Quiet

I recently spent a week in a small Victorian town. On my second day I went to the supermarket to get the week's groceries. As I climbed out of the car I fiddled with the Gordian knot of my earphones when I realised something – I didn't want to plug them in.

I normally wear earphones for a lot of the time that I'm out of the house. I listen to a lot of music, podcasts and audiobooks, and the time spent looking after the trivialities of life might be better used. I get through a lot of books this way.

The thing that stopped me was the quiet. There was some traffic noise, but birdsong was easily audible over it. People had loud conversations but they weren't obnoxious. A knackered old Datsun pulled up into the carpark, but it was an interesting spectacle rather than an annoyance. I looked around. No one else was wearing earphones either.

Without the constant drone of background noise I didn't feel compelled to armour myself against the world. And like an annoying ache, you often don't realise how much noise there is until it's gone. A less frantic place doesn't need insulation.

The US government maintains a list of places in America that are truly quiet – where no human-originated noise can be heard. They are rare, only a couple of dozen in the contiguous 48 states.

How much effort are we unconsciously putting into protecting ourselves from other people's activities? Living in a vast hive of people has its advantages, but we often can't see the down side.

Two short notes

I’m jotting down a few notes here about recent thought processes, mainly so that I can park said thought processes and think about something else.

Nineties music is back! 

In the aftermath of Chris Cornell’s death and the acquisition of a Apple Music account, I’ve been revisiting much of the music of my teenage years. I was a huge Smashing Pumpkins fan in high school and have barely listened to them since then, mainly because I so completely overdid it at the time. I never quite got into Grunge, seeing as my taste in music always tended towards the grandiose rather than self-abnegating. The Pumpkins were a great fit – angry but not nihilistic and with musical talent to spare.

So it is therefore my sad duty to report that what others have known for a long time: Billy Corgan is probably mental, and he hasn’t written a decent album since about 1995. There are good moments in his post-Mellon Collie work but they’re few and far between. Sometimes being enormously productive just means that you produce a lot of crap.

 

I’m not a Puppy but I feel like one!

I have an ongoing project to read all the winners of the Hugo Award for Best Novel, the premier award for science fiction and fantasy. In recent years the award has been controversial due to attempted hijackings and vote stacking by factions of fans called the Sad and Rabid Puppies. This lot object most strenuously to modern speculative writing and it’s inclusion of non-white, non-male people, and wish everyone would just go back to the good old days of Arthur C. Clarke and Robert Heinlein. They’re fringe lunatics, but they’ve come close to derailing the awards process a couple of times recently.

It’s on that background that N.K. Jemisin’s book The Fifth Season won in 2016. It’s a fantasy novel that’s full of genderqueer characters, most of whom aren’t white, strange earth magic and a world with some very angry tectonic plates. In other words, the kind of stuff that the Puppies hate the most.

I wish I didn’t hate it.

I really tried to like it. The race and gender politics stuff doesn’t really interest me to be honest, but try as I might I just didn’t think the book was very well done. The writing was pedestrian at best and deeply irritating at worst, or perhaps just needed a better editor. I have a long-standing complaint against overlong (“epic”) series, and The Fifth Season bothered me due to the lack of story progression over 400 pages. How hard is it to resolve something in that time? The world building was moderately interesting and a bit novel, but everything was signposted so obviously that I felt like I was in kindergarten.

I have a weird kind of guilt about this book. It makes no rational sense, but writing publically that I didn’t enjoy it seems to place me in the same camp as the feral bigots amongst the Puppies. I certainly don’t feel comfortable in that company – it’s a bit like finding out that you share a passion for Italian cooking with Hitler.