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Aurora, March 232023

Aurora Borealis

Wow, that was a show.

The data looked ridicu­lous from the out­set. There’s one para­me­ter, when you’re con­sult­ing the ora­cle (sor­ry, the space-weath­er data), the Bz, that you want to be a neg­a­tive num­ber. I’ve seen great shows when the Bz was around ‑3 or ‑5. The longer it’s neg­a­tive, the better.

Yes­ter­day after­noon, every time I checked, the Bz was around ‑15. Crazy.

And the auro­ral oval looked like this. When it’s yel­low, that’s usu­al­ly a good sign. Red—that much red—is flat-out amazing.

The auroral oval from spaceweather.com, showing a large red patch over central North America
Con­tin­ue read­ing “Auro­ra, March 232023

The Land Across

The cover of "The Land Across": a railway through rocky terrain, coloured red

There’s a lot going on. But then there’s always a lot going on in a Gene Wolfe book.

This was my first read of The Land Across, and it’s going to require addi­tion­al read-throughs for me to pick up on some of the puz­zles. But even on a sur­face lev­el, this book is very “all things to all people”.

Grafton, an Amer­i­can trav­el writer[1]Well, that’s what he claims to be, and why would­n’t we believe him?, trav­els to an unnamed coun­try in East­ern Europe, the land across the moun­tains, intend­ing to write the first trav­el book about the nation. Very quick­ly he becomes entan­gled in the local law, Kafkaesque bureau­cra­cy, and a con­spir­a­cy that grows to include a haunt­ed house, at least one love tri­an­gle, a buried trea­sure, and a Satan­ic cult. Strange fig­ures come and go[2]For exam­ple: was that Drac­u­la?, seem­ing­ly at ran­dom. Some of the ghost­ly events turn out to have mun­dane expla­na­tions; oth­ers are in fact ghosts.

To quote one of the police offi­cers in the first chapter:

All maps are wrong. If the [ene­mies] come, they will be lost.”

—Gene Wolfe, The Land Across

I’ve found a cou­ple reviews of this nov­el from 2013, when it was pub­lished: Char­lie Jane Anders wrote about it for io9, and Mordi­cai Knode’s review for Tor.com sug­gests fur­ther reading—for instance, Flann O’Con­nor’s The Third Police­man.

I’ve also found this guide, full of spoil­ers, which I plan to use when I get to my sec­ond read of the nov­el. (This note is most­ly for me, but if it helps you out too, I’m glad.)

Foot­notes

Foot­notes
1 Well, that’s what he claims to be, and why would­n’t we believe him?
2 For exam­ple: was that Dracula?

Guitar Lessons

Still from "Guitar Lessons": Leland walks down a railroad track

Leland inher­its a gui­tar from his “uncle[1]More like­ly his dad.”. Ray—once a tour­ing musi­cian, now a suc­cess­ful oil­man[2]He’s the type who would bris­tle at the sug­ges­tion he’s an “oilper­son”.—gets a call from a for­mer band­mate, let­ting him know their deceased friend left his gui­tar to some kid in his area (“and you might want to check in on it before it turns into firewood”).

Kind of like Viking last week, this one’s a Cana­di­an com­e­dy that becomes less fun­ny in the sec­ond half. Where Viking went a lit­tle dark, though, Gui­tar Lessons delves deep into the char­ac­ters’ flaws, and shows us how they try to fix them­selves. There’s a deep lake of dra­ma under the sur­face laughs. This film has things to say about fatherhood—biological and adoptive—addiction, grow­ing up (for both teens and 50-year-olds), priv­i­lege and wealth, rela­tion­ships, and life in oil coun­try. It’s also beau­ti­ful­ly filmed: med­i­ta­tive in its fram­ing. There’s a long sequence of Ray clean­ing, repair­ing, and pol­ish­ing his old friend’s gui­tar, word­less. The shots of the coun­try­side and the towns through­out are love­ly, too.

I quite enjoyed it.

Foot­notes

Foot­notes
1 More like­ly his dad.
2 He’s the type who would bris­tle at the sug­ges­tion he’s an “oilper­son”.

Viking (review)

Still from the movie Viking: four "astronauts" stand in a desert meant to stand in for Mars

Tonight I showed / watched the movie Viking at the Evans.

Five astro­nauts have been sent to Mars. Mean­while, back on Earth, the Viking Soci­ety gath­ers five oth­er people—their psy­cho­log­i­cal pro­files matched as close­ly as pos­si­ble with the Mar­t­ian astronauts—to try and head off any pos­si­ble prob­lems on the Red Planet.

But they’re only human, so nat­u­ral­ly things go a bit wrong. Some take things a bit too seri­ous­ly; oth­ers, not near­ly seri­ous­ly enough.

I thought the movie was pret­ty good. It was quite fun­ny until sud­den­ly it was­n’t fun­ny at all any­more. I was amused at the acronym for the ana­log NASA (ASEA, the Amer­i­can Space Explo­ration Agency; peo­ple in the movie def­i­nite­ly were asea). I think the fact that most of the music remind­ed me of the sound­track to the short film “They’re Made Out Of Meat” added to my amusement.

Once the turn from com­e­dy to tragedy[1]Maybe “tragedy” is too strong a word; dra­ma? hap­pened, I was still locked in to the sto­ry. The scene near the end in the phone booth felt pret­ty raw to me.

Smile and say “astro­naut”.

Foot­notes

Foot­notes
1 Maybe “tragedy” is too strong a word; drama?