The Sadness of Empty Seats

It is very sad to see all the empty seats at the Olympics in Rio — especially remembering how hard it was to get tickets four years ago.

I expect that not many people in Brazil are well enough off to afford tickets — though you’d think it would be incumbent upon the organisers to set the prices at a level where people could afford them. It’s not as if it’s the ticket-buyers who pay for the bulk of the games’ costs, after all. That would come from the corporate sponsors. Or so I would expect: I don’t have the actual figures.

You’d think that there would be a lot of tourists. I’m sure there are, but it looks like it’s not enough to fill the seats. Maybe getting to Brazil and buying the tickets is just too expensive for many.

And of course there were empty seats visible at London 2012 too, which annoyed everyone — especially when we discovered that many, many seats went to corporate sponsors, who then just didn’t bother to use them. But then, everything was shown as sold out on the ticketing site. Aparently in Rio that is not the case.

Oh well, you get a better view on the telly, anyway.

The Sadness of Empty Seats

The Fractal Prince by Hannu Rajaniemi (Books 2016, 6)

I enjoyed it, but I didn’t really understand it.

I’m sure I should have more to say about it than that, but really, that sums it up quite neatly.

But to try to go a bit deeper… The solar system is populated by various species or clans of posthumans, transhumans, AIs, uploaded minds, whatever. Earth is unrecognisable, though some people — seemingly fairly close to basic-human, though it’s hard to judge, with so many strangenesses — still live there.

In some ways the biggest problems with this book, and its predecessor The Quantum Thief, which I read a few years ago, is the sheer number of new or repurposed words. None of these is ever explained: you have to gain an understanding of them from context, working it out as you go along. This is a perfectly fine and valid method of storytelling, but here it all just gets a bit too much.

Maybe it’s my fault for the way I read the book: in disjointed fragments and sections, over weeks. Perhaps if I had read it in a more concentrated fashion, its meanings would have unwrapped themselves for me more easily, more thoroughly.

But at the same time, it’s the storyteller’s job to tell their story in a way that allows the reader to grasp it, to understand it. If he reader has difficulty with that, then it’s not the reader’s fault. It’s the storyteller’s.

And yet, and yet, I enjoyed it, I finished it, I think i’l probably read the third in the trilogy, which I believe is a thing. Eventually, after some time has passed on this one,

And I’ll probably have just as much trouble with that one when the time comes.

The Fractal Prince by Hannu Rajaniemi (Books 2016, 6)

Patience by Daniel Clowes (Books 2016, 5)

As I said, I ordered this right off the back of reading the review. I read it almost as soon as it arrived, and then read it again. It’s a fast read, being a graphic novel, and being a timey-wimey story you want to read it again to see how it twists.

It’s really good. Every bit as good as the review suggested — if not quite as good as the blurb suggested.

I’m not going to say much more about it, as almost anything would be spoilers. A time-travel love story. Totes excellent.

ETA: It would help if I could actually spell the title!

Patience by Daniel Clowes (Books 2016, 5)

The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch, by Philip K Dick (Books 2016, 2)

Nothing to do with stigmata, really, and the titular differences aren’t even mentioned until three-quarters of the way through the book. It’s almost as if Dick wanted to use the title, and then realised, “Oh, I haven’t said what these stigmata are yet, or why. Better throw them in.” Because they are also entirely irrelevant to the story.

Oh yes, the story. Hmm. It’s not one of Dick’s best, and a lot of it barely makes sense. Or at least, it makes sense in that it’s internally consistent. But it’s hard to believe. The UN conscripts people using a military-style draft, to go and live on the colonies — Mars is the only one we see, but several other planets and moons within the solar system are implied.

Colonists’ lives are so hard and unpleasant that the only way they can get by — and the only entertainment they have, it seems — is to lose themselves in shared hallucinations induced by a drug called Can-D, during which they enter the world of characters called Perky Pat and her boyfriend Walt. These are inspired or induced using “layouts” — groupings of miniaturised artefacts that become part of Pat’s life, and hence of the colonists’ hallucinations.

In any group entering the shared experience, all the women always take the part of Pat, and all the men that of Walt. Which seems very limiting and heteronormative.

And, oh, yes, the sexual politics.

In some ways they’re not too bad. The main character, Barney Mayerson, is a precog — oh yes, we have those, too, except when we forget that we do — and his assistant, Roni Fugate, ends up with his job, which is a quite a senior one at the company that makes “mins” — miniaturised items for use with the Perky Pat layouts. They use their precognitive powers to know what items are going to be fashionable. Other than that, the existence of reliable precognition seems to have had no impact on society.

Maybe that’s why he wrote “Minority Report.”

Anyway, at the start, she is also his lover, which seems to have happened as soon as she started working with him, almost as a given.

On the other hand, a significant part of the plot is driven by the fact that he has never got over his breakup with his wife — which I think might have been as long as twenty years ago — whom he dumped because she was bad for his career, or something.

In fact she’s a highly skilled potter, who makes artefacts that are miniaturised for use in these famous layouts. Mayerson rejects her latest designs, saying they won’t be successful, when Roni says they will. His attempt to screw up his ex’s career leads her (and her new husband, who is acting as her salesman) into the arms of a rival corporation.

That body has been set up by the mysterious titular character. Palmer Eldritch has just returned from a ten-year trip to the Proxima system, whence he might have bought back a new drug, Chew-Z, that has similar properties to Can-D but is even more powerful.

Also global warming: the world is unliveably hot, so everyone stays in air-conditioned buildings (and makes things worse). In America, at least. We don’t hear anything about the rest of the world. And forced “evolution”: some people go for expensive treatments in Swiss clinics, which give them bigger brains and leathery skin, at least on their head. Though sometimes it goes wrong and their intelligence decreases.

It’s all quite, quite mad, and the conclusion probably makes even less sense. But what the hell, it’s fun enough while it lasts.

The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch, by Philip K Dick (Books 2016, 2)