August 27th, 2012



It may be hard to achieve greatness, but laying aside its trappings is harder, and rarer. In all the tributes to Neil Armstrong, this is what impresses me most strongly. Yes, he was the first human being on the moon - but someone had to be, and, as he was keen to remind people, he didn't get there by himself. But retiring to teach engineering, and (still more like the noble Roman) tend his farm - these strike a deep and reverberant note. I like to think, given that, he'd have been amused to hear that NBC initially announced his death as that of Neil Young, and that in the Twittersphere some were bewailing that his death should come just days after he was stripped of his seven Tour de France titles.

It always struck me as unfortunate that none of the boys in Thunderbirds was called Neil, Mr Tracy being a widower by the time of the moon landings; but perhaps Armstrong preferred it that way.

Books I Ought to Like But Somehow Don't

It's odd. I've heard Jan Mark's They Do Things Differently There recommended quite a few times, and in theory it's the sort of book I should really go for. It's clever, linguistically inventive, and uses many of the tropes I'm fond of and in some cases have even used myself: the make-believe game that may not be make-believe (Fire and Hemlock, Albion's Dream, etc.); the two realities overlaid one on the other (The Fetch of Mardy Watt, etc.); the intense relationship where the narrator is the follower of a more brilliant and charismatic friend (The Tulip Touch, etc.). If I didn't know for a fact that I'd never read it, I'd have assumed that it was one of my Big Influential Books. It even repeatedly uses a phrase, about the fabric of the world having rubbed thin, that I used a few years later in Calypso Dreaming. (This is the kind of thing that makes me more sceptical than some about studies of literary influence.)

Yet I'm bouncing off it, hard. It's barely 200 pages, but halfway through I'm thinking of giving up. I'm not sure why, though, and that will probably keep me reading - if not for pleasure, then in a quest for the source of my distaste. With luck, pleasure will creep back in like sneak thief.