Thu, 07 Aug 2008
Gregory Maguire's "Wicked", as popularised by the Broadway musical, is a tale of the Land of Oz's Wicked Witch of the West's life. It starts with her birth to an unsuspecting minister and his unfaithful wife, and ends with her death, as chronicled in L. Frank Baum's classic book.
First, a brief note on why I chose to read this book. Recently (though not recently enough for me to have blogged about it), my housemates and I went down to London to see "Wicked the Musical". It was faintly enjoyable, but had a massively disappointing ending (as with the vast majority of musicals, but that's for another time). Anyhow, I couldn't really understand why this was such a big deal, so I assumed it must have something to do with the book on which the musical is based (albeit exceedingly loosely, now I have experienced both). So I took Wicked out of Peterborough Central Library and set about reading it.
Starting at the ending, it was better than that of the musical. However, it was probably the weakest part of the book. I should note at this point that I was getting rather tired by the end of the book (the tiredness entirely my own doing, most of you will not be surprised to hear), so I am not entirely sure that that didn't affect my enjoyment. Anyway, on with the review.
The book is split into five parts, and it is along these lines that I have made my notes (though I read the final part without my notebook by me, so that part will be even more sparse on comment than the rest). A quick warning, I haven't gone to any great lengths in what follows to avoid any spoilers. Beware.
In the first section, "Munchkinlanders", the story opens, as mentioned previously, with the Witch, whose name is Elphaba, being born to Frex, a minister of sorts, and Melena, a housewife of noble stock. Green from the outset, Elphaba causes a great deal of consternation and not a little infanticidal feeling from most people who meet her. By and by, a Quadling named Turtle Heart arrives, and proves to be able to tell the future in some part. It is here that we first get the link between this Oz and L. Frank Baum's Oz, as he predicts the arrival of the Wizard in a few years. This link is confirmed when Ozma, the deposed Princess of Oz, is later mentioned. As someone who has read some of the Oz canon outside of "The Wizard of Oz", I was pleased to see this reference. This part of the book ends with the birth of Elphaba's sister, Nessarose. Overall, however, this part of the book seems to take too long to get going, and doesn't really get enough done for the amount of time it takes to do it.
The story then skips, in "Gillikin", to Elphaba's arrival at Shiz University. Within this part, the story of the musical diverges from that of the book by so much that it would be laughable to claim they are the same at all. The storyline in this part becomes too complex for me to bother with describing (though I don't consider this to be a bad thing). One thing that bothered me about this section was that occasionally it got too cutesy, and the dialogue in some scenes seemed very false. It completely drew me out of those parts of the storyline, which were fairly important. The other thing that I began to notice, which was confirmed by the rest of the book, is that religion is fairly weakly drawn. It is too similar to religion in this world to stand independant and be more than allegorical, but yet doesn't really say anything of value about the religion of our world.
In the "City of Emeralds", Elphaba has a love affair with Fiyero, who showed up in "Gillikin". This becomes relevant in the latter parts of the story. I found this section to be enjoyable and readable, my only complaint being that the ending is somewhat ambiguous (though it should be understood that, by this time, I was beginning to tire).
"In The Vinkus" is set seven years on from the "City of Emeralds". I found this part interesting, but it began to drag on. I also found that Maguire kept the happenings of the seven interim years back until they could be sprung at some suprising moment. This didn't really add anything, but just meant that I went back and had to consider the behaviour of Elphaba from the start of this section over again, which disrupted the flow.
The final section, "The Murder and Its Afterlife", seemed confused to me, and seemed to raise more questions than it answered.
To conclude, I quite enjoyed reading this book. However, it always felt like it was grasping for something, whether it be deep meaning, true understanding of camaraderie or Elphaba's mounting frustration towards the end, but never quite grabbing it. It seems to me a lot like Galinda at Shiz University, there's meaning and thoughtfulness in there somewhere but it's virtually impossible to coax it out. I also found that it was leaving a number of questions irritatingly unanswered. These may be answered in the sequels, but I fear I am more likely to read about them on Wikipedia than in the actual works themselves. Overall, though, I would recomend reading this, if only because I'm not sure I'm right.
Mon, 04 Aug 2008
"The Essential Plato" is another in the Virgin Philosophers series by Paul Strathern. I have previously read and reviewed (earlier this evening) his "The Essential Confucius", so this review will naturally reference that in some respects.
This book is short, only 56 pages including chronologies, recommended reading and a number of quotations, but Strathern manages to give a fairly complete history of Plato's life, showing how his life affected his philosophy while exploring, albeit in a fairly shallow manner, the core of his philosophy. In contrast to "The Essential Confucius", I know more about Plato's life and works, and so feel more able to say that this book gives a decent understanding on which to base further study of Plato.
Having said this, my one complaint about the book is that despite leaving me interested in studying Plato further, it doesn't really make such further study all that easy. The only help it lends is the 'Recommended Reading' section, which contains five entries with no sort of information about how to read them or which should be read first. I suspect that I will find this problem to be endemic in the series and only failed to notice it in "The Essential Confucius" because I wasn't all that interested in reading anything further.
This book also demonstrates a much reduced level of the issues I had with "The Essential Confucius", which largely boiled down to sacrificing readability in an attempt to be accessible and a seeming contempt for religion and faith. I wonder if this reduction is due to there being a great deal more to write about Plato than Confucius, meaning the author had no need to resort to such things. I suspect also that my increased interest could be traced to the increased content.
Overall, a good book which I would recommend to anyone with a passing interest in philosophy.
Sun, 03 Aug 2008
In this short book (57 pages including recommended reading, quotations and an index), Paul Strathern attempts to shed some light on Confucianism. Being completely uninitiated in the philosophy of Confucius, I am the target market. However, this also makes it quite hard to judge whether or not I have received a good grounding. Strathern seems to do a reasonable job of covering the basics, and I certainly know more about Confucianism than when I picked up the book. Sadly, the author comes across as being too eager for the text to be accessible, with puns and jokes which do nothing but distract. Strangely jarring with this wish to be accessible, he also can't help but take a few needless potshots at religious belief and faith, which I also found distracting. Overall though, a decent book.A couple of quotes stood out to me. The first, as a fan of The Mighty Boosh,
The second, as a university student,
"To expect a man to do something without the proper advice - this is an outrage."
"It is difficult to find a man who is willing to study for three years without getting a job at the end of it."
Fri, 01 Aug 2008
Patches up for reviewThese patches are currently in BundleBuggy, waiting for review or merging:
- Already approved: Reporting details of successful merges, fixing backtrace when checking signed emails
- Trivial patches: Fixing test stipple, making tests pass, web UI fixes for legacy commands, fix email failures due to a lack of merge base
- Merge directive support: This is largely a reworking of Aaron's previous work on this. It's functional, and reasonably well-tested, but I'm not entirely convinced that it fits the abstraction correctly. I'm not sure that this is the case, but it certainly needs thought.
- Reporting details of successful merges: This is just a cleanup of Tom Haddon's patch on Bug #55717, and is reasonably trivial.
- Reporting of errors caused by unknown branch formats: This is, again, a pretty trivial patch. It fixes Bug #246660, which a couple of people have hit recently.
- Switching the web UI to SimpleTAL: This makes the Web UI code much nicer and easier to modify. It also lays the foundations for further work on the web UI, including RSS feeds. It has received several rounds of review, so should be pretty much there.
- Removed Arch-specific commands: As Robert and I discussed in London, some existing commands shouldn't be needed by any Arch implementation (and certainly aren't required by bzr). This patch removes those commands.
- 'nodebug' command: Adds a nodebug command, so that only specific parts of a given script have to have debug enabled.
- TestCaseWithQueue: Converts the tests to use a TestCaseWithQueue, which abstracts away queue creation. This will allow for testing of several different scenarios, which is especially helpful in testing the UI.
Patches in the wingsThese patches are waiting on patches in the above list to be merged:
- UI Unicode fixes: Depends on the SimpleTAL changes. Fixes encoding issues with displaying Unicode names in the web UI, fixing Bug #125888.
- New UI tests: New UI tests using the TestCaseWithQueue changes. This improves the test coverage of the UI by a considerable amount.
- RSS feeds: This adds RSS feeds for each PQM project, containing the same information as is given in the Web UI, fixing Bug #133229.
- PatchCommand: This moves the logic for accepting patches from CommandRunner to a separate PatchCommand. This is the first step towards removing CommandRunner entirely.
Patches in progressThese patches are currently in development:
- XMLRPC: This is a loom containing two threads of work:
- 'xmlrpc': The basic XMLRPC functionality. This includes some email-message-related abstractions, so that both the email and XMLRPC interfaces could use the same functions. This fixes Bug #246845.
- 'xmlrpc-validation': Validation of incoming XMLRPC requests. This takes each command in the incoming script and checks that branches it references are valid and that the submitter has commit access to them. It goes some of the way towards fixing Bug #110433.
- TagCommand: This branch adds a TagCommand, intended to replace the functionality in CommandRunner. The CommandRunner code is not removed, and there are some issues with 'tag' meaning different things in Arch and bzr.