It really is an ill-wind that blows nobody something good. So, even in this gloomy period of what is politely referred to as an economic “down-turn”, there are a few bright spots. One of these is the great increase in the traffic at public libraries. People are going there to use the computers to create, adjust or transmit resumes, check email, borrow music, video, and even books. Who knows, it may make at least half of these orphans of the storm into regular library users. Many local libraries however are facing tough times of their own, and are closing branches or reducing hours and staff. In places like California, it’s bad and will worsen as the state tries to deal with a budget shortfall that is bigger than the GDPs of many nations. The Journal has the story.
Jen Cheney offers an NPR piece on the books of LOST, the television drama featuring a group of air crash survivors on a mysterious Pacific island. Three books that the author has in mind are: Watership Down, The Turn of the Screw, and Slaughterhouse Five by Richard Adams, Henry James and Kurt Vonnegut respectively. Read why at:
PS. NPR has a recurring feature called Three Books, in which an invited writer pens a short appraisal of , well, three books on some particular theme…politics, China, dogs, ghosts, etc. Look for it at: www. npr.org
Ricardo Montalban, movie star and despite that, not a bad actor died recently at the age of 88, and Patrick McGoohan, British actor and star of the long running, super-weird TV series The Prisoner (sometimes described as “the thinking man’s spy-drama”) is dead at the age of 80. Old Timers will be pleased, or horrified, to learn that there are plans to re-shoot The Prisoner. Hhmmmmm. I have to say I never cared much for it. It was too Kafka-esque, rather like Lost, if you come to think of it. I guess I’m just showing my old, linear, two-state logic cast of mind.
Prof. Judith A. Little has edited a collection of writings by major SciFi authors, such as Ursula K. LeGuinn, James Tiptree, Margaret Atwood, under the title Feminist Philosophy and Science Fiction. The book is grouped around the exploration of basic themes, such as what is human nature, exactly? What constitutes a Utopia, or a Dystopia? It was published by Prometheus Books in 2007.
Wired magazine offered its Top Ten Gadget breakthroughs of 2008. The tenth item was a story about advances in flexible displays, which, if they pan out, could lead to some serious progress in things we’ve been hearing about for a while: “digital paper:”, for one thing. It also seems possible to create products on flexible displays by a kind of printing process, and that is important because of the implications for lower cost.
Some of the other choices didn’t impress me too much, such as the Speedo super-swimsuit, but to each his own.
Gadgets for ’08
Finally, Donald E. Westlake, author of many, funny caper-crime novels featuring the Dortmunder Mob, died on New Year’s Eve. He was 75. Westlake penned over 90 novels, at times writing under other names. John Dortmunder is a criminal mastermind, who contrives absolutely ingenious scams, break-ins, thefts and other crimes, only to see them fall apart because the Universe is a cruel place and Fortune is fickle. Also, the other guys in the mob are often not up to playing on Dortmunderâ€™s crime Stradivarius. A tin kazoo is more in their league. So, tiny breakdowns, incidents, accidents and other interruptions shatter the Prussian efficiency. For Dortmunder, the plans, no matter how well laid, will always go agley, with comic results. Westlake also wrote screenplays, television scripts and straight crime fiction. Several of his stories were made into films, but it was hard to catch the tone in a movie version. He seems to never have stopped writing. If you’re down in the dumps, go try a Westlake novel…preferably one of the Dortmunder series.