Elizabethan London

Elizabethan London
Tyburn was an infamous execution spot west of London, used since medieval times. The Tyburn "tree" - a unique, multi-person gallows - erected in 1571 became a popular public spectacle, drawing crowds of thousands.Tyburn Tree blog is less blood-thirsty but hopefully topical, interesting and informative, if slightly bent to my personal topics of interest - books, writing, history, technology, with a smattering of politics and dash of pop culture, science and the downright strange. So "take a ride to Tyburn" and see what happens...

Wednesday, June 18, 2003

Pattern Recognition

Pattern Recognition - William Gibson

Life is all about patterns. Think about it: you live your life on a linear frame, a demographic progression, with your likes and dislikes, your life stages and steps all patterned out, in sync with others of your generation. Each life is similar, but different when regarded up close. Life, like a city in the distance, is clear, well-ordered and structured - patterned - but up close, that's where the chaos and pattern becomes more intricate, more fractual...harder to see.

Pattern Recognition is William Gibson's latest book, and in my opinion, one of his best. It still doesn't come close to the impact of Neuromancer (which was both a literary and genre-defining work), but, it is, as was once said, a near run thing.

Pattern Recognition's main character, Cayce Pollard, is a "cool-hunter", a natural marketer, someone who has developed an inate sense of pattern recognition for what "works" and what doesn't in the ever-changing, chaotic and permeable world of consumer brand marketing. Pollard is also chasing after an underground Internet "sub-culture" that is piecing together clips of a unique and unknown film clips called "the footage" that is being uploaded onto the Net by person or persons unknown. Unknown to her, others are chasing the footage and view her and her unique brand sense as a tool to finding the creator of the footage...

One of Gibson's descriptive riffs from an earlier work still floats around in my head regularly - for no particular reason that I can discern: "The sky was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel.."

I've yet to find an author who can weave the modern and the descriptive quite so well as William Gibson. Gibson's prose is so evocative and effective, so laced with meaning and sub-text. It is, as with his book Neuromancer, as though something is lurking just under the surface, some meaning, some presence...The message you receive when you parse through one of his intricate and elegant paragraphs is eeriely reminscent of the stripping away of layers of chaos within society, technology, and the modern world; to discover the underlying codes that permeate today's world....Pattern Recognition is both a title and what he does as a writer.

Don't read Pattern Recognition expecting cyberpunk. This is not cyberpunk. Do read it however, it is worth your time.

Check out Gibson's own weblog here. Nice to see an author blogging...I highly recommend some of his online articles, in particular the one he wrote on Japan, a country with which I have had a long history and involvement with. I know no one who can capture the essence of modern Tokyo like Gibson can. It is indeed a writer's gift...

Interested in cyberpunk culture? Check out Project Cyberpunk for some interesting links, or read Neal Stephenson's excellent book Snow Crash.

Interesting in marketing and "cool-hunters"? First read Naomi Klein's No Logo, then check out Frontline's take on cool-hunting. Personally I prefer Toffler...he's not cool, but he's got pattern recognition down cold.

Tuesday, June 10, 2003

Kingdom of Fear

Kingdom of Fear : Loathsome Secrets of a Star-Crossed Child in the Final Days of the American Century - Hunter Thompson

"We are few, but we speak with the power of many. We are strong like lonely bulls, but we are legion. Our code is gentle, but our justice is Certain - seeming Slow on some days, but slashing Fast on others, eating the necks of the Guilty like a gang of Dwarf Crocodiles in some lonely stretch of the Maputo River in the Transvaal, where the Guilty are free to run, but they can never Hide." Hunter S, Thompson, on the difficulties of maintaining an equitable lawyer - client relationship.

He is one of the most unique post-modern authors in America today and his words race like rabid dogs through the rancid backalleys of your forebrain, rendering you incapable of speech, foaming like some pundit on cable, salivating at the thought of driving THOSE DAMNED WORDS out of your head and ending this hallucinatory haze of despair and triumph....

Okay, okay. I can't write HST. No one but the Hunter himself seems to channel the weird, chaotic content that confuses, twists and writhes into your head, leaving you, at the end of the day, recognizing his supreme talent for making sense out of what, so far, has been a relatively senseless century. Kingdom of Fear is his latest work and a strange, but throughly enjoyable journey. Mainly focused on post 9-11 America, the vageries of the justice system and the climate of fear and reactionary response that now seems pervasive across much of the US, Thompson's somewhat autobiographical work is a surreal blend of musings, tempered political and sociological insight, name-dropping and dementia - which now that I think about it, probably sums up most of his work.

Best known for such works as Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas, Generation of Swine, Hell's Angels: A Strange and Terrible Saga (interestingly enough, now considered an example of studying social anthropology through "direct observation" and is used in a number of Anthropology courses), The Great Shark Hunt, and as Rolling Stone Magazines "Gonzo" political reporter, Thompson is a true child of the Sixties, a worldly anachronism that, perhaps, is more politically relevant now then ever before.... Thompson's self-proclaimed beat is "The Death of the American Dream" and he has been covering that journalistic beat for more than 35 years (This is a man who once interviewed Richard M. Nixon while standing at a urinal). Kingdom of Fear is a fascinating (and dark and twisted and chaotic and...well, read it and you'll find out) book, well-written (in it's own hallucinatory way) but probably not for all tastes.

For more on The Hunter, check out this link page.

If you've ever read Gary Trudeau's (Note: not the former Canadian Prime Minster) comic strip Doonesbury, you will probably recall Duke - the Luger-wielding, Wild Turkey swilling, drug-using, vaguely psychotic former Ambassador to China...you guessed it - he's based on HST.

Tuesday, June 3, 2003

The Dante Club

The Dante Club - Matthew Pearl

"Midway in our life's journey, I went astray
from the straight road and woke to find myself
alone in a dark wood. How shall I say
what wood that was! I never saw so drear,
so rank, so arduous a wilderness!
Its very memory gives a shape to fear."

Finding a work that combines Dante Alighieri, 19th Century Boston, Harvard University politics, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Oliver Wendell Holmes, James Russell Lowell and a serial killer is...well, it's a rare find, and a rippin' good mystery novel it makes...

The Civil War is over. The troops are returning, The Confederacy is crushed beneath the Union's heel and Boston, the "Athens" of the North, is the epicenter of American intellectual life. In this rarified atmosphere, the Dante Club is formed. The Dante Club is a group of Boston's finest literari: Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Oliver Wendell Holmes, James Russell Lowell, and publisher J.T. Fields; dedicated to bringing the first American translation of Dante Aligheri's Divine Comedy to publication. Opposed by an insular Harvard and scholars that view Dante as dangerous and foreign, The Dante Club must also face a terrifying new threat: finding a vicious serial killer that seems to be copying the punishments in The Inferno and metting them out onto some of Boston's most prominent citizens.

Somewhat reminiscent of Umberto Eco's The Name of the Rose (another mystery with hidden depths in a unique setting ) The Dante Club is one of those books that may be off-putting to some readers due to the "literary" nature of its subject matter but Pearl does an excellent job weaving the mystery through the prose (and the somewhat pompous and self-important posturing of some of the main characters. I've never met a "literary giant" in person but these guys...yeeesh.). The author presents a well-written and fascinating glimpse into some of the premier literary figures of the age, outlining the historic details of their personal struggles, ambitions and petty rivalries (E.A. Poe's spiteful resentment of and rivalry with the Boston intellectuals of the Dante Club for instance). Into this worthy mix, Pearl skillfully threads a very believable and well-plotted mystery that does a very good job of catching and keeping your interest high throughout the book while dragging the literary greats on a intricate journey into their own private Hell in pursuit of the killer.

Don't read this book expecting the usual "serial killer thriller", it is more thoughtful, more evocative and the themes more mythic then expected. As an added bonus, the background on Dante, his life and times, and the literary structure of the Inferno is well worth a look. I hadn't read Dante since high school but I found myself reading and re-reading the Dante quotes very attentively. Time changes all literary works for a reader and now, approaching the mid-point of my own life, it may be that Dante says new things to me that warrent a second look.

Interested in learning more? Check out the World of Dante here, and be sure to visit the DigitalDante site (which includes the complete version of the Divine Comedy online).

You can see what the real-world Dante Club eventually evolved into here or visit the book's own website here for a sneak peek (not to be confused with this Dante Club)..

Learn about historic Boston here, or check out Harvard here.

For a Sci-fi writers take on Hell, check out Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle's book Inferno.