Posts for June 2007

2007-06-03: Baycon haul

I've been rather derlicit lately in making journal postings for a combination of reasons. I got sick a few weekends back, then was busy catching up at work, then went to Baycon over Memorial Day weekend, and since then have been buried in work. For a variety of reasons, not entirely the fault of the managers, my employer is doing a horrible job at project planning and resource allocation at the moment, and I therefore have more work than can reasonably get done. So I'm prioritizing ruthlessly, focusing as tightly as I can, and trying not to multitask because then I get nothing done. One of the things that falls off during that is outside communication.

Baycon was quite a bit of fun, although I was fighting off some other stomach problem the whole weekend and therefore didn't do as much as I would have otherwise. (That can stop any time now. It can particularly stop before my upcoming business trip.) I didn't buy any art this year, but I did take several trips through the dealer's room. I also got a pre-order from Subterranean Press while I was at the con.

The spoils:

Elizabeth Bear -- New Amsterdam
Michael Chabon -- The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay (mainstream)
Nicola Griffith & Stephen Pagel (ed.) -- Bending the Landscape: Fantasy (sff)
Jon Courtenay Grimwood -- 9tail Fox (sff)
P.C. Hodgell -- Seeker's Mask (sff)
P.C. Hodgell -- To Ride a Rathorn (sff)
Jack McDevitt -- Seeker (sff)
Diana L. Paxson -- Lady of Light (sff)
Alastair Reynolds -- Pushing Ice (sff)
Melissa Scott -- The Roads of Heaven (sff)
Catherine M. Valente -- The Orphan's Tales: In the Night Garden (sff)
Kurt Vonnegut -- Timequake (sff)

I picked up both the P.C. Hodgell even though I haven't read the beginning of the series since they come highly recommended and the publisher went out of business. Seeker won the Nebula this year; I've not decided yet whether to just read it or to read the previous two books with the same character. The Melissa Scott is a book club hardcover that reprints a complete trilogy.

2007-06-06: kftgt 1.14

We're now starting to install new Debian systems without kftgtd on them at all, which uncovered the fact that the klogin and krsh wrappers still care about kftgt at least managing to open a network connection. That's now been fixed and this error is also ignored, moving klogin and krsh one step closer to being trivial wrappers around rlogin.

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

2007-06-13: The Children of Húrin

Review: The Children of Húrin, by J.R.R. Tolkien

Editor: Christopher Tolkien
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin
Copyright: 2007
ISBN: 0-618-89464-0
Pages: 314

Everyone is familiar with The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, but they were only a small portion of Tolkien's work within Middle Earth. They were, unusually for him, stories he finished and successfully published. His other material went unpublished in his lifetime but is vast, in widely varying states, and frequently has been rewritten multiple times. Tolkien spent most of his life writing, rewriting, reorganizing, and tinkering with a vast mythology to underly Middle Earth, and many of the stories in that mythology exist in multiple unfinished or incomplete drafts written in various styles often decades apart.

The earliest look the world got of this material was The Silmarillion, a collection of epic history primarily dealing with the fate of the Noldor (one of the branches of Elves) but including a usually high-level overview of Tolkien's entire mythology. Among the stories presented there is the life of Húrin, a great hero of Man, and the tragedy of his son Túrin. This is one of the three great stories (along with Beren and Lúthien and the fall of Gondolin) that Tolkien had planned to fully flesh out as narratives in their own right and experimented with writing in several forms, but never fully completed to his satisfaction before his death. The story in The Children of Húrin is told in more summarized form in The Silmarillion, so those who have read it will recognize this book, but this is a much-expanded version assembled by Christopher Tolkien from various manuscripts written at different times in his father's life.

As you might expect from this background, this is not as polished, completed, or transparent as one would expect from a normal novel. It's also written in Tolkien's mythological mode, which readers of The Silmarillion will recognize for good or for ill. It is nowhere near as approachable or readable as The Lord of the Rings, nor will it ever reach the same sort of acclaim. But as an episode in the background of Middle Earth and as an example of an epic tragedy, it is still rather interesting.

This is not an uplifting story with a positive ending, as those who are familiar with the mythology and timeframe of the story might have guessed. It follows the life of Túrin from his birth to his death, starting near the time period of the Battle of Unnumbered Tears when the full forces of Elves and Men set forth to put an end to the evil of Morgoth and were horribly defeated. It covers a time of evil and growing domination by Morgoth and the coming of Glaurung the dragon, one of the darker periods of Middle Earth. Both Elves and Men are hopelessly overmatched by Morgoth and have little hope against him; his dominion will only be broken when the Valar finally come to do battle with him directly, far after the timeframe of this book.

This is more than just a dark setting. Tolkien's conception of Morgoth and his power over Middle Earth includes the ability to turn events towards evil and to lay effective curses on a family. The background of this story is the captivity of Húrin in Thangorodrim, held by Morgoth and forced to watch through the lens of Morgoth's malice while his family is systematically destroyed. The playing out of fate in this story is in some ways the exact opposite of The Lord of the Rings: rather than luck falling with the heroes, despite a great deal of pain and loss, here luck always turns against the heroes despite temporary respites of happiness and success. Morgoth does little directly to Túrin, but the flaws (and sometimes even the strengths) of his personality lead him in just the wrong direction. This is a story full of mistaken killings, of transgressions due to unknown identities, of wounded pride, hardened hearts, and inability or refusal to hear the correct counsel.

This is not going to be to everyone's taste. Indeed, I'll go a step further and say that The Children of Húrin is not particularly compelling in isolation. The strength of its tragedy is considerably muted by a distant tone full of the stylings of epic: geneologies, extensive place names (the map is helpful but not quite sufficient), many references to other parts of Tolkien's mythology, and a somewhat archaic tone in all the dialogue. It reminded me quite a bit of the Iliad, without as many of the wonderful turns of phrase as other Tolkien works such as The Silmarillion. If you liked reading the Iliad for pleasure, you may like this as well. Most, though, I expect to find it interesting only within the larger context of Tolkien's work and as an expansion of an interregnum between several of the great battles of Middle Earth. Few of the characters (certainly including Túrin) are easy to identify with or particularly likeable, making it difficult to care much about their tragic destruction. I think the most effective character portrayal in the whole story is the wise and corrosive malice of Glaurung, who makes a spectacular villain (in many ways more compelling than Morgoth himself).

This is far less a scholarly work than many of Tolkien's posthumous publications, but as befits this sort of assembly of unpublished material there is an extensive preface that places it in context and two well-written appendices explaining the evolution and assembly of the manuscript. Christopher Tolkien writes well about his father's work and about the scholarly process of understanding and organizing it, and at times his analysis more interesting to read than the text. There is also a glossary of place names, geneological trees, and the aforementioned and quite important fold-out map.

The book itself is a beautiful object, helped considerably by the gorgeous illustrations of Alan Lee. There are eight full-color plates, each of which a work of art good enough that I'd happily hang it on my wall, and numerous black and white drawings full of intricate detail throughout the book. The artwork is exceptional and arguably worth the cost of the book all by itself.

I wouldn't recommend this for general reading, and if you're looking to explore Tolkien's mythology beyond his popular novels, The Silmarillion is a much better starting point. If, however, you already have a copy of that (particularly the nice hardcover with similarly exceptional art) and have the stomach for more of the same, this isn't a bad choice. At the very least, you are periodically rewarded with some exceptional, detailed renderings of grand vistas inbetween struggling through the surfeit of proper names and doomed characters.

Rating: 6 out of 10

Permanent review page

2007-06-27: remctl 2.8

Well, that was hideously painful and took the entire day, but remctl 2.8 is finally out. The original motivating force was some completely untested code in the simplified remctl() library interface that exploded if the server returned an error. We ran across that with one of our internal applications that I convered to use remctl, and it has to be fixed for an upcoming rollout.

But, while I was at it, I needed a Perl Net::Remctl binding so that I could avoid passing passwords on the command line, and I wanted to get that into this release. The Perl XS code turned out not to be too bad, although I had to learn a lot more about XS than I previously knew. However, the integration with the build system was, as always, a joy. At some point, I need to try Module::Build and see if it's less retarded than ExtUtils::MakeMaker.

I also merged a UMich patch (with significant modifications) that improves the remctld stand-alone mode, and then when testing the new Perl module, uncovered a bunch of infelicities and problems in the client library that hadn't been previously exposed. So that's now all cleaned up, and finally the new version is out. Hopefully there are no stupid bugs, since I can't afford to spend much more time working on remctl.

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

2007-06-29: remctl 2.9

As part of a last-minute error handling fix in remctl 2.8, I managed to break remctl's behavior when the connection to the remote host was refused. It ended up trying to free an uninitialized variable, with the expected bizarre results. That seemed to warrant a new release, so I also incorporated some Perl module build and documentation patches from other people and knocked another item off the to-do list. remctl now comes with section 3 man pages for all of the APIs in the client library.

Hm. And it occurs to me that I should add symbol versioning to the client library as well. Ah well, next release.

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

Last modified and spun 2017-03-25