The numbers to the masses

The Universe Within by Neil Turok.THE UNIVERSE WITHIN
Nanjing Night Net

By Neil Turok. Allen & Unwin. 304pp. $27.99.

Our oldest creation stories try to describe the universe in the language and ideas available to our ancestors. Later ancestors developed ways of thinking more systematically, some of them developing descriptions of the universe that relied less on metaphors drawn from human society.

They wanted rules of explanation that could apply universally in the known material world, as well as providing some order to the inferred spiritual dimensions that we use to fill our gaps in understanding.

This quest has never ended, though cultures often try to defend orthodox cosmologies based on theories and methods that have been superseded. Scientific cosmologists can be almost as stubborn as religious conservatives in denying new ideas. When the shouting dies, it all comes down to physics.

How readily our eyes sparkle with awe when we look at a starry sky on a clear night, or view vivid images of near-infinite space captured by the latest space telescope. But how rapidly they glaze over when a beady-eyed enthusiast explains how every phenomenon can be described as an interaction of cosmological forces that, though barely understood, can be described in mathematical formulae. Are you still with me?

I once read Professor Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time and thought I understood most of it, then fled the topic, never to return. As a young publisher’s assistant, I proofread another professor’s book on Einstein’s theories of relativity. I thought I understood that, too, but wouldn’t claim to now.

Neil Turok has taken on a much wider topic than Hawking. Turok held a chair in mathematical physics at Cambridge and published, together with Hawking, a theory on how universes come into existence. That’s universes, plural. He now heads the Perimeter Institute in Canada, which supports the study of theoretical physics and campaigns for wider community understanding of what physicists are on about, and why it matters.

His title, The Universe Within, tells us this book addresses a vast topic from a human perspective. It is about the ways that generations of scientists have revised and renewed theories and observations on what governs the past, present and future of our universe. Within, it is about how human minds grapple to understand the infinities and imponderables of all matter and energy, from smallest subatomic energy states to the possibly infinite multiplicity of universes that share time and space with everything we humans are able to observe.

There is a quick review of ancient philosophical ideas about the universe, and of the development of mathematics as a way to describe and analyse observations. Mathematics, applied to physics, then allowed philosophers and scientists over the centuries to develop and extend theories into concepts for which there was, as yet, no evidence.

Newton’s physical laws were, and remain, good enough for most earthbound mechanical purposes, but later discoveries about the nature of light, electricity, magnetism and gravity added vital dimensions to speculation about space, time and infinity. Einstein and many others could describe fixed mathematical relationships between fundamental matter and energy, seeming to explain most of what was observable in human experience. Einstein determined that energy and mass are locked in a relationship governed by the square of the speed of light, but this is far from the only foundation formula.

Turok puts forward a far longer formula that ”summarises all the known laws of physics”, in symbols only a mathematician could love. The secret is that, like the pronouncements of ancient oracles, the relationships within the formula are generally accepted, but the values represented by most of the symbols are themselves often contested or unknown.

The one principle that nobody challenges is that no theory is beyond challenge.

The latest and best observations support the theory that our universe is expanding at an accelerating rate, having started as a microscopic dot of unbelievably compressed energy some 4 billion to 5 billion years ago. The expansion, and therefore the entire universe, is probably powered by the dark matter and ”vacuum energy” that was validated by our local Nobel hero Professor Brian Schmidt and his colleagues, perhaps prompted by the very Higgs boson particles that have recently been validated by the Large Hadron Collider experiments in Switzerland. It is not the job of physicists to ask why this happened, but they are increasingly confident that they know how it happened. There are still strenuous arguments among physicists, but Turok inclines to the view that our current expanding universe is just one instance of an infinite number of expansions, followed after a few billion years by contraction, and then another Big Bang to start the expansion again.

A lot of this seems disconnected from human experience because mathematical reasoning is not the same thing as common sense. Indeed, Turok explains that much of the essential theorising depends on the use of special numbers and terms that are themselves ”irrational” or ”unreal”: for example the letter i, representing the square root of -1, is essential to the resolution of many critical formulae, though you could never find such a value in daily life. Similarly, the theory of infinite bangs and busts depends on a concept called ”imaginary time”.

The greatest conceptual leap takes us from classical physics to the realm of quantum mechanics. In this framework the world, indeed the universe, is in constant flux and the state of everything is in constant change. There is no truth, only probability. There can be no absolute measurement, only observation. The job of physicists is to provide, from their observations, theories with reasonable probability. In some such theories, the existence of our own universe is almost at the lowest level of probability. However, because the number of possibilities is infinite, sooner or later our universe would be bound to pop up. After some moments of horror, I received this with relief. Probability makes more sense than certainty to the human brain.

Turok suggests that the application of quantum principles to computing will multiply the subtlety and speed with which future machines can make calculations on our behalf. They really will be more like human (analogue) brains than those relatively moronic binary computers we now use, that must build every step of their logic from choices of absolute yes or no. For quantum computers, every value will always be ”somewhat”. I think I can relate to that.

The bravest thing about this book is that it comprises the scripts of five orations originally broadcast as the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s flagship Massey Lectures for 2012. Neil Turok has done his best to leaven it with anecdotes and metaphors. I was baffled by an explanation of gravity using an image of two people standing on ice hockey pucks – in space. How such dense and often challenging material can be absorbed via hour-long radio lectures must be a matter of quantum uncertainty. For a lay reader like myself, the material is hard work but definitely rewarding.

Richard Thwaites has maintained a cautious interest in scientific cosmology since reading John Milton’s Paradise Lost as a teenager.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

Rich humour in life and weather

NEW AND SELECTED POEMS
Nanjing Night Net

By Chris Wallace-Crabbe. Carcanet. $39.95.

In Time magazine a couple of years back, the American poet John Ashbery claimed that when it came to finding things to write poetry about ”there’s love and there’s death and time passing and the weather outside”. He could have been talking about Melbourne’s Chris Wallace-Crabbe, whose own poems (less opaque than Ashbery’s, but no less energetic) are characteristically concerned with those four elemental things.

The weather is, of course, not only elemental but also profoundly quotidian, the most ”everyday” of everyday things. The everyday occupies Wallace-Crabbe’s poems like a form of weather itself.

The Bits and Pieces, for instance, is an A-Z catalogue of ordinary objects – such as the artichoke, the yam and the tin opener – made remarkable through the poet’s estranging eye. The artichoke, for example, is ”a green knight’s club / or else an absolute rose”.

In Afternoon in the Central Nervous System, which begins ”Eating raw cabbage at a paper- / littered table at autumn’s end”, Wallace-Crabbe also uses the everyday to rehearse another favourite, and cognate, theme: identity. Despite a marked poetic identity (Wallace-Crabbe has an instantly recognisable style that mixes ”high” and ”low” linguistic registers), his poems are fascinated with the contingencies of identity.

In The Idea of Memory at 33 Celsius he asks: ”Who then is it speaking through me / in shorts and T-shirt, padding at ease / over the faintly dusty floorboards.”

Interrogatives – such as ”who?” – litter Wallace-Crabbe’s poetry, while agnosticism and bemusement is that poetry’s characteristic stance.

As he writes in Afternoon in the Central Nervous System, ”I am bemused by how / the musing of the world thus chose me here / out of, say, Scottish tribes and the plaited rush / of history from Plato down to NATO”. As the rhyming of ”Plato” and ”NATO” suggests, there is a great deal of comedy in Wallace-Crabbe’s ode-like poetry (just as there was in the work of his late contemporaries, Peter Porter and John Forbes).

Much of this comedy is verbal play. He asks, for instance, of the telephone ”Why does it drive me up the pole?”.

In The Thing Itself such verbal play is seen as the raison d’etre of poetry, the poet wishing to devise a sentence of utter originality, ”like nothing on the planet: / a structure of brackets and cornices, / twigs, pediments, dadoes and haloes and bells, / full of nuts, butter and flowers!”.

As well as a source of such aesthetic (or political or philosophical) play, Wallace-Crabbe’s distinctive comedy is always shadowed by an equally distinctive elegiac sensibility. As New and Selected Poems shows, Wallace-Crabbe has become simultaneously grimmer and lighter during the course of his career.

One might ascribe a biographical source to the grimness (the death of his adult son), but even in his first elegy for his son – called, without adornment, An Elegy – there is a hint of the comic in the poem’s final, tragic (and weather-filled) lines: ”So that I wish again / it were possible to pluck my son / out of dawn’s moist air / by the pylon-legs / in that dewy-green slurred valley / before he ever hit the ground, / to sweep under his plunge / like a pink-tinged angel /and gather him gasping back into his life.

The comic image of the poet as a pink-tinged angel of life returns us to a pre-modern sense of comedy, in which restoration and redemption are at the heart of the genre, as the title of Dante’s The Divine Comedy suggests.

In New and Selected Poems, Wallace-Crabbe evokes Dante, as well as the poet-priests Gerard Manley Hopkins and Peter Steele (the latter a close friend of Wallace-Crabbe’s), but his interest in religious matters generally concerns God’s absence.

As Wallace-Crabbe writes in Squibs in the Nick of Time, ”Approving mystery / with all my heart / I practise disenchantment.”

God or gods are therefore present in Wallace-Crabbe’s poetry only as remnants: the ”murmuring” of the first gods heard in Timber, or the assertion that ”God allegedly knows” at the end of More Loss.

In God, Wallace-Crabbe voices the divine father himself: ”I gave a big party / and the name of the party / kept slipping clean away / from my wooden tongue / but I reckon it was / called history.”

This selection, part of Carcanet’s Oxford Poets series, is Wallace-Crabbe’s third ”selected poems”. Having to jam in so many years – his first collection appeared in 1959 – gives the work an impressively Tardis-like appearance: it seems bigger on the inside than it does on the outside.

Wallace-Crabbe’s early years are, perhaps not surprisingly, dealt with efficiently, though poems like Citizen and The Wife’s Story show how early he was attracted to the strangeness of the everyday and comedy.

The poems from the 1980s and ’90s show what important decades these were for Wallace-Crabbe, but as the generous selection of his penultimate collection, Telling a Hawk from a Handsaw (2008) suggests, some of his most impressive work comes from this fecund ”late period”of his.

The many new poems presented in New and Selected Poems are characteristically catholic in tone and style, including The Poem of One Line; the surrealist statements of The Dream Injunctions (presumably gleaned from that eponymous state); verse essays on salt, skin, insects, torture and air; and a long elegiac sequence on politics, The Troubled Weather of Humanity.

As New and Selected Poems illustrates, Wallace-Crabbe has long been aware of how humanity’s weather is ”troubled” by the body’s frailty, the bloodiness of history and mortality itself.

But in his valuing of both the aesthetic and the ordinary as the realms of humanity, he always reminds us – despite what the end has to offer us all – of a different kind of weather, one where, even as darkness is falling, ”the lit clouds yet / sail sweetly over us / inhabiting a daylight of their own”.

David McCooey’s latest collection of poems, Outside, was short-listed for the Queensland Literary Awards as well as the Melbourne Prize for Literature’s best writing award.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

Colour and movement

GAYSIA: ADVENTURES IN THE QUEER EAST
Nanjing Night Net

By Benjamin Law. Black Inc. 288pp. $29.99.

Just when you might think books by ingenues-in-Asia were a thing of the past, a sub-species arrives: books by gay-ingenues-in-Asia. Gaysia is the second of Law’s cutely titled books, following The Family Law (2010), which made his reputation as a self-satirist. That led to media columns, TV and an Asialink fellowship that took him to seven Asian countries in search of what he calls ”breathtaking examples of exotic faggotry”. Law is trawling among LGBTT people, he explains, for his fellow Gaysians: ”the Homolaysians, Bi-Mese, Laosbians and Shangdykes”. (If you need to ask, this may not be the book for you.)

Of course he finds them, behind every bush and exposed on every beat in the ”queer East”. Naked profiteers and muscled go-go dancers accost him in Bali, where he’s told everyone is a slut, and where men from the rest of Indonesia come for a gay time. Transsexual beauty queens reveal all to him in Bangkok. Squeals of mirth greet lewd jokes in tiny Tokyo bars that selectively specialise in thin, fat, old, female, or foreign gay clients. In Beijing, gay Chinese, conflicted between filial duty and sexual preference, tell Law how they negotiate sham marriages with the help of the internet. He listens to exhortations about curing ”sexual perversion” from a Christian in Malaysia and a Hindu in India, gurus who not only profit from their anxious followers, but covertly share their lusts. Straight Indian activists tell him of their struggle in 2007 to overturn a British statute of 1860 that outlawed ”carnal intercourse against the order of nature”. Gay Indians now parade annually in Mumbai, making up in colour and decibels for the frisson of risk they have lost becoming legal.

What starts out for Law as a light-hearted romp from one fleshpot to another in countries where anything goes, turns dark in China and Malaysia, where the pressure of ideology on one hand and religion on the other is constant. A way of life he regards as ordinary is a torment for gays there. But Law’s mood is darkest in Myanmar, where the three most fatal diseases are malaria, tuberculosis and HIV. In 2008, he says, quoting UNAIDS, nearly a third of transgender people and men who have sex with men in Myanmar had HIV. Of people needing antiretroviral drugs, one in five may get them. The rest will die, including some of Law’s interviewees who, with no alternative, go on working in a sex industry in which condoms are rarely used. He is puzzled that they laugh.

All ingenues-in-Asia report their emotional highs and physical lows as a life-changing experience. To make sense of it, the temptation is often to bring Western judgments to bear, and urge Western solutions – some only recent. Law’s empathy with his gay interlocutors is evident. But trying to get an appointment, cold, using Google translation, with a Japanese TV talent is naive, and the result is a massive fob-off. Mixing up given names and surnames isn’t a good look either. Failing to understand why Burmese say appalling things and laugh suggests that Law’s Asian sensibility may have been lost in one generation. Law is shocked when the Indian guru tells him homosexuality can lead to sex with animals, yet this prospect has recently been raised in the same-sex marriage debate in Australia. Hypocritical behaviour of supposedly celibate clergy in the West was well known, and Law doesn’t mention it once.

Law dangles the promise that on his journey he will get ”very, very naked”. If he does, he doesn’t say so, and instead keeps virtuously telling people he has a partner in Australia. If readers are hoping for a no-holds-barred sex tour, Law’s book is not it. What it more importantly lacks is historical research: the West didn’t invent LGBTT. Law understands there are various performance traditions, providing a paragraph or two on some, but surprisingly says nothing of crossdressing in the Takarazuka review or the Chinese opera, not even M.Butterfly. These traditions were diluted or repressed in the name of Western morality, and have been further reduced to the crass transactions that Westerners expect in ”the world’s gayest continent”.

Dr Alison Broinowski reviews and researches Asian Australian writing.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

Something lasting

In the driver’s seat of his well-worn Volvo, James Salter spreads a map of Long Island across his knees. His voice fragile but deliberate, he offers tales of the region’s natives and of European settlement; also of the artists who lived and worked nearby – among them Willem de Kooning and Jackson Pollock. ”Walt Whitman called it by its native American name,” Salter says. ”Paumanok: ‘the island that pays tribute’.” Then, pointing to the map’s eastern edge, his fingers fan out. ”See how it fishtails.” It’s an observation of someone who is used to looking down on things. Salter flew F-86 Sabre jets in the Korean War, an experience he chronicles in The Hunters.
Nanjing Night Net

That debut novel, published in 1956, reads like Top Gun written by a fighter pilot with the soul of a poet. Now, on the day of the American publication of All That Is, his first novel in 34 years, Salter, 87, moves with cool confidence. He is unrushed, his words measured. Here is someone who has survived dogfights with Russian MiGs. In another life, he worked on film projects with Roman Polanski, Sidney Lumet and Robert Redford. He is also one of the most revered American writers of his generation, author of eight works of fiction, including A Sport and a Pastime and Light Years, novels long considered contemporary classics.

For the past 35 years, Salter and his wife, Kay, have divided their time between Bridgehampton, Long Island (population 1756), and Aspen, Colorado.

Evidence of their Rocky Mountain life, from which they recently returned, greets the visitor at the door in the form of Salter’s vintage hiking boots. They’re a reminder that this is the man who decided, in his 50s, to become a proficient alpinist in order to write Solo Faces, a novel many critics and climbers cite as the best ever written on the subject. About 1979, the year Solo Faces appeared in bookstores, Salter began making notes for a new novel. His readers have been waiting ever since.

An unfortunate trend in the media has been to claim All That Is as Salter’s first book in 34 years. Since Solo Faces, however, he has published two story collections – one of them, Dusk, recipient of a PEN/Faulkner Award. Other recent publications include a book of travel essays, the unforgettable letters collected in Memorable Days and the memoirs Gods of Tin and Burning the Days, the latter as generous in its offerings as any novelist’s autobiographical writings. The gap between novels and the cultish allegiance of Salter’s readers – some of whom cling to the work as though it constitutes a secret order – have made All That Is one of the most highly anticipated books of the decade.

”I was making notes for a book like this 35 years ago,” says Salter, dressed casually in jeans and a sweater and now seated, after our return from the Bridgehampton train station, at his book-strewn dining room table. ”This,” he leans in to whisper, ”is one of the hazards of being an author.” Those notes from decades past have long since disappeared.

”I remembered what they were like in a ghost-story sense,” Salter says. ”They were like that line that you write down once and you can’t remember and that cannot be paraphrased. This novel is what resulted because of that loss. But the book is not a substitution for something lost. That’s just how it came about. I didn’t postpone it.

”I didn’t say, ‘I’m going to start writing novels again.’ It was something I had been thinking of and was delayed.” As Salter writes in the epigraph of All That Is, ”There comes a time when you realise that everything is a dream, and only those things preserved in writing have any possibility of being real.” It’s the sentiment of a man who, after publishing The Hunters, left a venerable military career to assume the uncertain existence of a novelist. They are also the words of someone with firm convictions about the role of literature. In his 1993 Paris Review interview, Salter responds to a question about the urge to write: ”Because all this is going to vanish. The only thing left will be the prose and poems, the books, what is written down. Man was very fortunate to have invented the book. Without it the past would completely vanish, and we would be left with nothing, we would be naked on earth.”

It’s unsurprising that Salter’s Bridgehampton home is filled with books and other objects of the literary life. More surprising, yet entirely appropriate, are the dozens of die-cast airplane models, positioned as though on the flight line, which crowd a low shelf. (”That’s from my son,” Salter says. ”I thought they were yours,” Kay says.) In the next room, to the right of a bookshelf beside the dining table, hangs a black-and-white portrait of Isaac Babel and his young daughter, Nathalie.

”Babel was always my favourite,” Salter says of the Soviet writer. ”There are books that are different kinds of books,” he continues, looking at the photograph.

”Like things that are done by hand, they have another quality to them. This is a quality difficult to describe exactly, but any reader, anybody who likes books and reading, recognises the difference. It’s handmade. It’s created rather than just written down.” Salter could, of course, be referring to his own work. Long praised by fellow writers and critics, mass readership has eluded him. That deserves to change with All That Is. An ambitious, page-turning novel, it follows the life of Philip Bowman, a naval officer-turned-book editor, and progresses with vigour and intensity through the final days of World War II and into the postwar era. It’s at once classic Salter and an unexpected addition, in style and content, to his esteemed body of work.

”I suspected that my age was going to be a factor in people’s learning about the book,” Salter says. ”I didn’t want to be doddering along and sentimentally and nostalgically petering out, so the idea of pace was on my mind when I was writing.” He has also grown tired of the ”writer’s writer” label. ”I wanted to write in a somewhat leaner style than I had in, for instance, Light Years, which is abundant in its metaphors and its recognition of the beauty or the singularity of certain things,” he says. ”With this new book, I wanted to let the story and the instances give you the sense that it’s moving along.” All That Is stems from Salter’s long fascination with the lives of editors. ”I thought it was a rather perfect life,” he says. ”Editors are involved in reading, in books, and doing something that might have some real importance. The editors that I knew had friends in other countries who were also editors. It was a kind of family, a possibility of friendships that were long-lasting and put you in contact with other cultures, other countries. The editors I came to know were all mature men. I didn’t know them before I had written a few books. Only then did I come to know them both professionally but also socially, personally. That’s how the book came about.” There were three editors whom Salter particularly admired.

”And there were two other men who impressed me and who I wanted to write about,” he says. ”So I took a shot at doing a cubistic kind of method of putting them together.” About Philip Bowman, the character amalgamated from these lives, Salter writes in the novel: ”What the joys of music were to others, words on a page were to him.” An alert sounds, signalling a new message on Salter’s computer, and he excuses himself, saying, ”That may be from my publisher.” Seated at his living-room desk, he breaks out into laughter. Richard Ford has written to discuss the pair’s coming on-stage event at the 92nd Street Y in Manhattan. ”He doesn’t want introductions,” Salter says. ”He just wants the two of us to go out and do it.” Returning through the kitchen, Salter passes two boxes filled with the Knopf hardcovers of All That Is. He holds up a copy, proud to show it off. ”Suddenly what you have written has an authority that it didn’t have before,” he says.

Back inside the car, Salter turns right out of the driveway and almost immediately pulls over to examine the construction, a mansion with an attached guesthouse. ”These are Wall Street executives,” he says, going on to talk about the many changes Bridgehampton has undergone since he moved here. The conversation soon returns to literature, complete with the appropriately timed detail: ”Here is Peter Matthiessen’s house,” he says. ”You can’t see it from the road, but trust me. It’s back there.” At Bobby Van’s, a restaurant on Bridgehampton’s picturesque storefront block, Salter says, ”I want to show you something.” Perhaps the lunchtime patrons recognise him as the greatest American prose stylist of his generation, but it’s unlikely that this detail makes them turn to watch Salter pass. Handsome and elegant, he moves with gravitas and grace down the long bar and stops beneath a black-and-white photograph of four men standing outside the restaurant, circa 1975.

”That’s James Jones, [Truman] Capote, Willie Morris and John Knowles,” he says. In one photograph, a generation of elite American writers, Salter’s age or younger, each long dead. He pauses, as though offering respect, and it’s easy to imagine that Salter’s ambitions have changed little since his school years, when the idea, as he writes in Burning the Days, had been inside of him ”like a pathogen – the idea of being a writer and from the great heap of days making something lasting.”

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

Rise of an anti-hero

Dabney Coleman as power broker we hate to love, Commodore Louis Kaestner, in Boardwalk Empire.THE REVOLUTION WAS TELEVISED
Nanjing Night Net

By Alan Sepinwall. Black Inc. 400pp. $27.99.

You know who you are. Addicted to the unravelling dramas of Tony Soprano or Don Draper or Walter White.

Can’t wait to get home to see the next episode. Analysing plots with friends and family: “I’m up to season five, episode eight.” “Can you believe the way Tony whacked that guy?” “What about that severed head on the back of the tortoise!”

Pretty soon your nearest and dearest cave in and follow your obsession or make a dash for the door as you approach. They’ve had it. No more, please, enough about The Sopranos, The Wire, Deadwood, Mad Men, Breaking Bad.

But once hooked, nothing is enough for the fans of the wave of television shows that began on the cusp of the millennium and continues with Homeland, Boardwalk Empire, Girls and House of Cards.

The addicts are experts on their favourite series but few know more about them than the American critic, Alan Sepinwall, whose new book, The Revolution Was Televised, is a phenomenon in itself.

Subtitled The Cops, Crooks, Slingers and Slayers Who Changed TV Drama Forever, it is one of the very few self-published books ever reviewed by The New York Times, whose chief literary critic, Michiko Kakutani, named it as one of her 10 favourite books of 2012. More praise followed in The New Yorker, Time and elsewhere.

Sepinwall’s career began at the Newark Star-Ledger but two years ago he took his blog – What’s Alan Watching? – to the website of HitFix, the American company that streams movies and TV shows on demand on the internet.

The Revolution Was Televised is more than a critical analysis of the 12 shows that Sepinwall chose to represent the golden age of television. He also interviews the creators and expands on his theme of revolution as he explains how the dramas allowed television “to step out of the shadows of the cinema”.

“If you wanted thoughtful drama for adults, you didn’t go the multiplex; you went to your living room couch.”

Despite their differences in settings and narratives, many of these television shows had something in common in the way they represented the state of America in the early 21st century.

Dissecting The Wire, Sepinwall writes that there were always cops and criminals, but this series “used them to make various points about the rotting state of the American city – and by extension, the broken condition of America itself”. In the London Review of Books last January, the novelist James Meek compared the anti-heroes of the dramas with the squeezed middle-class discussed in another recently published book, Who Stole the American Dream?

The author, Hedrick Smith, explores how global capitalism undermined the middle-class dream of “a steady job with decent pay and health benefits, rising living standards, a home of your own, secure retirement, and the hope that your children would enjoy a better future”.

Aspects of the middle-class dream and its failure play out in the fictional home of Tony Soprano, a sociopath, yes, but also a husband and father hoping that his children just might escape the deadly path set for him by his own crime boss father.

Tony has money, and plenty of it, but Walter White, the chemistry teacher of Breaking Bad, is diagnosed with lung cancer and struggling to make ends meet to pay his medical bills and support his family after his death. His answer: make crystal meth that will eventually earn him a fortune.

Such shows are built around middle-aged anti-heroes who win our sympathy despite their ruthlessness – the likeable murderer Tony Soprano, the selfish yet charming detective Jimmy McNulty of The Wire, the good citizen Walter White, who soon relishes his status as a drug kingpin, and the urbane Don Draper of Mad Men whose corporate success hides a fake identity.

Last year, Sepinwall pitched his book, based on his blog, to many traditional publishers but failed to win a contract. Instead he self-published and his sales skyrocketed.

He won’t give exact figures but they are, he said, beyond his wildest dreams.

Touchstone, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, had earlier rejected the book but came back to Sepinwall with an offer to publish a new paperback edition that will go on sale next May.

The revolution may have been televised but it’s not over yet. House of Cards, a remake of the 1990 BBC political thriller, represents another revolution in that NetFlix made all 13 episodes instantly available to their US subscribers last month.

Viewers can bypass network and cable television altogether and watch their new anti-heroes on the internet at any time they choose and all in one sitting for the truly addicted.

For them, Kevin Spacey in the role of the US Representative, Frank Underwood, will be the next villain that they are only a little ashamed to love.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.