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Preview: Mark Bernstein

Mark Bernstein

Mark Bernstein: hypertext research

Last Build Date: Mon, 16 Jan 2017 12:37:06 -0500


The Making Of The British Working Class

Mon, 16 Jan 2017 12:34:36 -0500

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On sale at Amazon today: E. P. Thomspon’s The Making of the English Working Class for Kindle. $1.99.

Death of the Artist

Mon, 16 Jan 2017 12:31:05 -0500

An accomplished graphic novel, the work of several hands, recounts a country week in which a group of young artists set to creating a graphic novel about the death of the artist. In the end, neither the artists nor we really come to grips with the absent artist, and the varied media employed – loose watercolors, photographic comics, contemporary high-style comic art – sometimes tug uneasily at each other.

Night Witches

Fri, 13 Jan 2017 10:29:05 -0500

A table-top role playing game (and sophisticated study of the nature of narrative) by Jason Morningstar, author of the insightful narrative game Fiasco, which explores the dynamics of the caper movie, and Grey Ranks, a game about the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising that achieved things we did not think games could achieve.

This is the story of the Soviet 588th Night Bomber Regiment, an all-woman force that flew more than 1000 combat mission against invading Germans. As in Grey Ranks, the outlook is grim: we are flying obsolete bombers against a superior enemy, our own Army despises us because we are women, and our government is perpetually suspicious of success and of failure. Amidst the brutal carnage and foolishness, we can perhaps find friends and lovers among the women of the regiment – but of course such particularity may be unsocialist revanchist perversion.

The center of Night Witches and its underlying brilliance lies in what we would call, in other circles, its collection of writing prompts. For example, when the 588th arrives at its first duty station, the players are asked:

Which officer of the 588th was in no condition to fly when the Regiment arrived in Trudgen Gornyaka? What is being done to keep livestock off the runway, and why isn’t it working?

You’ve got to love this. We’re still early in the war, we’ve already got pilots in love with other pilots, pilots in love with their airplanes, an officer with a drinking problem, the NKVD snooping around our beloved Captain, a critical shortage of gaskets. We’ve got the Germans. And now we’ve got goats on the runway, again! And there’s a Mysterious Reason that the goats keep getting onto the runway. Improv: go!

Morningstar (along with fellow narratives game designers the Paul Czege and D. Vincent Baker) teaches us a lot about the interface between games, hypertext fiction, and old media.

Static Typing vs. Testing

Fri, 13 Jan 2017 10:15:50 -0500

Michael Tsai, who is on a blogging roll lately, has a great rundown on the latest kerfuffle about static typed languages like Swift and whether their value outweighs their inconvenience.

The underlying problem is simple. In dynamically-typed languages like Obejctive C, you can have a container that holds different kinds of things and, if you get mixed up, you might find yourself sending a message to an object that it can’t handle. If you’ve got a mix of Dates and Colors in the same list, you might send a color an request for its day of the week; if you do that, the color looks at you all funny and nothing good will happen.

Reading this debate, I was startled to realize one thing I’d overlooked: I almost never make type errors. I make plenty of errors – for me, programming is always about correcting errors – but type errors are once in a blue moon affairs.

I wonder if strong typing is a solution to a problem we don’t really have, or whether I’m just Doing It Wrong.

Feeding The Volunteers

Thu, 12 Jan 2017 10:48:37 -0500

If the current political situation were proposed in a novel, I’d dismiss is as utterly implausible. Presidents don’t begin their term with 37% approval, because people with 37% approval don’t win elections. Presidents don’t get elected because Russia thinks they’ll be good for the Fatherland. Presidents don’t get CIA briefings before inauguration that explain that the president is being blackmailed, and has probably acceded to the blackmailers’ demands.

Meanwhile, our local Democratic City Committee staggers on as it always has, planning to have its twice-a-year parties and doing little else. Still, this is the natural first line of resistance and, if things continue in this vein, Resistance.

The caucuses are coming up. I think people who come to a Saturday morning political caucus in a year without national elections deserve something better than a fast-food donut and a box of coffee. We may not win the all battles, but we need the good songs and the good food.

What should we do for breakfast?

Update: One reader suggests poached pears in little puff pastry cups. That sounds pretty good! How about Pizza Carbonara – egg, ricotta, pancetta, a bit of spinach?

Swimming Home

Thu, 12 Jan 2017 10:48:23 -0500

Booker-award nominee and early work by the author of the current sensation, Hot Milk. Two London couples (and a teenage daughter) share a villa in France. Beset by the usual woes – growing boredom, diminishing talent, looming bankruptcy – their uneasy friendships are strained when a stranger, Kitty Finch, turns up naked one morning in the swimming pool and is invited to stay.

This ought to work. The writing is enviable. Somehow, I missed the turnoff.

Red Harvest

Sun, 8 Jan 2017 13:07:25 -0500

Hammett wrote The Maltese Falcon, which became a great movie, and The Thin Man, which spawned one of the first movie franchises, but this is his great novel.

An operative of the Continental Agency (we never learn his name) is dispatched to Personville, California, a small city. People in the know call it Poisonville. His client is murdered before they can meet, and we begin single-handedly to wrest the town from the control of an unsavory league of industrial goons, booze smugglers, beer distributors, and a police department they jointly own. In the middle of everything is Dinah Brand, a woman whom everyone loves: the long line of her lovers soon includes the Continental Op, but that doesn’t change his plans.

The body count is formidable, so high in fact that at one point the investigator himself goggles at the total. So many characters die so quickly that Hammett has a hell of a time helping us keep everyone straight. This is the novel that changed American mysteries and from which film noir springs.

It ought to have been the start of a long line of books. Whiskey and Hollywood got in the way, but we’ll always have Poisonville.

Wishful Drinking

Thu, 5 Jan 2017 10:26:13 -0500

A witty, self-deprecating memoir by the late actress, this slender and likable volume reflects on what it was like to live in the fishbowl of celebrity. It was tough enough to be Debbie Reynold’s daughter, still harder to be Eddie Fisher’s child. That would’ve been plenty, but Fisher was bipolar to boot. “If my life wasn’t funny,” she writes, “it would just be true, and that is unacceptable.”