peteg's blog

2001

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Tim Winton prompted me to revisit this classic. I found the pacing really weird this time around. It didn't inspire me to think about the big questions either; HAL's misbehavior seems undercooked. There's more fun to be had in thinking about how they made it.

Tim Winton: The Boy Behind the Curtain.

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Kindle. Another autobiographical work, and one that I felt I had already read a solid chunk of — perhaps in his previous personal outings Island Home or Land's Edge. Now that I am home, and the Australian Federal Government is at historically extreme levels of uselessness, I can see how he's changed with the times, lost his reclusiveness, become corporate, learnt to leverage his image, which is not to say he's sold out, despite Beatty's erudite advice, which I hope he is aware of. Sydney still has some of that littoral feel, being on the margins of the sea and the edge of Asia, and now with the experiment in extreme density, at the limits of livability. It's strange walking through the old inner-city working class suburbs and seeing the pubs so empty during the day, the few people on the street typically young ladies out buying coffee for their offices, the dwindling freaks quarantined to a few benches on Oxford St and the parks. I'm sure there's life in Marrickville and further out, but surely car dependence robs it of something essential. (The Bower is one such locus.)

This is essentially a collection of previously published work, and we occasionally get the same event described in different ways at different times in Winton's life. I wish they'd had dates stuck on them so we could more easily track the evolution of his thought. The most successful bang on about his connection with nature, when his effortless unabashed sincerity brings the moment, the transcendence, to us. It's magic. The less successful include his time in Ireland, where the writing is as listless as the weather. I enjoyed parts of his account of growing up in an evangelical Christian community but the main article needed a good edit; at times it was the most tedious of the Sundays of memory. His other accounts of family life are far stronger. He prompted me to go watch 2001 again. His conception of class left me cold; when I hear "cashed up bogan" I think of the vacuous culture he railed against in Eyrie. I remain fascinated by his ability to balance his need for solitude with his commitment to family and sociability; the account of running for the border after completing a novel gave some insight into how he copes. He doesn't seem to seek out company however.

I wonder at his championing of the Australian Wildlife Conservancy, which is trying to use the very same private-interests mechanisms that have trashed the place to save it. Cute, sure, maybe even ironic, but it signals a disengagement from politics that may eventually prove lethal. Winton knows this from the stalled Commonwealth marine reserves processes, perhaps soon to be wound back, and expresses no constructive political sentiments. I wonder if private reserves are good neighbours, and how they will be managed long-term.

So not his finest outing, and more of a suggestion to go (re-)read the best of his novels.

Greg Egan: The Four Thousand, The Eight Hundred.

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Kindle. Being done with Tim Winton for now, I chowed on this novella by another of Western Australia's men of letters, from about a year ago. A cursory skim of N. K. Meisin's review at the New York Times led me to believe it'd be ... awesome? ... but I now see she was skeptical and pointed out many of its flaws. I guess this is the problem with not reading reviews before the book: I stopped with hers at the mention of awards as I figured Egan has a safe pair of hands, and didn't want to spoil my dinner.

The premise is cute, the politics banal, the dialogue flat (yes, everyone has the same voice), and I don't see that it adds up to much. Perhaps he set the libertarian / utilitarian set aflutter by mildly dressing-up their moral calculus. This may have worked for Spock in the 1960s for many reasons (he's not totally human, for staters, and had two strong characters to clash with), but not here. I did like where he was going with the mechanics of exchanging rock and ice, and had some vague expectation of a trade war or a foreshadowing of a Trump-like demagogue who wasn't going to exchange his precious bodily fluids for anything, costs be damned. Egan had enough words to do something.

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Once again set off for Gordons Bay from Glebe, early afternoon. I got a so-so ba mee lunch at the Thai place that used to be a theatre, next to the old Brendan Behan, and a so-so coffee at a Campos place on Baptist St opposite the mall. Just like old times. After burning perhaps a bit too much time on Tim Winton's latest in Centennial Park, I caught the bus from Darley Rd. Things were a bit too rough for comfort at the scuba ramp; getting in would have been OK but getting out is another thing, without a mask or fins. Clovelly wasn't much calmer but it was OK at the beach end. I didn't swim far. Beautiful day for it anyway.