The Abbot’s Tale Review

The Abbot’s Tale, though, is something different, and in this Iggulden is serving more as a translator than a writer, or even a researcher.  It is drawn almost entirely from a surviving manuscript written by Dunstan, a tenth century English monk, and the titular protagonist of The Abbot’s Tale.  That manuscript is a sort of memoir or maybe a personal confessional, and it is clear that the original author never intended for it to be read, or even to survive.

Opportunity Cost

There is a concept that gets thrown around in economics classes called opportunity cost.  In that context, opportunity cost is simply the fact of life that if you invest in one thing, you are necessarily no longer able to use those resources to invest in another.  If you put ten thousand dollars into buying a car, that’s ten thousand dollars that you can’t use for the down payment on a house.  If you invest 30% of your salary each month in your retirement accounts, that’s 30% that you can’t use now to go on vacation.  A fairly simple concept, really, and it rarely is discussed outside of economics classrooms.

The Universe’s Habitable Zone

Humans have a severe case of societal loneliness.  We send signals out into the void in the hopes that someone might answer, we launch spacecraft into the interstellar medium with a record of our civilization, we push the edges of our technology to seek evidence of long-extinct microbial and unicellular life on the Moon, Mars, asteroids, and other bodies in our solar system.  On a less evidential level, we seek clues, stories, and anecdotes that could enable us to believe that our species is not alone in the universe: points of light in the sky, a circle painted on a cave wall ten thousand years ago, unexplained happenings all over the world.

Essays

e’ve posted essays here on the site, but we’ve never taken the time to define what separates an essay from a generic blog post.  Is this post itself an essay?  How is an essay different from an article?  Are my book reviews essays?  The context will have some influence on what constitutes an essay, but these days I consider an essay to be a long-form, written analysis or reflection on a particular topic that can be primarily expository, but should have an element of persuasion or assertion.  It need not have five paragraphs, it need not have a precisely formatted first paragraph with a thesis as the last sentence, and it need not have all of the points the essay will cover neatly laid out therein.

Implications

Have you ever been reading or watching something, and just when things were starting to get interesting, you found yourself asking: “What?  Why didn’t they do ______?”  Sometimes, there’s a very good reason for this that will be discovered later, or the creator made a conscious decision for the character to make a mistake in that instance, or perhaps they were even limited by more practical considerations (in the case of movies or television) like special effects budgets and capabilities.  Regardless, these dichotomies, where you think something could have or should have happened, but it didn’t, can be terribly disruptive to a story.

Writing as an Art and a Science

In truth, writing straddles the line between an art and a science, as much as I find that phrase cliché and overused.  When something is defined as “the art and the science of blank,” it’s really just a way to avoid having to rigorously explain the entire topic.  This is why leadership is always defined as an “art and a science” – no one wants to go through the effort of reducing to explicit, technical principles all of the different variations and intricacies of leaders.  However, that’s a subject for another day.  Writing, at least fiction writing, truly is an art and a science.

A Very Bad Terrible Part of Speech

inspires strong opinions.  Most people, and even many authors, use rules of grammar and understanding of grammar as best practices that help enable clarity of communication.  Some people, like me, get a little too fixated on the rules of grammar, like avoiding dangling prepositions.  The outlier is a particular part of speech that many people, and not just those who wield the pen on a regular basis, apparently love to hate: adverbs.

Framing Stories

For our purposes in talking about framing stories, we will define the story being framed as the plotlines explored directly by the narrative. To take a well-known example, look at Harry Potter. The plotlines of the character arcs, and combatting Voldemort, are the core story. A framing story could be if there were a line at the beginning or end of the books saying "based upon the diaries of Harry Potter, Wizard." Which takes us conveniently to the next set of definitions we need to supply.

A Rational Defense of Manned Spaceflight

As computers have become more advanced, faster, and more capable, the arguments in favor of manned spaceflight have become weaker, and space travel has increasingly become the domain of machines.  Long before the invention of the microchip, Isaac Asimov proposed exactly this, describing unmanned, computer-controlled space exploration vehicles that would be able to venture into territories too extreme and too dangerous for humans.  That vision has come to pass, and it is now commonly argued that humans are indeed too soft, vulnerable, and unreliable to utilize in spaceflight, and that removing them from the paradigm removes the weakest link.  Manned spaceflight has largely been relegated to an oft-maligned holdover of Cold War international competition and patriotism.  This is a mistake.