Month: February 2012

Reamde and my Fears of Large Novels

Posted February 15, 2012 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Literature, Thriller / 5 Comments

reamdeI don’t normally read books that are over 1000 pages and after reading Reamde, I’m a little reluctant to read something this big again. Not that there was anything wrong with this book; but sitting at over 1100 pages, it was a big task chipping away through this book. Neal Stephenson provides a story full of nerdism, thrills and a lot of action, dipping into aspects of organised crime and terrorism. My first thought of this book was the MMORPG (Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game) game that this book is based around; every aspect of this game is covered in this book. It takes all the aspects he liked about World of Warcraft and gave it a face lift, threw out all the parts he didn’t like, even going to the extent of making the world geographically accurate for people interested in mining. But the underlining reason for T’Rain, is the gold farming market; while Blizzard tries to crack down on farming, this game is based around a potential money laundry scheme. While T’Rain was created for sinister reasons, the creation of the game and the employee of popular fantasy writers turned the game into a huge success. Just reading about this game made me want to play it. This game serves as a background for the main plot in Reamde.

While there is a lot happening in Reamde, the main plot is centred around a virus, which encrypts files and hold them for ransom for T’Rain gold. This virus affects a computer containing sensitive documents of the Russian Mob, who do not wish to pay the ransom but set out to hunt down the people behind the virus and make an example of them. Along the way many people become involved including the T’Rain founder, a T’Rain employee, some Chinese gold farmers/hackers, a Russian mercenary, a Hungarian hacker, the CIA, MI6 and some international terrorists.

While I enjoyed the ride that Reamde took me on, I can’t help thinking that there is a lot of fat that needs to be trimmed. I’m not sure if being a bestselling author Neal Stephenson had the freedom to fatten this book up, or the editors didn’t do a good job, or they intentionally left the book this long; but I think that this book could haveeasily been turned into a 700-800 page novel without losing any of the plot. While this book was really enjoyable for a nerd like me, I still can’t help but wonder; does it need to be this big?

Which brings me to the point of this blog post; do you find big novels daunting? I know some people prefer a longer novel, because they are not ready to leave a world so quickly; it’s possible these people are fast readers or not so easily distracted. I often think that I tend to get bored with the world, often wishing for it to end. This could be because I’m easily distracted, or because I’m impatient and want to move onto a new book; I often procrastinate reading by reading another book. I’m just curious how people view large novels; would you prefer them or do you try to avoid them? In the past I think I would avoid them, often dreading reading books that are more the 600 pages but I’ve come to the realisation that I can’t put them off for too long. My to-read pile is growing at an alarming pace and the amount of larger novels are making me feel a little uneasy.

In the past I think my average novel is about 280-300 pages long (thank goodness for pulp novels and their need to wrap up in under 300 pages) but I’ve had to push myself to tackle some of the bigger novels. There are too many classics that need to be read and there are a few recent releases that seem to be critically acclaimed that I’ve got my eye on. Personally my reading goal is 100 books a year but maybe next year I should focus on a page count instead of trying to push myself to read 100 books. Please let me know your thoughts of larger novels; I would love to know the pros and cons of them.


Posted February 7, 2012 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Linguistics / 2 Comments

Slightly off topic, but with the upcoming university studies, I may start talking about the beauty and complexity of the English language. I know most people know the basics but I’m writing this out of interest and as a refresher. We all have an idea what a homonym is, but do you know the difference between a homographs, homophones, heteronyms, polysemes and capitonyms? Well, there are only slight differences but I will try to explain them all now.

To begin with I just want to remind people what a Homonym is; a word that is spelt and pronounced the same but has different meanings. The word comes from the Greek word homonumos which means ‘having the same name’.

But that is the literal meaning; Homonym seems to also be an umbrella definition that includes other linguistic concepts that are related. Below are examples of them;

Homographs: these are normally words that are spelt the same regardless of their pronunciation.

Homophones: refer to words that share the same pronunciation regardless of their spelling.

Heteronyms: are subsets of homonyms; they are spelt the same but have a different pronunciation and often meaning (normally referred to as Heteronyms and Heterographs).

Polysemes: have different but related meaning; for example man (male) or man (the human species) or man (an adult male).

Capitonyms: are words have a different meaning when it capitalised; for example march (the rhythmical walk) and March (the third month of the year).

To make things easier here is a chart to help see the differences;

Term Meaning Spelling Pronunciation
Homonym Different Same Same
Homograph Different Same Same or different
Homophone Different Same or different Same
Heteronym Different Same Different
Heterograph Different Different Same
Polyseme Different but related Same Same or different
Capitonym Different when
Same except for
Same or different

While I knew the concepts of homonyms, I never realised there was so many different concepts that are related to it. Linguistics is normally divided into three different aspects of study; form, context and meaning. Even though homonyms are a very tiny fraction of the study of linguistics, I find it interesting that it seems to hit on all three parts of the science. I hope people have learned something new or at least found something interesting to think about.