Posts for December 2004

2004-12-01: Ordinary Jack

Review: Ordinary Jack, by Helen Cresswell

Publisher: Hodder
Copyright: 1977
ISBN: 0-340-71651-7
Pages: 231

This is not even close to the first time I've read this book, although it's been about fifteen years. Helen Cresswell's Bagthorpe books about a wildly eccentric British family and their daily adventures were some of my favorite books as a child. I must have read this book in particular at least a half-dozen times, checking it out of the local library. I've been keeping an eye out for copies for a while, which is far harder than it should be. The Bagthorpes were apparently popular enough in Britain to have spawned a sitcom (shudder), but they're practically unheard of in the US.

Jack is the second-youngest of four kids and is surrounded by geniuses. All of his siblings have multiple Strings to their Bows, whether it be music, electronics, mathematics, or painting, except for him. Finally fed up with this, he hatches a plot with his Uncle Parker to make them all believe that he is truly unusual.

Ordinary Jack is the first of the series, and I think the weakest because of it. Cresswell's wonderfully witty and dry sense of humor, the whole point to the Bagthorpe Saga, is already quite present, but the overall plot always leaves me vaguely unsatisfied. While there's plenty of opportunity for funny things to happen, the story itself is not that funny and doesn't have the same degree of charm and chaos as some of the later books.

It does, however, feature the first appearance of a bit that I have always remembered and which remains a standing joke between my mother and I:

Jack said nothing. He was well acquainted with Uncle Parker's theories about other drivers. Uncle Parker put all drivers other than himself into one of various categories, none of them flattering. Rock bottom of these, Jack knew, was the Hat Category.

"The minute you get behind a Hat," Uncle Parker would say, "you know you're finished. Doesn't matter whether it's a man or a woman. And a Flat Cap -- you get behind a Flat Cap and you might as well reverse back to where you started and try an alternate route."

It's true, too. I've seen it proven on multiple occasions.

Humor is particularly difficult to review, since it's such a matter of personal taste, and Cresswell's humor is particularly hard to capture. The book revolves around setting up situations that are just a little slanted and larger than life and then having both the characters and the narrator deal with them in an understated, matter-of-fact manner that turns into a perfect dry jape. It works wonderfully well for me, and may fall completely flat for you. If you see a copy, though, give it a try; if your sense of humor turns out to match mine, you'll quite enjoy it.

Rating: 7 out of 10

2004-12-03: Term::ANSIColor 1.09

Only documentation and test suite changes, but since someone sent me the compatibility information for Mac OS X Terminal, I figured it was a good of a time as any to push out a new release.

You can get the latest version from the Term::ANSIColor distribution page.

2004-12-03: lsmounts 1.5

In using this to fix the registered mount points for a whole bunch of our class volumes, after we moved some paths around, I found that it had a few bugs when being run in the mode that calls loadmtpt. It's now been fixed so that it never tries to register backup or read-only volumes and never recurses into backup volumes. It also now has a second recursion mode that does traverse normal directory structures, but which will not cross mount points.

You can get the latest version from the lsmounts distribution page.

2004-12-05: faq2html 1.21

I'm working on a new project to see how much internal documentation I can put up on the web with just a little bit of effort, so I put faq2html through some more brutal paces than it had been through before. Accordingly, I found a lot of little things and cleaned them up, as well as fine-tuning the recognition of headings even more since I was still getting too many false positives.

I also found some time to make the big change that I'd been thinking about for a while, namely overhauling how faq2html thinks about block elements so that one can nest lists properly. Nested lists were supported before, but when the inner element closed, all the outer elements were closed as well. Now the outer elements continue properly.

You can get the latest version from my web tools distribution page.

2004-12-05: spin 1.58

Nothing major here. Just warning fixes when the external translator fails horribly, improved handling of [ and ] when one has to escape unbalanced square brackets, and better documentation of that escaping.

You can get the latest version from my web tools distribution page.

2004-12-06: lsmounts 1.6

I discovered that lsmounts was recursing into .., the parent directory, which was obviously bad. Not sure why it was doing that; I thought File::Find had enough sense not to do that by itself. Something weird going on, I think. In any case, I added an additional check just to make sure.

You can get the latest version from the lsmounts distribution page.

2004-12-07: lsmounts 1.7

Having looked at this with a more rested eye and realizing what was probably going wrong last night, I've fixed the problem with recursing into .. in a much better way. It wasn't File::Find's problem at all (which didn't make sense); I was passing .. in as one of the directories to search through for the new partially recursive mode.

Anyway, fixed now. You can get the latest version from the lsmounts distribution page.

2004-12-07: The Tombs of Atuan

Review: The Tombs of Atuan, by Ursula K. Le Guin

Publisher: Simon Pulse
Copyright: 1970, 1971
ISBN: 0-689-84536-7
Pages: 180

While The Tombs of Atuan does stand on itself fairly well, the depth of the story is aided in a few places by knowing what happens in A Wizard of Earthsea. I recommending reading that book first.

My memory from the first reading years ago told me that this was the best book of the original Earthsea trilogy, and I was gratified to discover that my memory didn't disappoint. If anything, it's better than I remembered.

This is the story of a young girl, taken as a child by a religious sect as the high priestess reborn of the Nameless Ones. It is the story of her life there, of how she grows into her role, of the woman that she becomes, and of how she reacts when someone comes from outside of her world to challenge everything she was taught. It is, in short, a coming of age story nearly as full of archetypes as A Wizard of Earthsea, but told in a way that I found far more engaging.

Le Guin is an exceptional writer, and with a single setting on which to lavish her skill, she builds a sense of place that runs remarkably deep. With sparse, evocative descriptions, a mere 180 pages creates a stronger feel of location than I've felt in far longer books, and I think part of the key is what she doesn't describe. The places that are important to Tenar stand out in the writing, while the places that don't matter to her fade into the background even if they are part of her day-to-day experience. The reader's attention isn't squandered on unimportant detail, and instead the distant background is left to fill in itself while the story concentrates on its heroine.

Unusually, Tenar is allowed to have power in her own sphere even before she comes of age. So often in coming of age stories, nothing that happens to the hero before they are discovered by the great events of the world really matters; they're just biding time before they become powerful and prophesied. Tenar, however, truly is the priest of her gods. While she knows nearly nothing of the world, Le Guin recognizes that if one is trained one's whole life for a function, one does actually become quite good at it even if young. Tenar knows her gods, understands their holy places, and takes initiative from early in the story to become better at what she thinks her role should be. This gives her far more influence over the outcome of the story, making it less something that simply happens to her.

It also allows for a far more realistic aftermath. Many lesser writers have halted this story earlier, after the obvious climax, but Le Guin goes on to write another 25 pages that bring to a beautiful second climax Tenar's emotional journey. I was engrossed by the entire book, but I fell in love with the ending.

Contrasting this story with A Wizard of Earthsea reveals much about what styles of storytelling work best for me. Wizard is a travelogue, showing bits and pieces of many places without enough for any location except Gont to really feel complete to me. I like Le Guin's descriptions much better when more focused, giving her a chance to slowly build up the feel of a single place. The narrative tone in Tombs is also much closer, letting the reader see how Tenar feels and reacts, letting us get some sense of what is going on inside her head, while Ged always remains distant in Wizard, his emotions described as part of the legend but not truly felt. Tombs touched me on a far more personal level, making me care deeply about the character and cry at her pain. (Partly, this is also because I think Ged makes a stronger supporting character than viewpoint character. He has a certain inscrutableness and quiet inwardness that I find more approachable when seen through the eyes of someone else.)

The Tombs of Atuan tells a story that I have a particular liking for, with a main character of a mold that I love. I'm not sure the story would feel as strong or strike as close to home to those of other tastes (although even with that caveat, I have to flatly disagree with the reviews that call this the weakest of the trilogy). It is, regardless, a story beautifully told, with more subtlety and nuance than innumerable stories more than twice its length. I highly recommend it.

Rating: 10 out of 10

2004-12-08: multilog-watch 1.12

Aaron Wilson pointed out that multilog-watch, when converting timestamps, wasn't adjusting for the UTC vs. TAI offset. I've added the simple conversion that works for systems keeping UTC time with no leap second adjustment file for the TAI library, which is all the systems I care about.

You can get the latest version from the multilog-watch distribution page.

2004-12-09: spin 1.59

I finally added support for something that I'd thought about for quite a while, namely cleaning up the output directory. When given the -d flag, spin will now remove from the output directory any files that don't correspond to files in the input directory. (I ended up needing this for a project at work, which got me to finally go write it.)

While I was there, I also made it easier to call spin on a single file, since my co-workers tend to want to do that and don't use the -f flag.

You can get the latest version from my web tools distribution page.

2004-12-10: Web page fiddling

Tonight, I started fiddling around with the layout of my software pages a bit. The top-level index has been getting rather long, and given that I have another twenty-odd software packages that need to get added to it over time, at some point I'm was going to need to try to make it shorter.

I've now rewritten the software index to use tables and single-line descriptions, which I think I like better. I'm still not completely happy with the way that the page looks, but I'm not sure that anything will be much better, and at least it's consistent with my other pages. I also tweaked the front page of my web site a little bit (likely too subtlely for anyone to notice), and I've been slowly working on remedying the fact that many of my software pages are missing introductory quotes. Three down, lots and lots to go.

This was a wonderful, marvellously productive week at work. I need more weeks like this. The only drawback was very, very little time for my own projects and volunteer work, but I have a nice, long vacation coming up.

2004-12-11: Gang aft agley

I don't know how the mice did today, but I certainly got nothing done that I was scheming. I did get a few more quotes added to some of my software pages, which is good but done at a whim, and other than that I pretty much zoned in front of the TV or read.

I have The Farthest Shore to write a review of still, and didn't get to that. I was going to play video games and didn't get to that either (although that meant that I got to watch curling on TV, rather a rarety around here). I was going to get some other things done, and basically got nothing done.

Oh well, vacation soon. And since I have this strong urge to curl up with a book lately, I expect vacaction will be heavily concerned with such pursuits.

2004-12-13: Steroids rant

The coverage of steroids in baseball and Barry Bonds has been annoying me no end, so I wrote a long rant about it. Behind the cut so that I don't take over anyone's friends page (I ended up going on and on about it).

So, the current hot story in the sporting world is that Barry Bonds, home run hitter extraordinaire for the San Francisco Giants, admitted in testimony a year ago to having at least once used substances that were almost certainly steroids. He's claiming that he didn't know what they were and that his trainer just gave them to him and said they were lindseed oil and an anti-arthritis cream. Basically no one, including me, actually believes that; Bonds isn't that stupid.

First off, this is at most a mild surprise. Sure, Bonds has been claiming for years that he doesn't use steroids, but it's pretty much certain at this point that somewhere between a significant minority and an outright majority of Major League Baseball players are using steroids. (Personally, I think the same could be said of just about any other major sport and the only thing that changes is how subtle and careful they are about it, but that's another rant.) To listen to portions of the sporting news, you would think that this is some sort of devastating revelation. That's nonsense. We've known this for years.

Now, of course, people are freaking out. Ban him from baseball. Strike all his records. Footnote all his records. We must have drug testing now. The same kneejerk litanies over and over again, and just as with the idiotic War Against Some Drugs, few people seem to actually be thinking.

Let me pose a question: What's actually wrong with steroids?

The strongest argument is that using them is cheating. The definition of cheating is doing something against the rules, and sporting rules don't require any inherent defense. They can be completely arbitrary as long as they're applied uniformly. You don't need any justification for making steroids against the rules any more than you need any justification for the allowable size of the bat or the weight of the baseball.

This also means that the rules of the game carry no moral weight. They're just arbitrary rules. And that means that when there's a rule on the books that in practice isn't called on the field and is widely ignored, it isn't some sort of moral flaw to play the game the same way the rest of the players play the game. How many people out there think it's cheating for professional basketball players to take extra steps when driving to the lane, when travelling is rarely called? How about John Stockton sticking his elbow in people's ribs on screens? When wide receivers pull tricks on the field to make something look like pass interference that probably wasn't, it's called a veteran move, a sign of an experienced player. Pushing the edges of the rules is widely considered part of the game. What makes steroids different?

The answer, of course, is that steroids happen off the field and they involve drugs. Let's deal with the second of those first.

Here are the basic reasons put forward for why athletes shouldn't be allowed to take drugs, specifically steroids: Drugs are inherently evil, drugs have nasty side effects, drugs are illegal, drugs destroy a level playing field, and drugs set a bad example for children.

The inherent evil argument is, of course, complete bullshit. The moral high-handedness here reminds me of the self-righteous War Against Drugs commercials decrying marijuana as the great evil, played immediately before beer commercials. The level of hypocrisy and outright lying is disgusting. The same argument applies to the supposed illegality -- for one, it's not at all clear that anything actually illegal happened, and for another, why are you so sure that law makes any sense in the first place? Why shouldn't someone be allowed to shoot up steroids if they have the money and want to, when they can drink themselves to death and no one even gives it a second thought? I'd love to hear the logical explanation, and if you tell me that steroids have more negative side effects than alcohol, I'm just going to laugh at you.

As for the nasty side effects, yeah right. I don't see people being particularly concerned with the long-term health of professional athletes in any other area. It's widely known and acknowledged that those people are out there killing themselves, giving themselves all sorts of serious long-term muscular and skeletal injuries (not to mention, in some sports, repeated concussions and brain injury) for our entertainment. Oh, yeah, and for millions and millions of dollars in cash. Steroids might have negative side effects on one's long-term health. So might getting tackled thirty times a game by 300 pound defensive lineman. Let's ban running plays in football. No? Then let's not be hypocritical about this, okay?

But what about the level playing field? If we allow steroids, then everyone has to take steroids to compete, right?

I hate to break this to you if you didn't already realize it, but professional athletes, regardless of whether they're taking steroids or not, do not go down to the grocery story and buy their meals like the rest of us, go work out at their local YMCA, and then go out and play in front of a national television audience. There is a reason why we spend lots of money to build Olympic training facilities and it's not because they look pretty. And if you think that a dietary supplement is affordable to anyone who wants to join the big leagues just because it's available over the counter, you're dreaming. Professional athletes have a support staff that costs a lot of money, steroids or not, and the few people who have so much natural talent that they can become world-class athletes without that support structure still get better when they have access to it.

Furthermore, while steroids may have more side effects and long-term problems than over-the-counter supplements, I have a sneaking suspicion that neither you nor I have really seen all of the data there, and again, if you think that many of the other things that professional athletes have to do to be competative at that level don't cause long-term damage, I think you're dreaming. We can start from the widely admired practice of playing hurt and go on from there. Professional athletics is simply not a profession that you go into unless you're willing to destroy your body for the money that you're getting, and removing steroids from the equation is not going to change that.

No, I have my own theory as to why people get so worked up about steroids, apart from simple ignorance, and it centers around the twin bizarre US obsessions with drugs as evil and athletes as role models. We know that what happens on the field is completely artificial and formalized, and we don't apply the same moral judgements to what happens there, but when it comes to conduct off the field, we expect athletes to be that mysterious form of being known as a "role model." I've never been quite sure exactly what that was supposed to mean, except that it clearly involves volunteering for good causes, not doing things that we don't want our children to do, and certainly not doing anything that might throw light on the sacred tenet of US politics -- all drugs (except alcohol, which isn't a drug, and caffeine, which is just normal) are evil. We want athletes to be the best that human beings can possibly be, and we don't actually mind them doing all sorts of incredibly artificial things to their bodies, but whatever they do must not involve anything that looks like a drug. Even if we can't point to any actual difference.

Look. I love watching sports. I like the drama of it, I like rooting for teams, I like the statistics and the analysis, I like second-guessing decisions, and I like the atmosphere of play on the field. But sports is like sausage; if you really enjoy it, you probably don't want to know how it's made. Sports involves a lot of money, a "power corrupts" quantity of money, paid to people who are not any different than average human beings except they're very good at some physical skill. Many of those people are not nice people. Many of them could have been nice people but get sucked up in the culture. Professional athletes are frequently amazingly sexist, horrifically bigoted, self-centered, arrogant, and deeply unpleasant people, and the money and bizarre pressures of athletics contribute to all of those tendencies. They are kids often barely out of high school who are getting paid amounts of money that defy human comprehension to do something they will often only be able to do for ten years in front of a broader audience than one can really imagine, after which the money will suddenly disappear and they will most likely be in constant pain for the rest of their lives.

But hey, they're still role models as long as they don't use steroids, right?

I don't really care if baseball wants to try to really ban steroids; like I said at the top, the rules of a sport are inherently arbitrary anyway. I do mind when it's being presented as a moral issue, given the degree of hypocrisy inherent in focusing on this issue while completely ignoring the rest of sports, and I think the reasons presented for banning steroids are just stupid. And I really think that Barry Bonds does not deserve to be singled out. Welcome to the real world, folks. This is how baseball is actually played. And we know Jason Giambi was also taking steroids, and I'm not noticing him challenging Babe Ruth's home run record.

Sit back and watch the show or don't, as you choose. I stopped watching rodeo because I couldn't stand what went into making the show. But I'm really sick of the hypocrisy from people who seem to want reality kept carefully away from their view, and who want to punish people, not out of a reasonable analysis of what they personally might have done wrong, but because they break the illusion.

2004-12-23: INN 2.4.2

Finally and at long last, I've gotten the new release of INN out the door. I should have done this last summer. It's really hard to keep up a frequent release cycle for some reason.

Lots and lots of bug fixes in the latest release. The Tcl filter has finally been disabled, since no one has stepped forward who cares about it. Overview generation should now be handled more completely correctly, article size limits should work better, and make install should work more cleanly.

You can get documentation and links to the latest version from my INN pages.

2004-12-24: Happy holidays

The more times I live through this time of year, the sadder the nonsense surrounding it makes me. Those who like the traditional US treatment of Christmas get plenty of support and validation, so this is for all the people who don't.

For all those of you who, like me, don't celebrate Christmas, I hope you've had a chance to get away from work for a while, relax, do whatever you feel like doing, and pause and take a deep breath before the next year. There are others out there like you, and not just people who believe in some other religion. You may not be able to tell it from television or even from your friends, but you're not alone. If, like me, your preference for this time of year is to find a quiet, warm cave to crawl into and stay out of the way of insane people, I hope you've been able to find a good one.

To all the people who, rather than following the rest of the country in bemoaning the commercialization of Christmas and then supporting it anyway, have chosen to resist societal pressure and simply not participate, I salute you. Again, you're not alone. Here's to giving people gifts when it fits and when you find something good.

For all of the people whose religions or spiritual beliefs are ignored and belittled, for all the people who are excluded by the attempts of Christianity to co-opt and control the winter holidays, for all the people who refuse to support religious discrimination even if it comes in the form of a charity, for all the people who know that American is not synonymous with Christian, I offer my little flame of support in a cold season.

For all of the people who understand that treating people decently, humanely, and with dignity is not a seasonal issue, who give some thought to how people are going to find food and shelter in February and October, and who find an extra amount of patience during the rudeness and insanity of the Christmas shopping season, you are my heroes. My gifts to charity will continue and increase after the holiday season.

I've found my hole to curl up into. I'm working on INN for fun, reading when I feel like it, watching football, and ignoring Christmas. I'm having a wonderful holiday break. I hope all of you do as well.

2004-12-25: Media reform

Here is a transcript of a speech by Bill Moyers to the National Conference on Media Reform (Update: link is now dead). While the warnings about the growth of consolidation and the loss of diversity in the news media aren't new, Moyers's presentation of it is very good. He's one of my favorite journalists; it's a shame (although good for him!) that he's retiring.

One of the points I found the most interesting was the idea that it was fine for early newspapers to be biased because there were a lot of newspapers that were all biased in different ways, and more importantly in pretty much all ways that were represented in the surrounding society. This is an argument that's used by some supporters of organizations like Fox News, but the reality of the current situation is that there are no major news organizations that are actively anti-corporate. There are only different approaches and different degrees of pandering to corporate power.

It's not about conservative vs. liberal, although that is a small underlying part of the problem. It's really about whether we have a news media that's willing to tell the truth, dig into the cracks, and expose the secrets of corporate and government power before they become so obvious that the media can't not cover it. And by secrets, I don't mean who's sleeping with whom, I mean who's abusing their power and their position to deceive, control, and fleece the public.

Personally, I subscribe to and read Salon. They can be a touch shrill, and they're certainly not unbiased or unpartisan, but I think they do try to do the real work of journalism in a way that's hard to find otherwise. But they need competition, and not just in the form of talk radio and pure opinion magazines. Salon has reporters who actually go somewhere and try to find news, they interview the people involved in current problems, and they seek out partnerships with other news organizations elsewhere in the world who do this and whose writing people in the US often don't see.

We need more journalism that does this, with more resources, with more different viewpoints, and with more aggressiveness. There are a lot of obstacles in the way of getting that, but one of them is clearly attention; we won't get insightful journalism that tries to pull the rug off of real issues unless we, the readers, support it and pay for it. Bush's government, one of the primary benefactors of the current news media atmosphere, certainly isn't going to be an ally.

2004-12-28: Holiday haul

Today was book shopping today; we hit a couple of used book stores and a couple of new book stores, and I did significant damage to my want list. We'll see if these will all fit on my existing shelves, although I think I still have enough room.

Michael Bishop -- And Strange at Ecbatan the Trees (sff)
Maya Kaathryn Bohnhoff -- The Meri (sff)
Suzy McKee Charnas -- The Furies (sff)
Arthur C. Clarke -- Tales from the White Hart (sff)
Storm Constantine -- The Enchantments of Flesh and Spirit (sff)
Rick Cook -- Wizard's Bane (sff)
Charles de Lint -- The Harp of the Grey Rose (sff)
Philip K. Dick -- Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said (sff)
Greg Egan -- Diaspora (sff)
Maggie Furey -- Aurian (sff)
Kathleen Ann Goonan -- Queen City Jazz (sff)
Colin Greenland -- Harm's Way (sff)
Haven Kimmel -- A Girl Named Zippy (mainstream)
Gabriel King -- The Wild Road (sff)
Ursula K. Le Guin -- Tales from Earthsea (sff)
Valery Leith -- The Company of Glass (sff)
Robin McKinley -- Sunshine (sff)
Ken MacLeod -- The Stone Canal (sff)
Julian May -- The Golden Torc (sff)
Elizabeth Moon -- Hunting Party (sff)
Pat Murphy -- Points of Departure (sff)
Larry Niven -- Flatlander (sff)
Chaim Potok -- Davita's Harp (mainstream)
Terry Pratchett -- Sourcery (sff)
Kim Stanley Robinson -- Blue Mars (sff)
Marshall Saunders -- Beautiful Joe (mainstream)
Walter Scott -- Waverley (classic)
Charles Sheffield -- Summertide (sff)
Sharon Shinn -- Angelica (sff)
Robert Silverberg -- Lord Valentine's Castle (sff)
Mary Stewart -- The Hollow Hills (sff)
S. Andrew Swann -- Broken Crescent (sff)
James Tiptree, Jr. -- The Color of Neanderthal Eyes (sff)
Anne Tyler -- The Accidental Tourist (mainstream)
Jack Vance -- Lyonesse (sff)
John Varley -- Titan (sff)
Tad Williams -- Stone of Farewell (sff)
Tad Williams -- To Green Angel Tower, Part I (sff)
Tad Williams & Nina Kirki Hoffman -- Child of an Ancient City (sff)
Jack Williamson -- Terraforming Earth (sff)
Connie Willis & Cynthia Felice -- Promised Land (sff)
Roger Zelazny -- Trumps of Doom (sff)

Beautiful Joe is to replace a hardcover copy that I have that's falling apart.

2004-12-31: Tehanu

Review: Tehanu, by Ursula K. Le Guin

Publisher: Simon Pulse
Copyright: 1990
ISBN: 0-689-84533-2
Pages: 281

Like the previous Earthsea books, Tehanu stands on its own sufficiently to be enjoyable without reading the previous books. It does, however, pick up directly after the events of The Farthest Shore and some parts of the story will be less confusing if one reads the previous books first.

Tehanu returns to the characters and some of the structure of The Tombs of Atuan, which for me was immediately a point in its favor. Tenar is perhaps my favorite of Le Guin's Earthsea characters, and leaving the characters in one region for the whole story and letting the setting fully develop adds a lot to the story for me. Ged is present again as a supporting character, letting the narrative focus on Tenar exclusively (except for the excellent ending).

Newly a widow after a quiet life as a farm wife, Tenar adopts a badly burned, disfigured, and abused girl, trying to win her trust and find a life for her as well as help a crippled Ged. In that search, she confronts her decisions about her own life and place in the world. Le Guin moves farther away from traditional fantasy plots and instead writes a story about the quest for identity after a trauma or a significant change in life. There is still a touch of clear-cut conflict, including villains about whom there is no moral ambiguity whatsoever, but this is background structure. The conflict just highlights the need put the past behind and the struggle to balance the often unfair strictures of society or capability with complex, mixed desires.

A secondary theme is prejudice and discrimination, and Le Guin confronts some of the inequities of the world of Earthsea that were present but largely unremarked-on in the earlier books. Why are all wizards male? Is there something necessarily male about about wizard magic? Is it just for witches to be distrusted and treated as lesser practitioners? Both Tenar and Therru, the child, also face the prejudice of the small-town environment of Gont, where the different or strange is treated with suspicion and at best left alone, if not actively feared. The questions are raised but not answered and the problems worked around rather than solved, but there are hints that the question of female wizards may come to a head in future stories. I hope so, as the setup and teaser in the ending were wonderful and intriguing.

Tehanu is written in Le Guin's typical quiet, precise style. The narrative voice took a few pages for me to get used to, and then I found it particularly effective at creating a sense of place and an emotional context. The tone is very introspective and contemplative, a different reading experience than a plot-driven story and one of the things I liked best about The Tombs of Atuan. The world has no easy answers, and problems of identity can't be solved with simple action. Tenar understands that, and she thinks deeply about what she does and why.

I like the Earthsea character studies better than the travelogue adventures. While this didn't hit my personal buttons quite as directly as The Tombs of Atuan, it is another excellent story, adding depth and nuance to the Earthsea universe and featuring a wonderfully handled ending. Highly recommended.

Rating: 9 out of 10

2004-12-31: Book statistics for 2004

It looks like Tehanu will be my last read for 2004, as I have another 180 pages to go in Dreamsnake and probably won't finish it until after midnight. This therefore seems to be a good time to gather some meaningless statistics about books read in 2004.

Books read: 94
Total pages: 34,304
Average rating: 6.80
Books per day: 0.26
Pages per day: 93.7
Days per book: 3.90

Next year I'm going to aim for 100 books. That shouldn't be too much of a difficulty, given that I've been steadily increasing the rate at which I've been finishing books since I started reading regularly again.

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