Someone recommended this novel to me as a fine example of a cozy mystery. It’s well done, set in the early 1930s London, and the main character records some lines from her father that I wish were not timeless:
“You know, Maisie, that when you look at one of these politicians, you’re looking at a thief, a liar and a murderer, that’s the way I see it.”
“Come on, Dad, that’s not like you.”
“No, I mean it. Look — they take our money, they lie through their teeth, and then they send our boys off to their deaths, don’t they? And all the time, they’re in clover, never a day’s risk or a day wanting.”
You have probably seen the news that some physicists think they have a new twist on Schrödinger’s cat. In the famous example, the cat is both alive and dead at the same time inside a box. Maxim Osipov has a fully Russian variation in a story called “The Gypsy.” It involves a doctor going to an airport in Sheremetyevo and a conversation the doctoro has with the “security” guys:
Now he’ll hear – for the nth time – their story about an American girl who traveling with a kitty cat – they put them in special carriers, for the belly of the plane – and the kitty cat died. The baggage handlers at Sheremetyevo didn’t want any trouble, so they threw the carcass in the trash and replaced it with some cat they caught near the airport. The American girl got into a huff and insisted it wasn’t her kitty – because her kitty had been dead, and she was taking her home to bury her. She was returning from some town, maybe Chelyabinsk. Last time the story was different: the American with the dead cat had flown in from Philadelphia. Today’s version was more believable, but it was still a lie, of course. The “security” guys call Americans “Americunts” and “Amerifucks” – ridiculous words, and they’ve never been to America – but he still laughs every time.
Coincidences sometimes bring illumination. “Good Omens” made it to Netflix at the same time the Pope decided that an old prayer needed to be changed to make God look better. The Pope decided that we couldn’t have a prayer that said God leads people into temptation (“lead us not into temptation”). It’s a familiar picture of God that forgets about the prohibition given to Adam and Even about the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, about the flood, about Sodom and Gomorrah, about the temptation of Jesus in the desert. Meanwhile, The Guardian publishes a story about “Good Omens” in which Neil Gaiman tells us that the beauty of “Good Omens” is in the way it doesn’t attempt to depict authorities, including God, as utterly benevolent.
[Gaiman] talks with relish about finding out, on a 2010 visit to mainland China, that his children’s books weren’t available there because, according to his publisher, “you show children being wiser than their parents and you show disrespect to authority and you show children doing bad things and getting away with it”. In response, he decided “to write a book which has all of those things in it”, not least “disrespect for the family unit.”
From Ted Chiang’s story “The Truth of Fact, the Truth of Feeling”:
New technology doesn’t always bring out the best in people.
From Ted Chiang’s story “What’s Expected of Us” in Exhalation:
Pretend that you have free will. It’s essential that you behave as if your decisions matter, even though you know they don’t. The reality isn’t important; what’s important is your belief, and believing the lie is the only way to avoid a waking coma. Civilization now depends on self-deception.
While the present offers plenty of liars, buffoons, imposters, and the like, it can help to look back on historical examples. The Guardian offers up a gem in the category. One of the reasons that we might not be able to learn as much as we might like about this category of human being is that few want to come forward after the embarrassment of learning that they have been taken in by said liar, buffoon, imposter, etc.
Sisman could find no girlfriend or ex-wife able to explain what attracted them. Disappointing, too, as he complains, is that Lambeth Palace refused to show him the extensive file it has on Peters, once described as “the biggest crook on the Archbishop’s blacklist of misbehaving clergymen”. As Sisman says, the Church of England has no more cause to be embarrassed than all the other institutions and individuals who were taken in by Peters, whose talent for forging references for himself on the headed notepaper of whichever institution he’d currently sneaked into would, when the going got tough, smooth his passage to the next one.
In the U.S., Memorial Day weekend is coming up, and I have great reading on the horizon. Finishing up Drive Your Plow over the Bones of the Dead. After that, it’s Ted Chiang’s Exhalation, and then Maxim Osipov’s Rock, Paper, Scissors and Other Stories. Regarding that last work, you might have seen the article about Osipov in The New Yorker.