Tuesday newsday

Friday news

It’s closing in, can you feel it? The orgiastic insanity that will be a vaccinated world? Of course, also closing in is the next variant/disease that will send us back into our holes. Here’s hoping for a 10 year reprieve.

Canisia Lubrin wins the Griffin Poetry Prize

The amazing Canisia Lubrin is on a roll and the Griffin Prize jury is the latest cultural gate to be smashed down by her work. She’s the real deal, and while this book is not an easy read, especially given what’s passing for poetry on the internet these days, it’s super-rewarding. You should rush out and grab a copy.

Canadian badass and top poet Canisia Lubrin

The Dyzgraphxst is set against the backdrop of contemporary capitalist fascism, nationalism and the climate disaster, where Jejune, the central figure, grapples with understanding their existence and identity.

“The Dyzgraphxst is Canisia Lubrin’s spectacular feat of architecture called a poem. Built with ‘I’ — a single mark on the page, a voice, a blade, ‘a life-force soaring back’ — and assembled over seven acts addressing language, grammar, sentence, line, stage and world, the poet forms, invents, surprises and sharpens life. Generous, generating and an abundance of rigour. A wide and widening ocean of feeling are the blueprints of this book,” the jury said in a statement.

Language processing and machines

Stephen Marche, a great long form writer, looks at the state of AI and its ability to process and adapt to language. Short summary? It’s further along than you think. That said, this post is mostly an excuse for me to rave about Ishiguro’s Klara and the Sun, which I read over the weekend and was floored by. If I’d had to choose a favourite book of all time before this, it really might have been his Never Let Me Go. Now I think it might be a toss-up between them. This book continues in Never Let Me Go‘s rich line of inquiry on meaning, societal standing/value, and “the soul”, and is so heart-rending and mind-bending in its implications (because that’s the bread and butter of Ishiguro — implications) that I literally couldn’t do other work until it was done. Now I feel gutted and can’t stop thinking about it and the world it depicted. Ok, back to Marche and AIs… Fascinating and scary.

Engineers and scientists fear artificial intelligence in a way they have not feared any technology since the atomic bomb. Stephen Hawking has declared that “AI could be the worst event in the history of civilization.” Elon Musk, not exactly a technophobe, calls AI “our greatest existential threat.” Outside of AI specialists, people tend to fear artificial intelligence because they’ve seen it at the movies, and it’s mostly artificial general intelligence they fear, machine sentience. It’s Skynet from Terminator. It’s Data from Star Trek. It’s Ex Machina. It’s Her. But artificial general intelligence is as remote as interstellar travel; its existence is imaginable but not presently conceivable. Nobody has any idea what it might look like. Meanwhile, the artificial intelligence of natural language processing is arriving. In January, 2021, Microsoft filed a patent to reincarnate people digitally through distinct voice fonts appended to lingual identities garnered from their social media accounts. I don’t see any reason why it can’t work. I believe that, if my grandchildren want to ask me a question after I’m dead, they will have access to a machine that will give them an answer and in my voice. That’s not a “new soul.” It is a mechanical tongue, an artificial person, a virtual being. The application of machine learning to natural language processing achieves the imitation of consciousness, not consciousness itself, and it is not science fiction. It is now.

Goodreads is a flaming pile of vomiting shite

Being a part of the reason we are getting stupider seems to be a main goal for Goodreads. Normally, I am all about power going to the people, but I mean that politically. I don’t want, and I assume you also don’t want, “the people” doing surgery, flying planes, designing skyscrapers, and reviewing books, simply because “the people” are on the whole not qualified to do these things. Go through Goodreads and read the comments. It’s like a vast sea of gamified stupidity. It’s like a quantity-over-quality convention attended by the sorts of people who come to conventions with a giant bag just to pick up free swag. Anyway, BookRiot looks at reasons why a book will get a bad review on Goodreads, no matter how good the book actually is. And the list is pretty spot-on.

I know Goodreads. Main characters are not allowed to cheat, especially not on an innocent party. Especially if the story isn’t about them repenting and being endlessly punished for it. Any time a protagonist acts in an unethical way, you will be able to find negative reviews of the book — but find me one person who’s never acted unethically or made mistakes in their life. (Also, act too saintly and you’ll get negative reviews for being unrealistic!) Personally, I love messy characters who make mistakes and try to work through them. They’re more interesting. “Unlikable” female characters are my bread and butter, but they tend to be torn apart in Goodreads reviews. I just want to read about amoral women sick of putting up with bullshit tearing down this messed-up world — is that too much to ask?

This got me thinking about all the ways books can rack up bad reviews/star ratings regardless of the quality of the book, so I brainstormed with other Book Rioters, and here are the other things we’ve noticed will always result in some bad Goodreads reviews, no matter how well it’s handled.

Audiobook industry wrestles with representation

Laura Miller looks deep into the audiobook industry and suggsts it’s headed toward a reckoning around race and representation for voicing books. What do you do when a book has a diverse cast but can have only one narrator? It’s an interesting question, and I’m not sure how it’s going be solved short of hiring more actors for each book or just accepting that it can’t be solved… But if you’re a black lesbian, how do you feel about a white male voicing a character that represents you (in those two aspects at least) in a book?

I have only ever voiced the audiobook for my kids book, and it was about a fox, a crow, and some fleas, so I haven’t had to wrestle with this. But my languishing fantasy novel includes a transman half-giant and a black wizard from “a distant land”. I can’t even begin to imagine voicing either of them, even though I fucking made them up!

Twenty years ago, Grover Gardner began narrating a series of comic mysteries whose title character is a white lawyer named Andy Carpenter. In the series—written by David Rosenfelt—Carpenter also has a partner, Willie Miller, who’s a Black ex-con, which means Gardner had to voice Miller too. Back then, he hardly gave any thought to the fact that he was a white narrator voicing a Black man. “I probably modeled him on something I’d heard on television, on Hill Street Blues, or The Wire,” Gardner said. Today, 14 books later, he’s still voicing Willie—but he’s changed his approach. “I’d think very hard about doing that kind of accent now,” he said.

In an era of heightened sensitivity to issues of representation and misrepresentation, it’s no longer acceptable to cast a white actor as a character of color in a movie or TV show. But audiobooks play by different rules. It’s customary now in the audiobook business to try to match a book’s narrator to the gender, race, and sometimes sexual orientation of a novel’s author or main character. Yet most novels feature characters with an assortment of different backgrounds, and this can require narrators to voice characters with identities very different from their own.

A brief history of the asterisk

This is the sort of article I find deeply interesting, if a little brief. I will probably buy this damn book now. Friggers really know how to draw you in. But probably any one of the many eccentric typographical symbols in this book could have its own book, especially the asterisk. And my fascination is not just because the asterisk is the primary imagery on my own new book cover, but because I like to speculate about all the eyes this symbol has passed under over the years.

In the medieval period the asterisk continued to be employed in the copying of Bibles to flag up text from other sources. It also was increasingly used as a signe de renvoi (sign of return)—a graphic symbol which indicates where a correction or insertion should be made, with a corresponding mark in the margin with the correct text inserted. The asterisk is also found in medieval texts as a sign of omission. The use of the asterisk by scribes copying the Bible continued with the advent of the printing press; early printed Bibles, such as Robert Estienne’s 1532 Latin Bible, make use of an asterisk. Scribes did not always use the modern asterisk shape, some instead adopting a hooked cross with dots between each arm. However, when the asterisk was cut into type it was rendered as the five- or six-pointed star, and this is the form that has largely endured.