Sunday, May 15, 2016

Read It, Mid-May 2016

I've finished a couple of books, so I'm going to write some final notes on them. And, of course, I've started a couple more books. But first, an update on my writing project.

First, I've begun a big consolidation and cleanup of folders of files that I've saved for decades.

Folders... Folders Everywhere

There is some bad news. While I found most of what I was looking for, including files dating back to the late 1980s, some material that I hoped to find seems to be lost.

I suspect that at least a few folders of documents, old MacOS documents, are just gone. They may have been lost to file system corruption. I've preserved them from floppies, from old hard drives, from magneto-optical drives, from Bernoulli drives, and across a Mac SE, a PowerBook Duo 230, a Titanium PowerBook G4, and a Mac Pro. There might be some other machines in there that I've forgotten. The oldest files would be almost thirty years old.

I keep regular backups of my current system, currently in Time Machine format for my system volume, and plain old data copies, made with Carbon Copy Cloner, for my data drives. I back these files up onto two different sets of backup drives, and rotate one set off-site.

The files in question would have been on my system drive. But I don't have endless Time Machine backups. Every few years, I've had to delete older Time Machine backups and start over. In retrospect, I probably should have sprung for new drives and archived the old ones, although there is never any guarantee that old hard drives will spin up.

It is possible the files might exist on some separate media. I have some old magneto-optical discs and flash drives. I'll see if there might be a copy on one of those. I know that some of my oldest flash drives have gone bad over the years, and my attempts at file system recovery have been unsuccessful. I'm not sure whether I can access the magneto-optical discs. The problem I've had in the past with them has not been the discs, which are supposed to be very reliable over time; it has been with the drives. I've had several drives fail, and with disc manufacturers ceasing production, the technology itself seems to be going the way of Betamax.

Getting Stuffed

There are also some .sit (Stuffit) archives that seem to be corrupted, or missing part of their data. It's possible that some of the missing content was in Stuffit archives.

Being Resourceful

One possible problem is that some older files may have lost their resource forks in the transition to MacOS X. Per Wikipedia:

Until the advent of OS X v10.4, the standard UNIX command line utilities in OS X (such as cp and mv) did not respect resource forks. To copy files with resource forks, one had to use ditto or CpMac and MvMac.

I think this might have been true of tar and zip, too. I'm hazy on the details, but it seems that under some circumstances, creator, file type, and other parts of the original MacOS file metadata could be damaged. Since a lot of old MacOS files never used filename extensions, losing creator and file type metadata might mean the only readily available clue as to what application created a file.

Paper to the Rescue

There is some good news. I think the oldest stuff exists in paper form. At least, most of it does. I have saved almost everything that I every felt was worth saving, at least since college. So, I can scan it, or retype it, if I really get motivated. A few things have been lost to other people. I had a seminar class on James Joyce's Ulysses and the students exchanged journal assignments to write comments on them. The student who took home my hand-written journal entry manage to lose it, and I still miss that particular bit of writing. Of course, it is probably not as good as I recall, but I'd like to be able to be the judge of that.

Digital Decay

I knew back in the 1980s that file formats and data storage technologies were a problem. Every bit of text I wrote on my first computer is long gone. The programs, too. The programs I wrote for the Apple II and Commodore 64 are long gone. Almost every old word-processed file, except for a few things I printed out.

Even if they had survived, it was likely that some of the oldest files would be hard to use. Extracting the raw text is probably the best I could have hoped for. Working with Microsoft Word 5.1 and earlier files can be tricky. I had a few old Word for Windows 1.1 files that had screen shot images in them. I was able to get the text out, but it looks like the images are hopelessly lost. Were they PICT resources? Who knows? And who can open up files that I originally created with Illustrator 1.0, FreeHand, MacDraw, MacDraft, Canvas, PageMaker, Ready, Set, Go!, Claris Resolve, Wingz, Nisus Writer, MacWrite, Write Now, and CricketGraph?

Fortunately, most of my writing since 1990 or so was stored in plain text formats, including mailbox files. My earliest web sites, written by hand in HTML, I have archived. I kept a blog using Blosxom, adding posts to it as inspiration struck, from about 1998 to about 2006. I was also an early adopter of Wikis, so for part of that time from the late 1990s through early 2000s, I did some "blogging" using Wikis. Those files still exist. In some cases I theoretically have every version the text files went through, since I kept CVS repositories. They don't seem worth the effort to explore, though.

Escape from Blogger

Starting in January 1996, I began doing most of my blogging in Blogger. So I've been blogging with Blogger for twenty years now. (Wow, can that really be true? Apparently it can!)

Getting stuff out of Blogger is a bit tricky. Of course, one can copy and paste a blog post, or open up the post editor and copy out the text that is in there, which is some form of HTML. That's not the problem. The problem is if, like me, you edited the text with Blogger's visual editor, it will be heavily tagged with "span" elements, break tags, and other stuff you probably don't want. And of course if you have over 1,000 blog posts to extract, like I do, that starts to sound awfully tedious. Really I'm kind of surprised that 20 years of blog posts are all still there waiting to retrieve.

You can get the posts out from Blogger itself using some administrative pages on Google. You'll get a file for each blog, not blog post but blog, in the form of an .atom file (which is XML). But it will put all the posts in one big file, along with all the comments.

That file is difficult to work with. When I open up a file and see it packed with XML, I feel kind of like I just opened up my box lunch and found it full of maggots. There may be some yummy food in there, but my first reaction is to kill it with fire. I know things can be done with XSLT and various tools that will parse the XML and extract the data I want, and I've worked with Java, C++, and Python code that handles XML before, so this was not entirely unfamiliar. But I wasted half a day trying to get different versions of Python and various libraries working correctly on Windows 7.

Anyway, it was more complicated than it should have been, but I've managed to safely extract every bit of my original text from my Blogger blogs. The comments can wait. I now have these posts in .xml, .html, and .md (Markdown).

The process that finally worked started out with a tool called Blogger Backup, which got me part of the way there, and a Python script I hacked up, together with Pandoc. I'm not sure I could replicate exactly what I did even if I tried, so this is not a how-to-guide.

There is a lot of formatting inconsistency from file to file. Some files I wrote using Blogger's visual editor. Most were written by hand in HTML on the blogger page. Some I wrote using the Blogger app on the iPad (which does not seem to support writing in plain HTML). Some I wrote in Markdown, and then translated that into HTML, which I then pasted into the Blogger editor.

Markdown to HTML to Blogger

That's actually the workflow I want to use, going forward, because the Markdown source files are so easy to read and work with. It's adequate formatting for blogging, but to really build a book, with the exact typography I want, page breaks where I want them, a table of contents and footnotes and and index, all that stuff, will require some extensions and tooling.

I know it can be done; the book Pro Git was done this way. I just need to figure out a workflow that will work for me, and hopefully will work in a cross-platform way, and won't rely on code or configuration files in languages and formats that are going to be hard to use in the future.

Of course, what I really want is semantic markup, with style sheets applicable to different destinations. For example, I'd like to be able to tag book titles, as distinct from movie titles, as distinct from album titles. I'd like to be able to write footnotes right after the paragraph where they are referenced, and have them show up at the bottom of the "page," whatever the page is. I'd like to be able to mark things for indexing.

If I can't manage those things, I'd at least like to have my hyphens turn into hyphens, and my quotation marks look right, and my accented characters look right, in all the different output formats. I'd like my pages to break where I want them.

None of that is happening yet, but I'm working on it. It seems like in 2016 it shouldn't still be necessary for a Jedi to build his or her own lightsaber. I'd like to be able to do all the markup and editing on the original files, and little to no hand-tweaking of intermediate file formats. And, really, I would like to pick a toolchain that will require the least awkwardness and incompatibility should I want to do something, or should my descendants want to do something, with these files, thirty years from today.

Maybe I'll have to build my own lightsaber, but the problem is that there are an awful lot of lightsabers out there, and they are all different colors. Some have buttons, some have sliders, some knobs. Some don't work. Some explode when you turn them on. Some might result in sending the beam right through your chest.

I'm the Proud Owner of a Pile of Text Files

Most of them would need some hand-cleanup before they could be republished in any form. But, frankly, most of them are not worth republishing. A lot of the technical blog posts are very dated. They describe the process by which I got some particular obsolete version of some particular piece of software running on some particular obsolete version of MacOS or Windows or Linux to do some particular thing with some particular obsolete piece of hardware.

That stuff is not, I think, of general enough interest, although I leave them up on the web because every once in a while, someone has a similar problem, comes across one of my posts via a Google search, and it proves useful.

I've started browsing through my old posts, picking ones that I think are of general interest, and cleaning them up to use as source files for generating future e-book and print formats. I'm not quite satisfied with the results yet, but I'm getting there. I've only finished a first editing pass on a portion of the files I want to work with, and this already generates at least fifty pages. So there is more than enough material to generate a book. Really, assuming I can work out the technical aspects, it is a matter of figuring out what to leave out.

I have a new workflow for blogging. I'm now writing these posts directly in Markdown, using MarkdownPad for Windows, or BBEdit on MacOS. Then I'm using pandoc to generate the HTML, and pasting that into Blogger. That last part is still manual, but maybe it won't have to be indefinitely.

I'm generally happy with this process of writing. I can preview the file without using Blogger. If I want to edit a complete post, that is more work than just editing the HTML on Blogger, but hopefully with visual previewing outside Blogger, I won't be doing it as often.

Images remain an issue. I have not made a coherent attempt to extract images directly from Blogger, at least not yet. Most of the images probably exist in original form on my hard drive. But a lot of them were probably cropped or otherwise edited for use in blog posts. I might be able to get the images out of Google in the same form I uploaded them. That would be nice. I haven't necessarily saved every image file as uploaded.

At some point I should figure out what I'm going to do about establishing some kind of persistent links to images for the blog posts that need them.

Anyway, enough of that for now. I'm starting to bore myself, so I can only imagine how you must feel. Back to the books.

The Dark Forest

I finished The Dark Forest by Cixin Liu, translated by Joel Martinsen. The ending is satisfying. The loose ends are tied up. It is intellectually quite satisfying, if not artistically. It has a big, big story arc and big, big ideas. But it is still a hard book to love.

There is an odd romantic subplot, in which Luo Ji develops an imaginary romantic interest and, apparently, gives up his real-world relationship with a flesh-and-blood woman, Bai Rong, in favor of his fantasy. He speaks to a doctor about his illusory relationship:

"Don't you get it? I've given my most profound love to an illusion!"

Later after Juo Ji has become a Wallfacer, he makes it his mission to find the woman of his dreams. He mobilizes resources in this direction, but there is some debate over whether this is an appropriate use of these resources:

"But we can't use society's resources to allow a person like him to live the life of an emperor!"

Eventually Luo Ji is brought the woman of his dreams:

Luo Ji gripped tightly to the match with two fingers as it burnt down. He needed the pain to tell him this wasn't a dream. It was like he had ignited the sun, which now shone on a dreamwork-turned-reality. Outside, the sun could remain forever hidden by clouds and night, so long as his world had her and the firelight in it.

He takes her to the Louvre, and gazes into her eyes:

The dam in Luo Ji's soul had sprung a tiny leak, and this trickle eroded it, expanding the tiny fissure into a turbulent stream. He grew afraid and strove to patch the crack in the dam, but was unable to. A collapse was inevitable.

I won't quote any more of this section of the book, but the prose gets a lot more purple than that. It's one of those passages, I think, that will be "make or break" for some readers; either you grit your teeth and plow through it, to figure out what happens next, or you throw the book across the room.

This is all part of one subplot which becomes largely irrelevant to the overall story arc. This is how a space opera that was fairly taught and fast-paced in book one, The Three-Body Problem, turns into 512 pages. I still think it's a really impressive piece of storytelling, and the twists in the storyline are, for the most part, quite entertaining and occasionally mind-blowing. But I just can't call that good writing. The plot keeps grinding to a halt to bring us more infodumps or dialogue that is of questionable quality. Yes, I know that it is translated. I suspect the translation is more literal than it needs to be.

I'm reminded of some other translated work. In the original dubbed American theatrical release of Akira, there are some passages that are laughably awkward:

Humans do all kinds of things during their lifetime, right? Discovering things, building things... things like houses, motorcycles, bridges, cities, and rockets. All that knowledge and energy... where do you suppose it comes from? Humans were like monkeys once, right? And before that, like reptiles and fish. And before that, plankton and amoebas. Even creatures like those have incredible energy inside them. Because of genes, I guess. And even before that, maybe there were genes in the water and air. What if there were some mistake and the progression went wrong, and something like an amoeba were given power like a human's?

Anyway. I'm not sure how to sum up my, err, "issues" with The Dark Forest, except that I suspect Ken Liu was a better translator. It makes me wonder just how thoroughly he worked over the first book. Did he condense or trim some of the digressions and subplots, and is that why the first book moves faster?

According to Wikipedia, Ken Liu will be translating the third book. It is due this fall and I'm looking forward to it.

Light

I've completed Light by M. John Harrison.

This is an imaginative work, and the plot lines do eventually come together, sort of, and it all kind of makes sense, for some vague, new-agey, hand-waving value of "makes sense."

I have some problems with this book, morally.

Michael Kearney is a serial killer:

Kearney let go of him and began kicking his head. Sprake pushed his way between them and held Kearney off until he had calmed down. They got Meadows to the edge of the water, into which they dropped him, facedown, while they held his legs. He tried to keep his head above the surface by arching his back, then gave up with a groan. Bubbles came up. His bowels let go.

At the end of the book, Kearney is asked:

As a matter of interest, why did you murder all those women?"

Then the Shrander tells him, moments later,

"You can forgive yourself now."

That's it. That's his penance and absolution.

At one point, another character, Seria Mau is transporting a group of humans in her ship. She found one day that they were getting on her nerves, so she

dumped their equipment from the hold and then opened the human quarters to the vacuum. The air made a thick whistling noise as it blew out. Soon the K-ship had a little cloud of its own, comprised of frozen gasses, luggage, and bits of clothing. Among this floated five bodies, blue, decompressed. Two of them had been fucking and were still joined together. The clone was the hardest to get rid of. She clung on to the furniture, screaming, then clamped her mouth shut. The air roared past her, but she wouldn't give up and be evacuated. After a minute, Seria Mau felt sorry for her. She closed the hatches. She brought the human quarters back up to pressure.

Seria Mau has just killed five people, but faces no consequences or guilt to speak of for this action. Later she abandons the clone, Mona, with another character, to die on the surface of a planet, infected by some kind of fractal entity. Again, there are no consequences, and she eventually receives absolution and is transformed into an angelic figure.

As you might have guessed, I have a bit of a problem with this. Even in the context of the novel, where it isn't entirely clear that any particular scene is entirely real -- because reality is bubbling and morphing all over the place -- this is troubling. There's a general thread of misanthropy, and Harrison's male characters behave in appallingly misogynistic ways. And I'm not sure what any of this behavior really has to do with the "art" of this book; is there any justification or rationale at work here?

The back of the book features encomiums to this novel by some of my favorite writers: China Miéville, Iain M. Banks, Alastair Reynolds. I feel like perhaps I have to re-think my generally positive impression of all three of these writers, because they apparently are fine with this book; not just fine with it, but they were bubbling over with praise.

Were they high?

Maybe I'm just getting old, but I don't get it. I feel like I'm missing something. Should I try to read it again to make sense out of it? I don't think so. It would be like re-watching a pornographic film to study the plot. Despite Harrison's linguistic sleights-of-hand, there's really no "there" there. I can't recommend this book. I'm wondering if the second one is better.

Annihilation

I just finished reading Annihilation by Jeff Vandermeer. I picked up this book because it was recommended by fellow Reddit users. In fact, it was April's book of the month in the "SFBookClub" subreddit, although I did not know it at the time. I started reading it just a few days ago, but since it is a slim book, under 200 pages, it only took a few hours of actual reading time to complete.

It is the story of an expedition into a "zone" where strange things are happening. We don't know exactly what. It's all about changing ecosystems, and "borders," and cover stories.

This book is provocative enough that I think it may be worth re-reading, and I don't feel that way about many books. I've seen this book described as Lovecraftian horror, but to me it seems more like the work of an earlier writer, William Hope Hodgson. It reminds me of Hodgson's story The Voice in the Night, and also his novel The Boats of the Glenn Carrig.

There's some body horror, some spooky nihilism, and some gamesmanship with the reader, making one wonder what is really going on. That's fairly standard in the "weird fiction" genre. But something else I like about the book is the narrator character. She's a very introverted female who is not passive or weak. She does not have a lot of empathy for your problems, but she is also not an over-the-top badass with a machine gun. Her actual goals and pleasures are often obscure; in a sense, she is a bounded ecosystem herself, and her borders are, for the most part, closed, like those of "Area X."

At some point during our relationship, my husband began to call me the ghost bird, which was his way of teasing me for not being present enough in his life. It would be said with a kind of creasing at the corner of his lips that almost formed a thin smile, but in his eyes I could see the reproach. If we went to bars with his friends, one of this favorite things to do, I would volunteer only what a prisoner might during an interrogation.

Annihilation might be inspired at least in part by Roadside Attraction, the wonderful and troubling novel by the Strugatsky brothers. There's a hint of John Campbell's novella Who Goes There, which became the movie The Thing. There is a strong suggestion that the author has read the books of Peter Watts. It seems like a couple of scenes pay homage to his books Starfish and Blindsight, with starfish imagery:

What I found when I finally stood there, hands on bent knees, peering down into that tidal pool, was a rare species of colossal starfish, six-armed, larger than a saucepan, that bled a dark gold color into the still water as if it were on fire. Most of us professionals eschewed its scientific name for the more apt "destroyer of worlds." It was covered in thick spines, and along the edges I could just see, fringed with emerald green, the most delicate of transparent cilia, thousands of them, propelling it along upon its appointed route as it searched for its prey: other, lesser starfish.

The protagonist is fascinated by small, bounded, but complete ecosystems; she's been observing them since childhood. Bits of her back-story echo back and forth through time. In this passage she is describing a rare, though real, documented creature, not something "uncanny" or "unnatural." But it is one of the special features of this book that the biologist's memories of ordinary observations of nature, recalled from her current surroundings in "Area X," are transformed.

We're left thinking that any of our encounters with what we think of as the "natural world" might be capable of bringing out in us a sense of the uncanny and eerie, if only we opened ourselves to the possibility of perceiving them as they are. I remember years ago seeing luminescent foxfire in an ordinary birch woods in Michigan. It reminded me of Gurdjieff's teaching, that most of us, most of the time, are not truly awake, and those that are awake live in a state of constant wonder.

Later, our protagonist encounters an unnerving thing, something so strange and challenging that her mind recoils from it and she can barely perceive it. She recalls the "destroyer of worlds" starfish:

What can you do when your five senses are not enough? Because I still couldn't truly see it here, any more than I had seen it under the microscope, and that's what scared me the most. Why couldn't I see it? In my mind, I stood over the starfish at Rock Bay, and the starfish grew and grew until it was not just the tidal pool but the world, and I was teetering on its rough, luminous surface, staring up at the night sky again, while the light of it flowed up and through me.

In Blindsight, Peter Watts postulates an alien organism, a "scrambler," that can camouflage itself, and can time its movements so that it only moves when the human eye is moving, in one of the quick "twitch" movements known as saccades, and can't focus on it. In Annihilation, the biologist encounters an organism that:

...might be inexplicable. It might be beyond the limits of my senses to capture -- or my science or my intellect -- but I still believed I was in the presence of some kind of living creature, one that practiced mimicry using my own thoughts. For even then, I believed that it might be pulling these different impressions of itself from my mind and projecting them back at me, as a form of camouflage. To thwart the biologist in me, to frustrate the logic left in me.

With her biologist part frustrated, our protagonist has to come to approach her life completely differently -- via unmediated, unnamed, impulsive experience. Vandermeer isn't exploring the utility of consciousness in quite the same way that Watts does, but he does ask us to explore the boundary between us and nature, and the idea that our normal, everyday mode of consciousness gets in our way, when we try to experience the world.

In general this book is very nicely written and edited, and it moves along well. Digressions that might seem irrelevant, at first glance, are referenced again later, and these effectively build the sense of disquiet.

Vandermeer seems to like complex sentences, and I don't mind that, and he seems to like to chain together a lot of prepositional phrases, and I don't mind that, much, but he seems to occasionally forget a comma right where one is needed the most. For example, in this sentence:

The myth that only a few early expeditions, the start date artificially suggested by the Southern Reach, had come to grief reinforced the idea of cycles existing within the overall framework of an advance.

One can get up a good head of steam and lose oneself in the text, only to be brought up short when one trips over a sentence that was not properly planed and sanded. Fortunately, I noticed only a few of these.

Superficially, the story may seem to have an unsatisfactory ending, because we don't actually learn exactly what is going on. But I am not disappointed. This is a philosophical book, that lingers in the mind. There is something going on in the storytelling itself that I have not quite discerned, as if reading the book implanted in me a post-hypnotic suggestion that has not yet been triggered.

This is the first book of a trilogy. I've been warned that the others are not as good, but I think maybe I'll have to judge that for myself.

So, I have completed three books so far this month:

  • The Dark Forest by Cixin Liu, translated by Joel Martinsen
  • Light by M. John Harrison
  • Annihilation by Jeff Vandermeer

And the month still has a couple of weeks to go, so I might squeeze in another book or two. Meanwhile...

Solaris

Yes, Solaris by Stanislaw Lem, inspiration for two movie versions -- but with a twist.

The original English translation of Solaris is actually a translation of a translation. The Polish text was translated into French, and then the French text was translated into English, by a different translator.

That sounds like a recipe for disaster. The result isn't actually as bad as all that, but the prose is pretty leaden. It's a serviceable story that has none of the lilt and verve of Michael Kandel's wonderful translations of Lem's other works such as The Cyberiad.

In 2011, Audible commissioned a new translation. I'm curious what Kandel would have done with it, but he was not the translator. It was translated by Bill Johnston, and released as an audiobook, and then an e-book.

When I learned in 2011 that this was happening, I had hopes that I would soon be able to purchase a print edition. Five years later, a print edition is still nowhere to be found. My credit card gives me reward points in the form of periodic iTunes gift cards. When my latest gift card arrived in the mail, I decided to use it to purchase the audiobook.

It has been some time since I last read the old translation, but I can confidently say that the new one is a big improvement. The relationship between Kris Kelvin and the re-embodiment of his dead wife, Harey, is much more affecting in this new telling. The audiobook is read quite well, too, by Alessandro Juliani.

I have not finished listening to the audiobook, but I can recommend it, if you like audiobooks. Meanwhile, I continue to hope and wait, impatiently, for a print edition of this new translation. Audiobooks always seem like a secondary format to me; I enjoy listening to them, but only as an adjunct to reading a work in print.

Like Annihilation, Solaris is a philosophical work, and if bits of the story seem dated and clichéd in 2016, it is largely because the original story was, itself, so influential, and so many of the tropes it features have shown up in the work of other writers.

Be warned that Amazon is incredibly stupid in its presentation of different translations of the same original work. The new audiobook page has buttons that link to different "formats and editions" -- supposedly the Kindle, hardcover, and paperback editions. The Kindle button links to the new translation, but the buttons for the hardcover and paperback editions will take you straight to print editions of the old translation.

There is a similar, long-standing problem with reviews. The same reviews appear on the pages for all the different versions: different formats, different print editions, and even different translations. Unless the reviewer explicitly mentions that he or she is reviewing the 2011 translation or the the 1971 Polish-to-French-to-English translation, there is no way of knowing. Stupid!

The Story of Earth and Sky

I'm reading a book to my kids that I read, years ago. It was a very significant book to me as a child -- a book that introduced me to this history of planet Earth, in terms of its cosmology, astronomy, geology, and evolutionary biology. The book is The Story of Earth and Sky by Carleton Washburne, Heluiz Washburne, and Frederick Reed, illustrated by Margery Stocking.

This is an old book -- the copy I have was published by the Children's Literary Guild in 1933. The introduction mentions the recent discovery of Pluto, which is a bit comical in 2016.

It describes the origin of the earth and the moon, and the processes that led to the origin of life. It's often out of date with current thinking -- for example, the authors describe the formation of a "sun-cloud" containing molten rock and metal, torn from the sun by a "rogue star." The moon is described as spinning off from the molten earth as it spins, separated due to irregularities the shape of the original spinning mass. These are not congruent with the most popular current theories. However, the book is surprisingly humble and very up-front in acknowledging that the theories it presents are quite speculative and are likely to be refined in the future.

In retrospect, it was not the details of the thinking about the origins of the earth that I found fascinating, but the simple fact that there was thinking about these subjects, and it was based on observation and hypotheses. In other words, this book may have given me some of my earliest exposure to the scientific method.

The book is written in quite beautiful and poetic language; I will cite some of the language.

I don't remember exactly how old I was when I first encountered this book. It was probably via a copy in the McCord Memorial Library in North East, PA. I must have been quite young.

I have my own copy now. It is wrapped in mylar and the dust jacket is very, very faded. But the binding still works and the pages are clean and readable, and I am very glad to have it.

I believe the book's approach to visualizing travel through space and time, using an imaginary "space-plane," very reminiscent of NASA's space shuttle, may have been an inspiration to Carl Sagan as he developed his "spaceship of the imagination."

Gene Wolfe describes a child's "book of gold," the book that first engaged a child of an age ripe for learning. It is a different book for every child. It is gold only in memory. It holds an outsized place in that memory. It is one of the books that wrote the child. This book is, if not the singular book of gold, at least one of the books of gold, the books that wrote me. It is a treat to read it again.

Saginaw and Ann Arbor, Michigan
May 15 and 18, 2016

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