Saturday, July 28, 2018

The Week Ending Saturday, July 28th, 2018


Last night we succumbed to frustration and laziness and got Chinese takeout from King Shing on Carpenter Road. I made a pot of our Lundgren short-grain brown rice with butter in the instant pot — fantastic rice — and Grace went to pick up our order. We had short ribs, orange chicken, salt-and-pepper shrimp, ma po tofu, and sesame balls. Their ma po tofu is not great — they used frozen peas and carrots which were still hard — but I like this dish a lot. It’s very homey. The last time I ate it might have been at San Fu restaurant, formerly in South Main Market, defunct for years. The salt-and-pepper shrimp tasted good but it was overly hot, since it was packed in a container with onions and sliced jalapeño peppers. I mistook them for sweet peppers and ate a mouthful, which my dining companions found highly entertaining (“why is Dad’s face all red?”) Their ribs are still excellent, and so is the orange chicken, and the sesame balls filled with bean paste are one of my favorite treats.


I finished reading the third Elric novelette, from 1962, called “The Stealer of Souls.” It takes place five years after the events of “The Dreaming City.” This is a fun one because it features an epic castle-storming, and some magic involving elementals. Moorcock’s concepts of elementals, as well as his notions of chaos and order, were pretty clearly adopted right into Dungeons and Dragons. This story also has good examples of moments where Stormbringer, Elric’s runesword, gets out of hand and devours a soul Elric doesn’t really want devoured. It might be exciting to hang out with Elric in battle, but he loses more friends that way. I’m a bit worried about his buddy Moonglum of Elwher, who doesn’t seem like a bad guy, although he is perhaps a bit ethically “flexible.”

I also finished reading The Fortress of the Pearl, the later Elric novel, and the other material in the Gollancz/Sirius book Elric: The Fortress of the Pearl including some of Moorcock’s musings about gothic fantasy, which he claims was as mind-altering for him as mescaline, and the story “One Life, Furnished in Early Moorcock” by Neil Gaiman. That’s a serviceable story, but aside from making me grimace at Gaiman’s depiction of the grim and perverse life in British public school, didn’t seem particularly strong in the way it set up connections to Moorcock’s work.

The end of The Fortress of the Pearl isn’t bad; in fact it’s an improvement over the long middle section, although one of the plot problems, Elric’s forced addiction to a dangerous elixir, just sort of goes away without much explanation. There’s some nice revenge served cold, and poetic justice. But there’s also a typical instance of Elric solving his problems as only Elric can, by going full-on berserker with Stormbringer, bellowing “blood and souls for my Lord Arioch!” That kind of thing can really ruin your day, not to mention doom your ancient and venerable city of sorcerors and dreamthieves. And (spoiler) apparently Elric leaves Oone pregnant. This little plot point leaves me scratching my head at the way it belies the concept that “whatever happens in the dream realm, stays in the dream realm.”


I read a bit more of Jhereg and the plot complications continue. It gets exciting. I haven’t really decided how I feel about the book. Much will depend on how well Brust pulls off the ending.

I think I forgot to mention the bread from The Mother Loaf bakery in Milan. Yesterday afternoon Grace picked up two loaves: a fig and fennel loaf, which we ate yesterday — and it was quite delicious — and a whole wheat sourdough loaf. This morning I toasted the whole wheat sourdough, and breakfast was bulletproof coffee and toast with butter. I also made a platter of scrambled eggs.

Grace and I spent much of the afternoon working on cleaning up our bedroom, which really was in desperate need of a deep cleaning. We spent several hours just folding and putting away laundry. Then we took a break for lunch, which was a bag of small rolls from Costco served with some lunch meats and various condiments. Then we got back to working on the room. She had brought our Riccar vacuum cleaner back from Saginaw, which works better than the other one we have at the house, so we used that. The room’s not spotless but it got a thorough sweeping and vacuuming and a round of cleaning and organizing, and it’s much improved.

We had a tentative plan for the podcast, which was to read the last chapter of Mistaken Identity by Asad Haider and discuss it, along with a segment on what we’ve been reading (including some notes on Moorcock). Then we’d record a discussion, and I’d put it together in a show with last week’s interview with Matthew Haugen of the Huron Valley DSA. But it’s 7:40 now and I’m not really sure if we can get that done. So I’m going to set this aside for now and talk to Grace about our plan for the rest of the evening. I’ll need at least a couple of hours to edit and produce the show, and as usual I don’t want to stay up past midnight on a work night. And we’ve still got to figure out some kind of dinner — we were thinking we might make blueberry pancakes, since it’s been a while since we last had “breakfast for dinner.” But we’ll see. It’s always so hard to get done everything we want to get done on our weekends, even with some help from the kids.


Well. The rest of Sunday was very busy. I didn’t really get dinner per se; I grabbed a banana and a few spoonfuls of hummus and went down into the basement to print out notes while Grace instructed the kids on what to eat for dinner. I was overstuffed with things to say. It’s like I’ve said to Grace — I feel like we either need to do a 1-hour weekly show, or a 4-hour daily show.

I wound up talking a bit about Arthur Machen, and a bit about Michael Moorcock’s Elric stories, and a bit about the Thai cave rescue operation. Grace would occasionally make the “wind it up” gesture, and I’d get a bit flustered, because I often feel like I’m already trying to get through a topic quickly, and when I try to bring it to a close quicker, it seems to take longer.

Then we talked a lot about Asad Haider’s book Mistaken Identity. I’ve been reading bits and pieces of the book for a number of weeks now and I’ve hoped that we would get to talk about it, but Grace hadn’t read it and it is very hard for her to get time to read things. So the solution that presented itself yesterday was for me to read her the final chapter out loud and talk it over with her, before recording. We marked sections of the chapter that we found particularly compelling and wanted to talk about. Then Grace read much of it on the show because ultimately we found it hard to present Haider’s more interesting arguments using brief excerpts.

My left eye was all red last night by the time we did the show. With all the vacuuming and sweeping we did yesterday afternoon, we stirred up a lot of dust, and some of it probably got in my eyes. While trying to record the show, I could barely read my notes. Getting through the editing was slow and painful as I couldn’t read my computer screen all that well either. Fortunately, the irritation has diminished and my eyes work better and feel better this morning.

This show seems like it could have used some editing, but again it came down to the choice between getting something out on time, or setting it aside to finish later, which would blow the schedule. But we’ve worked hard to stick to a schedule. We haven’t succeeded every week, but we’ve succeeded more often than not. So, I pressed on, and had everything uploaded and published by 2:00 a.m.

I didn’t get a great night’s sleep. I woke up and found that the kids had done bizarre things, like emptying out the squeeze bottle of diluted Dr. Bronner’s liquid soap that I had prepared yesterday to use for bathing this week. And squeezing out most of a bottle of conditioner. And vanishing most of the toothpaste. And taking away the towels. And leaving toothbrushes in the kitchen. And leaving a wet soap holder on the piano, for some reason. So I wasted time this morning griping and fixing some of these things and grumbling to Grace about how a four-year-old ought to be able to to be done with this kind of thing, and four older kids ought to be able to notice when he is making his bizarre messes. The little spring-loaded rod that snaps into the wall fixture and holds rolls of toilet paper has been missing for several weeks. Did he flush it down the toilet? Did it wind up in the back yard? Why is he destroying our shrubberies? Does he hate shrubberies? Is this real life? Why is this happening to me? Is this forever? This is fine. I’m okay with the events that are unfolding currently.

I’d like to write that I feel great despite only getting four or five hours of sleep, but that isn’t true. But I don’t regret finishing the show while I had the chance. I had breakfast at the Uptown Coney Island diner on Jackson Road, in a hurry, on my way to work. I ate a mushroom and feta omelette, under-cooked hash browns, and three cups of coffee. And some antacids. My stomach is gradually settling down. Overall, we got a lot done yesterday. I feel satisfied. I just wish I wasn’t exhausted. And I wish we could find the little toilet paper roller.


I got home from work quite late last night — it was about 9:00. I stayed to work on some LabVIEW code because it seemed to have a bug, and was not reliably displaying values returned by one of the remote control commands. But with further testing it seems that the bug may be on the firmware side. Apparently calling SCPI_ResultUInt16() twice to return multiple values in a SCPI command handler doesn’t work reliably. Sometimes I get the two results, with a comma between them, which is what I want to happen. Sometimes I get only one result. Sometimes the comma between them is missing.

I was feeling oddly feverish and sweaty at my desk yesterday afternoon. I was trying to keep myself hydrated but was developing a headache by the time I left. When I got home I just went into the bedroom to lie down for a while before dinner. I had only a few pages to go, and so finished reading the fourth Elric novelette, “Kings in Darkness.” Elric gets a girlfriend, named Zarozinia. He has a habit of forgetting about his one true love, it appears. She’s seventeen. (I guess the story takes place in an ancient and fantastic time known as the Age of Consent). This one has zombies in it, and a fight in a barrow, and a lich (an undead sorceror). It’s very Dungeons and Dragons. Or, rather, Dungeons and Dragons is very Moorcock. I was somewhat surprised to find Zarozinia is still alive at the end of the story. I started to read the next one, “The Caravan of Forgotten Dreams” (aka “The Flame Bringers”), but only got partway into that one.

Then I dozed for a little while, which made my head feel somewhat better.

For dinner Joshua had made a tear-apart “pizza biscuit” based on a recipe for kids in Highlights magazine. We ate that with salad. The original recipe calls for refrigerated biscuit dough, but they didn’t have that at Costco, so I brought home a box of Bisquick. It came out fine, but it looked pretty messy. So we said things like “well, it looks like a pizza that exploded, but it tastes pretty good,” which was true. But Joshua is very sensitive and tends to take any criticism of his work personally. We did praise him for making dinner. But, Joshua, if you are reading this, let me say it again: thank you for making dinner. Food doesn’t always turn out the way it looks in the recipes, and that’s okay. Mom and Dad’s meals don’t always come out looking the way we hoped. We’re not food stylists. If it’s edible, we eat it. It’s even okay when it becomes an object of humor.

After dinner I tried to go to sleep again because my head still hurt, but no one else was quiet, so I sort of lay there with a pillow over my head to block out the light until everyone quieted down and we could get the lights off.

Note to self: the next time you are thinking of staying up until the wee hours to finish a podcast, remember how you felt on Monday night. Idiot.

This morning I found that the kids had not cleaned up the dishes. Everything was piled in the sink. I thought they were doing them because I was not up to it.

Also, despite Grace’s orders, they left the garage door open and the garage lights on all night. So we’re going to have to have a talk about that.

I felt somewhat better this morning. I’m still not at my best, but the headache was mostly gone. I was still pretty slow to get out the door, though, despite my best efforts. I went to the Harvest Moon Cafe for breakfast. I decided to try their blueberry pancakes. They were not great. When I ask for fried eggs over hard at a restaurant, it’s not because I really love eggs that way. It’s because I don’t want salmonella from factory-farmed eggs. And at no point did I request egg jerky. I shouldn’t actually need a sharp knife to slice through an egg. So, maybe I should stick with my usual breakfast BLT.


Having had an opportunity to obsess about my code while trying to fall asleep last night and while showering this morning, I made some fixes. While in the middle of a debugging session, my work computer had a “snow crash,” where the video card goes crazy and the screen is covered with a grid of flickering black blocks. This is, I think, the third time this has happened in the last month or two. But it’s such an occasional problem.

It’s threatening to rain again but looks like once again the rain is going to drift over Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti on its way somewhere else and we will get little or none. Most of Washtenaw County is currently in an “abnormally dry” state just shy of “moderate drought.” The grass in the median of Jackson Road looks like straw.


On the way home last night, I spent the drive talking into my hand-held recorder, recording some thoughts about my podcast project, current stressors, and other topics. This recording will probably just get chucked into the ever-growing pile of recordings that I haven’t done anything with. When I got home, I found that my three older boys were gone — they went to stay with their cousins for a few days.

It was unnaturally quiet in the house with just three or our kids and three of our housemate’s children. Spooky, really.

Grace and I couldn’t get much enthusiasm together for a meal and we were both feeling kind of queasy. She had put a salad together and we heated up some rotisserie chicken from Costco. I ate a few bits of chicken dipped in hummus and that was all I felt up to eating.

I finished reading “The Flame Bringers,” another one of the original Elric novelettes. This one features some soul-swapping magic, and more about Elric’s twisted, co-dependent relationship with his sword, Stormbringer. I’m enjoying these shorter pieces. I also read “The Last Enchantment,” an Elric story (not a novelette, and not broken into chapters) from 1978, which appears next in Elric: The Revenge of the Rose. That’s an interesting story in that it does a little bit of world-building, as Elric meets the Lords of Chaos, although I don’t claim to fully understand the ending. I was reading along and didn’t realize this story was from 1978, or I would have skipped it, because I’m currently trying to read the stories in publication order. “The Last Enchantment” fits roughly in here, in Elric’s chronology, although Wikipedia says it is not part of the “canonical continuity.” But I don’t think it really matters. It might make more sense later, but I can re-read it later if I keep going past the 1964 novelas.

There’s one more story, “To Rescue Tanelorn…,” to read from Elric: The Revenge of the Rose, and then it will be time to read the four novellas that (in various edited forms) comprise the various versions of Stormbringer. I think some versions are more of a “fixup,” turning the novellas into a single novel and removing some text; I’m not really sure if his publishers did the editing, or he did it at their behest, but the versions I have in my copy of the Gollancz book Elric: Stormbringer! are, I think, Moorcock’s preferred versions, presenting the four novellas as separate “books” with separate titles and chapters under the title Stormbringer. My goal was to read the original Elric material as readers would have read it back when it came out. But I don’t really know the detailed editing history, nor do I really want to know, as this is getting complicated enough without trying to figure out if I’m reading the versions that are the closest to the texts as first published.

It seems there is an Elric story from 2008, “The Black Petals,” that is not present in my comprehensive 2013-2014 seven-volume set of Elric material And there’s also an even newer story called “Red Pearls.” So I guess my “comprehensive” set isn’t. Aaargh!

I read Benjamin a children’s book for his bedtime story, and we went on to bed. But I didn’t sleep well. I’m not quite sure why. At some point I woke up sweating, and it felt so hot in the room that I had to go check to see if Benjamin had screwed with the thermostat. I laid back down on top of the covers and turned on the ceiling fan. Grace felt my forehead and informed me that I had a fever. I managed to get a little bit more broken sleep, but not much. I considered calling in sick, but don’t really feel that bad.

Grace got up early to go to an event in Detroit. The attic contractor called her cell phone at 7:30 this morning while she was in the shower, and I answered it. He was calling to confirm that he was going to complete some of the attic insulation work at the old house this morning. I don’t know why he felt the need to tell us, at 7:30, how he was going to have to go to Home Depot to get insulation. Maybe he thought we were going to be at the house today? His company is over a month late completing the work. I told him that I would have Grace call him back to confirm, and he hung up without another word. She called him back, though, and apparently had a reasonable conversation with him. Grace is planning to go up there tomorrow to verify that everything is finally done as planned. Well, except the duct-cleaning, I think, which I believe is scheduled for Friday, now that (supposedly) the asbestos encapsulation has been done.

I had breakfast at Harvest Moon again and there was nothing really wrong with breafkast — it was fine, but my stomach has been touchy, so it’s been sitting in there a little uneasily. I really needed those two large cups of coffee.


Grace and I are talking about how to use my vacation time this year. I have ten vacation days, one “floating holiday” and two more discretionary days (for use as sick days, family emergencies, etc.).

Four of the vacation days I pretty much need to use during the week of Christmas. I could come in to work, but the office will probably be empty. The “floating holiday” slots neatly into the 31st; the office, again, will probably be empty on that day, and I can’t carry it over to 2019, so I may as well use it then.

We’re having a baby sometime close to the end of the year; Grace’s due date is the 24th. If the baby goes long and Grace doesn’t deliver until 2019, I’ll have a new batch of discretionary days that I can take, so that shouldn’t be a problem. But I’d better hold on to a few days in case we have a new baby in December before the week of Christmas. The discretionary days I’d better hold in reserve. With young kids, a nasty virus can show up at any time.

If I just plan now to take off December 21st, 24th, 26th, 27th, and 28th, to get the week of Christmas off, and use my floating holiday for the 31st, that’s four days, leaving me six. If I reserve 3 vacation days, that leaves three I could take this summer.

Two summers ago I got, basically, a single day away from home with our friend at her cabin in the woods. So I guess with 3 days we could do a little bit better.

If I wind up not using all my days, I can carry up to 3 days over into 2019, but if I don’t take them by the end of March, I’ll lose them. I think last year I lost 3 unused vacation days that way, because I was very occupied with our deadlines and forgot that I had to use it or lose it.

I realize that lots of people have no paid vacation at all. If that describes you, I’m sorry.

Things have changed so much. Grace remembers her experience growing up — her father routinely took six weeks off during the summer, when the family took extended road trips, and more time in the winter. Even my parents — and my mother was an Occupational Therapist, working in a Community Mental Health Center, and my stepfather was a laborer who built motorized wheels for General Electric — routinely took several weeks off in the summer. I don’t recall exactly how long those vacations were, but we drove to Iowa, or took the train to the Oregon coast, and so it was certainly more than two weeks; likely, three weeks, or close to it.

I’m fifty years old with six kids at home. I’ve been working full-time at “real” jobs, in a “real” career, for almost 30 years. And I’m struggling to figure out if I can take three vacation days to spend some time with my family. It really seems to me like there is something wrong with this picture.

I’m not blaming my employer per se. This amount of vacation days is not uncommon. I’ll get more when I complete more years with this company. But here’s the thing: vacation shouldn’t be a reward for years of service completed. It’s a misplaced incentive. In fact, I’d say that the first year or two at a new job is likely to be more stressful than the subsequent years. That’s been my experience, at least.

I also think that taking time to support my wife while she has a baby shouldn’t require me to use up my discretionary days or vacation days. Does that make sense? Consider — does having a new baby make it less, or more, likely that I will need to take time off work?

Back when I worked for the University of Michigan, in the nineties, my salary was lower than one would typically get for similar work in the private sector, but I had, if I recall correctly, something like 24 vacation days. So it was possible, at least if you carefully managed your days and could get permission from your manager, to take a three-week block around the end of the year. I think I did that once. Usually I took a few short “staycations” since I couldn’t really afford to do much with my time off.

I don’t really know what more to say about this, except that I feel so tired and so burned out. I feel that I am aging faster than my parents did, and faster than their parents did. They had many difficulties and many stressors but they could afford their homes, and they had vacations. I feel, as well, that my children have been, for a multitude of reasons, cheated out of much the limited time I have to spend with them. That includes the year and a half I spent living half my days away from home, to take this job. And that feels awful. But I don’t know what else to do.


Nobody was all that hungry or all that energetic last night, so for dinner we just boiled some sweet corn and had some of the little dinner rolls from Costco with lunchmeat. I finished reading “To Rescue Tanelorn…,” the Elric story without Elric. (He is name-dropped once, I believe). It’s a story in part about a trip into alternate story dimensions. I didn’t think it was stellar, although the beings that live in these other dimensions are creatively portrayed. Spoiler: Tanelorn is safe.

I read a bit more of Jhereg and I enjoy the dialogue and Brust’s writing in general, but there is so much plot in this story. Maybe it’s not the best summer read, especially when I’m not concentrating as well as I sometimes can. I’m having more fun following Brust on Twitter than I am reading this novel, although I expect the later ones are likely better.

I got a pretty good night’s sleep and so had a pretty productive day at work. Grace made me a bulletproof coffee for breakfast and that seems like something to write down. I didn’t need to eat anything until about 2:00. I swapped cars with Grace again and she’s taking mine up to Saginaw to check on the house, especially the recent repair work. We got an invoice for the plaster and paint work and it’s for quite a bit of money, $3,500. I’ve been setting aside money in one of our accounts to cover this, since I knew it was coming, but it’s still a big chunk of change. I think we’re going to pay a thousand now. We should be able to get a little bit more money out of our insurance company now that the work is complete, according to some logic involving depreciation that I don’t really claim to understand. But that will help.

Grace is going to get my oil changed, too, since the car is overdue.

We had a brief thunderstorm this afternoon. At my office in Ann Arbor, it wasn’t that impressive. It only rained hard for a few minutes, which means the storm dropped far too little rain to make any real difference in Washtenaw county, which is in parts “abnormally dry” and in other parts in “moderate drought.” Grace tells me that Crane Road was slammed hard by the storm, and there were a lot of trees down. It seems like a real ripoff to get damaging winds without enough rain to make the grass green again. The Ann Arbor News is reporting that 20,000 people lost power.

In fact, it looks like, according to DTE’s outage map, my street is without power. Since Grace is not there, I can’t confirm that. I have a UPS installed on my main computer downstairs. It won’t last very long. The Mac Mini I use for recording is not on a UPS. I’m concerned about those computers going down hard, but there’s not much I can do about it right now.

I guess I’ll find out what’s happened when I get there. It could be an uncomfortable night. If the power is out, this will be the first outage we’ve had since moving into our house, other than a few brief ones the first few months we lived on Crane Road.

Grace reports that she found evidence someone has broken into our Saginaw house again. She’s trying to get the police to come out. Last time, they would not send a car but just asked her to fill out an online form.


When I got home last night the power was indeed out, for the whole neighborhood. Apparently it had been a full-on microburst, or something like it, with brief but very heavy rain, and even some hail. Crane Road was an obstacle course of downed trees. The traffic lights were out for miles around. I went back up Carpenter to Meijer and bought a lot of bottled water and a bunch of non-perishable food: some canned baked beans, boxes of triscuits, RX bars (I guess their trade name is “RXBAR,”) a few cans of herring in sauce, instant grits, some packages of instant noodles that let you add hot water, and some boxes of those “belVita” breakfast biscuits. Oh, and some candles. With no real idea of how long the power might be out, I was not very organized.

I had voice mail around 6:30 saying that DTE had missed the target time of 5 p.m. to restore power and the estimated time was now 8 p.m. Needless to say that didn’t happen. It’s been almost 24 hours.

The house was somewhat of a mess. I think our housemates had been asleep and their children had been unsupervised for a while. There were hair clips and toys and things all over the floors in my bedroom, food spills in the family room and in the hall and bedroom, bowls of food left out to rot, etc. Lots of things to step on, slip in, or trip over in the dark. And it was on its way towards a night lit only with flashlights and candles.

I could find only two flashlights. We had more, but the kids keep taking them. (At our old house we had some nice old-fashioned oil lamps for use during power outages, but our kids destroyed them, like they destroy so many things). Our housemate took the flashlights, since I did not want her to use candles upstairs with her small children, and I made do with candles downstairs. I heated up some baked beans for our housemates and made some instant noodles. I ate crackers and canned herring for dinner. The black pepper and olive oil Triscuits give me terrible heartburn, for future reference. Likely my stress levelhad something to do with it as well. The gas stove works fine, if you light it with a lighter. We kept the refrigerator and freezer closed.

There wasn’t really all that much I could do as it got dark. It was too dark to read. So I sent text messages to people, including Grace, opened the sliding door to cool off the bedroom, and closed my eyes and tried to nap in the candle-light waiting for Grace to bring Veronica, Benjamin, and Elanor home.

She had to wait for a police officer to arrive. She had heard someone in the house, and a number of light bulbs were removed from the basement, and at least one broken. Some wallpaper was torn down in the foyer (what the fuck?)

This situation is unnerving — a woman and children to be walking into a crime scene in progress. The garage door (for humans, not cars) was left open. She still doesn’t have a report number from her call last week. Apparently after a long wait an officer arrived, was very polite and helpful (I have expected to hear a nightmare story about an officer pulling a gun on her and demanding her ID, or at a minimum being a dismissive asshole), and walked through the house with her.

The locks were not broken. It appears that apparently someone has been preparing to strip copper wire and pipe and that this person or persons may have the lock code. We will try to get it changed ASAP, but the thing about setting up some kind of alarm, or surveillance, or whatever, is that we had scheduled three different contractors in the house this week, so it seemed pretty impractical. Also, we don’t actually have any more money to spend on the house at all. And we’re not sure what exactly an alarm would achieve — would we drive 90 minutes up there, if it goes off? Would we call the police, who might take even longer to get out to the property?

The good news is that the attic contractor seemed to be done, with a few quibbles. The floor work looks great. So maybe the place will look better to a potential buyer and the potential will be more clearly visible for the other rooms that still have unfinished floors and stripped wallpaper.

After Grace got home and tried to put Benjamin and Elanor to bed, they young ones very wakeful and cranky because of their disrupted schedule and the strange circumstances (no lights). So Elanor screamed on and off for about thirty minutes. It was probably after 2:00 when I finally got to sleep. I was woken up by tapping on the patio door about 6:00. Grace thinks it was the wild turkeys. Grace’s brother Jim called at 6:20. I was not able to get back to sleep easily so I made a pot of tea and had a glass with some instant grits and re-heated beans. After a while I was able to go back to sleep for a while and woke up after 9:00.

When I finally checked my messages this morning, I had a text from my co-worker Patrick — he had very kindly found and purchased a used generator for us and was on his way over with it. So he showed up and we got it running, in the front yard, with a long extension cable through the window into the house. The main electric panel isn’t set up to patch in a generator. We took a look at the well pump, but it uses 240 volts. So we couldn’t run it. We plugged in the refrigerator and left it running. Maybe we can salvage some of our food, at least the things from the freezer, although they have probably thawed. I’m not sure if we should trust the lunch meat that was in the meat drawer. We can probably eat the eggs.

So I came into work un-showered and now I’m just wondering how long the power will be out. If it is still out tonight, I don’t think we will really be able to pack up and leave tomorrow morning for a vacation. I think we’ll have to stay to help our housemates and their young children deal with the food and water situation. So this power outage might have blown our vacation.

I was hoping to record a conversation last night, using a portable recorder, for Sunday’s podcast. That didn’t happen because Grace got home so late. I thought maybe if the power came on late last night or today I could get it produced and uploaded before we left. I have no idea if we’ll be able to get something together. I suppose we could record with the portable recorder and I could do some basic compression and conversion with Audacity and upload it from work, if we’re still here tomorrow. I guess maybe that’s a contingency plan, if we’re not leaving and the power is still out.

It was raining a bit this morning as I drove into work, but the predictions are for zero point zero zero inches. So we might have sprinkles but we’re not going to get anything that will really help end the dry conditions.

So, lots going on!


Grace and I are at Harvest Moon Cafe for a late breakfast. It’s about 11:15. We still have no power at our home. It’s been almost 48 hours. Some of our neighborhood is back up and running. For example, the gas stations are back up. Some of the traffic lights are back up, although I think one very busy intersection where U. S. 12 meets the on and off ramps for I-94 still has no working traffic light.

That’s about all I have to report. Dinner last night was chana masala, rice, and spinach (boil-in-bag entrees). With a washtub filled with hot water we’ve ben washing Benjamin’s toe (he gave himself a nasty cut running around the driveway barefoot) and cleaning Elanor. My hair looks disgusting and I feel disgusting. At this time I have no real idea when we might have power again. So I’m going to just close out the week and upload this.

Books, Music, Movies, and TV Mentioned This Week

  • Mistaken Identity: Race and Class in the Age of Trump by Asad Haider
  • The Centipede Press Library of Weird Fiction: Arthur Machen by Arthur Machen with an introduction by S. T. Joshi
  • The Book of Jhereg by Steven Brust (omnibus edition containing the first three Vlad Taltos novles Jhereg, Yendi, and Teckla)
  • Elric: The Fortress of the Pearl by Michael Moorcock (and a number of the other Moorcock Collection Elric books and other editions) (finished)
  • “The Stealer of Souls” (Elric novelette collected in Elric: The Revenge of the Rose) (finished)
  • “Kings in Darkness” (Another Elric novelette collected in the same volume) (finished)
  • “The Flame Bringers” (Ditto) (finished)
  • “The Last Enchantment” (An Elric story collected in the same volume) (finished)
  • “To Rescue Tanelorn…” (Ditto) (finished)

Ypsilanti, Michigan
The Week Ending Saturday, July 28th, 2018

Saturday, July 21, 2018

The Week Ending Saturday, July 21st, 2018


The remaining three Elric books came in the mail yesterday. I’m not sure exactly how it happened this way, since the books were all part of the same order. But I managed to open all seven packages received over the course of two days in the same order the books were published in. The last three are:

  • Elric: The Revenge of the Rose
  • Elric: Stormbringer!
  • Elric: The Moonbeam Roads

Our mail carrier stuffed the three separate packages into the mailbox along with another package for Grace. The mailbox wouldn’t close, so she apparently tied it partly-shut with a rubber band. The packages were packed in there so tightly that Veronica had to grunt and use all her strength to pull them out.

The last one is a big book, a doorstop. Unfortunately it also arrived a bit damaged, although not badly damaged enough for me to want to send it back. It’s printed on a different kind of paper than the others: white laser-printer paper instead of the rougher paper one usually finds in paperback books. Does that mean it was print-on-demand? I don’t really know for sure. I’m not really opposed to the idea of print-on-demand books, althoug they aren’t very conducive to serendipitous browsing, as long as they are readable and well-made. Some of the print-on-demand books I’ve acquired accidentally in the past have not been very well-made and have not been as legible as traditionally-printed books.

Yesterday afternoon I took the kids (all except Elanor) to the 5:05 showing of Won’t You Be My Neighbor, the documentary about Fred Rogers. It was at the Quality 16 on Jackson Road, out by my office. It wasn’t a matinee, but the tickets were cheaper than they usually are at the Ann Arbor 20 + IMAX near us on Carpenter Road. So I’ll have to make note of that and consider taking the family there instead of the closer place; when we’re taking a whole gang to a movie, a small difference in ticket price adds up quickly.

I was quite impressed and the kids were engaged enough to mostly sit in their seats and watch. Any movie that could hold the attention of our whole range of ages is all right by me. In fact it’s a very moving story, and also quite thought-provoking. I’ll see it a second time if I can, and write up some notes as I’m able.

We had a pretty simple dinner of leftovers last night and ate sitting out on the back deck, until the mosquitoes started to bite. The kids also burned some more of their leftover sparklers. It was warm but the temperate had come down some, and it wasn’t unbearable. It was a nice relief to be able to sit outside, although I do have a couple of mosquito bites today.

This morning before breakfast I finished reading Elric of Melniboné and Other Stories (since I just read Elric of Melniboné in the form of an old paperback edition, I didn’t feel the need to re-read that novel, just the other material). The biggest piece of other material is the graphic novel “script” called Elric: The Making of a Sorceror which I mentioned last week. It’s an interesting and complex piece of back-story, and worth reading, but I think it would be more fun to read the comics. So I may do that.

I mentioned last week that the material had been freshly edited. That’s true, but I still came across a point where the word “grieves” appears instead of “greaves,” when referring to armor. So make of that what you will. I’m reasonably sure that Moorcock, who grew up reading T. H. White and other authors who wrote in detail about medieval armor, would not have made that particular error. It was probably a “correction,” perhaps one suggested by spell-checking software. Whoops.

For breakfast I made a big pot of Irish oatmeal and a pot of tea. I had my oatmeal with walnuts and butter and just a little maple syrup. After cleaning up breakfast Grace and I went downstairs to record an interview with our friend Meredith. I’m editing that now. We are going to try to squeeze in a second interview this evening, with a guy named Matthew who works with the Huron Valley DSA. So we are hopefully getting traction on next weekend’s podcast episode. If we could get into the habit of having one or two shows in reserve it would seriously reduce our stress level on Sundays!

Really it’s been a pretty low-key weekend, as our weekends go. And we really needed a low-key weekend, so I’m grateful.


The bedtime story, after some argument with the kids who wanted to watch Lego Ninjago, was the rest of “Many Meetings,” the first chapter of the second book of Tolkien’s The Fellowship of the Ring. I had a feeling they’d want to get back to Fellowship eventually, and last night Joshua wordlessly pickup up the big omnibus paperback edition and handed it to me. In “Many Meetings” Frodo, after a long chat with Gandalf, and recuperating amazingly quickly, attends a banquet, meets Glóin, is reunited with Bilbo, and listens to Bilbo’s long poem. We are introduced to Arwen, although she does not say anything.

Frodo is in the proximity of Gandalf and Elrond, at the “grown-up’s” elevated table, up on a dais, while Sam and the rest of the lesser folks are lower down, presumably so the fancy people don’t have to watch them chew their food. But his interest is largely with the secondary characters; he chats quite a bit with Glóin, who tells him about how the rebuilding of Dale and the halls of the King Under the Mountain is coming along. It sounds beautiful. Frodo expresses a desire to see it someday; but if you have read the end of Frodo’s story, you know that he will not.

Bilbo’s role in all of this is interesting. We learn that Bilbo has been to see Dale, but a while ago, and since then he’s living in a kind of timeless retirement in Rivendell. The tiny hobbit is treated with considerable reverence. Elrond is quite deferential to him, and Aragorn seems happy to drop everything and help him work on his poetry. I took a crack at chanting/singing the entire thing, and it’s one of the more interesting poems in the book, with a complex, varying rhyme scheme, with end-of-line rhymes, partial internal rhymes, and alliteration:

A ship then new they built for him
of mithril and of elven-glass
with shining prow; no shaven oar
nor sail she bore on silver mast:
the Silmaril as lantern light
and banner bright with living flame
to gleam thereon by Elbereth
herself was set, who thither came
and wings immortal made for him,
and laid on him undying doom,
to sail the shoreless skies and come
behind the Sun and light of Moon.

Note the alliteration “ship/shining/shaven,” the rhyme “oar/bore,” the alliterative pair “lantern/light” combined with the rhymes with the alliterative pair “banner/bright”, near-rhymes like “flame/gleam,” mid-line rhymes like “made/laid,” and even alliterative word pairs spaced farther apart, like “set/sail.” But my best attempt at performing this poem couldn’t make it not feel much too long, and this part bored the kids (and even bored me a bit).

I enjoyed hearing about Dale and enjoyed the reunion with Bilbo, who is apparently fascinated to hear all the gossip from the Shire (and there must be a lot of it, since he’s been gone for something like seventeen years. Fortunately we as the readers are not subjected to all the gossip. Ultimately not much happens in this chapter, but it does give us a little respite from the action, and get us itching for some bigger news and storytelling, which we will get in the next chapter, “The Council of Elrond.”

I started reading Elric: The Fortress of the Pearl last night after the bedtime story, and by the end of breakfast this morning I was fifty pages in. Moorcock’s style in this novel seems a little looser and more fun. It makes sense because while this book fits into the chronology just after Elric of Melniboné, it was written quite a bit later, and published in 1989 (the first Elric stories to appear date back to 1961, and the first novel appeared in 1972).

The central MacGuffin seems to play on the “pearl of great price” from the parable in Matthew. The story setup makes it so that our protagonist, Elric, doesn’t actually care in the least about the pearl, but needs to acquire it to save his own life and the life of a young hostage. (Elric at this point in the story doesn’t care all that much about his own life, but the hostage situation, along with his desire not to hurt his love, Cymoril. Parts are right on the verge of genre parody, but presented entirely deadpan. I get the feeling that Moorcock loves riding that line just on the verge of silliness.

I fear I may have accidentally committed myself to reading many, many volumes of Moorcock’s fiction. I don’t believe they all can be good, so I think it’s necessary to do some triage in advance, and look at reviews and recommendations. For example, this blog post contains pretty brutal reviews of the Corum material. One of the basic story problems, when introducing magic, or magical creatures, or magical weapons, into a story is that it can become too easy to solve all the story problems that arise. In Elric of Melniboné there are dragons, but Moorcock knew that introducing a magical version of the B-1 bomber would take a lot of tension out of battle scenes. So the dragons are severely weakened: they have to sleep most of the time. At any given time when dragons might be useful, there’s a good chance they’re busy recharging. In Tolkien, this might be called the “why can’t the Eagles just carry Sam and Frodo directly to the Cracks of Doom?” problem.

According to blog post author “Arthur B,” in the Corum stories Moorcock fails to put in-universe restraints on magic powers:

As for the actual plot this time around, it starts out well but runs into trouble when it turns out Moorcock can only think of two ways for any particular crisis to be resolved in the long run: either Corum summons supernatural aid with the Eye of Rhynn, or the Hand of Kwll acts of its own accord to do the thing the reader has been yelling out for Corum to do for several paragraphs. Such interventions are interesting the first time they happen, but of course once the reader learns what the Hand and Eye can do the magic is lost and tension becomes that much more difficult to establish; across this book and the next one, Corum will regularly get in a scrape, I’ll yell at him “Use the Hand/Eye, idiot!”, he’ll invariably do it and I’ll roll my eyes and try to suppress the urge to throw the book across the room.

This, by the way, is also one of the reasons I gradually lost interest in the fun-but-ultimately-tedious Nightside series by Simon R. Green; Green’s protagonist always solves the crisis in the same way, activating his nearly limitless magical powers. Supposedly it gives him a headache to do this, but there aren’t many real consequences. Meanwhile in the Elric stories, Elric knows very well that solving the problem with his “black blade,” Stormbringer, is not really going to leave him better off.

So, perhaps I’ll skip the Corum stories, or at least save them to consider later. From various reviews I’ve read, it also seems like perhaps story chronology is not the best order to read the Elric material; maybe the publication order is better?

The Pottscast

Last night Grace and I managed to record an interview with Matthew Haugen, co-chair of Huron Valley Democratic Socialists of America. It was a relatively brief interview as our podcast interviews go, under an hour. It will probably become a podcast episode next Sunday. So we are, surprisingly, ahead of schedule! Maybe we can get some better work out there if we aren’t always scrambling to record on the night the show needs to go up.

Grace is trying a combination of Unisom and Vitamin B6 at bedtime to reduce nausea and help her sleep through the night. It seems to have helped. I only got to exchange a few words with her as I got out the door this morning, but she seems to have slept better than she has been. Once we got the baby and the four-year-old calmed down last night I had a pretty good night’s sleep as well.

No one was up yet this morning when I left. I went to the Coffee House Creamery on Jackson Road and tried their peanut butter and banana sandwich with an apple and a small coffee. I wanted a caffeine hit, but not a large one. I’m not sure what all that fruit will do to my blood sugar or my digestion. We’ll see.


Last night’s drive home was quite strange. It normally takes me about twenty minutes. But last night it took me over an hour and a half. Traffic on I-94 was slowed to a stop/start crawl for miles. There were no signs and no visible accidents or emergency vehicles, no lane closures, and no indication what was going on. I should have gotten off at State Street, but I thought “how bad could it be? It’s only a couple of miles to my exit.” I left the office about 7:05, and got home about 8:45.

I never did find out what was wrong, but as I got to the exit to 23 for Flint and Toledo (my exit), I found that I-94 was completely closed at the exit, so that all traffic had to get off the freeway.

Looking at the news today, I think it had to do with a truck that rolled over spilling a load of bricks and cinderblocks all over the highway, although I didn’t see anything. Grace had no trouble with a section of I-94 further east.

So, despite my best efforts, we ate dinner quite late: roast chicken and salad. Grace had made plans to meet the attic contractors at our old house in Saginaw at 8:00 a.m. We did our best to get her to bed early (about 10:00). After herding the kids through kitchen cleanup, I tried to read them “The Council of Elrond” from Fellowship. That didn’t work out so well—they were just not paying much attention. So I gave up on that plan and went to bed myself. After getting up three more times to quiet them down, and once to hand Elanor off to Veronica because she seemed to be demanding a bedtime snack, I managed to fall asleep about 12:30. About 3:30, Elanor woke me up (she didn’t wake up the kids she was right next to, of course—they all sleep like logs). I had Joshua cuddle with her and she fell back asleep, and fortunately she slept peacefully the rest of the night.

It seems like we may have to feed her an extra little meal—she always seems to want more food before going to sleep. She’s not actually speaking words we can understand yet, so it’s just a matter of trying different things to figure out what she actually wants. Food seems to be the thing.

So my sleep was pretty broken, but I got more-or-less just enough. Grace managed to get up and out on time to meet the attic contractors, who have blown us off and missed every deadline, failed to finish weeks after the original due date, and left trash all over the place. Apparently when they got there, they found squatters living in the house. They have broken into the house and the garage.

Our nosy neighbors were really good at harassing us and our realtor about the overgrown lawn. While we lived there, they were really good at calling the police and child protective services because of transgressions like me walking around the neighborhood with my infant son in a backpack carrier, or our children playing in our own yard. But actual criminal trespass? Unnoticed, apparently.

Grace is going to get in touch with the police and we’ll see what we need to do next. We are at the point where we simply can’t keep the property safe from further deterioration and vandalism and trespass. That’s got to factor into our next few decisions about getting more work done on the property, somehow, but I’m not yet sure how.


It turns out I was wrong about the squatters. Since Grace described people fleeing through a window in a downstairs bedroom at about 7:55 a.m., I assumed that people had been sleeping there. She didn’t find any evidence of that. The lock on the garage was broken and some things were taken. There wasn’t anything of much value in there: mostly there were painting and plastering supplies for the work we were doing on the house. There was no indication that the broke the locks on the main house. This leads us to believe that the people leaving may have had some connection to our contractors, as they may have had the lockbox code. Or maybe someone conveniently left a window open. There’s nothing of value left in the main house itself either, unless contractors left tools or equipment there. We didn’t see any evidence that they were trying to strip wires or pipes.

Grace filed a police report. The police in Saginaw don’t even send an officer out for property crimes. You just “fill out” a form over the phone, or online. In a week we’re supposed to get a case number.

We could try to put an alarm system on the house but we have contractors scheduled to come and go all week, so I’m not really sure how that would work. It’s another reminder that we really have to get out of the business of owning a second home.

On the positive side, Grace found that the plaster and paint work in the front room actually came out looking very nice. So there’s that. She has scheduled a guy to refinish the floor in the front room. We’ll see if he can get it done this week and how it looks. The attic folks are supposed to come back. They have blown us off repeatedly and delayed for weeks and weeks. If they don’t show up and finish this week, I’m going to talk to my credit card company and/or our attorney.

The broken stone wall in front of the house was stacked up, but not mortared yet. Yes, it’s been weeks and weeks. We’re not very impressed with that.

Tuesday Night

I got home last night without any major traffic backups, which was nice. I had a pretty productive work day yesterday, fixing another firmware issue. When I got home, they saved me a piece of pot pie. The kids are getting gradually better about doing meal cleanup.

I received two books in the mail from Indoo. They are a mixed bag, shipping-wise. Often, they package books in packages that are wide pieces of cardboard with a low-tack glue between them. Those books usually arrive in perfect condition. This time I got two used books, stuffed together in a bubble-wrap mailer. Both arrived with covers slightly crumpled and damaged from the shipping. They’re not terribly damaged, but I’m starting to feel like by ordering books like this, I’m complicit in damaging them. So I’m a bit angry at Indoo, for not coming up with safer ways to ship their books, and with myself, for continuing to order books.

I’d swear off ordering books from vendors through Alibris and say I’m only going to order books through Nicola’s, but the books I order through Nicola’s often arrive damaged, too.

Anyway. I received The Book of Jhereg, which is an omnibus volume of the first three Vlad Taltos novels by Steven Brust (the guide to pronouncing his characters’ names in the front of the book helpfully tells me that he pronounces his name “Broost.”) The book itself is a somewhat ugly reprint edition; the cover graphics look fuzzy, and the text looks like it was scanned. It’s not as bad as some print-on-demand books, but I’m getting kind of disgusted by how bad so many modern books look.

I also received a copy of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, the Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition trade paperback with the cover by Daniel Clowes. More about that one another time. I’m embarrassed to admit that I still haven’t read this novel. There’s also apparently a similar edition of Dracula by Bram Stoker and I’ll probably need to add that to the library some day; I’m not sure I even have Dracula in any edition.

Last night’s story was three more chapters from Down and Out in Paris and London. We learned more about the life of a plongeur. Orwell claims he was working seventeen hours a day at a restaurant during this time. The sanitation situation is laughable. It’s not really meant to be as horrific a book as, say, The Jungle by Upton Sinclair. The description of the kitchen is merely disgusting, not likely to be fatal, or at least not very often. At the end of Chapter 21, Orwell (Eric Blair) has given notice and is heading to London, to take a job as a caregiver. He imagines this will be a more civilized setting and easier work:

I pictured myself loafing in the country lanes, knocking thistle-heads off with my stick, feeding on roast lamb and treacle tart, and sleeping ten hours a night in sheets smelling of lavender.

I honestly can’t really remember what happens in the second half of the book, but I’m pretty sure Orwell only describes his hopes here in order to humorously dash them later.

Chapter 22 is sort of a “lessons learned” or “theory” chapter. In it, Orwell makes a short but pretty devastating and spot-on critique of low-wage restaurant labor and the broken relationship between customers, owners, and workers, with its misplaced incentives, and asks us to consider how it could be better.

I think one should start by saying that a plongeur is one of the slaves of the modem world. Not that there is any need to whine over him, for he is better off than many manual workers, but still, he is no freer than if he were bought and sold. His work is servile and without art; he is paid just enough to keep him alive; his only holiday is the sack. He is cut off from marriage, or, if he marries, his wife must work too.

While the details of the material conditions of labor have changed somewhat, but only somewhat, none of the fundamentals have truly changed. Then Orwell asks “why is it like this?”

He earns his bread in the sweat of his brow, but it does not follow that he is doing anything useful; he may be only supplying a luxury which, very often, is not a luxury.

Orwell has spent several chapters detailing how the “luxury” of restaurant and hotel dining is pretty much a bare-faced act of fraud. He compares the slavery of the plongeur to the slavery of a rickshaw puller in India:

In any Far Eastern town there are rickshaw pullers by the hundred, black wretches weighing eight stone, clad in loin-cloths. Some of them are diseased; some of them are fifty years old. For miles on end they trot in the sun or rain, head down, dragging at the shafts, with the sweat dripping from their grey moustaches.


…there is no real need for gharries and rickshaws; they only exist because Orientals consider it vulgar to walk. They are luxuries, and, as anyone who has ridden in them knows, very poor luxuries. They afford a small amount of convenience, which cannot possibly balance the suffering of the men and animals.

Similarly with the plongeur. He is a king compared with a rickshaw puller or a gharry pony, but his case is analogous. He is the slave of a hotel or a restaurant, and his slavery is more or less useless.

Orwell points out something that everyone who learns to cook eventually learns:

They are supposed to provide luxury, but in reality they provide only a cheap, shoddy imitation of it. Nearly everyone hates hotels. Some restaurants are better than others, but it is impossible to get as good a meal in a restaurant as one can get, for the same expense, in a private house. No doubt hotels and restaurants must exist, but there is no need that they should enslave hundreds of people. What makes the work in them is not the essentials; it is the shams that are supposed to represent luxury. Smartness, as it is called, means, in effect, merely that the staff work more and the customers pay more; no one benefits except the proprietor, who will presently buy himself a striped villa at Deauville. Essentially, a ‘smart’ hotel is a place where a hundred people toil like devils in order that two hundred may pay through the nose for things they do not really want. If the nonsense were cut out of hotels and restaurants, and the work done with simple efficiency, plongeurs might work six or eight hours a day instead often or fifteen.

Orwell then tries to pinpoint the “why.” He does not have a deep critique of the concepts of capital and ownership here, but instead talks about the invisible ideology of the owner class. Orwell concludes that

I believe that this instinct to perpetuate useless work is, at bottom, simply fear of the mob. The mob (the thought runs) are such low animals that they would be dangerous if they had leisure; it is safer to keep them too busy to think.

And it’s really remarkable how little things have changed for the people “in between,” those we might call the middle class:

Very few cultivated people have less than (say) four hundred pounds a year, and naturally they side with the rich, because they imagine that any liberty conceded to the poor is a threat to their own liberty. Foreseeing some dismal Marxian Utopia as the alternative, the educated man prefers to keep things as they are. Possibly he does not like his fellow-rich very much, but he supposes that even the vulgarest of them are less inimical to his pleasures, more his kind of people, than the poor, and that he had better stand by them. It is this fear of a supposedly dangerous mob that makes nearly all intelligent people conservative in their opinions.


Fear of the mob is a superstitious fear. It is based on the idea that there is some mysterious, fundamental difference between rich and poor, as though they were two different races, like Negroes and white men. But in reality there is no such difference. The mass of the rich and the poor are differentiated by their incomes and nothing else, and the average millionaire is only the average dishwasher dressed in a new suit.

Ignoring for the moment Orwell’s unscientific view of race (which was, to be fair, his culture of origin’s consensus of the time), I want to take note of this truth-bomb. He notes further:

Everyone who has mixed on equal terms with the poor knows this quite well.

And yet in America in 2018 we still revere capital and many of us can scarcely imagine a politics which defends the poor first, or political leaders who don’t come from the class of those with inherited wealth, or who aren’t so-called “job creators.”

From this ignorance a superstitious fear of the mob results quite naturally. The educated man pictures a horde of submen, wanting only a day’s liberty to loot his house, burn his books, and set him to work minding a machine or sweeping out a lavatory. ‘Anything,’ he thinks, ‘any injustice, sooner than let that mob loose.’ He does not see that since there is no difference between the mass of rich and poor, there is no question of setting the mob loose. The mob is in fact loose now, and — in the shape of rich men — is using its power to set up enormous treadmills of boredom, such as ‘smart’ hotels.

Wow. So where’s the next step? That’s the kind of thing Grace and I like to talk about, in the podcast. What would a service industry not designed to serve as a “treadmill of boredom” look like?

The kids were perhaps not as interested in this chapter as they were in the chapters describing the gross but funny conditions of Orwell’s work. But I hope that by understanding the previous chapters, eventually they will get to the larger questions.

Wednesday Morning

I got Veronica’s e-mail account working again (I had set her mail account quota, so that I would get e-mail messages reminding me to clean out more of her old mail; apparently if an account is over-quota, you can’t log in, but the error you get just looks the same as the message for an incorrect password. Not helpful at all; how are you supposed to know, if you aren’t the administrator? And how are you supposed to clean out the mail, if you can’t log in? I can understand mail bouncing, when an account is over-quota, but not refusing Webmail logins.)

This morning I read the first four chapters of Jhereg. So I’m taking a break from Moorcock to read Brust and I’m taking a break from a pile of political books to read Moorcock, or something like that… honestly, I’m generally happiest when I’m reading at least half a dozen books at once, jumping between them. I’m sure that doesn’t work for everyone, but it works for me.

How is Jhereg? This novel goes all the way back to 1983, and it isn’t really “urban fantasy.” It doesn’t seem quite like “high fantasy.” It’s fantasy more-or-less in the mold of a writer like Roger Zelazny, where there is magic but also science-fictional elements.

The prose style is serviceable but perhaps slightly bland. It moves along pretty well. The dialogue is snappy and enjoyable for the most part, although occasionally a conversation will be a bit of an info-dump. The protagonist is an assassin, which I suppose makes him an anti-hero, and it makes the milieu a criminal underworld. I’m not sure what to think of that yet. In this fictional world, people who are dead can often be brought back to life, so maybe at least some of our protagonist’s murders didn’t really “stick.” I’m reminded just a bit of Altered Carbon. We haven’t gotten a lot of detail about the world yet (and actually I think that’s a strength, as I prefer to discover the world-building in the context of an unfolding story, rather than getting a big bolus of explanation). Some scenes are quite nice. The scene where Vlad acquires his familiar is well-done. So I’ve found several things to interest me, and I nothing (yet) to tempt me to stop reading. That’s about as strong an endorsement as I’m willing to give after only four chapters.

Because I was up and out fairly early, I had breakfast at Zingerman’s Roadhouse. I used to go there a couple of times a week when I was commuting from Saginaw. Now it’s been a few months. Breakfast was a special that involved pierogies, scrambled eggs, and bacon. The combination wasn’t terrific but it wasn’t bad. I still appreciate the quality of their coffee, and I always get a fruit plate, so I guess you could call that a balanced breakfast. I probably won’t be hungry again until three or four.

I got gas (for my car, not from breakfast).

I got a call from Nicola’s books. Joshua’s zombie books is in. I’ll pick that up today.

It rained a bit last night and it has cooled down a bit, so this part of summer is actually pretty pleasant, just now. You know what would make it incredibly pleasant? If the contractors finished up their work on the old house this week, and all did a good job!


I got home at a reasonable hour and gave Joshua his book. The kids have been playing with their Legos in the garage — Grace has forbidden Legos in the house because they won’t keep them picked up, and baby Elanor is likely to eat them. Grace had two pans of cornbread in the oven and a pot of black-eyed peas on the stove. I opened up a bottle of sangria and we had a very nice dinner. She didn’t have a ham hock to cook with the black-eyed peas, but just threw in the rest of the package of bacon from Saturday, and it tasted great. I think we’re going to try to keep black-eyed peas in regular rotation.

Grace’s combo of antihistamine sleep aid and vitamin B6 has been helping quite a bit with her nausea, although she has been having weird dreams. She told me this morning that she had a dream about being lost in her old college library, losing all her books, and stumbling into new sections of the library she didn’t know existed.

We didn’t have a story last night. We were all feeling pretty tired. I read a couple more chapters of Jhereg. There’s an evocative scene in which Vlad does magic. We get a little more back-story as Vlad goes to Castle Black. The storytelling and writing are competent and I’ve really got no reason to complain. I’m still reading it with relative satisfaction. But it doesn’t really soar. I feel like Brust was still making his bones in this volume. I’m hoping that the later books soar.

This morning I read a few more chapters in Elric: The Fortress of the Pearl. Moorcock’s writing in this book is a bit more poetic and fun, although as I mentioned, it constantly edges on self-parody. Elric enters a dream world, and a character shows up, called Jaspar Colinadous, with his black and white winged cat, whiskers, who, it turns out, is far more powerful than a real cat has any right to be.

This character might be a version of Jhary-a-Conel, which might be a version of Jerry Cornelius, but I’m really not sure, nor do I care very much. This aspect of Moorcock’s work doesn’t really impress or interest me that much, especially when he uses one of these characters as a deus ex machina. In this story, he just appears, defeats some baddies that conveniently arrive, then disappears, not having really contributed anything to the plot at all. I think this kind of thing was more fun for Moorcock than it is for the reader.

The annoying bird woke us up again. I did not manage to get to work early, though. In fact I didn’t really have time for breakfast, so at work drank tea and ate some jerky that was in the refrigerator for just such an contingency.


The damned bird was back, pecking at our window at the same time: 6:00. I climbed up to see it but it did not come back.

Last night was kind of a bust. I’m not sure if it’s the time of year, or maybe I’ve just been eating too many carbs. I was just plain sluggish. All i wanted to do was lie around and read. But my concentration wasn’t the best, because part of me also wanted to doze off. I read a few more chapters of Jhereg, then eventually made myself vertical again and we had dinner. Grace made a pot of rice and a meat sauce with ground turkey and anchovies and put some hard-boiled duck eggs in it, making a pseudo-Indian dish.

It was pretty but something bothers me about duck eggs. I don’t mind them as an ingredient. The texture is just different enough from chicken eggs that they bother me. So I had rice with cashews and sriracha, and some more of the bottle of sangria in the refrigerator. I think this is the end of the sangria for the year. It was gone, or nearly gone, from Costco.

I did eat a little bit of the sauce, and a bit of leftover greens.

The kids did most of the cleanup, which was a relief because I just didn’t have much energy. It was late and we didn’t even really consider reading a story.

For breakfast I had a breakfast BLT sandwich at Harvest Moon, with coffee, and finished part 2 of The Fortress of the Pearl. This story is competently written, but it just isn’t as interesting as I’d hoped. The sequences in the dream world are evocative but, big surprise, when nothing is necessarily real, or what it seems, and likely has no consequences, then the storytelling impact is lessened.

The way that Elric is portrayed in this sequence is also strange to me. Elric, at least the Elric in the stories I’ve read so far, is not a very admirable or even sympathetic character, but one of his more consistent aspects is that he has an iron will — an obsessive will, in fact — which enables him to stick to his goals through terrible trials. But in the dream worlds he is constantly distracted from his goals by the prospect of ease and comfort. It seems very out-of-character. The dreamthief Oone has to constantly work to remind him of their goal.

Despite his constant failings and displays of weakness and distractability, Oone apparently becomes attracted to him, which seems unconvincing, as he is not admirable in this sequence. Elric’s “dream self” is then unfaithful to Cymoril, but we’re not sure why. We’re told this is of no consequence at all in the real world. That just seems like a cop-out so that Moorcock could write some sex scenes, but even so, they are hardly very salacious, and so I’m not sure what the point was.

Per the Tor re-read,

Together they must pass through the seven dream-lands: Sadanor, the Land of Dreams-in-Common; Marador, the Land of Old Desires; Paranor, the Land of Lost Beliefs; Celador, the Land of Forgotten Love; Imador, the Land of New Ambition; Falador, the Land of Madness — and the seventh, which has no name “save any name the inhabitants shall give it. But there, if anywhere, you will find the Fortress of the Pearl.”

This sounds interesting, but our heroes spend so little time in each dream-land that they are not really well-differentiated. Some of the dream-lands seem to last barely a page or two. A lot of confusing things come and go, and seem never to get the slightest explanation. Some of it is probably “multiverse crap.” Oone even mentions London at one point, which makes no sense because the word means nothing to Elric.

I’ll finish it, but it’s pretty clear at this point that this is not the best that the Elric stories have to offer. So I’m not sure I will even keep this volume. It also suggests that the Moorcock Collection’s organization of Elric material by the in-universe chronology really isn’t the best way to read it. Maybe I should have read them in the publication order, as they are collected in the Del Rey series called Chronicles of the Last Emperor or Melniboné.

I could probably use the set I’ve got, and pick through it to find the stories in publication order. Maybe that’s what I should do, after finishing The Fortress of the Pearl. (But — looking at reviews of the volumes that collect the material in publication order, I see Moorcock fans complaining that it is confusing to read the stories in that order. Sigh).

Either way, I feel compelled to press on until I discover the Elric material that really lives up to its reputation, or discover the hard way that none of it is really all that and a bag of chips, and it just doesn’t hold up that well, even if it felt revolutionary to fresh-faced readers discovering it in a very different time and place.

It also makes me curious to track down some of Moorcock’s standalone novels, and see if they work better for me. He’s written so much — is it seventy novels? — that it seems like some of it must certainly ring my cherries! Or maybe I’m just too old and picky and cynical.


Last night after work I went to Costco as usual and I bought a smaller-than-usual load of food: fruit, pancake mix, biscuit mix, lunch meat, a big box of cut-up rotisserie chicken, one container of salmon, some canned olives, English muffins, sliced cheese, whole wheat bread, maple syrup, sweet corn, a ready-to-bake cheese pizza, and a few other things to re-stock our kitchen. For dinner we had the salmon, the cheese pizza, and the sweet corn. The house was quite trashed, so there was a significant delay while we waited for the kids to clean up some of their messes. The corn was not local, and we really should be buying local corn, but it was stil tasty and we only ate half of it.

After dinner and a bit of cleanup, the kids really wanted to watch the Miyazaki animated film Castle in the Sky. It was actually Benjamin, the four-year-old, who asked to see it. It was relatively late, but since it was a Friday night and they had been, ultimately, fairly agreeable about doing chores, I let them down into the basement, found the DVD in one of our still-packed boxes, and started watching with them. I came upstairs about halfway through the movie to let them finish it themselves.

Castle in the Sky is one of the better animated Studio Ghibli movies, and has some of the best outdoor scenes and some of the best music. It’s immersive and slow, however, and so really benefits from a big screen. I was a little surprised that Benjamin wanted to watch this one, since I didn’t think his attention span was really up for it. And shortly after I came upstairs, Grace and I started hearing the sounds of screaming bickering and fights of some kind downstairs. It looks like the movie couldn’t hold his attention after all. So that was the end of the movie, and we sent them to bed.

I kept waiting for the big thunderstorm we’ve been promised would come along and help end the near-drought conditions here. It didn’t really materialize. We only got sprinklings, and a lot of oppressive humidity. It rained at least a bit during the night, but we really didn’t get the long, gentle, soaking rain that we need. And yesterday’s prediction of an 80% chance of rain with an estimated three-quarters of an inch for today has been downgraded to a 40% chance with less than a quarter of an inch predicted. We might have thunderstorms early this evening but I’m not optimistic.

Amazon: The End of an Error

Yesterday I managed to close my Amazon account. It’s been about 20 years. It took some effort, including a live chat with a rep. I first saved my order history, because I found it interesting. I ordered my very first item from Amazon in 1998. Back then I don’t think I really thought of them as the oncoming storm that would destroy most brick-and-mortar bookstores and, eventually, many other kinds of store.

Almost all the things I bought from Amazon over the years were books. A lot of them were technical books, particularly mathematics or programming, that I would have needed to order in some way since local bookstores post-Borders almost never stock them. And a number of them were old books.

Typical examples:

  • Programming in Prolog: Using the ISO Standard by W. F. Clocksin and C. S. Mellis
  • Attending Daedalus: Gene Wolfe, Artifice and the Reader by Peter Wright
  • C++ Templates: The Complete Guide by David Vandevoorde and Nicolai M. Josuttis
  • Chaucer: The General Prologue and Physician’s Tale (Unabridged Audiobook on CD, in Middle English)
  • Diamond Dogs, Turquoise Days (Gollancz British ed.) by Alastair Reynolds

I plased 5 orders in 1998, 7 orders in 1999, 5 orders in 2000, and 2 orders in 2001. I must have then had an “Amazon is bad, or at least unnecessary” phase in 2002 and 2003, since I ordered nothing from them. In 2004 I broke my “Amazon fast and placed one order, which consisted of Miyazaki DVDs and homeschool math textbooks.

Then apparently the floodgates were open, since I placed 17 orders in 2005, 18 orders in 2006, 12 orders in 2007, etc., up to a high-water mark in 2011 when I placed 32 separate orders.

I must have felt guilty and known by that point that supporting Amazon was problematic, since I placed no orders in 2012. Then, I remember, while I was unemployed in 2013, I felt that I needed to quickly acquire books on iOS programming, JavaScript, Python, Scala, and other technologies to try to prepare myself for job interviews, so I placed a lot of interviews in 2013. But that was the last year I ordered anything from Amazon.

These days when I want to browse, I go to Nicola’s Books. If I am looking for a specific book in print, like Mistaken Identity by Asad Haider, I order it from Nicola’s. If I’m looking for something older and out of print, I will often order it from Alibris. Sometimes I will order from Powell’s.

There are still some good used bookstores in Ann Arbor itself although because I no longer live in the city itself, and the parking situation is often pretty obnoxious, I rarely visit them. I’ve heard good things about Literati bookstore but I just don’t usually get downtown.

I recommend that you also delete your Amazon account, if you have one, and never order from them again.

I’ll give you a pass if you have something you absolutely need from Amazon that isn’t available elsewhere, or it is so much cheaper from Amazon that it may as well not be available elsewhere, and the cost is really an issue for you. But mostly, I don’t think anyone needs Amazon, and the world would be a far better place if it didn’t exist. So I urge you to boycott them completely, if you can, in all forms, especially Prime, and their streaming content, and their spy machines.

Elric Revisited and Spoiled

While I was half-watching the first half of Castle in the Sky, I re-read the article “Elric: A New Reader’s Guide” by editor John Davey, which closes the book Elric: Stormbringer! After getting most of the way through Elric: The Fortress of the Pearl, I decided that I’m just not that excited about it. I’ll probably finish it, but I was itching to read some of the older Elric material. I think I’m pretty well convinced that reading the Elric material in the in-universe chronological order is not the best way to enjoy it.

I took out a drawing pad and pencil and tried to make sense of the Elric stories and their publication history, and how they have been adapted, retrofitted, and retconned into various volumes over the years. This quickly became an ungainly diagram covered with arrows and dotted lines, but I think the relevant gist of it runs as follows. The original Elric stories, and the ones that are the most famous, appeared in pulp magazines in the years 1961-1964. Davey’s article calls them “novellas.” I think (and I’m guessing here) that the first one, The Dreaming City is about 10,000 or 12,000 words long. Wikipedia refers to the first six as “novelettes” and the next four as “novellas.” Borrowed from Wikipedia, here’s the list of six novelettes:

  • “The Dreaming City” (Science Fantasy No. 47, June 1961)
  • “While the Gods Laugh” (Science Fantasy No. 49, October 1961)
  • “The Stealer of Souls” (Science Fantasy No. 51, February 1962)
  • “Kings in Darkness” (Science Fantasy No. 54, August 1962)
  • “The Flame Bringers” (Science Fantasy No. 55, October 1962); retitled “The Caravan of Forgotten Dreams” in some later collections.
  • “To Rescue Tanelorn…” (Science Fantasy No. 56, December 1962)

And the four novellas that followed:

  • “Dead God’s Homecoming” (Science Fantasy No. 59, June 1963)
  • “Black Sword’s Brothers” (Science Fantasy No. 61, October 1963)
  • “Sad Giant’s Shield” (Science Fantasy No. 63, February 1964)
  • “Doomed Lord’s Passing” (Science Fantasy No. 64, April 1964)

The first five novelettes were collected in The Stealer of Souls. That collection excluded “To Rescue Tannelorn…” which is not, strictly speaking, and Elric story, because Elric does not appear, although it is set in the same storyline. The four later novellas are collected in Stormbringer.

Last night I read “The Dreaming City” and I’m here to tell you that yes, the old Elric material is better. Elric, while having a few specific characteristics, really is, as Moorcock refers to him in one of his introductions, a “generic” character. He’s a manifestation of what Moorcock called the Eternal Champion — in this case, a particularly doomed one. This genericity means that he doesn’t actually lend himself all that well, it seems to me, to featuring in full-length novels. There just isn’t enough him there to really achieve anything like the character development and depth of characterization that has come to define the successful modern novel. But in the shorter stories, he really can fully be that Eternal Champion, that archetype if you will, and the stories can do what they do best, which is to very energetically and beautifully tell the dark tales of the doomed, star-crossed adventurer. In the “novelette” length, a story with a main character who really isn’t a fully realized, modern character isn’t missing anything, in the same way that Beowulf isn’t missing anything despite the fact that it isn’t a modern novel and the main character doesn’t have a rich inner life and we don’t learn about the minutiae of his daily grind.

In my view, it isn’t really important to read the stories in their in-universe chronological order. Moorcock pretty clearly didn’t have a full story arc for Elric worked out. He didn’t have all his multiverse nonsense worked out either. And here I’m going to spoil it for you. “The Dreaming City” starts in media res — in the middle of things. In fact, it actually starts near the end of things, or at least the end of some things. It’s midnight in in the history of the Dreaming City, Imrryr. Elric shows up with a mercenary army and destroys the city. In the course of attempting to rescue his love, Cymoril, Cymoril is killed. That’s pretty dark, and pretty weird for the opening story in a series of stories. But that’s the order that readers at the time would have experienced the novellas, and it’s okay to experience them in that original publication order.

The original novellas end Elric’s story, as he dies in “Doomed Lord’s Passing” (go figure).

In my opinion, everything Moorcock wrote in the Elric universe, or retconned together, or revised into the larger story cycles, is thus gratuitious, in that it was a gift unasked-for, and, perhaps, unneeded. I’m not saying all the later material is not worth reading. I haven’t read it all. But I am saying that it really does seem like it is “second-tier” Elric. Maybe some of it is really great, but I’m not ready to vouch for it as a whole, and I’m inclined to agree with the reviewers at the Ferret Brain blog who would suggest that you read the novelettes, the novellas, and maybe the prequel novel Elric of Melniboné, then stop. Or, at least, consider stopping, because in my opinion the later material just isn’t going to give you the Melnibóner that the early work does.

So last night I read “The Dreaming City.” As a short novelette, it is a quick read — you can probably finish it in under an hour. And it was terrific. Alliterative, energetic prose. I’m not going to apologize for the sexism or the violence; it is what it is. It’s still great despite the fact that the only female character is alseep for most of the story, and then killed (but, I suppose a “trigger warning” is in order).

If like me you have the Gollancz Michael Moorcock Collection volumes, reading the earlier stories in publication order becomes a bit complicated. You have to jump around between three volumes. This shows the extent to which Moorcock did “infill,” filling in story in a chronology that began near its end. So In my recent Gollancz/Orion editions:

  • “The Dreaming City” and “While the Gods Laugh” are collected in Elric: The Sailor on the Seas of Fate
  • “The Stealer of Souls,” “Kings in Darkness,” “The Caravan of Forgotten Dreams” (aka “The Flame Bringers”), and “To Rescue Tanelorn…” are collected in Elric: The Revenge of the Rose
  • The next four novellas, “Dead God’s Homecoming,” “Black Sword’s Brothers,” “Sad Giant’s Shield,” and “Doomed Lord’s Passing” are collected in Elric: Stormbringer! as the four “books” of the novel called Stormbringer.

If you are starting from scratch, it really seems to me that the 2008 Del Rey collection Elric: The Stealer of Souls is a good place to start, and may in fact also be a good place to finish. It contains the contents of both The Stealer of Souls and Stormbringer collections. If you get through that, then consider reading the prequel novel Elric of Melnibon&eacute. If you’re still enjoying it, then consider reading the more modern Elric material in any order you like. But that one volume might be plenty, or even more than enough.

Please not that I reserve the right to change my opinion in this matter without written notice. Although I probably will write about it, if I do.

And also please note that I’m not yet ready to suggest much at all about Moorcock’s other work. I’m quite sure that there’s other good, or even great, stuff in his ouvre. I’m not prepared yet to vouch for just what the good stuff is, though, at least not the stuff that really appeals to yours truly.

Books, Music, Movies, and TV Mentioned This Week

  • The Fellowship of the Ring by J. R. R. Tolkien
  • Mistaken Identity: Race and Class in the Age of Trump by Asad Haider
  • Down and Out in Paris and London by George Orwell
  • A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle
  • The Centipede Press Library of Weird Fiction: Arthur Machen by Arthur Machen with an introduction by S. T. Joshi
  • The Complete Cosmicomics by Italo Calvino
  • Elric: The Fortress of the Pearl by Michael Moorcock (and a number of the other Moorcock Collection Elric books and other editions)
  • The Book of Jhereg by Steven Brust (omnibus edition containing the first three Vlad Taltos novles Jhereg, Yendi, and Teckla)

Ypsilanti, Michigan
The Week Ending Saturday, July 21st, 2018

Saturday, July 14, 2018

The Week Ending Saturday, July 14th, 2018


Today sort of got away from me, and it’s a quarter to midnight. We got a lot of small things done, and unfortunately failed to get a lot of bigger things done. We weren’t able to record a podcast today, so I uploaded an old one. A very old one, in fact: the first episode of The Potts House General Purpose Podcast, recorded at the end of summer 2008. The show blog post is here.

We had planned to record a show in which we talked about Asad Haider’s book Mistaken Identity. But we’ll have to delay that. I finished chapter 3 this morning and felt excited to talk about it, but I really needed more prep time, as well as recording time. But we’ll talk about that book on the show as soon as we can.

Since Grace has gone public, I now feel free to mention that we’re having another baby in December. In fact, the due date is Christmas Eve, although take that with a grain of salt, since Grace’s due dates usually don’t match very closely with the actual dates of birth.

We are also planning a show where we interview one of my college classmates about one of her books. More news about that to come!

This is a pretty poor showing as far as daily journal entries go, but I’m feeling a bit overwhelmed and it’s time to go upstairs and go to bed.


I never did get any dinner last night. I just drank a large glass of water and went to bed. I couldn’t get to sleep for a long time, though. I had a hard time cooling down and relaxing. So I don’t think I got to sleep until after 1:30 or so.

I was a bit sleep-deprived this morning, but not as bad as I’ve been some mornings.

To try to encourage myself, I’m reminding myself of some of the things we did get done this past weekend:

  • We kept everyone fed all weekend and managed to start out the week with a clean kitchen
  • Grace rendered a bunch of lard from a big gift of pig fat — a gift that keeps on giving
  • I got most of my clothes folded up and organized
  • Three of the boys got shampooed and conditioned, and I gave all four of them haircuts with
  • Grace got a huge amount of other clothes folded up and organized
  • We can see almost the entire floor of our bedroom now! (And sweep it)
  • We got a ton of laundry done! (Maybe not a literal ton, but just shy of it…)
  • We cleaned out the fridge and managed to eat almost all the miscellaneous leftovers, and only had a throw a small number of spoiled things away
  • I got a podcast up, of a sort
  • I did some prep for an upcoming podcast
  • I cleaned out the papers in my bag, like mortgage statements (although they are not all filed away yet)
  • I set up an e-mail account for Joshua and helped him send his first e-mail, with supervision
  • I paid a bill (hey, it’s the little things…)

When I lay it all out, that’s a lot. We also had a visit from our friend Joy, which was a very nice but all-too-brief little break.

The Thai cave rescue story is occupying my thoughts. It’s the perfect news story: a dramatic race against exhaustion, hunger, hypothermia, and rising water. There’s also absolutely nothing most of us can do about it. So, complete edge-of-our-set drama, while remaining entirely inert and passive. Perfect! As I write this, the latest reports I’ve seen say that eight of the 12 boys have been rescued, leaving just four boys remaining, and their coach.

I’m guardedly optimistic about the rest. The remaining boys might be the ones who did not seem up to the long, harrowing, and dangerous underwater swim. From what I hear, the pumping they are doing has made it so that some parts of the route are now walkable, which is good, but there is still a very long dive that must be accomplished with each boy tethered between two divers. Getting the last few out might be much more challenging, and I would not be shocked to learn that one or more doesn’t make it out alive. But still, I can’t look away.

I didn’t get any reading done this morning.


Grace had the kids out at a beach for the afternoon. They all got a bit of sun. Me, not so much. Shortly before I left work, I got a call from our housemate. She told me that one of the windows in our family room was cracking up as she watched. It was quite strange. I don’t know exactly what happened. My best guess is that one of the kids whacked the window with something, and it had a very small crack or chip. Then this afternoon in full sun, the heat stress caused it to come apart. But I’m not entirely sure.

When I got home, after stopping for gas, I found that the window was still in place, but shattered. I think it is made of safety glass. Hoping it would not actually come apart and send shards of glass all over the floor, I put a layer of blue gaffer tape over the whole thing. I guess we call a window repair company. I’m not sure our odd-job handyman guy can fix the window.

My co-worker Scott gave me some bike helmets. One of his neighbors was getting rid of them and he got them for our kids. So we have a couple of bike helmets in excellent shape.

Lots of chaos and noise tonight. The kids are argumentative. I hate walking into this arguments. Pipping keeps getting into fights with Benjamin and starts screaming. No one can complete a sentence. Grace is trying to ride herd on everyone and it’s evident she’s pretty sick of them today. She’s been trying to get them to do chores since they got back, or maybe before they left. Our housemate made sloppy joe for dinner. I unloaded the dishwasher and got another load on. I’m getting concerned about our water use, especially this weekend, because we did a number of loads of laundry to try to catch up. Michigan is getting close to a drought state. I don’t know if that will affect our well directly, but without some kind of “gas gauge” I don’t know how to tell if we are using too much water or not.

Benjamin has been complaining about his teeth. In particular he’s been saying that his teeth are loose. They aren’t loose, but we think he means that they are hurting him because he has some new cavities. So he has an emergency dentist appointment tomorrow morning at 8:30. It’s now 10:20. We can do this.


Last night at bedtime I read the kids a bit more of Down and Out in Paris and London, but we had to stop the story because Joshua and Benjamin were getting into some kind of screaming fight. Grace was up just past 7, and got Benjamin to his dentist appointment. It looks like he doesn’t have any new cavities, but he’s complaining because of swollen gums due to some kind of viral infection. There’s really no treatment to give him, except to give him some children’s Tylenol and encourage him to get some extra rest.

I was relieved this morning to hear that the divers in Thailand have managed to get all 12 kids and their coach out of the flooded cave system. It’s an amazing achievement. We should also always, when we think about this amazing rescue operation, remember Saman Kunan, the diver who did not live to see the job finished.


I had a treat waiting for me: I received my copy of The Centipede Press Library of Weird Fiction: Arthur Machen, a story collection from Centipede Press. I got this via Alibris from Zeising Books. I’ve bought books from them a few times and they are always in immaculate condition and nicely packaged. This is a very pretty book, and appears to be well-made. It’s a massive collection, over 700 pages of Machen’s stories. I am not really familiar with his work. I started reading his story “The White People” after the bedtime story. It’s frankly quite discursive and philosophical, with a framing story, and uses the old-school “secret manuscript revealed” storytelling device. Since I was already sleepy I realized that I had bitten into a story I couldn’t finish before falling asleep, so I’ll have to try again another time.

This is the first book from Centipede Press that I’ve owned. This volume is priced, I feel, reasonably for a well-made hardcover ($40.00). Some of their other books? They ask for, and apparently get, serious collector coin. I want to support them by buying their books, but at the same time I don’t really want to encourage that model of printing limited editions made to be collected and not read. The first Centipede Press editions I ever heard about are their fancy editions of Gene Wolfe’s Book of the New Sun volumes. Those are scarce and quite expensive; a copy of Claw of the Conciliator is listed on eBay today for $419.99 (but hey, free shipping!) So I suspect I will never own that set.

There are other Centipede Press volumes I’d love to own, though. There’s a volume of William Hope Hodgson’s stories, as part of that “Library of Weird Fiction” series, but it’s out of print and copies on eBay are going for almost $200.00. There are volumes by Fritz Leiber, R. A. Lafferty, Haruki Murakami, Theodore Sturgeon, Algernon Blackwood, John Fowles, but when I look at the prices on the secondary market… I can’t even. Although their Weird Fiction Review series looks interesting, and copies don’t go for crazy money. Unless you want the older ones. Damn.

There’s a lot to be said for publishers like the Library of America that work to keep all their books in print.

Hmmm, while I’m browsing, I note that Subterranean Press has a novella by Greg Egan I want to read, called Phoresis. And they’ve got a couple of trade paperback volumes of the collected stories of Robert Silverberg. Can we please sell our Saginaw house soon, so that buying a book or two a month won’t feel any longer like I’m being irresponsible with money? Pretty please?


Things were fairly chaotic last night when I got home, and the family room and kitchen were fairly well trashed, so Grace and I basically retired to the bedroom to read and surf the web for ninety minutes or so while the kids did some of their chores. For dinner Grace had only really gotten as far as starting a pot of rice. We both had this idea that we wanted to eat Thai food, but with so little cooperation from the kids we couldn’t make that happen. So we had a Costco salad kit and basmati rice topped with cashews and an assortment of other toppings. I mixed in some hot lime pickle with one bowl and added sriracha to another. Rice, cashews, and hot sauce makes a pretty good dish in my opinion, although for this I think we should have used brown rice. It was not exactly Thai, but it was quick. We were not able to fully clean up because the dishwasher was still full of dishes in progress.

At bedtime story time, three of the kids were still busy having their own story. So we had Sam, Joshua, and Elanor and I thrashed around a bit trying to figure out what to read them. I didn’t want to continue Down and Out in Paris and London without Veronica. I have been trying to read the kids more of A Wrinkle in Time — I think I forgot to mention that, and now I don’t remember which nights I was attempting to read it. But we keep getting derailed by fights or tantrums or yelling before I can finish a chapter.

I finally settled on a short story by Philip K. Dick called “The King of the Elves.” That’s an interesting story because it has a very mundane setting, but “low fantasy” elements. In fact, it seems like it might be a prototype of the recent Urban Fantasy sub-genre.

It cries out for a movie adaptation. Unfortunately, it looks like such an adaptation has been stalled in development hell for some time.

We’re all itchy from what seems like it might be a low-grade case of Hand, Foot, and Mouth disease. Fun!

Wednesday Evening

I made some good progress on LabVIEW code today. I finished a sample/demo program for controlling the MX series of instruments using a DLL from Silicon Labs. This is not a finished program to do something useful with the instruments — it just lets turns on and off the red, green, and blue LEDs — but it shows how to send a command, how to poll for a success or failure response, how to report an error result, and how to query a parameter. So we now have a little library that we can supply to customers who want to know how to control one of our instruments from LabVIEW, and a little library we can use ourselves for automation.

When I got home the driveway was full of people milling around and gawking, because our housemate’s boyfriend had a flat tire. I’m no mechanic but I was able to help him a little bit. The jack that came with my car was a little larger and sturdier than the one that came with his car and so worked better. The rim was a bit rusted on but fortunately we happened to have a rubber mallet which was just the thing for pounding on the rim to loosen it up just enough to pull it off.

While I was finishing up my program at the office Grace was standing in an aisle in the GFS (Gordon Food Service) store up the road texting me about dinner plans. She proposed baked potatoes and a salad and I thought that sounded great, but wanted to add a protein of some kind. Grace has been having a hard time with reflux (and I have, too) so really we’re both feeling cautious about our meals. I can put cheese on my potato but some of the folks in the house can’t really tolerage any dairy. So she got some bacon crumbles, and we’ve got a little bit of leftover salmon and leftover shredded beef. So that will be dinner.

Sam has been reading The Complete Cosmicomics and I realized that I haven’t actually finished all the stories in that volume. So maybe tonight I will try reading the kids another one of those stories. I don’t think the kids are going to really enjoy “The Great God Pan” by Arthur Machen, although Sam has been asking me if I would read more Crime and Punishment. We also never finished Oliver Twist. Those may be better for long winter nights.

The potatoes are done and the kids are getting the table set.


Last night’s story didn’t work out. I got a load of dishes going, and hand-washed a few things, but the kids didn’t follow their cues to get ready, so by the time I was ready to read a story, only Joshua was ready to listen to one, and he hadn’t brushed his teeth. So we sent the on to bed. Grace sat up doing some things on her computer for a while. I read more of Arthur Machen’s story “The White People.” When Grace closed up her computer, I read aloud to her for a while. It’s a pretty intense story. The writing style is remarkable; in this section of the story, we’re hearing the journal of a 16-year-old girl from the early 1800s. I’m not sure about the voice, but the flowing, stream-of-consciousness style is remarkable at the sentence level. Machen eschews paragraph breaks in this section almost completely, like Joyce did in the final chapter of Ulysses. Here’s a bit of the text I read aloud last night:

I tried again to see the secret wood, and to creep up the passage and see what I had seen there, but somehow I couldn’t, and I kept on thinking of nurse’s stories. There was one I remembered about a young man who once upon a time went hunting, and all the day he and his hounds hunted everywhere, and they crossed the rivers and went into all the woods, and went round the marshes, but they couldn’t find anything at all, and they hunted all day till the sun sank down and began to set behind the mountain. And the young man was angry because he couldn’t find anything, and he was going to turn back, when just as the sun touched the mountain, he saw come out of a brake in front of him a beautiful white stag. And he cheered to his hounds, but they whined and would not follow, and he cheered to his horse, but it shivered and stood stock still, and the young man jumped off the horse and left the hounds and began to follow the white stag all alone. And soon it was quite dark, and the sky was black, without a single star shining in it, and the stag went away into the darkness. And though the man had brought his gun with him he never shot at the stag, because he wanted to catch it, and he was afraid he would lose it in the night. But he never lost it once, though the sky was so black and the air was so dark, and the stag went on and on till the young man didn’t know a bit where he was. And they went through enormous woods where the air was full of whispers and a pale, dead light came out from the rotten trunks that were lying on the ground, and just as the man thought he had lost the stag, he would see it all white and shining in front of him, and he would run fast to catch it, but the stag always ran faster, so he did not catch it. And they went through the enormous woods, and they swam across rivers, and they waded through black marshes where the ground bubbled, and the air was full of will-o’-the-wisps, and the stag fled away down into rocky narrow valleys, where the air was like the smell of a vault, and the man went after it. And they went over the great mountains and the man heard the wind come down from the sky, and the stag went on and the man went after. At last the sun rose and the young man found he was in a country that he had never seen before; it was a beautiful valley with a bright stream running through it, and a great, big round hill in the middle.

It’s remarkable. There are not that many pieces of prose that I would really say invoke a “dream-like” state in the reader. Some Joyce does it; some Woolf does it; and for me, some E. R. Eddison. This story by Machen definitely does it. It certainly won’t appeal to everyone, but it appeals to me.

I did come across a noticeable typo, though, probably an OCR error, in the Centipede Press text. (There could be more, but this is the only one that I noticed). A line that should have read

her eyes shone in the dark like burning rubies

instead read

her eyes shone in the dark like burning rubles

Man, Vladimir Putin is influencing everything these days, apparently. But seriously — this text is in the public domain. Couldn’t they have cross-checked the text against the Project Gutenberg e-text which has undergone their “distributed proofreading” process and does not have these errors? (It has been a long time since I worked on it, but for a time I was a contributing proofreader, fixing OCR errors).

I noticed some interesting words. The story-within-a-story uses the words “voor” and “voorish” which appear in Lovecraft’s stories, and also in the odd and fascinating Radix by A. A. Attanasio.

The full text is available here.

We got to sleep by 12:30 or so, but about 5:30 Elanor woke up and started yelling at us. Grace had me get up and get her a bottle of water, and then refill it. I was in the middle of deep sleep and had a very hard time waking up, but after turning on lights, I was very awake. I considered just getting up and getting ready for the day, but it seemed like a bad idea because I’d be trying to do a full work day on about five hours of sleep. So I tried to go back to sleep. It took me a long time to get back to sleep, and I woke up feeling very groggy. So I’m honestly not sure if I made the right decision. I’m not sure what is going wrong this week, but Grace and I have been constantly tired, and every bedtime has been a nightmare with the kids. Maybe we’re all fighting a virus?

We’re getting on towards a drought situation here in Michigan.


I left work relatively early last night, just after 6. That always results in sitting in slowed and stopped traffic for an extra ten or twenty minutes, and this commute was no exception; that’s one of the reasons I like to leave later.

When I got home, Grace was out getting her hair done. I didn’t have it in me to do much of anything, so I actually wound up taking a brief nap, interrupted a few times by the kids. When she got home Grace made some latkes with leftover shredded potatoes and we had some other leftover stir-fried cabbage and greens. We didn’t finish them all, and Joshua packaged up some of the greens for me to take to work today for lunch. Naturally I forgot. I’ve just been spacey and tired. We’re simply not getting enough sleep. The boys are keeping us awake for one to two hours past the point when we send them to bed. Elanor’s been waking us up one to two hours before the time when we actually wanted to wake up. The combined effect is exhausting and demoralizing.

The kids keep begging us to watch videos after dinner, but they have blown off all their chores until after dinner, so there’s simply not time left after we get the table cleaned up, floor under the table cleaned of food, kitchen reasonably well cleaned up and dishes taken care of, the boys’ bedroom brought up to at least a minimal state of readiness, and everyone’s teeth brushed. We’re starting dinner with the kitchen and bedrooms and family room trashed. Much of that could have been done hours before I get home, but they procrastinate all day, and so they get no video, and some nights they get no story either. I’m perhaps too easy on them, in that I really don’t want to withhold the story, because I enjoy it and it’s one of the few things that I get to do regularly with the kids.

Last night’s story was the rest of chapter 6 of A Wrinkle in Time. This chapter is odd in that it doesn’t break when you think it will. It covers the visit with the Happy Medium and continues right into the first part of the children’s visit to Camazotz, right up to the point where they are about to go inside the CENTRAL Central Intelligence building (no, that’s not a typo; it really is written out as CENTRAL Central Intelligence in the book). We talked a bit about the differences between the book and the movie. In the movie, as I’ve groused about endlessly in my endlessly revised review, all of the scenery on Camazotz as well as the people are fake news. The red-eyed man is a puppet. The children and parents seem to be illusory. This effectively makes it so that the only living beings on Camazotz are the children, Meg’s father, and IT.

The stakes in this conflict are thus lowered, as there is no possible threat to bystanders from the confrontation with IT. It detracts from the moral complexity that L’Engle was presenting, where in a battle of good and evil, if you defeat the evil, a lot of ordinary people, people who may be collaborators but may also be just trying to survive, may very well be harmed, and this can’t be simply fantasized away. It’s part of what I see as the appalling simplification of the story.

I also managed to finish Arthur Machen’s story “The White People.” It’s a justifiably celebrated story: strange, gorgeous, and unnerving. Although as with many weird tales that use a framework story, I’m left a bit baffled by the framework story. The long conversation at the start about the nature of good and evil doesn’t seem to really make all that much sense in the context of the revealed story inside the framework. I’ll have to think on it, and maybe read it again when I can better concentrate on the text. But the story-within-the-story really is a thing of beauty, even though it suggests much more than it clearly delivers.


Went to Costco and got our usual salmon, a huge box of diapers, some salad, some fruit, some chips, and a few miscellaneous things like a paleo cashew dip (odd but pretty tasty). When I got home Grace had made rice, but she was not feeling well and so was hiding out in our bedroom. The kids had not done much cleanup and had not even put away food that was left out. So we were nowhere near ready to eat. I was frankly pissed off. It’s the same every week. We could have just put away the food from Costco, cooked the salmon, thrown togethre the salad, and had our meal. But instead we had to do a lot of cleanup first. I had planned on serving twelve, but our guest family was not here. So we only had seven eating. There were a lot of leftovers to put away and a lot of kitchen cleanup.

The kids have been begging all week to watch videos, especially more Lego Ninjago: Masters of Spinjitzu episodes. But it was well after 10 before we had a dish load running and the kitchen ready for Saturday breakfast. So I just put on Season 1 Episode 8 of Babylon 5, called “And the Sky Full of Stars.” It’s quite an episode — it covers some of the same territory as the In the Beginning movie. Sinclair starts to learn some of the details of those missing 24 hours when he tried to ram a Minbari ship and was captured.

After “And the Sky Full of Stars,” I put on the flip side of the In the Beginning DVD (it’s a single double-sided DVD with two movies on it), and we watched The Gathering, which was the pilot for the series. There are a few noticeable differences. The doctor character was a different actor. Delenn’s makeup was quite different. The plot centers around an attempt to assassinate Kosh, the Vorlon ambassador. But mostly the plot just serves to introduce the main characters, and shake them up to see how they behave under stress.


Last night I received four books in the mail. They are four of the recent Michael Moorcock Collection volumes from Gollancz, which attempt to bring most of Moorcock’s body of work into a consistent, coherent, and edited edition. The Elric stories fill seven volumes and I’ve ordered all of them. They are dribbling in — apparently rather than put all seven in a box and ship that, the seller decided to put them in single-volume mailers.

I’ve received:

  • Elric of Melniboné and Other Stories
  • Elric: The Fortress of the Pearl
  • Elric: The Sailor on the Seas of Fate
  • Elric: The Sleeping Sorceress and Other Stories

Still to arrive are:

  • Elric: The Revenge of the Rose
  • Elric: Stormbringer!
  • Elric: The Moonbeam Roads

You can find a list of all these editions on the Moorcock Multiverse Wiki here. It’s unfortunate that there doesn’t seem to be a web page from the book’s publisher that explains the collection.

Elric of Melniboné and Other Stories_ is the first of the Elric books and the first of the whole Michael Moorcock Collection series. It collects the earliest Elric stories (in their “in-universe” chronological order, not the order in which they were written). This volume allegedly fixes error and inconsistencies in the texts. For example, when reading the my old paperback copy of Elric of Melniboné I noticed that “The Ship That Sails Over Land and Sea” is called “The Ship That Sails Over Both Land and Sea,” (emphasis mine), but only the first time the phrase is used. That’s fixed in this book. Presumably there are many other changes like this.

So far I’ve read the introductions and a story, “Master of Chaos,” which seems to happen very early in the chronology, as a sort of creation myth, and helps explain, at least a bit, Moorcock’s conception of how story “order” emerges from chaos. It’s not a bad story, although leaves me scratching my head a bit. Maybe it will make more sense later on. Next up is a graphic novel… in text form, called Elric: The Making of a Sorceror. That is, it’s the “script” for a graphic novel, a sort of panel-by-panel description of the drawings, with dialogue. It’s a bit like reading the screenplay of a television show. I’m not entirely sure why it’s in here; I guess this is where it fits into Elric’s chronology. The graphic novel is actually available, and copies aren’t scarce or expensive, so maybe I’ll order a copy at some point.

One of the introductions is a terrific and funny essay by Alan Moore, which gets at the way that Moorcock fit in (and didn’t fit in) with the fantasy reading and writing community of London in the 1960s and 1970s. Moorcock also describes his influences, and how he became a sort of “genre-surfer,” tailoring the genre to fit the story, wherever the story led him. That’s a bit mind-blowing. I can’t assess it very well because so far I’ve read so little of his work, but it does help explain the Cornelius books (which, unfortunately I didn’t really enjoy, but there is other Cornelius material that I might enjoy more). The Moorcock rabbit hole goes pretty deep, and I’m intrigued, although I’m not sure I’m quite ready to take the red pill and follow it through dozens of volumes.

I’m not quite sure what we’re going to do today. Since it’s 2:00 p.m. I guess that means we’re doing it and have done a good part of it. I was up fairly early and make bacon and blueberry pancakes for breakfast. Only a couple of the kids were up to eat them, so we just left the rest on the table. Elanor has abandoned breastfeeding and is eating all sorts of food, so we’re trying to make sure she gets a decent variety of things down her gullet (I think if she had the choice, she’d eat only bananas), and stays hydrated.

Speaking of hydration, it’s going to be miserably hot out all weekend, although it is supposed to cool down a bit next week. Michigan is drying out and we haven’t had rain in weeks. With working no air conditioning in the truck, as I’m holding off on any big expenses because of big house-repair bills coming up, we’re not going anywhere, at least not anywhere far away. Maybe we’ll go see a movie. Grace is not feeling very well, although better than she was last night. I’m not sure what we’re going to do about Mass and the podcast. We have some guests lined up; other people are willing, but we’ve got to get our act together.

Books, Music, Movies, and TV Mentioned This Week

  • Mistaken Identity: Race and Class in the Age of Trump by Asad Haider
  • Down and Out in Paris and London by George Orwell
  • A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle
  • The Centipede Press Library of Weird Fiction: Arthur Machen by Arthur Machen with an introduction by S. T. Joshi
  • “The King of the Elves” by Philip K. Dick
  • “The White People” by Arthur Machen
  • The Complete Cosmicomics by Italo Calvino
  • Babylon 5 Season 1 Episode 8, “And the Sky Full of Stars”
  • Babylon 5: The Gathering (1993 TV movie)
  • Elric of Melniboné and Other Stories by Michael Moorcock, edited by John Davey (Gollancz Michael Moorcock Collection)

Ypsilanti, Michigan
The Week Ending Saturday, July 14th, 2018