Wednesday, January 06, 2016

Show me the way to go home.

Thing Explainer: Complicated Stuff in Simple Words by Randall Munroe.  I was so looking forward to this, having loved What If?, but I am so disappointed.  The idea-- explaining complicated things using only the most common 1,000 words-- sounds very interesting.  But I was entirely unable to enjoy the diagrams and descriptions.  I think this is because, as a well-read person who occasionally reads the news and paid attention in school, I already know a little bit about all of these things.  So, rather than being able to learn about what the diagram is trying to show, I spent the majority of my time trying to figure out what exactly the author was trying to say and match it up with what (little) I already knew about whatever topic.  I tried to find a page about something I knew absolutely nothing about, but I have at least a few terms and concepts for each item.

He talked a little bit in the beginning about big words and how they aren't necessary for every situation.  I... have to disagree.  A big word serves a purpose: it condenses a multi-word idea into a time-saving space; it has a different connotation or weight than a similar, shorter word.  A big word isn't just to show off your vocabulary.  (I've been thinking about this for days.)  A week or two ago, in describing something that happened at work, I stated that a certain person "circumambulated the library." (Ha, blogger doesn't think that's a real word!)  I didn't say he "walked around," because "walked around" is only marginally more purposeful than "wandered around," which is rather aimless; "walked around" also doesn't describe a particular path but can involve going back and forth (though not to the same degree as "paced").  I didn't say he "circled" because that has a predatory air; he didn't "walk laps" because that denotes exercise.  I gave the matter thought and I used "circumambulated" because he walked in circles around the internal periphery of the building, with the emotional state I associate with circumambulation: a mostly-focused air, walking, neither striding nor shuffling, for the purpose of enjoying the walk.  It doesn't have a goal or a designated end point.  I used one word that accurately described his path, his method of movement, and the attitude he projected. 

tl;dr: I didn't enjoy it, for some reasons, although others really, really liked it.

Final Theory by Mark Alpert.  This was so deliciously awful that I couldn't disengage.  Kind of like the cliched car wreck in its addicting disastrousness.  Where to begin?  My list is in no particular order.

The dialogue was very stilted; it didn't sound natural at all.  Forced-sounding speech is very jarring.
Quite a lot of scientific information had to be conveyed, since it's a science-based story, and these facts were poorly incorporated.  Usually it was one character lecturing another for several paragraphs (see point above), although sometimes it was the main character remembering what he read in a Scientific American article or some such, and remembering all those details for us.
The ongoing action relied on ridiculous leaps; no one can have that many horrible coincidences fall into line in just a few days.  I'm a fan of fiction that requires me to suspend my disbelief, but this was completely implausible. 
There were a few scenes that were difficult-- the main action-bad-guy has little depth and he enjoys doing incredibly painful things to other characters.  Some of the descriptions were certainly cringe-inducing, and not in an enjoyable way (if that makes sense).  It wasn't interesting, it didn't add detail; it was over-the-top graphic violence for the sake of shock value.  (PCD, don't go there.)

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