Meet The Coven...And One Wonderful Warlock: Alistair, of Cerebrate's Contemplations

Alistair, founder of Cerebrate's Contemplations
Why I blog about books: Well, in fairness, I don't just blog about books – I started blogging as somewhere to put my technical notes, and little snippets of ideas which come to me and have nowhere else to go, and thoughts I'm trying out, and my ranting room for when I feel the need to rant, and probably a half-dozen other things. But as for why – well, I read a lot of books. Ever since I was a small boy, in fact, and would spend my entire allowance on books the day I got it. So mostly it's for my own reference, so I can keep track of the books I read and what I thought of them, so I can plan future reading and re-reading accordingly… But the blog seemed like a good place to do it. I follow quite a few book-bloggers in my never-ending quest for new books, and if my book thoughts can help out anyone else in the same situation, all the better! Paying it forward and all that, yes? More about Alistair: As of today, my main interests – apart from books, which are a remarkably steady and permanent interest of mine – are in programming, transhumanism, virtual worlds, and an attempt at authorship that will go a lot faster should I ever get around to finishing building the setting and starting to think about, well, plot. In the past, though, I've dabbled in fields ranging all the way from alchemy and Hermetic magic through brewing and needlepoint to amateur rocketry and household robotics, and doubtless I’ll find a few more fields to take an interest in in the future. In short: would-be Renaissance man, hampered only by lack of time, and amateur experimenter with Weird and Interesting Ideas. (Or, after thirty years, can I call myself a semi-professional dabbler? I'd like to think so.) Favorite comfort food: Meatloaf. I'm normally quite an eclectic eater, so this may, I suppose, seem a trifle odd – but it’s just the kind of solid home cooking that fits my comfort food niche perfectly. With lashings of HP Sauce, of course, hard as it can be sometimes to find genuine British HP Sauce in the middle of Kansas. (That my lovely wife happens to make the best meatloaf in the Western hemisphere doesn't hurt, either, of course.) Favorite season: Autumn! Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness, as John Keats and, for that matter, the old Mr. Kipling fruit pie advertisement, would have it. And why? For the remarkably Three Bears-esque reason that winter is Too Cold, and summer is Too Hot, but the autumn manages to be Just Right, at least for my tastes in weather and comfort when out and about in it, or just sitting on the porch. Spring, I suppose, manages that too, but it's both windier, which makes it harder to read outside, and doesn't have such a splendid selection of fruit to nibble on. Favorite color: Blues and silvers and all the colors in between. Why? Because they’re paradoxical – the hot colors are fairly obvious about being energetic, and most of the cold colors are relaxed, but blues and silvers have lightning and waterfalls and all sorts of other dynamic things while remaining cool and calm to the appearance. I like that. Favorite classic(s): I'm going to go off on a real tangent here – much as I've read and enjoyed Dickens, and Austen, and other English classics from Shakespeare through Twain to Huxley and Orwell, the classics I find myself always going back to are, well, Classics. Never quite recovered from studying Latin (and Greek in translation) as a young man, perhaps, but when I think of the classics, most often what I’m pulling off my shelf are my well-thumbed copies of the Odyssey and the Aeneid, Ovid's poems, Catullus's epigrams, Livy's history, and so forth. Coffee or tea?: This is going to sound like heresy, seeing as I'm English by national origin, upbringing, and residence for the first thirty of my years, but I never did quite get the hang of tea. Except for a few herbal teas, that is – and I can presciently detect a few thousand English tea purists cringing as they read that, so, yes, I admit, they don't really count as tea. Coffee, on the other hand, I drink by the gallon. The legacy of a misspent youth in IT jobs, doing a lot of late-night programming and server administration – although at least now, as a mature individual of what I believe is at least moderately good taste, I drink much better coffee than I did then. And because I actually like it, not just because I'm trying to resist typing 45,000 'H's with my nose. What's the one book you read over and over and over again as a kid/teenager?: Ah, now that would be The Phantom Tollbooth, without a doubt. I must have read my old copy of that a dozen times or more, then read it again until it literally fell apart in my hands. The notion of concretizing abstract notions had an immediate and very powerful attraction for me; I must have spent hours and hours in my youth in Dictionopolis and Digitopolis, if not days and weeks. Out of all the books you've all read, which one sticks out in your mind the most and why?: I'm going to give here what's probably a very boring answer but one which is nonetheless true, and say The Lord of the Rings. See – clichéd answer, almost. But this is for two reasons – the first and longest is that I'm a worldbuilding geek. One of the things I simply adore in a book is a well-constructed setting, where you can look into all the corners and behind all the curtains and under the furniture and around the back, and not see any holes; everything fits together just so, and the whole thing ticks along like a Swiss watch. And Tolkien was so very good at that – his world is beautifully complete and self-consistent and interlocking. Can't get enough of that. The second and shorter is a sentimental reason. The Lord of the Rings was my gateway drug, as it were, to the… What is/are your favorite genre(s)? …speculative fiction genre, which happens to be my favorite. By some considerably order of magnitude – we've got 4,500 or so books in our personal library here, and off the top of my head, maybe 4,000 of them are speculative fiction of one kind or another. It's not my only genre – there's non-fiction here, and some romance, and some mystery, and some general fiction, and biographies, and travel books, and historical novels, and goodness knows what on our shelves. I'm a pretty eclectic reader, and have picked up books in all kinds of genres from recommendations or through the sheer chance of picking one up idly, starting to read, and deciding I had to have it – but speculative fiction, both SF and fantasy, is pretty clearly first in my literary affections. Mostly, I think, because as I may have mentioned, I love playing with ideas. And speculative fiction is as close to a pure literature of ideas as it gets. If you could only read one book for an entire month, which book would it be?: Ooh, that's a hard one. My problem here is that I'm not only a voracious reader, but I'm a fast voracious reader, so as long as we're limiting it to one book, as in just one volume of a series, it's going to be really hard to find one that's going to last a month. And it's really going to need to, because I can't imagine being without a book for very long (shudder!). Depending on what else I'm planning to do that month, I suppose, I'd either pick one of my weighty non-fiction tomes and get some serious studying up done, or else choose one of my more massive fiction volumes or possibly omnibuses. Actually naming names off the top of my head, I think I'd either read one of my difficult-but-rewarding Neal Stephensons, such as one of my The Baroque Cycle volumes or Anathem, or else one of my Jack Vance omnibuses, The Demon Princes, Planet of Adventure, or the Cadwal Chronicles, because his use of language is just so gorgeous I could take an hour over just a couple of passages. Alas, none of my comfort reading qualifies. I know it all too well to make it last. Where do you like to read?: Heh. Well, I read anywhere, and I do pretty much mean anywhere. In bed. In the bath. At my desk, while waiting for operations to complete on the computer. While walking down the street. If it wasn't unsafe, I’d probably read while driving, and I'll undoubtedly start doing so as soon as they invent a decent autopilot for cars. But then, I suppose the real question is where I prefer to read, and so far as that's concerned, being curled up on the couch with a dog at my feet, a glass of red wine in my hand, and a good book in my lap is as close to perfect as life gets, if you ask me! Which is the most dangerous -- a vampire, a unicorn or a lion, and why?: I'm going to say the unicorn, I think. The lion's desires are fairly simple: he wants to eat you. The vampire – well, pretty much the same, or at least that's the largest danger you need to worry about. The unicorn, however, is a creature very much attuned to the spiritual qualities of things, and that includes the spiritual qualities of you – and it’s so very easy for a person to be unattuned to their own spiritual qualities without even realizing it. I'd be mighty chary of assuming that I knew what a unicorn knew about my virtues, so I would, and so of what its attitude to me might be. What would your dream job be?: Well, if I could find someone to pay me for reading, that would be just about perfect… More seriously, while that would be good, my ideal job would be "ideas man," I think. Just hire me to play with ideas and see what pops out, and have someone standing by to seize the useful ones and carry them off for implementation, how's that? It’s the implementation part I always find difficult, so if I could just be In Charge of Concepts, that'd be great. Of course, that might not be nearly as satisfying as making them happen. Hm. Needs more thought. What's your favorite quote for today?: Well, with all this thinking about books today, the following old favorite popped back into my mind: "She herself was a victim of that lust for books which rages in the breast like a demon, and which cannot be stilled save by the frequent and plentiful acquisition of books. This passion is more common, and more powerful, than most people suppose. Book lovers are thought by unbookish people to be gentle and unworldly, and perhaps a few of them are so. But there are others who will lie and scheme and steal to get books as wildly and unconscionably as the dope-taker in pursuit of his drug. They may not want the books to read immediately, or at all; they want them to possess, to range on their shelves, to have at command." — Robertson Davies, Tempest-Tost What's your favorite kind of pie?: Appropriately enough for this time of year, pumpkin! The more so now I've moved to the States to live and no longer have to make them with generic squash, which works, but isn't quite the same. Reader note: Shown at header: Alistair and his good lady: "This image is actually a virtual picture of the two of us from inside the Second Life virtual world...the virtual one reflects my inner me better, I think. I certainly wish I could get away with dressing in that style day-to-day!" Visit Alistair at Cerebrate's Contemplations Browse more bios View tour stops