I finally received my big-box-of-things-to-plug-into-the-CHIP. So I started plugging things into my CHIP.
So far, I’ve figured out how to control LEDs and wrote a small Ruby gem to do so from Ruby.
The end result?
It’s not much, but I have some more interesting plans for where to go next. Stay tuned!
I bought a CHIP computer! It’s a little ARM-based Linux computer in the style of the well-known Raspberry Pi.
And I didn’t just buy it. I bought it ages ago. It was a Kickstarter that I backed in June 2015. It arrived a year later in June 2016. And then I didn’t touch it until late August 2016 when I realized that I wouldn’t have to find a monitor to plug into it: I could just connect over serial using a USB cable. I didn’t even know screen could *do* that but it was in CHIP’s documentation and everything.
So I was able to get my CHIP onto the WiFi and start SSHing into it. And now the hijinks ensue!
I haven’t actually done much with it, but I’ve started poking around. With the help of trailblazers before me, I figured out how to blink the status LED in patterns of my choosing. I figured out how to interrogate the power controller and get all sorts of fun information back.
And I’ve started reading up on what might be next. I have some plans to figure out how to control external LEDs and even analog meters. Anything interesting I learn will be posted to github and the CHIP forum (ask for “willia4”).
At the moment, I’m in sort of a limbo: I’m placing an order for all sorts of components and more exciting things like a multimeter and a soldering iron. While I wait for that to arrive, I’m continuing to read and learn and poke. And to watch my status light blink, just to let me know that it’s there.
One of the amazing things about a great piece of art is that everyone who sees it experiences something meaningfully different.
My experience of this book is wrapped up in my own dreams and fears: fears of aging and forgetting and losing what little competence I possess mixed in with dreams of mattering to the world and leaving a memory after I’m gone. I can say that this book is the most powerful expression of that which I’ve ever found. The promised one hundred years pass emphatically in a way that I’ve never seen represented on page or screen before. Time feels weighty and its effects are heavy.
Much could be said of the themes of cyclical history or pride or family. But, for me, all of those pale in comparison to the theme of everyone’s personal yet relentless march to become nothing more than dust. And it’s brilliant, if in a sad and lonely way.
I am certain that this work will travel with me for the rest of my days. This is one to put back on the shelf to take down in a decade’s time and see what I take from it when I bring so many year’s worth of spent life to it. At thirty-two, I wonder if I read it too young.
On a more practical note, One Hundred Years of Solitude was an extremely slow start for me. To emphasize the repetition of stories through the years, Márquez gives his characters repetitive names: José, Arcadio, Aureliano, Amaranta — he provides clues to help distinguish one character from another; but, for me, the combination of most of those names starting with “A” while also being foreign to my monolingual brain meant that all of the characters sort of blurred together.
I struggled for a long time trying to keep everyone organized in my head. Eventually, though, I gave up and simply read without worrying too much about who was who. I don’t know if there’s a “right” way to read a book, but I feel that this is at least an acceptable way to read this book: by allowing the characters to blur in my head, it reinforces the idea that history repeats over and over and that all of them are heading towards the same end just by different means.
If you’re struggling in a similar fashion: relax. Let the words wash over you and just see what experience you can find in these pages. It will be worth it.
As both a Hugo and Nebula nominee, The Goblin Emperor is owed more consideration than can be found in a simple star rating. Especially as I will be voting for the Hugo in a few months, I need to be able to fully articulate where I see this book standing in relation to both its fellows on the ballot and to the genre as a whole.
In both senses, I find it lacking. Which certainly isn’t to say that it is bad: it’s perfectly pleasant. It is, in fact, a delightfully easy read. I read it in an afternoon which shows that it is neither ponderous nor annoying. The characters, such as they are, are likable enough and their motivations (though broad) are plausible.
One notable positive was the book’s attempt to bring back some of the depth of the English language’s pronouns. It would occasionally use the now-archaic informal “thee/thou/thy” instead of “you/your”. And it used “we” as a stand-in for a formal “I” which English has never had (at least, as far as I know).
Unfortunately, “thee” and “thou” sound horribly formal to modern ears, even when those ears know better. And it was extremely confusing trying to figure out who sentences were about with no distinction between the formal first-person singular and the more typical first-person plural “we”. This confusion was magnified because man characters had multiple titles and names. Context didn’t always make it clear if one person was talking of themselves of of a group.
None of which should be taken as a criticism. I love playing with language and I was pleased to see the attempt to bring more depth to our pronouns. That the experiment fell a little flat is no failure and it was easy to sit back and let the exposition wash over me without worrying too much about which character was saying what.
That, I think, starts to hint at my true criticisms of the book: the characters largely don’t matter. They are all exceptionally cookie-cutter. There’s “corrupt vizier”, “loyal advisor”, “devoted guard”, etc. The fact that I couldn’t keep them straight didn’t really matter since I knew they would all act according to type anyway.
Nowhere is that more in evidence than in the “traitor guard” who was a “devoted guard” until the moment of his betrayal. Neither the characters nor the reader could see it coming because the guard didn’t really transition from loyalty to treachery; instead there was just a switch flipped from one to the other. It was forced and inorganic.
None of which is to ignore the main character who, aside from being the person the book is about, is hardly even present in the story. He moves from room to room and people say things and things happen to him, but he could mostly be replaced by a shop dummy with little change to the writing.
Until the very end where he suddenly becomes a great emperor, at least. Somehow. Maybe by asking questions? It’s not really clear — he goes from being completely out of his depth to being a good ruler with no real transition. That’s just how the story was supposed to end. So it did.
The rest of the plot is like that. There is an attempted coup which starts suddenly and then ends. It didn’t really affect anyone or anything (though “traitor guard” was replaced with “devoted [female] guard” to no real effect).
Absolutely none of which is to say this is a bad book! It’s fine. It’s a nice afternoon’s diversion and lets you play the game of imagining what it would be like to be emperor for the day (aka, “the King Ralph scenario”). It’s good clean fun. But to deserve that “Nebula Award Winner” sticker, a book needs more than a fun premise combined with flat characters. And I couldn’t find that something here.