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In Code

I should have mentioned that I was right at the end of Pride and Prejudice when I wrote the last one, and therefore I only had to read on for another minute or so for what I talked about to be discussed in fiction. Oops—but oh well.

The next book I picked up was another of the women’s sci-fi and fantasy bundle: The Hero and the Crown by Robin McKinley. I try to not go into too much depth, but while I enjoyed the book I found a few things bothered me.

The premise of the book is a country ruled by an aristocracy with minor magical powers. Said aristocracy is rather incestuous, but our main character (the daughter of the king, but out of the line of succession for Reasons) is the product of probably the first non-incestuous relationship they have seen in quite some time—and also does not appear to have any magic, and is generally picked on by everyone. This in fact occurs to ridiculous levels, with Mr Second-in-Line (a jerk) managing to, in picking on her, insult First-in-Line and Current-Incumbent, both of who were present and who were also about the only people who liked our protagonist. Despite this he had no hesitation and suffered no obvious consequences.

Understandably, given such apparently weak leadership, a rebellion occurs during the course of the story. I wont mention details, but it seems to me that actually, no, leaving a dragon ravaging your lands behind you while you go off and deal with that is the wrong way to go about this. Especially when your daughter has gotten quite good at hunting at least smaller dragons, and if you gave her the resources to kill this one you could then swing around and say “we killed a huge dragon from the before times, what have you done for the place lately?”

With that in mind I feel what should have happened was a some kind of peasant revolt, based on the observation of how they treat the princess—“if that’s how they treat one of their own who doesn’t have magic powers, what do they think of us?” Instead it turned into the classic people-with-greater-powers-exhibit-them-later situation. Long story spoilt, she obtains accidental immortality, saves the kingdom, and then marries the First-in-Line (who is her cousin, I should point out) but institutes a kind of William-and-Mary dual monarch arrangement. This seems like a problem because she was planning to, after he died, go and leave the kingdom behind to hang out with the other guy in her life, another immortal. Presumably she intends to abdicate?

Anyway, I really did like reading the book despite all that—I think it was a prequel for a book I don’t have, which might explain things. The next book I picked up was one I’ve already read and which I had intended to pick up again a week earlier: In Code by Sarah Flannery (and her father David). This is an autobiography (of a teenager), which is definitely not my usual genre, but I was given it by an Intermediate school teacher I once had when she was apparently sorting out her bookcase the year after she taught me and thought I might like it.

It turned out to be really interesting, being part mathematics book (which is my genre, even if not recently) and part an account of putting together a project for a series of science fair competitions about mathematics. Reviews that I’ve seen note that the book is extremely earnest (which it is) and also that its author is apparently not a geek because she likes sports, to which I note simply that we have a much more expansive definition of such thing today than we apparently had in 1999 when this was written, and a good thing too!

This book was probably a large part of why, about 10 years ago now, I spent a great deal of time trying to get QBasic to find prime numbers and do math with numbers much larger than it was capable of. I can comfortably report that working with numbers encoded as strings is extremely slow but also kind of cool sometimes.

The reason why I wanted to pick this book up again is that, after all this time, I am finally doing a cryptography course in the coming trimester. Soon I might actually know more of this stuff!


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