"There is a black sun which is not visible to the human eye. It is our beacon and its fire burns within us." -- Akkadian temple inscription

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Black Sun

Steven Kaye's irregularly updated blog

On the advice of Rick Kleffel's column, I checked out Jon Courtenay Grimwood's Pashazade. As Rick notes, it owes a debt to Lawrence Durrell's Alexandria Quartet - the characters as somehow embodying El Iskandriya, the rich descriptions, and (so I read) even Durrell's trick of retelling the events of one book from the viewpoint of another character in another book. Several reviews discuss Pashazade in the context of George Alec Effinger's When Gravity Fails and its sequels, which joined a Middle Eastern setting with cyberpunk sensibilities. Grimwood's book has a Middle Eastern setting and cyberpunk trappings (including a brain modification which provides counsel, just like When Gravity Fails), as well as a protagonist whose father may be someone very important. There's even the parallel of an initially-unwanted dependent whom the protagonist is forced to shelter and ultimately grows to love. But Grimwood shows more care about "secondary" characters than Effinger - Zara and Hani are vivid and three-dimensional, not merely means to draw out different emotional responses in the reader. I was a bit disappointed that the alternate history angle isn't that important in the first book, but Effendi might remedy that. For reasons best known to themselves, Simon and Schuster hasn't released these books in the US yet. You can try amazon.co.uk, or any number of specialty and used booksellers. I got my copy from Ziesing Books. I also picked up Jaguar at Apple's store in Soho. It's a cavernous location that looks like what might have happened if Hjalmar Poelzig ditched the Satanist high priest thing and decided to build fashionably austere living spaces for yuppies. As you enter, there are islands on the left and right. IIRC, one's dedicated to the iPod and the other to digital cameras and video cameras. Shelves behind them have various computer models. But your attention is immediately drawn to the staircase to the second floor in the middle of the room, with translucent steps. On the second floor, there's the Genius Bar (which doesn't serve drinks, annoyingly), a kid's area where children can be indoctrinated play with computers, a movie theater where Apple employees sell audience members on expensive graphics programs, and shelves of software and books. As for Jaguar itself, so far I've noticed:
  • Slight speed increase
  • A reasonably-intelligent filter built into the Mail app
  • An annoying tendency by Internet Explorer to render web pages as blank until I scroll down or Select All
  • Sherlock's actually pretty useful now (I can check the drop in my company's stock every morning!), and Apple wised up and separated Find File from Sherlock
Much of what's new in Jaguar is designed to appeal to gadget fiends (such as the optional iCal and iSync, which are clearly designed for PDA junkies, or the Bluetooth-enablement). There's some stuff I could have done without, such as iChat, or Apple adding Finnish localized files to my hard drive with no chance of appeal. There's a lot which appeals to artists and game junkies (Quartz Extreme to speed up graphics, QuickTime 6) and a tip of the hat to Apple's strategy of entering the corporate market (Rendezvous promises to make networking with PCs a lot easier). So some benefits, but enough to justify asking $129 for an incremental upgrade for the home user? I don't think so.
© 2002, Steven Kaye