Girl reading a letter by Vermeer
I have always been fascinated by time - the sheer depth of Creation has a majesty that is almost intoxicating. Recorded human history stretches back approximately 6,500 years, while the Earth itself is vastly older. But considering human history measured in generations, rather than years, there are only two hundred and ninety generations between us and the men that lived in Sumer. The past is both near and far away simultaneously, utterly remote and yet always with us. Considering Creation as all things that are, we are very young indeed, sharks for example have been about for nearly four hundred million years and that is quite a few generations indeed.
Fiction rarely conveys the breadth of time well, but there have been some notable exceptions. I read "The First and Last Men" by Olaf Stapledon, a future history of the human race in secondary school and was very impressed with it. I'm less impressed by the philosophy these days, which is bleak enough, but it is still a considerable literary achievement in that it manages to communicate the astonishing depth of time and the transience of the individual. It is a fine book and well worth reading.
On Exactitude in Science
I've always been interested in maps - I think spurred by my father. He received a gift of an etching when I was very small called "Map of a city found in a dragon flies wing". It was a map of an imaginary city in the style of the Roque maps of London and Dublin, but with each house formed from one of the cells of the wing. Dad told me there was a house on fire in the city. Despite many hours of careful study, I have yet to find it. I still check whenever I visit the parental home.
The Strange Maps blog is a treasure trove of similar maps, maps that have never been, maps that show unusual things, like the consumption of icecream in the United States or the optimal borders of Poland. If geography is destiny and we are shaped by the environment we inhabit and the environment we imagine we inhabit, you could do a lot worse than visiting the Strange Maps blog.
Far from the Mahdist crowd
I've been taking a more than usual interest in the British Empire of the 19th century over the last week. This was almost certainly spurred by playing "The Sword and the Flame" and is likely to continue for a while. This happens every so often, usually after I've reread some H. Rider Haggard, an author I am hugely fond of and who was one of the great storytellers in a time blessed with a superfluity of them.
However, rather than re-read "She" again - I came to read "The River War" by Sir. Winston Churchill. It isn't my first time reading it, but as an example of well written narrative history it is hard to beat and it repays study. Churchill may have been an egotist, but he was also a stylist and the sheer brio of his prose never fails to engross me. The Dover edition is a good one, but if you can't wait to get to a book shop, the always fine Mark Smith of Simpsonville, North Carolina has recorded a free audio edition.