Thursday, October 30, 2014

The Slow Regard of Silent Things

In the introduction of his latest book (which can also be found on Goodreads), Patrick Rothfuss notes that The Slow Regard of Silent Things is "a bit of a strange story". He's right.

Most of the time authors are trying to write an entertaining story, and so they choose their words to pull the reader into the story and keep them there. But sometimes the subject an author wants to relate doesn't fit the traditional form of a story. Somehow the elements such as dialogue, three act structure, and character development don't quite fit the spirit of the work. Their intrusion onto the page would pull the reader out of the fiction just as abruptly as a poorly chosen word.

If Pat had managed to write this in the usual style, it would have lessened the story. The character and her surroundings, her history and thoughts, would have lost their depth. Instead he chose to use the tools of poetry. The pages are sprinkled with alliteration and wordplay. Meanings are bent to fit with tone and theme. Proper structure is intentionally broken or ignored for the sake of how it will feel when read.

Pat has said that the book "doesn't do a lot of the things a classic story is supposed to do." He's right. But if I sit quietly I can hear a faint echo of dialogue. I think, maybe, that I can see a shadow of structure in the darkness. I could be wrong, but there may even be a hint of character development. Some stories invite the reader to consider what might be hidden under the surface. With its layers of mysteries and its conventions discarded, this story practically compels it.

The Slow Regard of Silent Things probably isn't the right kind of book for every reader, but I found it to be perfectly suited to its setting and main character: strange and beautiful.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

A Very Brief Rant on User Interface Design

Back in the olden days of the previous century, I learned the phrase "Angry Fruit Salad".  It was usually used to describe the user interface for PC programs which often looked something like this:

(Yes, I know this is a modded version of a Unix program, but I worked with an awful lot of 
awful PC programs that looked pretty much the same)

Fortunately, computer companies moved away from such cluttered, optic-nerve-searing interfaces. They worked hard to make programs easier to use and look more like the natural world around the user.  The color schemes were more restrained and the objects on the screen were made to look like ... well, actual objects.

(I tried to find a nice example from Microsoft, but they never were very good at making an attractive interface.  
Some Windows versions were better than others)

With that in mind, you can probably imagine my reaction to the interface designs of the past couple of years.  For some reason we've gone back to two-dimensional Angry Fruit Salads.

(I think Windows 8 may have been designed by retired Air Traffic Controllers)

(Apple's iOS 8 actually manages to one-up Microsoft by packing 
more visual clutter into a smaller space)

To add insult to (optical) injury, Apple has switched the text on their smallest displays to a thin-stroked, sans-serif font that is much harder for my middle-aged eyes to see.

Maybe this is some kind of strange nostalgia for the fashion of the 1980s.  If so, I hope it passes just as quickly.