Meteoric Iron

As part of my research this week I found myself looking at the process of mining and refining iron. It’s part of the fun of this writing gig that I’m always learning. I’m no geologist, so looking at the composition of the Earth’s mantle and core and its anticipated ratios of oxides of iron to possibly pure molten iron – and what might happen in the interface between those layers – is fascinating stuff. As is the apparent occurrence of stable iron alloys in celestial bodies and meteorites.

Meteoric iron tickles another fancy for me: It’s fascinating not just because of what it might say about the formation of the solar system, but how it might have been used in antiquity. The Bronze Age is in many ways the dawn of civilisation as we know it, and quite apart from the use of bronze, it also gives us our earliest writing and evidence of urban civilisation. Archaeology certainly offers even earlier glimpses of Neolithic humanity and snapshots of ice age survival, but these finds always feel like incomplete photographs to me, a snapshot of some place or person which lacks the deeper opportunity at relationship which writing presents.

We’re at least passingly familiar with Bronze Age literature, whether from stories like the Epic of Gilgamesh, to the story of Abraham and Israel, to the Code of Hammurabi. Those stories provide a more ready lens with which to try and place ourselves – despite our modern cultural differences – in the shoes of our ancient forebears. Standing in the milieu of these cultures, I suggest it’s no big step to see how meteoric iron would have been regarded to have a literally celestial significance.

While much later historical figures wielded weapons forged from meteoric iron – we read of Attila and Timur using them – the celestial providence of these weapons must have been largely symbolic, given the availability of modern steel. In the Bronze Age by contrast, the material properties of an iron weapon must have seemed literally sent from heaven. Perhaps I’m reading more into it than it deserves, particularly with the limited treatment I can give this here today, but it seems no stretch to imagine that burying such a dagger with Tutankhamen must have been exactly as significant a treasure as it sounds: a weapon from the gods.

Forty Years, Still Good

I’m still waiting on my new lenses, so my opportunity to read lately remains spotty. Hopefully they’ll show up next week and the renaissance will begin! In the meantime, I had the opportunity to re-watch Ridley Scott’s 1982 film Blade Runner this week for the first time in many years (the Director’s Cut blu-ray, to be specific).

While in a few places the styles of the era stand out (Deckard’s apartment tiling wouldn’t be out of place in a Mos Eisley cantina), the film still holds up extremely well. Apart from the date (the real 2019 Los Angeles looked a little cleaner and lacked the flying cars) the film didn’t feel obviously dated. The thematic questions it raises, including the blind pursuit of justice, the desire to be a complete human, or how our treatment of those different to us reflects our own identity, held up as well for me today as any modern film.

I’ve been known to enjoy my fair share of hard sf, and speculation on and development of current science trends is always fascinating. Yet there seems to be a real danger in there: Current science is likely to date a story as assuredly as pulling out a slide rule on the bridge of the Enterprise, or sailing the canals of Mars. I remember reading Frederic Pohl’s gateway and suspending disbelief right up until (if I recall correctly) it specifically mentions LED readouts. 7 segment LEDs were a great display technology in the post Apollo era of 1977, but I don’t think you’ll find any in a SpaceX Dragon capsule.

This is where I think the more fantastic sci-fi really stands the test of time. Blade Runner doesn’t focus on the tech. Deckard’s Voight-Kampff test was a mystical contraption in 1982 and it’s still a mystical contraption forty years later. It allows us to say “ah, future stuff,” and remain immersed in the story’s reality.

It’s an interesting balance to find in my own work. Does my character care about the tech or the task? In my own life, do I really think about my iPhone’s processor or antenna or messaging app, or do I just focus on communicating? Yet being a turbo nerd, I really do think about those other things from time to time.

I’d certainly like to produce something an audience will enjoy long down the track. Why not, right? But mostly, my audience is necessarily me first, and as such I need to want to be there rereading it with them too.

Time to Just Read Already

Twelve years ago, I was reading voraciously, getting in around 35 novels a year, reading on my morning commute and lunch break. It comes as a perpetual shock — to me, anyway — but Times Change. My commute changed to driving and motorcycling, and my lunch break changed from an enforced hour break and dedicated space to unscheduled interruptions and eating at my desk. As career changes pushed reading out the window, eyesight changes also made themselves noticed in my mid-40s when I had to start wearing my first sets of glasses. Boy, what an adjustment that was.

The Glasses Apostle by Conrad von Soest (1403)
I wish I looked this good when reading.
Public Domain, via Wikipedia.

Having shifted my career and work arrangements further, I’m back in a position where not only can I make time to read, but I need to. Using my computer glasses for reading a book or academic text is a recipe for a headache, especially if I try to use my fixed focal length reading glasses from a few years ago (more accurately, an eye ache — it feels like I’m being stabbed through the eye socket). Thus, I visited the optometrist this week and signed up to get new lenses. No more single focal length, it’s time to adjust to a combined reading/computer lens. It’s going to be weird!

Of course, you might point me at audiobooks as an obvious alternative. Audiobook sales have been increasing steadily over the years, and having listened to a few recently there are some amazing narrators out there. Indeed, I listened to a discussion recently in which authors talked about writing novels for audio first. No surprise perhaps, but this raises a red flag for me. Might fiction increasingly become a type of radio play, driven by snappy dialog and short, invisible narration, but at the expense of time spent buried in a character’s thoughts, a narrator’s expansive description of their world, or philosophical contemplation of events? While I do love a good page-turning thriller, I also love to be able to stop and contemplate the page I’m on, or laugh at a clever reference to what went before, or flip back a couple of pages to finally comprehend something I missed. It’s this random access I miss most in an audiobooks and find clunky even with e-books. Having said that, there is still something magical about hearing a story well told; it is how stories have been told for thousands of years after all, regardless of genre or category or pace. Ah, to have it all!

Still, there’s a stack of books I want to read. I fear the eyesight’s only going to be the first challenge, of course. Responsibilities have changed a lot in twelve years, as has lifestyle. Making the time to read, committing to it, rediscovering its joy, those are all going to be additional bridges to cross.

I feel a little like Arthur Dent…

Arthur started to say something, then stopped. He started again, and stopped. He then stopped starting and started…

Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy