, it’s just from the more advanced past.

Turns out it’s not anything to do with Earth, of course. Golter is a planet round an extra-galactic star. The million-light-year distance to any other star seems to be the “dark background” of the title. Though I still don’t really get why it’s called that.

Anyway, I still loved it. And strangely the ending felt less bleak than I had remembered. Though it’s still pretty dark. And it turns out he published an epilogue online. Which doesn’t change anything, but it was nice to read.

Against A Dark Background by Iain M Banks (Books 2018, 13)

You know those pocket computers we all carry? Will we ever stop calling them “phones,” do you think? When did you last make a phone call on yours? And even if the answer is “today,” is that the main thing you use it for?

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They Took Something Very Weird and Made It More Usable

Good piece by Paul Ford, writing at Bloomberg on Microsoft buying GitHub:

[GitHub] has a well-designed web interface. If you don’t think that’s worth $7.5 billion, you’ve never read the git manual.

He means the man pages, I assume.

GitHub is “the central repository for decentralized (sic) code archives,” which is mildly amusing. But this:

In the pre-git era, you updated your software annually and sent customers floppy disks. But if you’re running a big software platform, you might update your servers constantly—many times a day or every 20 minutes.

is a bit over the top. There were a lot of changes between sending out floppies and continuous deployment.

I question his (lack of) capitalisation. The command is git, all lower case. But if you’re talking about the application, you should spell it “Git”, with the capital. I think so, anyway. You would write about “CVS”, even though the command was (is) cvs; and “Subversion,” with the command svn. But at least it’s not as annoying as people who write it in all-caps.

Lastly, when he says, “Computers are mercurial,” I’m assuming he’s wryly referencing what was once Git’s major rival in the distributed version-control space. Nicely deadpan, if so.

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