Folding Laundry, Jason Bourne, and Jack Vance

Had a pretty busy weekend. We’ve embarked one a large scale house cleanup as winter begins to peter out and the temperatures go up. With my arrival at the household we have way more clothes than we have space to keep them easily accessible, compared to when either of us lived on our own, so there’s been a lot of divvying things out into seasonal stacks and hopefully getting the winter garb boxed up and stacked in the next few weeks. Also a lot of cardboard boxes that had been taking up space and needed to be broken down and taken out to the recycling bin. My wife has trouble letting them go because they’re so useful for storing things around the house, I have trouble letting them go because I spent close to 15 years collecting Warhammer figurines and when I look at a good cardboard box I go whoa, do you know how many steppe hills and keep walls I could make out of that thing?

This is because I am a mature and functional adult, of course.

Besides that we finally finished up the rest of the Bourne films and saw the most recent one. I can’t tell if they’re stronger or weaker for having completely divorced themselves from the original books, but my point on the shifting technology still stands. It feels extraordinarily weird to watch a secret agent conceived during the height of the Cold War find himself fighting against what amounts to the CIA tapping Facebook in the modern day while having only aged a few years on screen. I like what they do with the technology and I like that Bourne is his own Q, jury rigging gadgets on the run and very able to keep up with the tech of the day. It’s also fun to watch him go from a confused and dazed man to basically the Terminator when it comes to his fighting style. The conservation of movement has always been there but in the first two films it felt a lot more like half forgotten instinct, in Ultimatum and Jason Bourne it’s something he does very comfortably and when he starts walking toward someone like a boxer you know he’s about to wreck them. Still some of the best combat sequences I’ve seen on film and absolutely brutal to watch. I hope they bring Renner back for another spinoff and/or crossover piece at some point because his story felt a bit like a vestigial organ in comparison, influenced by but not really influencing the world of Bourne.

My big complaint with the latter half of the series is you can only go “it was actually ANOTHER evil spy guy behind everything” so many times. We’ve worked our way through the guy overseeing one wing of the black ops project, to another guy overseeing all the black ops projects, to a guy who started the black ops project, and now the head of the CIA who signed off on the black ops projects. It reminds me a little bit of the USA show Burn Notice, which I loved and watched religiously for many years, in that once you hit a certain point it starts to get ridiculous and every villain he vanquishes ends up being middle management to another, bigger villain up the food chain. It stands out particularly bad in Bourne because they all work for the same organization and are at odds with one another even when Jason isn’t beating the shit out of them. It feels more like an HR fever nightmare than a spy thriller at times.

Eyes_of_the_overworld_first.jpgApropos of nothing except it being August 28th, the day Jack Vance would have turned 100 years old if he hadn’t been taken from us a few years ago, my book recommendation for today is a bit of an oldie. Tales of the Dying Earth is somehow both a classic and an underappreciated, esoteric text. It jumpstarted an entire genre of post-apocalyptic fantasy that ranged from the extraordinarily heady works of Gene Wolfe to the pulpy Tolkien pastiches of Terry Brooks. It’s about a world where technology flourished, and then everything was destroyed, and now the scavenged machinery of that forgotten age is used exclusively by wizards and mages as a form of magic. It’s a simple enough premise, and one that has been done over and over again to varying degrees of success, but Vance did it first and arguably best. His prose is absolute perfection for the setting and the cast of characters he’s populated it with. In this future you cannot survive unless you’re ruthless. The most popular hero of the piece regularly fleeces priests while talking about how pious he is, considers himself a seductive rake even as he leaves multiple women to die when rescuing them might impede his progress, fancies himself a master duelist but only wins by using the dirtiest tricks and sabotaging his foes against the explicit rule of the game. He’s an absolute bastard but he’s so eminently readable because his voice is a delight to listen to and he’s regularly put up against people even worse than he is. He may be terrible, but he’s terrible and an underdog against tyrants in this blasted hellscape, and if everything is doomed to wither away at least it’s fun watching him make their lives a little more awful. He’s the textbook example of how you write an objectively horrible person as your protagonist and make them fun to read. It isn’t even grimdark, because the tone is somehow borderline light-hearted and laced with lurid prose as he flits through ruined skyscrapers-turned-castles, merrily poisons the pets of his enemies and sacrifices anyone close to him in the name of a little extra comfort. The Dying Earth chronicles in general are something I would consider required reading for anyone who wants to know how to write: antiheroes, villains, antivillains, sci-fantasy, and how to string together a road trip story from the weirdest and most disparate elements. Eyes of the Overworld is my personal favorite out of the entire saga because it’s not just a great book, but one Vance managed to stitch together from half a dozen otherwise unrelated short stories and turned it into an arcing narrative and character study of Cugel himself.

I categorically declare first my absolute innocence, second my lack of criminal intent, and third my effusive apologies.

Cugel the Clever

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