wax banks

second-best since Cantor

Month: January, 2016

Quickly, on THE DEPARTED.

Watched this on an inexplicable impulse while browsing hbogo.com, which may end up being as dangerous to my cardiac health as a box of butter cookies. So! Many! Movies! Most of them shit, luckily. This one was not. When it came out, back in the day, I thought it was a perfectly executed trifle. Wax-Banks-from-back-in-the-day, you weren’t wrong. The tonal oddities, e.g. the goofy Baldwin/Wahlberg pairing, keep the film from sinking beneath its own grandiosity. But while the screws tighten expertly from open to close, the story is neither fleet nor operatic — and stuff like ‘Damon’s character is obviously closeted!’ plays as trivia rather than deepening the experience. I came away from this second viewing slightly annoyed that Scorsese won the Oscar for a film that matters, that ramifies, not one single solitary bit. All it had to show me was itself. What a perfectly modern entertainment.

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Sunday Funday 1+1+1day

Woke to pale blue sky and the smell of my wife’s hair, got to cleaning the bathroom and living room floors, enjoyed a Skinny Zesty Egg White sandwich from Bruegger’s. My son ate the same. He’s such a little guy and I worry about his weight but he did well and was issued one of the chocolate chip cookies our adorable new neighbours brought over the other day. Added the next weekly line to my son’s Allowance ledger — he’s learning the hard way, but with good humour, that money doesn’t grow on trees — and with an unexpected $10 Frequent Buyer bonus burning a hole in our wallet we’re off to Henry Bear’s this morning to buy Legos or a book or, indeed, whatever the hell he wants.

Even brushing our teeth together is perfect. Even sorting the recyclable junk mail from the months-old medical bills. Even just lazing through the day.

For the first time in a long long time, I look at the bookshelf and see things I’m excited to learn rather than obligations I’ve dodged.

I hear him upstairs say, ‘Instead of armadillo can we do, like, “harmadillo?“‘

Once we were going to live forever, and now we know we won’t; nothing has been lost.

On fans, phans, mystery, and informational density.

Went to an interdisciplinary graduate conference on music at Harvard today, to root for Jake Cohen (@smoothatonalsnd), who was presenting on Mike Hamad’s @phishmaps project. Jake and Mike were my partners at our panel in NYC earlier this month. As the wise men say: we are everywhere!

Jake knocked it out of the park, of course. God willing, some of those soul-scorched affectless grey-sweatered academics will buy my book.

I gotta say, I was surprised by Jake’s talk — while his paper contained some nitty-gritty musicological material, it was largely concerned with fans’ relationships to Mike’s maps, and the question of why such dense infographics are so popular with an audience that, by its own account, has little idea what the maps themselves mean. In other words, Jake was veering toward fan studies — my old haunts, back when I was old — which are rough waters, and crowded these days.

I’d like to dilate on one point raised by the talk and Q&A.

The mystery at the center of everything

I often joke about Phish fandom as a ‘mystery cult’ or initiatory secret society, but you should know that I’m more serious about that analogy then I seem. At the heart of Phish fandom is an essentially mysterious shared private ecstatic esoteric experience, which is bound tightly to a specific place and time but which lives on as exoteric historical record (‘the tapes’). Phish fans are very good at distinguishing between, say, improvisatory episodes — but very few of us are up on the analytical langauge with which musicologists, or even musicians, would characterize those episodes. So when a tight groove coalesces in the middle of an abstract ambient passage, folks in the crowd might go crazy, and can richly describe how the moment feels…but if later that night you asked them why, they’d likely have no idea. No language for capturing that content.

So why are the same fans who confess to not knowing what the hell Mike’s analytical schematics ‘mean’ so excited to buy prints for their wall?

At the talk I asked Jake if there was an analogy to be made between Mike’s maps and religious artworks — which can be understood by scholars of religion as theological arguments but which have value for normal human beings as evocations of something ineffable, something maybe only loosely connected to those artworks’ ostensible ‘content.’ Think of a Bosch painting, which ‘articulates a worldview’ that no one gives a shit about and which is popular (and valuable) because it’s a grotesque ‘visionary’ fantasia. Think of Dante’s Commedia, nearly unreadable when burdened with Historical Significance but everlasting in its depiction of, among other things, one of the all-time great dungeon crawls. Think of Milton’s Satan, once the subject of theological speculation but remembered and valued for poetic reasons.

Think too of Lost or Star Wars fan speculation — pseudoanalysis most valuable for the parallel world it creates, which touches on the original filmic texts but stands or falls as imaginative creation. (Don’t be fooled by the gendered baggage these terms carry: most fan ‘analysis’ is fanfic patterned after actual analysis.)

Think, for that matter, of Campbell’s Hero with a Thousand Faces, or Auerbach’s Mimesis, or Frye’s Anatomy of Criticism: critical works which are widely read not because of their relationships to their subject texts but because they create their own imaginative worlds, so that Campbell becomes a tool for screenwriters, Frye is advice to roleplaying gamers, Auerbach’s formal analysis becomes an autobiographical paean to the resilience of the human imagination within the great wave of history.

These are hugely information-dense critical/analytical texts in their way(s), but the audiences that treasure them do so because of their powers of imaginative evocation. Not Italian politics of the 14th century but a vision of Heaven; not a formal analysis of myth but an exhortation to imaginative independence; not a timeline of a nonsensical TV ‘mythology’ but a story in its own time.

Mike’s maps are plenty informative — listen as you look and their depth is revealed. They’re really impressive work. But as Jake suggested, their deeper value is in the way they evoke the (let’s say) energetic content of Phish’s improvisation. The improvisatory character of the maps, the way they jumble space and time…

My hypothesis here, coming back to the topic of fan studies again, is that cultural formations which center on a mystery — as trivial as ‘What will happen next on this TV show?’ or as consequential as ‘What does it mean that Jesus died “and was resurrected?”‘ — will tend to generate these info-rich peripheral/derivative fan-texts, which emerge from a desire to engage with content (Milton’s desire to explain the ways of God to man) but which attain poetic autonomy and end up circulating among fans/initiates for the latter reason. They remain dense with information, they serve an enormously valuable purpose down the line for historians of their moment, but their lossy transmission directly to fans, that purely affective link, is where the real action is.

Scholars/critics — and cynics — tend to fixate myopically on Churches as something like embodied arguments, and so miss the real story, which is Faiths as cultural motive forces. Faith can only be realized in action, in transit. It is not a destination, it’s a pathway, a segue (see, we’re getting back to Phish now). From the outside, on the map, the middle of the path is no place at all…

…but for the initiate, the seeker, the opposite is true. The path itself, the inquiry, the act of transformation, the logic by which experiences generate one another, the arc of desire rather than its satisfaction — c’mon, I wrote a whole book about this! — these are the Deep Places. For us, they are the Thing Itself. Between tension and release is a state of blissful anticipation. (Here we go again: the erotics of listening.)

And so you miss the show and get the tapes the next morning instead, listen to the music, argue (insanely) about its comparative value; but fundamentally, what happened on the night is a mystery, and if that mystery comes out of an experience’s ambivalence rather than ambiguity (i.e. if its implications are open-ended, instead of being closed off like a multiple-choice question; this is the difference between complexity and complication, between The X-Files and Lost) then the culture that coalesces around it will tend to throw off commentaries that take the shape of analysis but which are meant, at their deepest level, to generate a parallel mystery. To provoke us to wonder.

I suspect that’s the answer to the big question I asked above. We value Mike’s work because something in it resonates with our sense of the beauty of the music that the maps are maps of. It gives us the feeling of what Lovecraft called ‘adventurous expectancy.’

It recalls for us, in its own language, with its own music, the mystery itself.

Esotericapocryphapocalyptica.

The core appeal of esoterica and apocrypha isn’t the experience of secret knowledge, but its promise — which had better go unfulfilled, lest banality set in. The ‘secret of the universe’ is just that the universe is more complex than the human mind can readily deal with, ‘fractally’ so, the motivations of the beloved family dog (or family member) hard enough to puzzle out without worrying about the downstream press of the second law of thermodynamics or the bizarro intimations of quantum entanglement. ‘Ultimate knowledge,’ i.e. godliness, is a strange strong attractor for the mind of the seeker, but it’s only advertised, never actually sold. Which is fine until you sign the check.

The core appeal of (in Ken Hite’s charming term) ‘eliptony,’ in other words, is the feeling of adventurous expectancy that comes from suggestion and evocation, free association — the pleasure of private pattern-matching and worldmaking. It gives pleasure in passing. The instant you get what you think you’re looking for, the whole thing falls down.

Which is maybe just a roundabout way of saying that the fraction of Tolkien readers who make it through the appendices to The Lord of the Rings is statistically indistinguishable from zero. If Middle-Earth were really real, the really geeky, poorly socialized hobbit- and elf-nerds would get together online to argue about realist novels in which white human women academics experiencing quiet revelations of their own mortality while having affairs with students. They would reread these books endlessly, to spend as much time as possible in (diminishing, ever more familiar) tension.

The real esoteric promise is: The road goes ever on and on…

we three kings

  1. Thrice-Born Lorrev is known (i.e. rumoured) to have died on two separate occasions, both times riding his favourite horse in battle against the black-veined Rowat Supplicants during one of their periodic millenarian uprisings. He wears only pale blue, and covers his shimmering vedantium armour with flowing blue silks cut from a bolt his mother (Thrice-Damned Krisseva) stole from a Gheltish monastery at the height of her glory seventy years ago. Lorrev’s trusted advisors are a circle of twelve sentient ravens. He abhors the new moon, divination, games of chance, and travel beyond the boundaries of the capital district, which — alas — contains the great temple of Rowat, lately showing signs of unrest.

  2. Aodhra the Devil is unable to sit still for more than a few moments within the bounds of the royal keep, and so avoids the endless council meetings and hearings which the death of his father, King Quehlor, foisted upon him. Aodhra is haunted by hallucinations of his parents performing unspeakable acts, which he misunderstands as memory — he is convinced that he alone knows their true nature and must tell no one lest the kindgom fall into turmoil. Only by retiring to the royal greenhouse, with its rows of wickedly beautiful red lotus (a thaumatic anhallucinogen), does Aodhra find mental respite. This week he completed work on the first volume of a rigorously logical prophetic work which he intends to publish anonymously for unguessable reasons.

  3. Since it appeared a fortnight ago, Krayd IV conceals his newborn second head beneath a topologically improbable assortment of hoods, shawls, cravats, and grand turbans. It speaks to him of a second world which contains ours, accessible through cracked mirrors and half-open doors to lightless hallways. It is a terrifically insightful judge of character, but dismisses Krayd’s questions about social matters, insisting that ‘true light’ is only visible from a certain vantage in the second world. Krayd and his consiglieri Alvo Gretzz have worked out a way to discuss a solution to the problem of the head in writing without involving the head itself, and Alvo presently leans toward the pragmatic solution of a royal marriage, as his early priestly training leads him to believe that (speaking strictly) Krayd is presently living in sin. No explanation for the head’s appearance is being sought; Krayd is a ruthless pragmatist. The head is able to affect the movements of the king’s left middle finger only. It grows restless. This is not its home.

Dilettantism, he said, clenching his fists.

Not overcommitted to making an argument here, but Steam Must Be Vented. Someone give me a grant.


This morning I noticed that Marc Andreessen — coauthor of the first graphical browser, Mosaic — had blocked me on Twitter. That made sense; I’d blocked him first, while calling him a dilettante. This isn’t hard to justify; a quick look at his ‘true purpose of capitalism’ pronouncements, or his carrying on about how only illiterate morons are bothered by the NSA’s secret surveillance programs, or his little nutshell accounts of human history, bears out the claim. He is a man whose expertise in one area long ago convinced him of his authority to talk about stuff he evidently does not understand. (As the generally execrable Valleywag put it, he appears never to have read a book.)

Andreessen’s pile of money helped convince him of both his rightness and his righteousness, of course. It’s a widespread Silicon Valley problem — the stupid belief that success in software is an indicator of a generalized transcendent ‘problem-solving ability.’

It may be too much to ask that our (thought-)leaders possess wisdom, but it’s certainly our place to demand that they be able to act and speak knowledgeably in dissimilar domains, beyond the purely abstract. I’m willing to listen to coders-turned-financiers talk about money, because money talk suits those who (e.g.) apparently process only a fraction of typical human emotional information. There’s a reason Wall Street, like Silicon Valley, is full of hyperadaptive sociopaths. But they really do need to understand their place. Funding lots of software startups makes you an expert on funding software startups, but it sure as hell doesn’t teach you anything about, say, how the human beings in the middle of the analytical-intelligence Gaussian relate to the software those hilariously, often fraudulently overvalued startups are building.

(A similar critique can be aimed at, say, Nate Silver — a stats wonk who now, for better or worse, makes a living writing mostly about politics as a kind of ‘reality TV’ for folks who think they’re too cool for the CNN/MSNBC/FOX horserace. It doesn’t bother his readers that Silver’s primary engagement with politics is precisely with that horserace; secretly, shamefacedly, that’s what they’re there for.)

Because the Valley evidently breeds absolutely no broad-based social concern beyond the gestural pseudoprogressivism of the anxiously surveilled 20/30something, there’s no cultural pressure there to learn deeply about human hearts. Absent any emotional intelligence or the forced pluralism of mainstream life’s everyday stochastic tumult, there’s something to be said for good ol’ noblesse oblige. George HW Bush would never have lived in Silicon Valley; his intellectually dead son might’ve done well there.

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Dilettantism is a huge problem in Washington as well — necessarily so, alas. Someone like Hillary Clinton is expected now to be able to make informed decisions, based solely on briefs from her team of expensively credentialed lickspittles, on matters ranging from farm subsidies to heroin overdoses to the place of religious belief in affairs of state to human beings’ role in recent climate instability. That she manifestly knows nothing at all about this latter, which is easily the most pressing issue facing humankind today, doesn’t make any difference to her millions of supporters. Merely by being less obviously stupid than her eventual Republican opponent, she’ll be ordained Wise and empowered to make decisions which may well come down to ‘Which billion humans should be displaced, in effect by oil/car companies, during this century?’

This is one reason Trump is doing well, by the way. A dilettante with expertise in area A who wades into area B making Big Pronouncements will do well with the folks in the cheap seats, who are poisonously envious of (and justifiably, Oedipally hateful toward) the folks in areas A and B.

President Obama, oddly enough, seems self-conscious about his lack of knowledge — unlike Clinton, who’s obviously intelligent but with a conventional narrowness of vision, Obama has given evidence time and again of his awareness of the limits of his knowledge and the seriousness of his charge. The fact that he’s obviously learned a great deal from his daughters speaks well of him, as does the self-questioning that characterizes his first book. (Hitchens unsurprisingly noticed this about him early on.) He seems to possess a broad-based intelligence, to be able to see himself and his work and world from multiple angles. That’s extraordinary, especially in his line of work.

Try to imagine Clinton actually writing her own autobiography.

But then, try to imagine Marc Andreessen actually meriting one.

Zahn, Thrawn, gone.

I finished rereading Timothy Zahn’s ‘Thrawn trilogy,’ which I adored when I started reading it at age 12. I read it on our little first-generation iPad Mini using iBooks, which — I don’t need to tell you — is a somewhat pleasant pale imitation of the sacred act of reading a book.

My initial response to Heir to the Empire is here. These are initial responses as well, hastily written last week upon finishing each volume; the last section is new this morning.

Star Wars: Dark Force Rising (1992)

Not bad, but cluttered and rushed like Attack of the Clones. The revelation on the final page that Thrawn is creating a clone army must’ve hit me hard in the early 90s, but in the wake of Episode II and The Clone Wars it seems like no big deal, not even in terms of the Star Wars universe, where (after all) everything is kind of a Big Deal.

One does grow tired and bored of the plotting, though: the universe shrinks to suit the protagonists, there’s a fresh coincidence to move us into every damned chapter, and the human motivations are less complex than I’d convinced myself they would be, last time out. (The cartoonishly named Fey’lya is, of course, cartoonish.)

I suppose I’ll have to read The Last Command now, just to remember how the Scooby Gang finally defeats C’baoth. But the bloom is off the rose a bit. Having (comparatively) painstakingly established his universe in Heir to the Empire, Zahn moves a mile a minute here, and while the slow-building Noghri storyline offsets the zoomzip of Han and Lando’s wacky buddy-smuggler adventures, I honestly wish there were a bit more simulative space opera and a bit less Fun with the Old Gang. Oh well.

It’s Star Wars, I’m happy. No point moaning about an author so committed to pleasing his readers. Dunno if I’ll return to the Expanded Universe after this, but I’m enjoying my return engagement with the artless pulp of the Thrawn Trilogy. Zoom zip!

Star Wars: The Last Command (1993)

All this going on about clones. You start to wonder whether there isn’t a reflexive or metafictional element to it — after all, Zahn’s ‘Thrawn Trilogy’ is essentially a clone of the first three films. Instead of Tarkin, Thrawn; instead of Palpatine, C’baoth; instead of Luke symbolically fighting himself in a cave, he symbolically fights himself in a mountain.

Summary judgment: a brisk, largely pro forma conclusion to a series with nothing in the tank by the last page. Mara Jade gets the arc, Thrawn gets the ‘check out my omnipotent NPC’ vibe, and every well known line from the films gets a rerun.

Zahn was clearly juiced by the cloak’n’dagger stuff on Coruscant; he’s not able to pull it off with any panache, but it’s more vigorous than the rest of the book. Alas, the Delta Source plotline ends with a wet fart and is never mentioned again — the worst possible end to that part of the story.

This is the first Thrawn book where anyone’s in real jeopardy, yet the stakes never quite seem so high for our main characters, except for the potentially mortal Mara (the obvious locus of imaginative energy here): Leia never actually gets kidnapped, Han and Lando get out of every jam, Wedge wins every dogfight without breaking a sweat. Thrawn’s death pays off the series-long Noghri arc, but does so without style or weight; the murder happens ‘offscreen,’ and we see him die with a not terribly interesting final line. It’s…slight.

The book has energy to spare, but no style — ‘adolescent,’ in other words. Which is all it needed to be. I enjoyed it well enough and can’t resent its Force-by-numbers approach. But The Last Command rather diminishes Heir to the Empire in retrospect: all the work that Zahn put into painting in a functioning Republic finally goes to nothing more than some smugglers meeting in a casino, some starships blasting dully away at each other, and some Na’vi-esque noble savages getting a bit of revenge. It’s all so familiar.

Which is the point. I get it. But now I’m back to wondering what to read next, and I realize there’s no reason — really none — why it should be another Star Wars novel. Familiarity, after all, breeds…well, you know.

After a moment’s consideration

The last book I read before the Thrawn trilogy was M John Harrison’s A Storm of Wings, a short novel of Viriconium. Harrison is one of science fiction’s great prose stylists — the sort of writer who can take on Vance’s Dying Earth milieu without seeming like a pale imitation — and the action of Storm is almost entirely symbolic, overlaid with a dense dark crosshatch of meanings and evocations. It is ‘literary’ fiction of the highest order. At one level, though, it’s also an adventure tale about a mismatched band of soldiers and criminals flying spaceships and dueling aliens using laser swords.

In other words, it was both the ideal lead-in to the Thrawn books and the worst possible. Zahn is (or at any rate was) a competent, workmanlike writer; when he’s in his element, talking about astrophysics and interplanetary intrigue, he writes with vigour and authority. And if his overstuffed Thrawn books lack the mythic resonance that gives the Star Wars trilogy its always-surprising mournful undertone, Zahn certainly nailed the wild whooping boy’s-own-adventure vibe of the first film.

But I keep coming back to the Sign of the Locust, to Paucemanly’s grotesque alienated body on the dark side of the moon, to the hysterical poets in the Bistro Californium, to Queen Jane waiting in her tower, to that haunting phrase ‘the Evening Cultures.’ Even with Zahn’s SFnal expansion into galactic politics, the universe of Star Wars conducts its business with a childlike shallowness that seems, at times, like a simulacrum of wonder rather than the thing itself. Clone armies! Dogfighting spaceships! Space wizards! Furry death hobbits! Prissy robots! Mean admirals! Rogues with hearts of gold! Unkillable, unassailable heroes!

What Star Wars needs certainly isn’t Viriconium’s unremitting darkness. But the reason Harrison’s sequence is so harrowing, for me, is less its creeping symbolic illogic than its sense of inescapable time, specifically of time having stupidly passed and nothing to do about it. Star Wars is set in a New Republic fighting with the remnants of a terrible Empire, and the movies are about the passing of a generational torch, the unrecoverability of the old (Jedi) order, the way that friends can make a new family and a new world by coming to grips with the choices and natures of their parents. It’s a Vietnam story, in no small measure, a Seventies story. Yet the Thrawn books, despite initial gestures in that direction, end up replaying and recycling past glories. Thrawn and C’baoth and Pellaeon — the bad guys — are the ones clinging to the past. The good guys kill them. They escape. This is escapism.

But time is the one thing you can’t escape from, right? Time’s arrow, aimed at your heart.

The Thrawn books seem to have everything good about the original films except the best thing, which is their operatic melancholy, their sense of lost time. They’re so lightweight a stiff breeze could knock ’em over. I suspect that a stronger writer could have delivered the thrills of Zahn’s Thrawn vs the Republic story while still attending closely to, say, the subtler darkness of the Mara/Luke story. But that might have required slowing down a bit, breathing unclean air, letting the colours deepen. Which was Irving Kershner’s style, and indeed Joseph Campbell’s, but evidently isn’t Timothy Zahn’s, or even really (for all his great virtues) George Lucas’s.

(I leave it to you to decide whether it’s JJ Abrams’s.)

I liked these books a lot, can you tell? Stayed up nights happily devouring them. But that was then; already it seems long ago, far away.

Free (to) play.

From an essay I’m working on:

The rise of ‘free to play’ or ‘freemium’ video games offends me for a reason that’s less small-minded than it may seem at first: that phrase, ‘free to play,’ means the opposite of what well funded video game companies claim it does. Freedom to play is true freedom; ‘free to play’ games are neither free nor playful, and they free no one. This isn’t a semantic quibble. Either the idea of imaginative freedom matters to you or it doesn’t. Either you serve it or you don’t.

An X-Files note.

I posted this at Metafilter this morning:


I started watching the original show last year. You can easily see what’s compelling and groundbreaking about it, but in a number of elementary craft areas it’s mediocre — for one thing, the dialogue is embarrassing most of the time, which is largely Carter’s fault. And Duchovny’s performance is a mixed blessing. When he gets into it, as in ‘Paper Hearts’ (a season-4 peak), he’s excellent, but his flat-of-affect delivery is… Well, I’m not his director. He has charisma and intelligence, but they’re not enough, as the hardworking Gillian Anderson demonstrates. Well, whatever.

But I gotta say, people who moan about the ‘mytharc’ eps are much more tedious than the episodes themselves.

Complaints about coherence are misplaced; unlike (say) Lost, which turned out to be a fantasy show after promising in and out of the text to be something else, The X-Files is pretty clearly a fever dream shot in (what Chris Knowles, to whom I linked above, refers to as) a documentary style. One of the producers said in an interview that ‘every episode is a mythology episode.’ The stuff about aliens — ancient and otherwise — is just one way the writers played on, to borrow a phrase from Tricky, ‘pre-millennium tension.’ Taking the show’s content literally, even as a dramatic provision within a single episode, is a mistake: it’s a Fortean show, which doesn’t mean ‘rains of frogs’ but rather radical epistemology and a celebration of deeply Weird marginal Americana. Hence ‘Humbug,’ and ‘Home,’ and the Jersey Devil played for melancholy, and the whole hamfistedly creepy tong episode, and the gorgeous image of Mulder cradling Max Fenig’s head during a seizure.

That last image, by the way, is why I’ll give the overrated Carter a pass every time — Max Fenig (a season one ‘NPC’) talking about his utter loneliness is the heart of the show.

So I don’t find the mytharc ‘tedious.’ Predictable, yes, but I’m free of the need to pat myself on the back for that. What it is, to me, is ‘visionary’ — which in this case also means clumsy, fragmentary, richly ramifying, of its time and very much not, expressionistic, weirdly personal, its reach exceeding its grasp, its high points (e.g. S1’s ‘Duane Barry’) often literally twinned with its low points (the following episode, ‘Ascension,’ simply hapless).

Basically, you’ll get way way way more out of the show if you read the goofy/sinister eliptonic source materials, Charles Fort most of all. To do so may disincline you to bitch about the mytharc. Or it may not, I dunno. It’s only television, it doesn’t matter really.


To put that another way: the ‘mythology’ of The X-Files is correctly named, and has nothing whatsoever to do with the logistics of government conspiracy. Your enjoyment of the show depends upon your ability to understand that it’s far more deeply engaged with occult/conspiracist nonsense than everyone assumed, and far less interested in plotwise coherence. It is, in other words, High Weirdness with an FX budget.

Pratchett.

Wodehouse was funnier (than everyone) but featherlight. Adams was better at jokes, especially long ones, but hopeless at plots. And neither created a living world as Pratchett did. The Discworld (particularly Ankh-Morpork) is a perfect fictional canvas: geographically, culturally, temporally, and generically flexible, functioning neatly as fantasy-paperback parody and — forgive me — canvas for ‘Dickensian’ social satire. Every single Discworld novel I’ve read has brought me to tears, which is down to Pratchett’s greatest strength, his furious humanity. His characters are alive. They are people. He loved them. Even Death! We’re lucky to have had him.