Showing posts with label art. Show all posts
Showing posts with label art. Show all posts

Sunday, November 25, 2012

The greatest poem ever written - Love and tensor algebra

From Stanislaw Lem's The Cyberiad, translated by Michael Kandel:

In an attempt to test out a new "bard machine":
"Very well. Let's have a love poem, lyrical, pastoral, and expressed in the language of pure mathematics. Tensor algebra mainly, with a little topology and higher calculus, if need be. But with feeling, you understand, and in the cybernetic spirit."
"Love and tensor algebra? Have you taken leave of your sense?" Trurl began, but stopped, for his electronic bard was already declaiming:
Come, let us hasten to a higher plane,
Where dyads tread the fairy fields of Venn,
Their indices bedecked from one to n,
Commingled in an endless Markov chain!

Come, every frustum longs to be a cone,
And ever vector dreams of matrices.
Hark to the gentle gradient of the breeze:
It whispers of a more ergodic zone.

In Riemann, Hilbert or in Banach space
Let superscripts and subscripts go their ways.
Our asymptotes no longer out of phase,
We shall encounter, counting, face to face.

I'll grant thee random access to my heart,
Thou'lt tell me all the constants of thy love:
And so we two shall all love's lemmas prove,
And in our bound partition never part.

For what did Cauchy know, or Christoffel,
Or Fourier, or any Boole or Euler,
Wielding their compasses, their pens and rulers,
Of thy supernal sinusoidal spell?

Cancel me not - for what then shall remain?
Abscissas, some mantissas, modules, modes,
A root or two, a torus and a node:
The inverse of my verse, a null domain.

Ellipse of bliss, converge, O lips divine!
The producs of our scalars is defined!
Cyberiad draws nigh, and the skew mind
Cuts capers like a happy haversine.

I see the eigenvalue in thine eye,
I hear the tender tensor in thy sigh.
Bernoulli would have been content to die,
Had he but known such a2 cos 2 φ!

Saturday, September 1, 2012

A few words about images

I read the absolutely amazing A Monster Calls a few short weeks ago. Within a day of reading it, I had already gone back to it, reading it again and again. I have bestowed upon the book all manner of flattery; I will continue to sing its praises for years to come. Luckily, I can now do more - I can now hand my own copy to read. Having read A Monster Calls in eBook format, as checked out from my local library, I proceeded to purchase the original hardcover. It was, without a doubt, the right decision.

Flipping through this elegant little book revealed to me gems I had been entirely unaware of. Not only did the full-spread black and white images look significantly better when printed on glossy pages, it turned out that many other pages have elaborately drawn borders and images that twist around the text. The effect is altogether impressive, and adds a lot to the general mood of this very special story.

It goes to show: images matter. A Monster Calls was a beautiful book with just its words going for it. It is, somehow, an even more beautiful book when presented in its natural form, with the haunting, somewhat bewildering, enchanting artwork by Jim Kay. The glossy paper, the rough paper dust cover, the beautiful design of the hardcover itself... These do not change the powerful story within the book's pages. But they certainly change the reading experience, and for that I am once again deeply in awe of this book.

Thursday, August 16, 2012


If not for fear of sounding too subjective, I would describe A Monster Calls as a perfect book. Maybe there's the technical issue as well, that would define "perfect" as something very far from this short, somewhat simplistic book. But there is something here that touches the reader. This reader in particular.

There is a certain level on which I have to justify my reaction to A Monster Calls. As I neared the halfway mark of the book, I began to see clear parallels between main character Conor's situation and that of a good friend of mine. The moment this happened - the moment I went from simply empathizing with the characters and instead seeing them as real people I know in my real world - there was nothing left to do. A Monster Calls horrified me. It latched itself onto me. It dug a hole straight into my emotional core and left me shuddering. At the book's end, I found myself completely emotionally compromised.

Someone who saw me in this state - literally shaking with grief - commented half-joking that this is why he doesn't read books. But this is exactly why I read books. A Monster Calls may have deeply disturbed me, but it did so in an absolutely astonishing way. With simple language and a simple setting, Patrick Ness created a story that enraptured me for three straight hours. I could not set the book aside. I literally ached from reading it. It is literature at its finest - perfect.

And here's what I think sets A Monster Calls apart from the vast majority of sad kids books. Most sad stories are "heart-wrenching" because they're constructed to be that way. The author sets the stage to make you feel for the tragic heroes. A Monster Calls is something different. It's about more than death. It's about more than grief. It's about so, so much more that I am scared to divulge for fear of ruining the book's power. It's just something special.

Recommending a book as painful as A Monster Calls is not easy. How can I wish this upon anyone else? How can I tell any other reader to experience such sorrow?

I recommend it because it's essential. A Monster Calls is a perfect book. The writing style may be simple and childish, but this is powerful stuff. This a book that I've revisited every night since first reading it, trying to go back and pinpoint where I fell completely under its spell. Each time I reach the end, I am drained. The story does not lose its power upon reread. And I suspect that it never will.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

SAFL #13: Gunnerkrigg Court

Early art style, chapter 1
My labeling of Gunnerkrigg Court as SAFL breaks two "rules" I set myself when beginning this project. The first was to avoid books belonging to ongoing series. It didn't seem fair to readers (or to myself) to include incomplete stories in this account. The second (far more important) decision I reached was to avoid including any books that readers would find inaccessible for some reason or other (the point of the project being, after all, to encourage readers who normally ignore sci-fi and fantasy to give these particular gems a shot). This has often meant excluding kids books (due to the fact that many adults will not read kids books, or young adult books on principle), and would certainly mean excluding most graphic novels.

The child friendly webcomic Gunnerkrigg Court which seems far from ending certainly breaks a lot of rules. But it is absolutely worth your time.

I can spend hours discussing the gradual improvements in the striking artwork. I can talk endlessly about the use of mythology and fairy tales throughout the series. I can ramble about all that I've learned from Tom Siddell's management of the site in regards to eBooks, how to support authors, and my views on internet availability. All these points would probably make you say, "Huh, yeah, I should look into that" but then you'd forget eventually. No. That won't do.

Recent Annie: Chapter 34
The reason you should be reading Gunnerkrigg Court - the reason you should start reading it now - is because Tom Siddell is hands down the best storyteller I've come across in years.

This is a high bar to cross, and Gunnerkrigg Court has leapt over it easily. And when I say "the best storyteller", I mean the best. This is including Bartimaeus, this is including Wolf Hall, this is including the beginning of "Battlestar Galactica" (the end is pretty easy to surpass...). I'm not just saying that Siddell has written (and drawn) a good comic (though he has), I'm saying that he has written an excellent story, and in such a way that I am constantly in awe of his writing abilities.

Robot humor
Gunnerkrigg Court has everything. There's science fiction, there's fantasy, there are strong heroines, there's humor, there are gods and mythological creatures, there are robots and laser cows, and there's a bigger, looming story behind everything. Unlike many ongoing stories, Siddell manages to keep his readers confident in his ability to get the story to its conclusion. I've never wondered if Siddell has gotten lost on his way to solve mysteries introduced in the comic's earliest pages; I've never been concerned that Siddell is unsure of the story's future. Siddell seems to understand his characters through and through, and their development is both realistic and natural.

But it all comes back to storytelling, written or drawn. Siddell employs subtlety in a way that repeatedly astounds me. His characters feel alive. One wordless panel tells the reader more than twenty pages of standard exposition.

Saying Gunnerkrigg Court is my favorite webcomic is easy. Saying Gunnerkrigg Court is one of my favorite stories overall will, hopefully, encourage you to take the "plunge" and click on over to the archives (or read the lovely print books). This is a beautiful, fascinating, wonderfully entertaining story for adults and kids alike. Well worth the "rule" breaking.

Gunnerkrigg Court's Annie and Kat, chapter 6

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Why one must always reread The Sandman

I didn't expect to learn much from my fourth (or possibly fifth...?) reread of volume eight of The Sandman, World's End. I pulled it off the shelf to pass a few hours pleasantly, recalling that though World's End is rarely ranked among readers' top-favorite Sandman volumes, it remains the book I cherish most out of the series.

When I think to recommend The Sandman to readers, I have to overcome two major hurdles: the first is that The Sandman is in graphic novel (comic) format. The second is that The Sandman requires patience. Lots of patience. It's a series that starts out strong, fizzles a bit, flares, fizzles back, and then rises in one of the grandest story progressions I've read in my entire life (books six through nine are simply splendid, while ten has its moments of pure brilliance with a somewhat quiet, unsatisfactory ending). It is no surprise then, with this wondrous crescendo that I find it difficult to name my favorite volume, but there it is: volume eight, World's End.

The thing about The Sandman that I'm realizing as the years go by is that it's incredibly subtle. I'm not talking subtle like The Tiger's Wife (a book in which the vagueness provides an aura of subtle storytelling), but rather subtle like, Neil Gaiman leaves clues hanging around and if you pick up on it, good job! If you don't... alright! We're talking subtlety on a level unlike anything else I've ever read, some of it on a fairly obvious level (would that make it not subtle...?) and some on a level seemingly so obscure and unclear that even The Great and All-Knowing Internet hasn't provided me with any answers.

World's End is the key to almost all of The Sandman's subtlety. Or the portal. World's End includes within its pages a wide and diverse cast of characters - some returning, others new - but the entire premise is built on the notion of storytelling. Not only is World's End a story-within-a-story-within-a-story, it's convincing. Returning characters do not suffer from reintroducing, casual mentions of older stories or references are lightly done, and the story builds carefully to what is doubtless the most beautiful and poignant Sandman ending yet. There is foreshadowing - oh yes - but like everything else, a reread reveals that it's hidden within the least suspicious stories.

And so by rereading World's End I have learned much. A story that had never meant much to me (other than having a lovely two-page spread) suddenly took on secondary meaning (and had me wondering if Gaiman had slipped in a romance story without my noticing), a scene that upon first reading meant little retained its enchanting relevance (discovered upon the first reread), and I was still blown away by the way the small, seemingly insignificant stories tied into the greater Sandman world. Whatever drama volume nine may have, whatever excellent character development volume seven may house... it's the smaller, quieter World's End that astounds me again and again and again.

So if you've read (and enjoyed) The Sandman, reread it. Now. There's so much more to be found within its pages, so many subtexts and quieter truths that do not immediately present themselves upon reading. Go back and reread World's End. Enjoy its storytelling, enjoy its message, enjoy the way it ties the series together. And if you haven't read The Sandman, start at the beginning. But remember: patience. Not everything reveals itself right away. And one final thing: this can be a wonderful experience.

Monday, February 28, 2011

My new favorite Oscar winner

Acceptance speech
I'd like to offer my enthusiastic, hearty congratulations to Shaun Tan of The Arrival fame and Andrew Ruhemann for winning the Oscar for best animated short film. It's not every day I get to see an author I really really admire accepting a prestigious award for something that is not at all literary (or even something in the "best screenplay" realm).

Back when I first read The Arrival, I found myself repeatedly comparing it to a silent film. It would appear that Mr Tan is just as adept at animating actual films as he is at drawing wonderful, wordless books. I very much look forward to seeing "The Lost Thing".

Once more, congratulations!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Homemade eCovers

Long story short: my operating system can no longer use Sony's eReader library program (and good riddance, too...), leading me inevitably to Calibre. By resetting my entire Reader to Calibre's way more convenient standards, I've been finding myself having a jolly good time with the new order. One aspect of this is finding covers for all my eBooks.

The problem is that almost all of the freely available fiction on the web (my only source for eBooks) is extremely old (thus the copyright has expired). A lot of these books don't have normal covers. Same for various free short stories and self-published stuff. This is where it gets fun. Books need covers. So what if there are no good options? Let me have a crack at it!

I don't have much (any) artistic talent. I don't have particularly complex picture editing programs. But here's a glimpse of some of the covers I've made the last couple of weeks, for your entertainment:
Sci-fi/fantasy/other collection

Favorite to make - short stories
Mythology/folklore collection
My favorite homemade cover (original photo here):

And these two, that actually look a little like textbooks I've had in the past. It begs the question though, why I ever downloaded these books from Gutenberg... Picking out these pictures was cool, though (physics and chemistry), and it was plenty nice trying to decide exactly which color shade and font (sadly limited with the new operating system...) fit the book best.

This is fun.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Bookmarking - an introduction

One thing I prefer in visiting physical bookstores over the internet variety are the bookmarks. Enter a random store in a random country in a random town and you can find the official store bookmark, either advertising local events, providing information (store hours, locations, etc.), or just random words of wisdom. Even my favorite of booksellers on the internet have so far failed to indulge my obsession.

No longer. The Book Depository is calling for my money for numerous reasons (free international shipping, anyone?), but now there's one more reason on the list urging me to take advantage of their deals - the bookmark competition. Hundreds of very cool looking bookmarks were submitted, with twenty intriguing and varied winners. Of the winners, my favorites are probably Ricardo Reis' and Damien Kavanagh's - both bookmarks would be excellent additions to my collection. Among those that didn't win, a few other great ones (and some other ones):

As a longtime appreciator of bookmarks and a more recent active collector, looking at these charming artistic displays made me ponder the bookmarks I already have, culminating in the following: next week will start a running feature of various bookmarks in my possession (or ones I encounter). While I know mine won't have the charm the Book Depository's entries have, I know there are some funny stories behind them and a couple of real beauties. And even though the Book Depository doesn't exist in the "real" world, it's going to be providing me with tangible evidence of my purchases there, via my collection. Kudos for that.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009


A few months ago, browsing in a used bookstore, I happened across a nice hardback copy of Emile Zola's "Germinal". Force of habit (I often look at favorite books in as many editions as possible) urged me to pull the book off the shelf and I let it fall open in my hands.

Sketches. Surprised, I flipped through the book slowly, pausing every few pages. Lovely drawings by Berthold Mahn, scattered throughout this 1942 edition of one of my favorite books. Some drawings are more detailed and complex (above and lower left), while others take on a cruder, simpler style (lower right). The pictures match the story just right without revealing much for the unsuspecting browser. In fact, lined up and placed side-by-side, these different drawings tell a story of their own. The depth and beauty these pictures add to an already excellent book is surprising, making me wonder why I haven't seen more artwork of this kind.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Picture books

The very best books are touted for all sorts of things. People like the writing, the characters, the stories, the emotions, the atmosphere... etc. But ultimately, good books rule with their ability to draw the reader into their new, fascinating worlds. It isn't a gift the author is giving the reader. You've got to give something too, like your attention and imagination. The reader has to build the images based on the words the author gives.

"The Arrival" gives the exact opposite. Now the book gives the images and the reader has to build the words around it. It's a curious case (not unique, I'm sure, but special), best described as similar to a silent movie. Indeed, reading "The Arrival" often feels like watching a movie except that there's still something particularly "bookish" about it. Perhaps the still shots help. Reading it, I needed to fill in the blanks in a way that a movie would ask less of me. It's a difficult book to classify.

What amazes me most about "The Arrival" is how it can work anywhere for anyone. It's a book that can be enjoyed by the illiterate and educated alike. It can be read by anybody who can see, no matter what language they speak. It is something so purely human, requiring little background knowledge (it helps to recognize certain shots as based on Ellis Island but is not necessary) and has no language barrier. There's hardly even a culture gap, given that this is precisely what the book displays - a man comes to a new world and is surprised by all that he sees there. I should like to see more books with this type of story-telling. If they're as good as "The Arrival", we'll have a lot of excellent new picture books on our hands.