Diesel-flavored Espresso

I am Swedish and for me, as for many of my compatriots, coffee is serious business. By chance I recently found the blog Literary Starbucks, at which three Minnesotan university students write about famous or fictitious people having coffee at that particular café chain. High-brow humor and plenty of strange subtext and references, of course. The following paragraph captures the dieselretro essence of having an espresso.

Hemingway goes up to the counter and orders one espresso. It’s hot. He drinks it in silence. It makes him remember his father’s cabin. He thinks about the woman he loved once. He does not smile. The coffee reminds him of war – short but painful, swallowed down quickly. One could order worse drinks. He leaves Starbucks and walks out into the rain.


Game → Movie: “Numenera” on the Beach

Turning role-playing games into adventure films is not a new notion. However, the Dungeons & Dragons movie provided a crystal-clear example of how not to do it. Game worlds are frequently cool places, but a movie also needs a decent script, and that is where the crux is. But that is more of a general problem in Hollywood these days: special effects appear to be cheaper than skilled scriptwriters. (No, I retract that last statement: it may not be the fault of the scriptwriters, but rather a matter of too many meddling hands.) The I, Robot movie stands as a dreadful example of how to wreck a plot in a surfeit of CGI eye candy.

The role-playing game Numenera has a great far-future/fallen-civilization science fantasy world; after all, it is a design by Monte Cook. The Swedish production company Valdes/Eriksdotter is about to make a short film, called Strand, taking place in that reality. Since it is a small-scale project, I hope they will manage to put together a good plot without having to bend sidewise to accommodate the conflicting notions of stars and investors. Its crowdfunding is here — link >>>

The word “strand” means “beach” in Swedish, and therefore the first teaser photos aptly show the protagonist on the granite gravel beaches of the Swedish west coast. The scenery sets the mood: “welcome to a bleak and poverty-stricken elsewhen”.

As for what I think of this venture — well, I am old enough to quote Hávamál: “At kveldi skal dag leyfa” (“First at dusk shall day be praised.”)


Yatching in diesel-era comfort

M/Y Taconite, built in 1930

This beautiful yacht was built by Boeing Canada for William E Boeing in 1930. A perfect venue for a diesel-retro murder mystery or the focus for an adventurous 1930s Caribbean cruise. Now she is up for sale. The price: $2.5 million.

You can take a good look at her exterior and interiors here — link >>>

The bar on the aft deck.

Review: “The Time Ships” by Stephen Baxter

HG Wells ended his time-travel novel The Time Machine with a figurative question mark, an open door so to speak, when the nameless protagonist heads back to that distant unsettling future he has visited. In The Time Ships, Stephen Baxter lets that chap tell the story of his second time journey. Wells did not go much into the problems with time-travel paradoxes. But Baxter does, and with gusto: the protagonist quickly discovers that his invention leads to causality getting repeatedly punched in the face during the jaunts back and forth in history.

Spoiler alert

Baxter introduces plenty of ideas from the works of Kurt Gödel, Stephen Hawking, Fred Hoyle, Hermann Bondi, Thomas Gold and Arthur C Clarke (for example: the necessary incompleteness of all theories that strive to explain reality; the causality-defying qualities of the Big Bang singularity; the properties of a steady-state universe; the galaxy-affecting capabilities of all-purpose von Neumann machines), and he therefore writes about intermeshed time-streams in ways that would have been inconceivable to Wells with his pre-Einsteinian knowledge of cosmos.

The story moves ahead swiftly in a polished and dynamic prose and Baxter creates well-crafted milieus for the protagonist’s search for the lost Eloi girl Weena: a diesel-retro war-ravaged London in a 1938, a Dyson sphere, a Robinson-style adventure in a Paleocene jungle, etc.

However, my feelings about this book are mixed. To start with its good qualities: The descriptions of the grimy alternate London and the sun-drenched prehistoric jungle are vivid and suspenseful. The protagonist is a man with flaws and qualities: his foul moods and parochial Victorian mindset are contrasted to his inventiveness, adaptability and derring-do. Baxter’s reflections on the human propensity for violence and war are tinged with an appropriate Wellsian bleakness.

On the other hand, Baxter has a bad habit of introducing subplots that just “fall off the stage” a few chapters later. One example is the cause behind the alternate World War One that has raged for 25 years: Baxter hints at a strange German conspiracy, but never closes the matter properly. Realistic? Maybe. Disappointing? Yes! Also, the end was too predictable; I did foresee most of it already when reading part 1.

My verdict is therefore three Time Machines out of five. The book is good, but it could easily have become much better with some reworking. I will most likely not re-read it in its entirety, but I will probably return occasionally to the jungle and London parts.

Anthropocene: a New Geological Age

When I went to secondary school in the 1970s, we learned about Earth’s geological history and how it is divided into ages of different lengths. The teacher explained that we are living in the Holocene epoch of the Quarternary period.

Now there are some serious arguments that Earth in fact entered a new geological age in the mid 20th century, when the modern technological society started to leave significant marks on Earth’s geology and ecology, the so-called Great Acceleration. Appropriately, the proposed name for the new epoch is Anthropocen (derived from the Greek word for “human”) and its start date is supposed to be July 16, 1945. Read more here — link >>>