Very Well Read

Quotations from, and the occasional reflection on, things that I have read.

Archive for the month “January, 2007”

Not Wanted on the Voyage

Not really sure what to say about this book. It’s a book that I’d heard was good from a few people, so I thought I’d give it a try. But my basic summary of the book was really encapsulated by the following email that I sent to one of the people who said the book was good (note: spoilers ahead!):

Since you seemed enjoy Not Wanted on the Voyage (at least based on your comment on my blog), I was hoping you could tell me wtf I was supposed to get out of it. I mean, it was entertaining and I especially liked the cat, but wtf? Noah was a terrible person and we have no unicorns because he used the unicorn to rape his 12-year-old daughter-in-law? Noah’s wife (who, as far as I can tell didn’t have a first name), was an alcoholic, but she liked sheep?

I’ll update this posting if I get an answer explaining whatever it is that missing about this book.

As for quotations, there was really only one thing in the whole book that stood out to me – a description of the ark:

  • …its colour was a horror, made worse by the great running streams of pitch, oozing down its sides like so much inedible frsotings on a poison cake” (p. 120)

I even tried Googling “Not Wanted on The Voyage” to see if anyone had explained what the point was, but came up with nothing. No one seemed better able to describe the point, although there was a lot of “it’s magical” and suchlike.

Oh ya, did I mention that I liked the cat?

Findley, Timothy. Not Wanted on the Voyage. Toronto: Penguin, 1996


The Restaurant at the End of the Universe

  • “The story so far: In the beginning the Universe was created. This has made a lot of people very angry and has been widely regarded as a bad move.” (p. 1)

  • Like all Vogon ships it looked as if it had been not so much designed as congealed.” (p. 3)

  • I’m Zaphod Beeblebrox, my father was Zaphod Beeblebrox the Second, my grandfather was Zaphod Beeblebrox the Third…”


    “There was an accident with a contraceptive and a time machine.” (pp.14-15)

  • The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy “has long supplanted the great Encyclopedia Galactica as the standard repository of all knowledge and wisdom, for though it has many omissions and contains much that is apocryphal, or at least widely inaccurate, it scores over the older, more pedestrian work in two important respects. First, it is slightly cheaper, and secondly it has the words DON’T PANIC printed in large, friendly letters on its cover.” (p. 26) – other than that last sentence, this is a pretty good description of the internets.

  • The Guide is definitive. Reality is frequently inaccurate.” (p. 30)

  • The Universe, it has been observed before, is an unsettlingly big place, a fact which for the sake of a quiet life most people tend to ignore.

    Many would happily move to somewhere rather smaller of their own devising, and this is what most beings in fact do.

    For instance, in one corner of the Eastern Galactic Arm lies the large forest planet Oglaroon, the entire ‘intelligent’ population of which lives permenantly in one fairly small and crowded nut tree. In which tree they are born, live, fall in love, carve tiny speculative articles in the bark about the meaning of life, the futility of death and the importance of birth control, fight a few minor wars, and eventually die strapped to the underside of some of the less accessible outer branches.

    In fact the only Oglaroonians who ever leave their tree are those who are hurled out of it for the heinous crime of wondering whether the other trees are capable of supporting life at all, or indeed whether the other trees are anything other than illusions brought on by eating too many Oglanuts.

    Exotic though this behaviour may seem, there is no life form in the galaxy which is not in some way guilty of the same thing, which is why the Total Perspective Vortex is as horrific as it is.” (p. 56)

  • For when you are put into the Vortex you are given just one momentary glimpse of the entire unimaginable infinity of creation, and somewhere in it a tiny little mark, a tiny dot, which says, ‘You are here.‘” (p. 56-57)

  • a mind, which has been separated from its body, discussing his situation: “We never seemed to be happy doing the same things. We always had the greatest arguments over sex and fishing. Eventually we tried to combine the two, but that only lead to disaster, as you can imagine.” (p. 58)

  • The man who invented the Total Perspective Vortex did so basically to annoy his wife.” (p. 62)

  • [Zaphod] “was clearly a man of many qualities, even if they were mostly bad ones.” (p. 62)

  • The Restaurant at the End of the Universe is one of the most extraordinary ventures in the entire history of catering. It has been built on the fragmented remains of… it will be built on the fragmented… that is to say it will have been built by this time, and indeed has been —

    One of the major problems encountered in time travel is not that of accidentally becoming your own father or mother. There is no problem involved in becoming your own father or mother that a broadminded and well-adjusted family can’t cope with. There is also no problem about changing the course of history — the course of history does not change because it all fits together like a jigsaw. All the imporant changes have happened before the things they were supposed to change and it all sorts itself out in the end.

    The major problem is quite simply one of grammar, and the main work to consult in this matter is Dr Dan Streetmentioner’s Time Traveller’s Handbook of 1001 Tense Formations. It will tell you for instance how to describe something that was about to happen to you in the past before you avoided it by time-jumping forward two days in order to avoid it. The event will be described differently acccording to whether you are talking about it from the standpoint of your own natural time, from a time in the further future, or a time in the further past and is further complicated by the possibility of conducting conversations whilst you are actually traveling from one time to another with the intention of becoming your own mother or father.

    Most readers get as far as the Future Semi-Conditionally Modified Subinverted Plagal Past Subjunctive Intentional before giving up: and in fact in later editions of the book all pages beyond this point have been left blank to save on printing costs

    The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy skips lightly over this tangle of academic abstraction, pausing only to note that the term “Future Perfect” has been abandoned since it was discovered not to be.” (p. ?) – I

  • He’s spending the year dead for tax reasons.” (p. 91)
  • The Universe as we know it has now been in existence for over one hundred and seventy million billion years and will be ending in a little over a half an hour.” (p. 92)
  • I am the main Dish of the Day. May I interest you in parts of my body?… Something off the shoulder perhaps, braised in a white wine sauce?“(p. 94) – The cow that was engineered to want to be eaten, so that meat eaters wouldn’t have to feel guilty! Too funny!
  • I’m a pretty dangerous dude when I’m cornored.

    “Yeah,” said a voice from under the table, “You go to pieces so fast people get hit by the shrapnel.” (p. 103) – This line reminds me of Stupid Friend Paul.

  • It is worth repeating at this point the theories that Ford had comeup with, on his first encounter with human beings, to account for their peculaiar habit of continually stating and restating the very very obvious, as in ‘It’s a nice day,’ or “You’re very tall,’ or ‘So this is it, we’re going to die.” (p. 128) – Or “Did you know that you are really short?”
  • “‘Ford,’ he said, ‘how many escape capsules are there?’

    ‘None,’ said Ford.

    Zaphod gibbered. “Did you count them?’

    ‘Twice,’ said Ford.'” (p. 130)

  • “‘Where,’ said Ford Prefect quietly, ‘does it say teleport?’

    ‘Well, just over here, in fact,’ said Arthur, pointing at a dark control box in the rear of the cabin, ‘Just under the word “emergency”, above the word, “system” and beside the sign saying “out of order”.‘” (p. 131)

  • “Arthur woke up and instantly regretted it.” (p. 134) – oh, I’ve had days like that
  • The first thing that hit their eyes was what appeared to be a coffin. And the next four thousand nine hundred and ninety-nine things that hit their eyes were also coffins.” (p. 139)
  • Number Two’s eyes narrowed and became what are known in the Shouting and Killing People trade as cold slits, the idea presumably being to give your opponent the impression that you have lost your glasses or are having difficulty keeping awake. Why this is frightening is an, as yet, unresolved problem.” (p. 147)
  • The major problem — one of the major problems, for their are several — one of the many major problems with govering people is that of who you get to do it; or rather of who manages to get people to let them do it to them.

    To summarize: it is a well-known fact, that those people who most want to rule people are, ipso facto, those least suited to do it. To summarize the summary: anyone who is capable of getting themselves made President should on no account be allowed to do the job. To summarize the summary of the summary: people are a problem.

    And so this is the situation we find: a succession of Galactic Presidents who so much enjoy the fun and palaver of being in power that they very rarely notice that they’re not.” (p. 160)

  • “… five hundred and seventy-three committee meetings and you havne’t even discovered fire yet?” (p. 182) – oh, I’ve had meetings like that!
  • “Come and join us, I’m Ford, this is Arthur. We were just about to do nothing at all for a while, but it can wait.” (p. 199)

Adams, Douglas. The Restaurant at the End of the Universe. London : Pan, 1980.

The Stranger

I quite enjoyed this book. It’s the first Camus I’ve read (I’ve read about Camus, but never read any of his actual writing before). There is not much in the way of quotations that I can really extract from this book, because of the style in which it is written (of course, it is a translation from the original French, but apparently the translator took pains to maintain the orginal style as much as possible). You really just need to read the whole book to appreciate it and so I can’t just extract a bunch of quotations the way I usually do (there were a few, just not any many as say, all the Douglas Adams books I’ve been reading of late… Adams and Camus both do wonderful things with language, just in totally different ways)..

There was a lengthy introduction to the book explaining what you are supposed to be getting out of it. I’m always hesitant about whether to read these before or after I read a book – should I just read the book itself and appreciate it on its own merits before I read what others think of it? Or should I read the introduction first so that I am thinking about things that it might be good for me to be aware of while I read it (rather than reading the book, reading the intro and then needing to read the book all over again to pick up on all the stuff I missed the first time through). In this case, I chose to read the introduction first and there were a few interesting points in there that I felt were worth recording:

  • Camus once suggested that ‘if you want to be a philosopher, write novels’” (Introduction, p. xix)

  • “… the Absurdist philosophical approach for which rational and mythical explanations are merely grand narratives invented to enrobe – and thus disguise – the disjointed, contigent reality of lived experiences” (Introduction, p. xxiii)

  • … Mersault [the accused] becomes highly aware that he is ‘superfluous,’ ‘useless,’ that everything is unfolding without him, that he is alienated from his own experiences.” (Introduction, p. xxv)

  • The legal system… a self-sufficient machine which, ‘in the name of the French people,’ dehumanizes, marginalizes or destroys the individual and, in doing so, reinforces the Absurd.” (Introduction, p. xxv)

And now a few quotations from the novel itself:

  • As always, whenever I want to get rid of someone I’m not really listening to, I made it appear as if I agreed.” (p. 67) – I totally do this. Not the best tactic, I agree, but sometimes I just want to avoid conflict and not have to talk about it anymore.

  • So it seemed to me that you could come up with a mixture of chemicals that if ingested by the patient (that’s the word I’d use: ‘patient’) would kill him nine times out of ten.” (p. 106) – a few things struck me about this passed… first, and most prosaic, is how the hell could you come up with. a chemical like that? Secondly, the idea of how differently charged words are (e.g., “patient” vs. “criminal” or “murderer” in this case… or “terrorist” vs. “freedom fighter”) and how one’s perspective on a situation can drastically alter how you feel about it)

  • You always get exaggerated notions of things you don’t know anything about.” (p. 107)

  • If something is going to happen to me, I want to be there.” (p. 107) – this line struck me because it is all about living in the moment… so many people are going through the motions of life, but not really being there. I try to enjoy every simple thing… the beauty of a cool crisp day, the exhiliration of a good laugh, the pleasure of a simple touch, the hilarity of things absurd.

According to Wikipedia, that vast repository of all the knowledge in the world, The Stranger is a book that George W. Bush was yammering on about having read and then having discussed the origins of existentialism. And Jon Stewart deftly pointed out the humour of Bush “reading a book about a westerner killing an Arab and feeling no remorse.” You go Jon!

Camus, Albert. The Stranger. Trans. Stuart Gilbert. New York, A. A. Knopf, 1946.

Life, the Universe and Everything

  • Ford was beginning to behave rather strangely, or rather not actually beginning to behave strangely but beginning to bahave in a way which was strangely different from the other strange ways in which he more regularly behaved.” (p. 23)
  • He was staring at the instruments with the air of one who is trying to convert Fahrenheit to centigrade in his head whilst his house is burning down.” (p. 36) – I loved this line when I read it. Probably because I am completely incapable for converting Fahrenheit to centirgrade.
  • “… numbers are not absolute, but depend on the observer’s movement in restaurants.

    The first non-absolute number is the number of people for whom the table is reserved. This will vary during the course of the first three telephone calls to the restaurant, and then will bear no apparent relation to the number of people who actually turn up, or to the number of people who subsequently join them after the show/match/party/gig, or to the number of people who leave when they see who else has turned up.

    The second non-absolute number is the given time of arrival, which is now known to be one of those most bizarre of concepts, a recipriversexclusion, a number whose existence can only be defined as being anything other than itself. In other words, the given time of arrival is the one moment of time at which it is impossible that any member of the party will arrive.. Recipriversexclusions now play a vital part in many branches of maths, including statistics and accountancy and also form the basic equations used to engineer the Somebody Else’s Problem field.

    The third and most mysterious piece of non-absoluteness of all lies in the relationship between the number of items on the bill, the cost of each item, the number of people at the table, and what they are each prepared to pay for. (The number of people who have actually brought any money is only a subphenomenon in this field).” (p. 42-43) – It’s funny because it is so very, very true.

  • Numbers written on restaurant bills within the confines of restaurants do not follow the same mathematical laws as numbers written on any other pieces of paper in any other parts of the Universe.” (p. 43) – ibid.
  • After what it had calculated to ten significant decimal places as being the precise length of pause most likel to convey a generl contempt for all things matressy, the robot continued to walk in tight circles.” (p. 47)
  • The mattress globbered. This is a noise made by a live, swamp-dwelling mattress that is deeply moved by a story of personal tragedy. The word can also, according to the Ultra-Complete Maximegalon Dictionary of Every Language Ever mean the noise made by the Lord High Sanvalvwag of Hollop on discovering that he has forgotten his wife’s birthday for the second year running. Since there was only over one Lord High Sanvalvwag of Hollop, and he never married, the word is only ever used in a negative or speculative sense, and there is an ever-increasing body of opinion which holds that the Ultra-Complete Maximegalon Dictionary is not worth the fleet of lorries it takes to cart its microstored edition around in. Strangely enough, the dictionary omits the word ‘floopily’, which simply means ‘in the manner of something which is floopy’.” (p. 49)

  • It has been a difficult day – of course.

    There had been soulful music playing on the ship’s sound system – of course.

    And he had, of course, been slighty drunk.

    In other words, all the usual conditions which bring on a bout of soul-searching had applied, but it had, nevertheless, clearly been an error.

    Standing now, silent and alone, in the dark corridor he remembered the moment and shivered. His one head looked one way and his other the other and each decided that the other was the way to go.

    He listened but could hear nothing.

    All there had been was the ‘wop’.

    It seemed an awfully long way to bring an awfully large number of people just to say one word.

    He started nervously to edge his way in the direction of the bridge. There at least he would feel in control. He stopped again. The way he was feeling he didn’t think he was an awfuly good person to be in control.

    The first shock of the moment, thinking back, had been discovering that he actually had a soul.

    In fact he’d always more or less assumed that he had one as he had a full complement of everything else, and indeed two of somethings, but suddenly actually to encounter the thing lurking there deep within him had given him a severe jolt.

    And then to discover (this was the second shock) that it wasn’t the totally wonderful object which he felt a man in his position had a natural right to expect had jolted him again.

    Then he had thought about what his position actually was and the renewed shock had nearly made him spill his drink. He drained it quickly before anything serious happened to it. He then had another quick one to follow the first one down and check that it was all right.

    ‘Freedom,’ he said aloud.

    Trillian came on to the bridge at that point and said several enthusistic things on the subject of freedom.

    ‘I can’t cope with it,’ he said darkly, and sent a third drink down to see why the second hadn’t yet reported on the condition of the first. He looked uncertainly at both of her and preferred the one on the right.

    He poured a drink down his other throat with the plan that it would head the previous one off at the pass, join forces with it, and together they would get the second one to pull itself together. Then all three would go off in seach of the fuss, give it a good talking to and maybe a bit of a sing as well.

    He felt uncertain as to whether the fourth drink had understood all that, so he sent down a fifth to explain the plan more fully and a sixth for moral support.

    ‘You’re drinking too much,’ said Trillian.” (pp. 62-63)

  • Zaphod had spent most of his early history lessons plotting how we was going to have sex with the girl in the cybercubicle next to him.” (p. 72)
  • “‘We are going to shoot you.’ ‘Oh yeah?’ said Zaphod, waggling his gun. ‘Yes,’ said the robot, and they shot him. Zaphod was so surprised that they had to shoot him again before he fell down.” (p. 75)
  • However, the same event which saw the disastrous failure of one science in its infancy also witnessed the apotheosis of another. It was conclusively proved that more people watched tri-D TV coverage of the launch than actually existed at the time, and this has now been recognized as the greatest acheievement ever in the science of audeince reseach.” (p. 81)
  • The Encyclopedia Galactica has much to say on the theory and practice of time travel, most of which is incomprehensible to anyone who hasn’t spent at least four lifetimes studying advanced hypermathematics, and since it was impossible to do this before time travel was invented, there is a certain amount of confusion as to how the idea was arrived at in the first place. One rationalization of this problem states that time travel was, by its very nature, discovered simultaneiously at all periods of history, but this is clearly bunk.” (p. 98)
  • They obstinately persisted in their absence.” (p. 101) – I hate when they do that.
  • It was the product of mind that was not merely twisted, but actually sprained.” (p. 109)
  • None of these facts, however strange or inexplicable, is as strange or inexplicable as the rules of the game of Brockian Ultra-Cricket, as played in the higher dimensions. A full set of the rules is so massively complicated that the only time they were all bound together in a single volume, they underwent gravitational collapse and became a black hole.” (p. 119-120)
  • RULE SIX: The winning team shall be the first team that wins.” (p. 121) – I have a feeling that this is a quotation that I will be incorporating into my everyday lexicon.
  • “Ten minutes later, drifting idly through a cloud, he got a large and extremely disreputable cocktail party in the small of the back.” (p. 127)
  • The longest and most destructive party ever held is now into its fourth generation and still no one shows any signs of leaving. Somebody did once look at his watch, but that was eleven years ago now, and there has been no follow-up.

    The mess is extraordinary, and has to be seen to be believed, but if you don’t have any particular need to believe it, then don’t go and look, because you won’t enjoy it.” (p. 127-128)

  • Wherever he touched himself, he encountered a pain. After a short while he worked out that this was because it was his hand that was hurting.” (p. 130)
  • Zaphod did not want to tangle with them and, deciding that just as discretion was the better part of valour, so was cowardice the better part of discretion, he valiantly hid himself in the cupboard.” (p. 164)
  • He hoped and prayed that there wasn’t an afterlife. Then he realized there was a contrdiction involved here and merely hoped that there wasn’t an afterlife.” (p. 184)

Adams, Douglas. Life, the universe, and everything. New York : Harmony Books, 1982.

So Long, and Thanks For All The Fish

In my continuing quest to put up my favourite bits of the Hitchhiker’s “triology” in reverse order, here are my fav quotations from So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish:

  • Orbiting this at a distance of roughly ninety-two million miles is an utterly insignificant little blue-green planet whose ape-descended life forms are so amazingly primitive that thtye still think digital watches are a pretty neat idea.

    This planet has – or had – a problem, which was this: most of the people living on it were unhappy for pretty much of the time. Many solution swere suggested for this problem, but most of themse were largely concerned with the movements of small green pieces of paper, which is odd because on the whole it wasn’t the small green pieces of paper that were unhappy.

    And so the problem remained; lots of the people were mean, and most of them were unhappy, even the ones with digital watches.” (p. 1) – in the interest of full disclosure, I wish I had more small green (or other colours too, here in Canada) pieces of paper… but I do have a digital watch and it makes me happy =)

  • That evening it was dark early, which was normal for this time of yea. It was cold and windy, which was normal.

    It started to rain, which was particularly normal.
    A spacecraft landed, which was not.

    There was nobody around to see it except for some spectacularly stupid quadrupeds who hadn’t the faintest idea what to make of it, or whether they were meant to make anything of it, or eat it, or what. So they did what they did to everything which was to run away from it and try to hide under each other, which never worked.” (p. 3)

  • A Maxi passed on the other side of the road and flashed its lights at the slowly plodding figure, though whether this was meant to convey a ‘Hello’ or a ‘Sorry we’re going the other way’ or a ‘Hey look, there’s someone in the rain, what a jerk’ was entirely unclear.” (p. 10)
  • As it chanced, the following day the driver of the Cortina went into hospital to have his appendix out, only due to a rather amsuing mix up the surgeon removed his leg in error, and before the appendectomy could be rescheduled, the appendicitis complicated into an entertainly serious case of peritonitis and justice, in its way, was served.” (p. 10-11)
  • The particular way in which he was choosing to dice recklessly with death today was by trying to pay for a drinks bill the size of a small defence budget with an American Express card, which was not acceptable anywhere in the known Universe.” (p. 12) – It’s funny because it’s true!
  • Arthur watched it go, as stunned as a man might be who, having believed himself to be totally blind for five years, suddenly discovers that he had merely been weaing too large a hat.” (p. 32)
  • From another direction he felt the sensation of being a sheep startled by a flying saucer, but it was virtually indistinguishable from the feeling of being a sheep startled by anything else it even encountered, for they were creatures who learned very little on their journey through life, and would be startled to see the sun rising in the morning, and astonished by all the green stuff in the fields.” (p. 42)
  • He leaning forward, screwing his face up as if he was going to say something extraordinary about the govermnment.” (p. 56)
  • Grown men, he told himself, in flat contradiction of centuries of accumulated evidence about the way grown men behave, do not behave like this.” (p. 59-60)
  • The problem is, or rather one of the problems, for there are many, a sizable portion of which are clogging up the civil, commercial and criminal courts in all areas of the Galaxy, and especially, where possible, the more corrupt ones, this.

    The previous sentence makes sense. That is the not the problem.

    This is:


    Read it through again and you’ll get it.” (p. 100) – I love the way Douglas Adams played around with language like this. He uses considerable fewer commas than I do when he does so, however, making it difficult to transcribe.

  • In Ancient days, before the Advent of the Sorth of Bragadox, when Fragilis sang and Saxaquine of the Quenelux held sway, when the air was sweet and the nights fragrant, but everyone somehow managed to be, or so they claimed, though how on earth they could have thought that anyone was even remotely likely to believe such a proposterous claim what with all the sweet air and fragrant nights and whatnot is anyone’s guess, virgins, it was not possible to heave a brick on Brequinda in the Foth of Avalars without hitting at least a half a dozen Fuolornis Fire Dragons.” (p. 101)

Adams, Douglas. So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish. New York : Harmony Books, 1984.

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