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Neddie Jingo

IWWWW: International Workers of the World Wide Web?

Forgive me, I'm a little Wobbly (4'2"). I've just returned from the Big Rock Candy Mountain. All the railroad bulls, I'm given to understand, are blind.

Once a million years ago, I was a copy editor at a publisher you've heard of. Even now, today, poorly conceived sentences can set off a dull KLONNNNG sound in my head. Even with a nose like a dog's (perpetually clammy, and eager to plunge into the most appalling places) I'm pretty sure that lobby would have set off my trusty mental bell.

The Da Vinci Code: Jesus, that was painful. Easily, beyond a shadow of a doubt, the worst written book EVER to occupy the New York Times Bestseller List. The inside of my head was a tender, tender place after the first chapter. Only the conviction that I was Doing My Part to Piss Off the Religious Right gave me the strength to carry on. What a horrible book.



Are you telling us that you once held the as yet unpublished manuscript of the Da Vinci Code in your hand and you did not give in to the temptation to destroy it?

What fortitude!

I think MacLeod was faking it in that paragraph, but he may have been led astray by his nose, which appears to be a more effective apparatus than mine. A few pages later he's at it again, setting a character to work on a scene like a bloodhound. She's in a vintage clothing store and her nose is twitching:

"The air of the place was a marvelous melange of the smell of old but clean clothes, cleaning-fluid, phantom scents, patchouli potpourri, joss-sticks permanently burning, and the occasional cigarette surreptitiously smoked by the girl at the till."

Drop the cleaning fluid and the phantom scents and the word melange, and, depending where the joss sticks are, the farther away from the cigarette sneaking clerk the better, I'd buy this. It's a smaller, more confined space, the aromas are pungent and distinctive---as opposed to the smell of a rubber floor, which I think you'd have to be down on your hands and knees with your nose right to it to get a good whiff of, a position I haven't found myself in since that one weekend back in grad school when, well, nevermind---and some of the sources are right in front of the character's, um, nose, so she could see exactly what she was smelling, which makes it more plausible that she could identify to herself every scent.

I'm beginning to suspect that MacLeod just has a good nose the way other writers have good eyes or good ears.


There was something in Slate 6 or 8 months ago ( about the lack of scent in modern literature that I found fascinating. Generally speaking, scent is an incredibly powerful tool to understanding your surroundings, a tool that many of us turn off because so many of the smells of modern life are too harsh, too arcid.

Try it in Manhattan - a wiff of exhaust, a bagel on the wind, curry and damp clean laundry makes you feel alive when you start to pay attention to it.

So while the effort may be clumsy, I applaud the attempt.


I am sorry to say that yes, I can smell all those things. It takes a lot of the fun out of some places, and it's worse now that cigarette smoke is less likely to be covering up all the nastier smells.

I confess that I, too, tend to get a bit lost in Ken's books, much as I like them. The scene changes seem a bit more jarring than they need to be. Nevertheless, there's lots of fun stuff and I find them rewarding to read.

Ken MacLeod

Really, folks - I haven't a great nose, being a smoker and all, but the smells are real to me. The first lot comes from how I remember various Youth Hostels and YMCAs, etc; the second is what you catch in Armstrong's vintage clothing shop in the Grassmarket, Edinburgh. Bear in mind that both characters are familiar with the places, and can identify the sources of the smells.

Oh, and re what's going on in the first part of the Earth thread of Cosmonaut Keep: the Russkis, some decade or two from now, install what is later in the series called Socialism V. 2.00, then get into a war (the Ural Caspian Oil War) with NATO, win and just keep going to the Atlantic. The Euro-weenies fold and the Yanks hang on.

It's all very right-wing, really :-)

Lance Mannion

Must be my nose.

It's always stuffed up.

Ken, thanks very much for stopping by. And I hope you focused on the part of the post where I said I'm enjoying the book. I'm a few more chapters along and things are becoming clearer to me. Thanks for the tips.

Juno, you conjured up New York for me! I need to pay a visit.

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