March 6th, 2005


Travels almost concluded

My first chance to really write an entry since Thursday. For once I avoided the Curse Of Heathrow and my flight took off and landed on time. Very good to see some of you at the Silver Cross that evening - as far as I remember, those I already knew included missfairchild, coalescent, major_clanger, gummitch, purple_cthulhu and Paul T, and meeting however briefly tamaranth and greengolux.

The next morning I had an Important Breakfast Meeting, then flew here to Thessalonica. Checked my voicemail which between planes in Athens to find two messages from Macedonian journalists wanting to interview me. But when I called them back I had already missed their deadline.

Good conference yesterday; I chaired one session and was generally kept busy by the rest of it. My flight isn't for another four hours so I have some time to catch up now. But looking forward to getting home.

March Books 1) A Wind from Bukhara

1) A Wind from Bukhara, by M.J. Engh

More of a political fantasy than an sf novel this. Set in 1976 (when it was written). Central Asian dictator through sheer force of personality takes over the world, setting up his capital in a small town in Illinois. He then sets out to bring about the end of the world as we know it, and finishes off by cultivating his garden. His rather nasty sexual tastes were probably more acceptable fare for a novel in the 1970s than they would be now. Still, it gave me something to read on the plane.

March Books 2) The Island at the Centre of the World

2) The Island at the Centre of the World, by Russell Shorto

This is, quite simply, a fantastic book.

It is essentially a micro-study of a small European country's colony on an island off the North American coast, between its foundation in the 1620s and the moment when the British captured it forty years later. The author has gone through the surviving records, combined them with everything else available to him about the period, and come up with a cracking good yarn. He also argues (quite convincingly) that the specific cultural influence of the colony's founders had a fundamental and decisive influence on North American and therefore on world politics.

A strong claim. But consider the unintended consequences of the colony's newly created municipal council's concern about a potential attack from the English in 1653. They built a defensive wall along the northern edge of the town. Shorto notes:
In the long term, what is notable about this first public works project orchestrated by the town government is not the wall itself but the street that ran along it. It's a safe bet that no matter how wildly they tended to dream, the magistrates could not have imagined that this rough pathway would replace the gleaming, colonnaded bourse of Amsterdam as the centre of world finance.
For this is the story of Collapse )

As I said above, this is a fantastic book. Strongly recommended.