Thursday, April 16, 2009

Two Unrelated Things

Just finished reading The Swiss Family Robinson. Two main things jumped out at me.

  1. An incredible quantity of animals are killed. It's seriously like every couple of pages they take down a kangaroo, shoot an agouti or chop a snake. After the fact they talk a lot about the "magnificent creature" but beforehand they don't think twice. They don't even know what most of the animals even are and they start shooting. (They also have an unending supply of ammo.)

    The irony of the family often being afraid of "savages" in this context is pretty thick.

    The variety of animals is also pretty astonishing (which is to say fictional). On what island exactly do monkeys, wild hogs, buffalo, kangaroos, lions, boa constrictors and ostriches all coincide?

  2. There are many similarities to Robinson Crusoe. I noticed them at the time but can't think of any now, so I'm left with the obvious statement that they are both shipwrecked on an island.

    Anyway, in the text they mention that they are Swiss (duh) and don't speak English (whoa!). Looking it up afterwards, it turns out that "Swiss Family Robinson" is kind of a misnomer. They aren't named Robinson. In fact, their name is never given, only the 4 sons are addressed by names with the man being the narrator and the wife called "the wife" or "the mother". The real translation of the original title is more like "The Swiss Robinsons" as in "a Swiss version of the Robinson Crusoe".

    Also, especially near the end, there were many similarities with some of the Heinlein juveniles. I think RAH even said he'd "filed the serial numbers off" of SFR a couple times. Knowing the actual plot of the original now, I should reread the juveniles.

The other thing is slide rules. I asked Freecycle for a slide rule and a kind soul gave me 3. All 3 in leather cases, one of them bamboo and new in box. Wow.

Three (has 23 scales on it!)

I feel like such a retro-nerd messing around with them, although I can barely do even simple problems. You really get a sense of what a chore basic computation used to be if this slow, error-prone, laborious process was the easy way.


  1. 'After the fact they talk a lot about the "magnificent creature" but beforehand they don't think twice.'

    The Swiss Family Nugent!

  2. Sliderules! So fun. I took a chemistry exam with one in high school, because I was an obnoxious nerdy show-off. But it worked, and I had the requisite number of significant figures and everything.

  3. Wow, seriously? I thought I was pretty hot stuff for solving a math puzzle just now by multiplying 14 * 16 on one.

    The automatic dropping of insignificant figures is pretty nice, actually.

  4. Well, given that the book was written in 1812, I don't find it astonishing that they don't think much about the poor animals they shoot. Animal rights was not a very popular movement back then ;)

    In fact, if I were ship-wrecked on an island, I wouldn't think twice about killing animals for food either. I would think: 'hmm, good to eat, most probably not poisonous', but only once, not twice.

  5. Oh right, I didn't mean to imply that the "Robinsons" were especially bloodthirsty. I'm sure they were within the contemporary norms. It's just that those norms very different.

    Also, they didn't exactly need the food. I was going to mention the "farming" they did but that led into talking about "the wife" (aka "the mother") and it was getting a little long and boring, so I cut it.