Saturday, January 13, 2018

Free will

A SEQUEL and a prequel are different but not altogether. A sequel follows a story; a prequel precedes. Both continue a story.

The husband and I went to search for the third volume of Joanne Kathleen Rowling’s Hogwarts series. A goddaughter had all seven volumes but the third one. How could the child have skipped reading the third, finished the series, and endured waiting for the third?

Ever practical, the husband suggested she borrowed a copy.

The more popular movies may dictate how books are read now. I read “The Lord of the Ring” trilogy, which John Ronald Reuel Tolkien wrote in 1954, before I discovered “The Hobbit,” written in 1937.

Yet, the struggle of good versus evil in Middle Earth continues long before Frodo picks up the ring “left” by his uncle, Bilbo. in “The Hobbit,” a young Bilbo finds The One Ring in the cave (or the ring finds him).

Supplying the “back story” of a major character, a prequel milks a top-grossing movie for its worth. In reading, is there a proper order?

I went down this rabbit hole again while debating whether to get Volume One of “The Book of Dust” for a young goddaughter. “La Belle Sauvage” (2017) returns Philip Pullman to the world of Lyra Belacqua in His Dark Materials trilogy (1996-2001).

The first of the series, “The Golden Compass,” was made into a movie, which, despite featuring Nicole Kidman, Eva Green, and Daniel Craig, is inferior to the book.

In “La Belle Sauvage,” Lyra is an infant sought by the mother who initially abandoned her, the father who cannot keep her, the despotic Magisterium, a shadowy organization calling itself Oakley Street, and a relentless predator.

The object of all this unwanted attention does nothing but wet her nappies. “La Belle Sauvage” belongs to an 11-year-old innkeeper’s son, Malcolm Polstead.

Pullman has a gift for recreating the rich, complex life of young people. In the fantasy world of Oxford, where scholars co-exist with witches and gyptians, and humans are twinned with animal daemons, the real enchantment is found in Malcolm’s ordinary life.

When Hannah invites Malcolm to choose “one novel” and “something else” from her bookshelves, the professor remembered an old lady in her village who initiated her to the “delight of choosing for herself, of being allowed to range anywhere on the shelves.”

While the race to control Dust—representing knowledge and the deathless debate if fetters can be imposed on knowledge—connects the planned trilogy of “The Book of Dust,” Malcolm’s choices settle the question for me: “He chose his books and tucked them away tightly in his knapsack to keep them dry… and he went out into the damp, dark evening.”

( 09173226131)

*First published in SunStar Cebu’s January 14, 2018 issue of the Sunday editorial-page column, “Matamata"

Saturday, January 06, 2018

Dog, woman, cosmos

MAN bites dog. That is one of the first lessons someone aspiring to be a journalist picks up in class.

Or should it be the other way around?

Skewered at times are the ways humans connect with other beings.

Anticipating that the Jan. 1 landfall of tropical depression Urduja might cancel sea travel, our family changed the plan to head for Siquijor and left Negros Island for the southern homebound trek on Dec. 31.

A few hours away from the new year, we arrived at Badian’s multi-purpose cooperative, travel-sore and seeking dinner.

While the boys checked the food at the counter, I searched for an empty table. Several tourists and guides were also dining after wrapping up the day’s canyoneering events. The diner was full except for a corner space that, by some miracle, had exactly four chairs.

When I got close, I realised why this table was free. Snug in the corner sprawled a dog, sleeping.

The snow-white muzzle gave away its age, but its heavy haunches made me mull for a diplomatic way of waking it up.

I whistled, coaxed, thumped my thighs, hoping it had a primordial instinct for drums being beaten in a crisis. I tried Cebuano, English, dogspeak, and doggerel.

The dog snored on.

Just when it seemed either starvation or rabies awaited us with the dawn of 2018, the mongrel sprung awake from its sweet dream of puppyland, shook its heavy yellowish coat, and sauntered off.

I recalled the encounter when I read an article that reported the strides made in the Internet of Things (IoT), which networks people, tractors, “and even cows”.

In a Brazilian “fazenda” (plantation), an RFID transponder planted in the ear of cattle enables a farmer to track each animal's weight gain. Coupled with the market price of beef, the farmer can determine more efficiently “when the time is right for slaughter,” reported BoschZünder in December 2017.

Will “connections” eventually just be equated with efficiency and productivity in the IoT ecosystem?

I admit my eye was on a selfish gain in waking the dog in Badian. Yet, to ease it out of its sleep after noting its age, the wet twilight, and the warmth of its burrow, I groped around and confirmed the flimsiness of human communication for certain connections.

Does ego, masked or not, drive all human connections? In the IoT, which will connect 20 billion objects globally in three years from the current six billion, will the ecosystem be a cyber version of the jungle and its survival law of “dog eats dog”?

Faced with conundrums, I fall back on animal clichés: let sleeping dogs lie.

( 09173226131)

* First published in SunStar Cebu’s January 7, 2018 issue of the Sunday editorial-page column, “Matamata”