I don’t know what we did before Wikipedia

We all just stumbled around in ignorance, I suppose.

An essay I read included a reference to Laurence Oliphant, which pinged some neurons though I couldn’t remember why. Rather than wrack my brain or forget about it, I googled him and there, at the bottom of the page, was the reminder that Oliphant is a character in The Difference Engine. Of course.

(Side note, which I intend to expand/expound upon, but may not because I am lazy: re-reading The Difference Engine after having my hands on material from that period, was weird and fun. I knew those addresses! And I wondered where some of the personalities were hiding.)


It has been a very, very long time since I read any Foucault. Since I was an undergraduate, I think, though it seems like it can’t have been that long. Foucault is in the aether. I bump into him in other articles; he is the substance of occasional meaty conversation with friends; he is second only to Gibson in retroactively coloring my impressions of Gallifrey. It feels rather odd citing him, as though it should be sufficient to mention him in a handwavy fashion or, alternatively, that I should ritually invoke him like some primal deity.

“Huge and menacing aqua-dogs, ready to go fetch Madagascar”

Gog and Magog

Gog and Magog (Psalter Map detail)

I’m only a couple chapters into The Island of Lost Maps, and I find myself simply floating along from one well-timed diversion to the next, smiling at some delightful turns of phrase (like the post title, referring to the imaginary creatures illustrating maps; another favorite is “the hellish spawn of Big Bird’s one-night stand with Jaws”). Harvey makes a virtue out of necessity: lacking the cooperation of his purported subject, Gilbert Bland, Jr., he is not restricted to ferreting out the “truth” (psychological or methodological) of the crimes in question. His map of Bland is in the mold of the medieval mappae mundi, diagrams of legends and perceptions and morality rather than objective geographic information. The comparison unfolds with such a practiced inevitability that I wonder how doggedly Harvey pursued Bland as a source, and how disappointed he was to be rebuffed. After all, flesh-eating denizens of Gog and Magog are much more interesting than anything in the vicinity of the Caspian. How could the prosaic life of a habitual criminal compare to a story woven around tantalizing details and the author’s own obsession?

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On the age of places

I rambled a bit about Philly and houses and perceptions of age back in July. For a more articulate assessment, from a slightly different perspective, see William Gibson:

MC: Right — SF has often shown us a fairly abstract future, in works like Asimov’s Foundation series.

WG: Yeah, and I think of that as the American future — because Europeans have lived forever happily among their own ruins. The very concept of retro-fitting strikes Europeans as weirdly redundant, because their world is in large part a retro-fit, and they expect what they’re building now to be retro-fitted. In North America, we’ve only recently come to that. Our cultural idea of the future has been something totally brand new, with no dirt in the corners.

See also the rest of the interview, interesting as always.