. Thank you for your patience--I know you've had a longer wait than the others for your story.
Prompt: "mail-in libations." This is a follow-up to "The City of Cherry Blossoms."
The City of Hungry Trees
A long time ago, a great famine struck the Land That Once Was Two. Just the winter before, two nations had become united when a councilor's son and a general's daughter were wedded to each other. The grapes withered on the vines, however, and the grasses grew wan and weak, and dust blew through the parched fields. People took to gathering the eggs even of wrens and sparrows. Some died eating mushrooms that they didn't recognize. Others sold their smallest children to the flesh-traders so the rest of the family could eat.
One such child was sold from her village before her parents gave her a name. In that part of the country, the tradition was to give healthy children mockery-names like "Long-Nose" or "Clubfoot" until they reached their twelfth birthday, so that evil spirits would think them deformed and pass them by. In this case, however, the parents had simply named her "One-Arm," for she had, indeed, come into the world with one arm.
Her parents had not received much money for her. One-Arm did not dwell on this. She was child enough to miss her parents, but pragmatist enough to realize that she would not be welcomed if she ran back home. She did, however, take advantage of the fact that her shackles were too large--she was small for her age--to escape in the night. After all, the missing hand didn't impede her ability to run. And she guessed, correctly, that the flesh-traders would not look too hard for someone worth so little coin.
She passed through towns and begged for spare rice and water. Few people had anything to offer her. But she sang as she went, and shared what little she had with the magpies that chattered in the streets. What she could not have known is that magpies are notorious gossips, but they are gossips with good hearts. Soon all the birds of the Land That Once Was Two knew of One-Arm, and they, in their turn, began to bring her small berries, or dandelion greens, or sorrel.
The townsfolk muttered that she was a witch, and she fled their torches. But there was one place yet for her to go. One of the cities in the Land That Once Was Two had a curse upon it, and only the poorest and most desperate lived there. Because she had nothing to lose, One-Arm headed there.
So it was that One-Arm came to the dark gates of the City of Hungry Trees. In years past the trees had devoured the city's attackers. For a time, the city's people had poured out offerings of rice wine and honey at their roots, in thanks for their service. But as generations passed, people came to fear that the trees' hunger would grow, and it became more and more difficult to convince anyone to bear the libations, until at last no one fed the trees. In this time of famine, the trees' leaves hung brown and yellow upon the branches, and they showed no sign of flowering.
Here, too, were magpies, and they told One-Arm the old story of the trees. One-Arm looked at the trees and thought of how beautiful they must have been when blossoms crowned them. And she decided to bring an offering of her own.
One-Arm went from door to door in the City of Hungry Trees, and asked for offerings that she might bring them to the withered cherry trees. Some turned her away, and some laughed. But others remembered the old story themselves, and while they dared not brave the trees themselves, they were willing enough to give her honeycomb or dried persimmon or flasks of old sour wine.
It took One-Arm many trips to make her offerings, for she could only carry so much at a time, even with the basket that one particularly thoughtful person had given her. But she persevered, and as she fed the trees, each one straightened, its leaves greening; and each one brightened with pink buds.
She was dismayed, at the end, to discover that she did not have enough to feed the very last tree. The spirit-of-the-tree woke and emerged in the shape of a thin youth. It asked, "Did you bring nothing for me?"
"I did not mean to leave you hungry," One-Arm said. "Eat my name, then, for it is all I have left."
"Keep your name," said the spirit-of-the-tree. "You have borne it well. Your kindness is nourishment enough for me." And the spirit-of-the-tree vanished, but the tree itself was the only one in the city to blossom fully.
- thinking about:
If you're playing Zen Koi on Android and you're loss-averse, you need to separately back up your app data: while you can log into Google Play Games or Facebook, that doesn't sync your progress, and apparently the developer can't or won't transfer games between devices.
If your device isn't rooted, you'll want to use the Helium app
(free, but you'll have to get the resulting files off your device by going into your file manager of choice and sharing them to email or the cloud; it will back up to cloud storage if you buy the app). This is a little fiddly to deal with, unfortunately; among other things, it requires you to hook your device back up to your computer whenever you restart Android. But it does work for Zen Koi--I tested it by transferring my game data from my tablet to my phone successfully.
Note: any app data backup, as far as I can tell, only works for data associated with the primary user of the Android device. If the game is being played on a restricted account or even a regular account that isn't the one that was originally set up, you can't get the data off.
(I have no idea what the situation on iOS is.)
Amazon.com does this thing where it recommends books to you based on what you've bought from them in the past, which seems reasonable enough. My sister informs me that you can tell it to stop showing specific categories, but I rather enjoy the schizoid variety it displays to me, everything from erotic romance to military history to security engineering to sf/f.
I picked up Left of Bang: How the Marine Corps' Combat Hunter Program Can Save Your Life
by Patrick Van Horne and Jason A. Riley partly because Amazon has my number, and partly because it's about developing situational awareness and therefore fell under Writing Research for Revenant Gun
. In fact, I wish I'd known about this book earlier. But it's not too late for it to be useful to me, as one of the major characters in Revenant Gun
supposedly has very good situational awareness.
The premise behind Left of Bang
is that it's better to prevent bad situations before they happen than to react to them after they have. If you visualize the timeline running from left (before) to right (after), the "bang" is the event and "left of bang" is prevention before the event has a chance to happen. This material was developed by US Marines, so it's written from that point of view, including the left-is-past-right-is-future orientation of the American/English writing system. However, while a lot of examples are drawn from recent American experiences in the Middle East, there are also examples drawn from civilian incidents.
The book discusses the importance of quickly establishing baselines in the following domains: kinesics (body language), biometric cues, proxemics, geographics (patterns of motion within an area), iconography, and atmospherics. Once a baseline has been established, clusters (generally, three signs) of anomalous signs can be identified as a cue toward action. Action is context-dependent. For a Marine, it might be Kill, Capture, or Contact; for a civilian in most circumstances, they recommend something like Run, Hide, or Fight.
I note in passing that my situational awareness is pretty terrible but I probably look suspicious for my habit of periodically checking rooftops (there is a story behind this) and checking my six.
Beyond obvious real-life applications, other writers who have characters with situational awareness may find this of interest. I found it well-written and well-organized, and am glad I picked it up. (daidoji_gisei
, based on your interests, I think you will find this useful, and recommend it to you in particular.)
More relevantly to my writing project, I am grateful that I got some things right by instinct. That being said, it's good to have some confirmation and to have more specific information to work from. (The character in question is a former assassin, among other things.)
There's a bibliography with some interesting-looking articles cited; I figure I'll hit that up when I have an internet connection. (I'm typing up this book report in a text file offline while sitting in Little Wars--I got some writing done earlier.)
Thank you to the generous person who donated this book.
The kids are away for the weekend and there's nothing really compelling in theaters, and we saw The Lobster
on the on-demand list and remembered that it sounded interesting and got good reviews. It's an AU of our world where single people have 45 days to fall in love or they get turned into animals.
So one of those reviews was at the A.V. Club
, which said,
Bizarre rules and rituals, deliberately stilted dialogue, flashes of grisly violence that threaten to tilt the humor straight into horror: All of this could only have come from the warped imagination of Greek filmmaker Yorgos Lanthimos, here making his singularly strange English-language debut.
And, yeah, basically that, except I found very little humor in it. Really not my kind of thing. ( Context-free content notes: )
A note about the ending. ( Spoilers, naturally. )
I enjoy reading writing how-to books, and was curious about the specifics of writing for YA , so I read Deborah Halverson's Writing Young Adult Fiction for Dummies. Despite the titles, I've had reasonably good luck with the "For Dummies" series, and this one had good reviews. In fact, despite the "For Dummies" moniker, Halverson covers a fair amount of material that is less 101 and more advanced (sentence structure and rhythm, for instance).
 As you may have figured out, I have never written YA.
The material is well-organized (usually true of books in this series) and clearly presented. I especially appreciated all the examples. A lot of writing how-to books have examples that are lackluster, which always makes me wonder if the writer purporting to show you how to write knows what they're talking about, but here they were actively well-written.
The parts I found most interesting were not the general pointers on writing craft and technique but the ones that discussed how writing for young adults/middle grade readers is different from writing for an adult audience, everything from sentence structure (shorter sentences) to the nature of the protagonists (more self-centered and less reflective, to be in tune with the emerging maturity of the target audience). Also practical marketing considerations like being sure that you avoid doing anything hinky (e.g. sending marketing emails directly to minors, which is a no-no for obvious reasons).
Halverson refers to many examples from YA/MG, and includes excerpts from her own as well as brief spotlights from other YA/MG writers. I really liked this and found that I wanted to read a lot of the books mentioned! I regret so much that Party Girl Goes A.W.O.L. appears to be a made-up example for the purposes of illustrating how to write a cover letter, BECAUSE I WOULD TOTALLY READ THAT NOVEL. Former party girl sent to military prep school by her grandfather and leading a rebellion against the school authorities? Someone please write this!
I will own that I skimmed several sections as being not immediately relevant to me. For example, Halverson talks about finding an agent. This is useful stuff to know about, but I already have an agent, so I moved on because I am impatient and there are more boooooooks calling my name.
Thanks to the generous person who donated this book to the cause!
Three separate people have now sent me links to this photoset, but since it documents the transformation of a black dress, a replica of the costume worn by Hanna Rovina when she played Leye in An-sky's The Dybbuk
(1920), suspended for three months in the thick salt waters of the Dead Sea until it emerged stiff and glittering, salt-crusted wedding-white as a spirit gathering flesh to itself, grief transformed into union, I don't think any of them were wrong: Sigalit Landau, "Salt Bride
The inertia of the human mind and its resistance to innovation are most clearly demonstrated not, as one might expect, by the ignorant mass – which is easily swayed once its imagination is caught – but by professionals with a vested interest in tradition and in the monopoly of learning. Innovation is a twofold threat to academic mediocrities: it endangers their oracular authority, and it evokes the deeper fear that their whole, laboriously constructed intellectual edifice might collapse. The academic backwoodsmen have been the curse of genius from Aristarchus to Darwin and Freud; they stretch, a solid and hostile phalanx of pedantic mediocrities, across the centuries. -- Arthur Koestler, The Sleepwalkers
I am now in part 5 of The Sleepwalkers
, where Koestler turns to the person of Galileo. We have already seen the Paduan professor in the previous chapter, via his two correspondences with Kepler. Now Kepler has gone on to his eternal reward, leaving the mercurial Italian to suffer the consequences of his overweaning pride and hot temper. The entrenched academics noted above will prove all too happy to bring him down to their level.
Sorry for the delay, got married in the middle there.
I am currently reading Sacco and Vanzetti Must Die! by Mark Binelli, because Mark Binelli is my favorite writer of the moment (although I am about to exhaust his body of work) and because S&VMD is aimed right at my sensibilities. When it begins, Sacco and Vanzetti are not the S&V of our world, but rather a pre-WW2 comedy duo, a la Laurel and Hardy, Abbott and Costello, etc. The text consists of narrative descriptions of scenes from their movies as if the scenes had actually happened in real life; critical material about said movies; and other "supplementary material" of various sorts, from interviews to diary pages to footnotes. Then things get weirder and the story of the other S&V, the ones we know, starts to bleed through. In the meantime, lots of stuff touching on knife-sharpening (Binelli's family were knife-sharpeners who emigrated from Italy to Detroit, fwiw), pre-war radical politics, pre-war Hollywood (S&V are pallbearers at Valentino's funeral, for example), pre-war Italy and America, theories of comedy and tragedy, and so on. I love this book so hard. It's Binelli's first novel, pre-dating both the Detroit book and the Screamin' Jay Hawkins book I read earlier this year, but so far it's not showing any signs of first-novel awkwardness. Here's hoping it stays the course.
This week's earworm, and the week before's:
The Girl from Ipanema http://www.sfweekly.com/music/all-shook-down/earworm-weekly-girl-ipanema-stan-getz-astrud-gilberto/
The Ghost in Youhttp://www.sfweekly.com/music/all-shook-down/earworm-weekly/earworm-weekly-psychedelic-furs-ghost/
I picked up Timothy Rice's Ethnomusicology: A Very Short Introduction because I needed a survey of the topic for Writing Purposes and it seemed to have reasonable reviews on Amazon. (I am aware that not all Amazon reviewers are created equal, so I do skim the reviews' content rather than just going by stars.) Ethnomusicology is one of those topics that is sufficiently specialized to be a pain to find sometimes in your local public library. I am also leery of asking for things via interlibrary loan. I once requested an article via ILL (I don't recall details but it was about pitch/tuning systems) and received a completely illegible scan. At least they didn't charge me for it. Also, the nice thing about the "A Very Short Introduction" series is that they're, well, short! I appreciate short books when I just need to get oriented. While I know a little about Western music (piano and viola education), I have no background in anthropology and related disciplines.
Rice's introduction packs in a lot of information in a surprisingly small space. He surveys the history of the field and its approaches, which have varied over time, as well as research methodologies and ethical problems, in clear prose. Here is the chapter list:
1. Defining ethnomusicology
2. A bit of history
3. Conducting research
4. The nature of music
5. Music as culture
6. Individual musicians
7. Writing music history
8. Ethnomusicology in the modern world
9. Ethnomusicologists at work
There are also references and lists for further reading/listening.
I also became interested in this field for personal reasons, when I took an online course on composing digital music using Reaper through Coursera. One of the instructor's emphases was on the democratization of music--making music production accessible to more people. Digital music is a really interesting case of this. Sampled instruments can allow people to orchestrate music and hear their compositions more affordably, without having to hire an orchestra--a prohibitive cost for many people. This is not to say that sampled instruments replace live musicians, but they serve a different role and open up access to music. Likewise, the less-expensive DAWs (digital audio workstations) you can get for an iPad or your smartphone allow people to experiment with music composition and production. This is just one tiny slice of the picture, but it's the one that I interact with personally.
In any case, recommended if you have an interest in the topic.
wrote about Gilda
(1946), which we saw at the Brattle on Tuesday, and it is exactly as queer and gonzo as she describes. Thinking about queerness in film noir started me thinking generally about sexuality in film noir, which started me thinking about Joseph H. Lewis' The Big Combo
(1955), a movie I really want to see again. I glossed it briefly three years ago:I cannot decide whether
The Big Combo (1955) suffers from its tendency to treat women as plot counters more than it benefits from its deep, shadowy, atmospheric cinematography or the performances of Cornel Wilde and Richard Conte as a hero it's difficult to root for and a heavy with a strange sympathetic streak, but I do appreciate how all of these elements come together in the finale: the merciless glare of headlights hunting a man who has dominated his lover past her limits, controlling even the music she listens to, the colors he prefers her to wear—half-blinded, staggering in the fog, whichever way he turns now she has the lights on him, as relentlessly trapped and exposed as he made her feel all those years. It's not complete repayment for how much of the rest of the film she spends crying, questioned and prodded by men who keep saying they love her, but I'll take it. The level of sexuality slipped under the radar is noteworthy, as is the director's evocatively synesthetic approach to violence. Dear scriptwriters: if you take a pair of inseparable hoods named Fante and Mingo who sleep in the same bedroom and make plans to run away together and then give them lines like "I can't swallow any more salami" and "The police'll be looking for us in every closet in town," I hope you were tweaking the Production Code deliberately, because a twenty-first-century audience can't take it with a straight face. The big-band brass of the title theme is great.
Trying to work out why it is that even now I harbor a soft spot for Richard Conte's smoothly ruthless Mr. Brown while I cut no such slack for Cornel Wilde's dogged Lieutenant Leonard Diamond of the 93rd Precinct, I realized that my feelings rest heavily on the sexual implications of a brief, at least historically startling scene between Conte and Jean Wallace. A little background before the smut.
The plot of The Big Combo
is the kind of murky audience misdirection in which noir specializes: a study of a sexual obsession disguised as a moral crusade. The city is probably Los Angeles, but it's ninety-five percent studio interiors and backlot streets and day shots are few and far between; even efficiency apartments and hospital rooms are as spookily shadowed as stakeouts at midnight. We meet one major character fleeing through the tile-and-concrete warren of a boxing arena after dark, another pulling self-imposed graveyard shift at the precinct, another delivering a genial, chilling lecture on hate in a low-lit locker room. The finale will pull all of them away into the fog-swirling night. In this especially dark city, Diamond is our sole steady representative of the law. His name should signal his clarity and integrity, but in his very first scene he's shown to be obsessed and unreliable, his mixed motives obvious to everyone but himself—defending the $18,000-plus of departmental budget he blew on a fruitless six-month investigation of the seemingly squeaky-clean Mr. Brown, he mounts an eloquent denunciation of the corrupting influence of Brown's "combo," but the precinct captain cuts through his righteousness by reminding him that for the same six months he stalked "Brown's girl," the beautiful, damaged ex-socialite Susan Lowell (Wallace), and on his own dime no less. "She went to Vegas, you went to Vegas. She flew to Cuba, you flew to Cuba. You can't bear to think of her in the arms of this hood . . . She's been with Brown three and a half years. That's a lot of days—and nights." Diamond sticks to the story that she's just his best lead on the slippery, seamless syndicate boss, but there are all sorts of uncomfortable overtones when he races off to question her while she recovers in the city hospital following an overdose of pills. She lies against the pillows like l'Inconnue de la Seine
, he takes her in his arms as if to give her the kiss of life, and then he badgers her about the woman's name—"Alicia"—she whispered deliriously on her way into the ER. She struggles against him feebly, begs him to leave her alone. He holds her down on the bed and threatens to arrest her for attempted suicide if she doesn't talk to him. If there was ever any genuine social concern in Diamond's hunt for Brown, it's long since foundered on his chaotic feelings for Susan. He wants to save her, he wants to possess her, he has really not thought through how sending up her lover for life is supposed to win a woman's heart. (He's obviously never seen The Third Man
(1949).) In the meantime, living out of his office, shaving and eating at his desk, recording case notes to himself like a homicide detective—which he's not—he looks about one wall of string-linked magazine clippings away from a conspiracy nut. A movie which wanted its audience to view Diamond more heroically might set him up like a loose cannon in order to give him the satisfaction of being proven right. Here, we know from the start that Brown's a crook—Diamond's a cop, so what? It's not why he's doing what he's doing, just how
Susan's relationship with Brown at first looks like much the same thing. No one has a real history in this picture, although Brown has the most with his seven-year rise from prison guard to arch-criminal, but we learn early on that she threw away a promising career as a classical pianist to become the kept woman of a high-class hood; she still displays a careful, educated voice, a "classy" manner even in the extremity of despair. Brown likes to accentuate these aspects of her. He doesn't like her to drink, because it recalls his wife the "lush" who drunkenly humiliated him; he likes her to dress in white, as if curating an image of purity; he dislikes her listening to classical music, the kind she used to play, perhaps because it is inaccessible to him or because it reminds her that she once had another world, one she might yet return to, without Mr. Brown. She is running away from him in her introductory scene—not permanently, but she didn't want to attend the boxing match in the first place; Mr. Brown insisted. Mr. Brown insists a lot. It is warping Susan out of shape, crushing her like an abyssal sea. So, obviously, why does she stay? Is it the violence? The nearness to power? She came from a society family; the wealth itself can't attract or impress her. Diamond can't figure it out.( I live in a maze, Mr. Diamond. )
Brown is not a good guy. He's possessive, destructive, sadistic, a casual taker and ruiner of lives, and he unsettles even in amicable conversation because he goes about so much of his blood-money business without any overt expression of anger. He smiles and smiles and is a villain. His micromanagement of his lover's life without any regard for her preferences or boundaries is a main factor in her suicide attempt and he never gets it, not even at the end when she has him pinned in the lights and the expression on his face as he squints out through the blinding fog is the same strange, pained bewilderment, never understanding that it was not in his power to give her what she wanted most. But the film suggests that he was trying. It gives him the benefit of the doubt where his lover's pleasure is concerned. I can't say the same about Diamond. Even in the scene where he stumblingly admits his feelings for Susan, one of the few moments in the movie in which he looks sympathetic, vulnerable, less than fanatically sure of himself, he can't stop himself from trying to hurt her into helping him, jerking the mink coat from her lap and gruesomely describing its pelts as the "skins of human beings . . . people who've been beaten, sold, robbed, doped, murdered by Mr. Brown," as if she never knew where the money came from. He can't stop trying to use
her. Wilde and Wallace were married for thirty years in real life; they made seven movies together, eight if you count the one he directed without appearing in; it interests me that in neither of the two I've seen so far
are they cast as ideal lovers, or possibly even people who should be involved with one another at all. Perhaps I'm overgeneralizing, but I have trouble reading Diamond as anything other than a very conventional, heteronormative lover—if he knows what really turns his beau ideal
on, it's probably something he thinks a woman who has the right kind of man shouldn't need. The final configuration of the three principals is ambiguous, but if Susan really has thrown in her lot with the gender conformity of her decade, it's hard for me not to feel that she's lost something. Maybe she'll find it again after the film ends with someone who isn't Lieutenant Diamond. This TMI brought to you by my attentive backers at Patreon
1. All the while he's carrying on his white-knight, Madonna-whore complex about Susan, Diamond maintains a mostly off-again relationship with Helene Stanton's Rita, a dark-haired stripper who greets him after his six-month absence with a well-deserved "You've certainly got a nerve!" She really cares about him despite her scorn for his job and her frustration with his distance; she warns him when the word on the street turns nasty in his direction. He goes to her for sex and emotional support and not much more. She's not his fallen angel who needs a hand back on her pedestal again. Only after she's taken eleven bullets in his place does Diamond recognize what a heel he was to her, crumbling into tears as he berates himself, "I treated her like a pair of gloves. When I was cold, I called her up." I am glad that he is shown to be capable of remorse, because the audience noticed the glove thing long before he did. But I admit it affects my assessment of his feelings for Susan.
2. Gustav Machatý's Ecstasy (Extase, 1933) has a twenty-year lead on The Big Combo, but it's Czech. And unless things have changed much since I saw This Film Is Not Yet Rated in 2006, Hollywood is still way behind any reasonable times in depicting female pleasure, especially if it does not involve dick.
3. Including Massachusetts! Thanks, Puritans.
4. Because my life is my life, I know much more about classical Roman attitudes toward cunnilingus, i.e., it's even more degrading and unmanly for a man to perform than fellatio. If you get face-fucked by a dude, at least it is a dude you're submitting to; if you're getting face-fucked by a woman, game over, man, game over. Also, everyone knows it's just gross. You can really insult a Roman man by calling him a cunnilingus, even more than if you called him a fellator (cocksucker) or a cinaedus (effeminate, penetrable, gender-non-conforming man). Martial wrote way too many epigrams on the subject. There's also some relevant graffiti. I am comforted by the existence of Pompeiian graffiti indicating that male prostitutes offered cunnilingus to their female clients, and not just in a your-mom-for-five-bucks kind of way. But the literary record at least is overwhelmingly negative and the culture I live in inherited not a little of it, alas. In any case, these are all masculinity-related hangups about which Mr. Brown does not appear to give a fuck.
Folk Tales from Korea
by Zong In-Sob is a book I had no idea was available on Kindle until, you guessed it, the flood destroyed the old clothbound copy I'd owned since 3rd or 4th grade. It's a collection of 100 folktales gathered from various sources, from old documents to individuals, and I must admit that it's driven me nuts for a couple decades now because the collector uses a completely idiosyncratic (although self-consistent) romanization scheme for Hangeul (Korean) that I have seen used nowhere else, e.g. "cz" for ㅊ.  I am almost positive that the old clothbound copy explained the scheme, although it's possible that I'm misremembering. Annoyingly, the Kindle version doesn't include it, so I have to guess at pronunciations based on what I know (or just guess, period).
 There are two more-or-less standard romanizations for Korean. The first is McCune-Reischauer, a tweaked/revised version of which is used officially by the South Korean government now. This is what I grew up using. The second is Yale. The Yale system is used by linguists and, as far as I can tell, by no one else. Despite having lived in South Korea for half my childhood, it wasn't until I picked up a book on Korean linguistics in college that I even learned of the Yale system's existence. Please note that individuals' names are frequently not romanized according to either scheme but according to whatever they (or their parents) felt would look best or make things more likely to be pronounced correctly by non-Koreans.
I will say that many of these tales contain hanky-panky that went whoosh! over my head when I read them as a child. There are a lot of instances of a man and a woman sleeping in proximity to each other, a decorous lacuna in the text, and whoosh! the next morning the woman just so happens to be pregnant, usually to her great shame. I had no idea how this was achieved back then.
Or there's this hilarious example of pandering to the delicate male psyche, in story #24:
One day a man made water by the roadside. It happened that at that spot there was a grave level with the ground. That night the man dreamed that a beautiful girl came to him and said, 'To-day you showed me your most precious possession, and now all my bitterness against the world has melted away. You have made it possible for me to travel to the other world, and I am deeply grateful for your kindness.'
HA HA HA HA HA. I'm sure guys just WISH.
When I first read this as a kid, I had no idea what "made water" meant (I would continue to wonder about this euphemism for years) and I certainly had no idea what this "most precious possession" was...
For another completely hilarious example in a completely different direction, we have this charmer, #10 "Onions":
In the very earliest days of human history there was a time when men used to eat one another. This was because in those days men often appeared in the form of cattle, and so were slaughtered for food.
But fear not! Apparently the cure was to eat an onion, which would make a person appear in human form.
Or there's the one in which a man with a sick mother is told by a monk to boil his son to make a medicinal brew to cure his mother. The man agonizes, but does it. (Filial piety is huge
in Korean culture.) His reasoning? He can always produce more sons, but he can't ever replace his mother...
There are also lots of patriarchal bits, like the story in which someone was originally going to be reborn as a prince of China as a reward but a misdemeanor caused him to be "downgraded" to princess. *sigh* And there are a ton of stories about men conning people letting them marry beautiful/well-connected daughters, as one does. *snrk*
And #42 mistakenly cites the turtleboat as "the world's first submarine," when it wasn't a submarine at all.inkstone
, I can't remember the name of that (Korean?) horror movie you mentioned ages ago, with the two sisters (so specific, I know), but the story of Rose and Lotus, on which it is based, is in here too.
Ah, folklore, I love it. While I don't know how much interest this is to people generally, I grew up with some of these stories and have Korean nostalgic fondness for them.
Thank you to the kind person who donated this book! Next in queue is a write-up of Timothy Rice's Ethnomusicology: A Very Short Introduction
Like many then-viewers of Doctor Who
, I ended up liking the writing of the Eleventh Doctor much less than his casting, but I still thought for six years that Matt Smith must have been an amazing Korovyev/Fagott in David Rudkin's The Master and Margarita
(2004). I finally found visual confirmation:
He's missing the half-cracked pince-nez, but all of his plaids clash with one another. I'll take it. I have the diabolic on my mind because I dreamed last night about a black-and-white film of Damn Yankees
which still starred Gwen Verdon—the irreplaceable Lola—but was otherwise much more Val Lewton than Broadway. I'm not sure it had any music. It might actually have been an adaptation of Douglass Wallop's The Year the Yankees Lost the Pennant
(1954). It's the first dream whose particulars I've remembered in months.
It's dangerous. The sky shifted weight last night from summer; the air tastes like autumn again. Today I wore a jacket, walking around with a computer bag over my shoulder. I live by myself in a two-room apartment in a brick building less than ten minutes' walk from the campus of a major university; I cut through academic yards to get where I'm going. I keep being asked for my student ID. I haven't owned one since 2008. It's more out of date than my driver's license. Fall is always a ghost season, but it's especially acute where I am right now. I did not have cats in New Haven. Autolycus is grooming himself on the chair next to me and it doesn't matter if the quality of electric light on off-white walls is the same; I didn't have this purring ten years ago.
I'd like to report on a delightful graphic novel, Nimona
by Noelle Stevenson. It was a National Book Award finalist, although I only found out about it because my sister sent us her copy and it was one of the books to survive the flood. It may now be my favorite standalone graphic novel.Nimona
takes place in a setting that is part medieval fantasy kingdom, complete with dragons and king, part modern-day with news channels and pizza. Lord Blackheart is the designated supervillain, despite his oddly honorable ways. He doesn't approve of killing, and his real goal is to revenge himself on his former friend, hero Ambrosius Goldenloin, who "accidentally" blew off Blackheart's arm with a gun after losing a jousting tournament to him. So far Blackheart is notorious, but his efforts have not been going so well.
Enter Nimona, a young girl. She wants to be Blackheart's sidekick. Blackheart isn't so sure about this, but allows himself to be talked into taking her on when he discovers that she can shapeshift into any existing animal--dragons, sharks, cats, you name it. Of course, it rapidly emerges that Blackheart will have his hands full keeping Nimona in check. Because Nimona has her own grudge against the Institution of Law Enforcement and Heroics for which Sir Goldenloin works, and she is bloodthirsty--very, very bloodthirsty.Nimona
is by turns funny, subversive, clever, tense, and heartbreaking. I loved the story and characters and, well, everything about it. It took me a few pages to get used to the art, which is expressive but very stylized, but once I acclimated I liked it.
The graphic novel is apparently based on Stevenson's webcomic
if you want a taste (I am informed that she had to take most of it down as part of the publishing deal, but you can see the first bit and get an idea of the art style). I recommend it highly.
Meanwhile, thank you to everyone for your kindness. I am currently in the middle of reading three different Kindle books (Writing Young Adult Fiction for Dummies
, Folk Tales from Korea
, and Prince of the Godborn
), and the dragon has been tearing through a bunch as well. :p
We have found a long-term rental and will be moving into it in a few weeks after it's been cleaned up. We're still not absolutely certain what the mail situation is (LIGO, which is our current mailing address???, has weird mail and the woman who deals with it was one of the ones flooded out).
More worryingly, the dragon's school was due to reopen tomorrow (Wednesday), but they've put it off until September 6
because the transportation and other logistics issues are so unsettled right now.
- thinking about:
After seeing Edgar G. Ulmer's Detour
(1945) last week, I think I believe even less in the conventional identification of the femme fatale
. On the other hand, remember how after Double Indemnity
(1944) and Criss Cross
(1949) I wanted a third example of the unreliable, irresponsible male narrator? Let's hear from Al Roberts, drifting down the margins of one more nighttime highway like the albatross of Tom Joad: "Yes, fate or some mysterious force can put the finger on you or me for no good reason at all." Got him.
In a genre which contains some very weird films indeed, Detour
is quite possibly the weirdest noir I've seen to date. It's almost certainly the pulpiest, a seamy little one-way street of a movie, 68 minutes tops, shot on a broken shoestring of a budget, with a washed-out mise-en-scène of down-and-out American signifiers; it has a curiously opaque, outsider quality, like it was made by someone who knew that a film noir contains dangerous women, loser men, cinematographic style, and angst, but wasn't sure what else, if anything, was supposed to go in the mix. It isn't true—though most of his career was spent in B-movies, Ulmer was a studio insider who started with Murnau and directed the box-office hit The Black Cat
(1934) for Universal—but then I have very little explanation for the movie as it stands. The plot has the thinness of an anecdote and the grip of a nightmare and all but the first and last few minutes take place in flashback, narrated like a radio drama in a pervasive tone of hardboiled pessimism; when he runs out of past, the protagonist tells his own future. Tom Neal's Al Roberts is quite literally the author of his own misfortunes. In the universe of his narration, he's fate's pinball, the victim who never gets the breaks, an ordinary joe who through no fault of his own slipped and stumbled into a skid-row nightmare. "Did you ever want to forget anything?" he asks the audience shortly after his introduction, a bleak-eyed vagrant who almost gets himself thrown out of a roadside diner in Reno for starting a fight over another customer's taste in music. "You can't, you know, no matter how hard you try. You can change the scenery, but sooner or later you'll get a whiff of perfume or somebody will say a certain phrase or maybe hum something; then you're licked again!" Always at the mercy of external forces. Always doing his best and always overmatched. What the viewer can't tell about the film at this point is whether it agrees with Al's determinedly hapless description of the world. Spoiler alert: not in a universe that contains Ann Savage's Vera.
As in Criss Cross
, there are warning signs from the start. Even in his supposedly sunnier days as a working musician in New York City with a torch-singing girlfriend (Claudia Drake) who performs "I Can't Believe That You're in Love with Me" like she means it, Al as we observe him is downbeat and dissatisfied, a classically trained pianist who practices Chopin after hours at the Break o' Dawn and cynically shuts down his girlfriend's praise with the claim that the only way he'll see Carnegie Hall is from behind a janitor's mop. He calls their relationship "an ordinary healthy romance," but when she scotches his casual assumptions of marriage with the news that she's heading to Hollywood to break into the big time, he takes it with such bad grace that he can't even kiss her a proper goodbye. Nonetheless, some months later when a drunken patron tips him a ten-spot for his fancy playing—a jazzed-up fantasia on Brahms, dubbed like the rest of Al's musicianship by the film's composer Leo Erdody—despite initially and rather hilariously dismissing the bill as "a piece of paper crawling with germs . . . it couldn't buy anything I wanted," he blows it all on a coast-to-coast call and learns that Sue's bid for stardom has left her a disillusioned hash slinger, waiting for the next round of auditions and trying to keep her chin up. Coming to her rescue gives him instant purpose and confidence: he comforts her, tells her to hang on, promises to come straight out to L.A. as fast as he can get there. "Don't try to stop me, just expect me." Unfortunately, his finances are the one place he's not exaggerating his woes, and even after hocking all his worldly goods except a change of clothes he's still left hitching his way across America, efficiently represented by a road map with a pushpin star for NYC and a dustily trudging montage for everything west. There's no glamour in these highways, not even the stark iconography of the Depression. For every empty flatbed or solitary coupe that slows to give sweating, stubbled Al a lift, there's another three or four that blow on by an inhospitable roadside of scrub brush and cacti. But it's not horror until Arizona, where Al gets into an amiable stranger's Lincoln Continental and comes out the other side of the state with another man's clothes on his back and another man's money in his pocket, driving the other man's very nice car. As he muses bitterly in the ubiquitous voiceover, "You know, Emily Post ought to write a book for guys thumbing rides." Call me behind the times, but I don't remember anything about the disposal of bodies in Post's Etiquette
Of course, Al in extremity is as sourly self-justifying as ever. "I know what you're going to hand me even before you open your mouths," he accuses the audience through the fourth wall, the imaginary jury inside his head. "You're going to tell me that you don't believe my story about how Haskell died and give me that don't-make-me-laugh expression on your smug faces." Personally this member of the jury had no difficulty with the death of Charles Haskell, Jr. (Edmund MacDonald), the pill-popping bookie who talked up his plans for Santa Anita and sported raw new gouges on his hand from "fighting with the most dangerous animal in the world—a woman," an incident which he related to Al with the simultaneous relish of a big game hunter and the indignation of a thwarted predator: "Give a lift to a tomato, you expect her to be nice, don't you? What kind of dames thumb rides, Sunday school teachers?" My potential skepticism, however, is nothing compared to the reaction of the hitchhiker whom Al picks up the next morning in a gesture of magnanimity, furtively enjoying his new persona as a big spender behind the wheel of a big car. In his one stroke of genuine bad luck as opposed to bad decisions, the tousle-haired, flint-faced girl (Savage) in a knee-flashing skirt and an even more tightly pinned sweater who strides coolly over at Al's call is the same "Tarzan's mate" who ripped up Haskell for trying to take liberties. She introduces herself indifferently: "You can call me Vera if you like." And as if he's conjured her from his protestations of innocence, she's as untrusting and accusatory as his most frantic, persecuted fears: "You're not fooling anyone. This buggy belongs to a guy named Haskell. That's not you, mister . . . What makes you so sure I'll shut up about this?" The time they will spend together is quite short, but it feels like an endless sickening fall: the bottom dropping out and out until there's nothing left underfoot but oblivion.
Tom Neal had a decent B-movie career, but I don't think I've seen anything else from it: he's more famous for beating Franchot Tone into a concussion over the affections of Barbara Payton and shooting his third wife under circumstances that were eventually ruled involuntary manslaughter. Personal life aside, he has a great face for a sad sack with grimier impulses than his plaintive self-presentation would like to admit, alertly boyish in long shot, petulant and truculent up close. He spends most of the film with a five o'clock shadow and a hunted air, a man who looks over his shoulder even when he's staring resolutely straight ahead. (He should know the Furies are following; he rang them himself.) Ann Savage as Vera is simply phenomenal. I would have seen her last year in My Winnipeg
(2007) if I had gotten to the HFA's Guy Maddin retrospective, but since it looks as though Vera is her most famous role, I'm just as happy to have started here. The character is young—the thirtyish Al rates her no more than twenty-four, which matches the actress' age—but she's already harder than nails, her face set in a sullen suspicion, her voice a staccato sneer. While she dozes in his car, Al thinks that she has a "natural beauty, a beauty that's almost homely because it's so real" even when she looks, her hair stiff from lack of washing and her face shiny from days on the road, like she was recently "thrown off the crummiest freight train in the world," but the illusion lasts only until she slews around to face him, spitting out her lines as if the necessity of conversation is itself beneath contempt. She's dying of consumption, but she rejects either sympathy or explanation, crushing with especial scorn Al's typically self-pitying notion that the dying have it easier because "they know they're done for—they don't have to sweat blood wondering." Many of her lines would be flirtatious if delivered with a little more softness, archness, sexual invitation, but she really means the anger and the apathy with which she snarls at Al, "After we sell the car, you can go to blazes for all I care, but not until then!" She has no history before Shreveport, where she says Haskell picked her up; we never even know if Vera is her real name. She's wounded, resentful, rapacious, unapologetic, not even interested in making herself likeable. She makes enough passes at Al to signal a healthy sexual appetite, but it doesn't seem to have much to do with him personally: he's available, that's all, and it miffs her more than a little than she can browbeat him into everything but bed.1
The voiceover indulges a terrific moment of metafiction at the close of their first day together:If this were fiction, I would fall in love with Vera, marry her and make a respectable woman of her. Or else she'd make some supreme class-A sacrifice for me and die; Sue and I would bawl a little over her grave and make some crack about there's good in all of us. But Vera, unfortunately, was just as rotten in the morning as she'd been the night before.
And she really is, and I love it. The audience can find her sympathetic because she's a person who exists and because she's clawing to make the most of her gutter-level life with the time she has left, even when her tools are unethical and her goals small change, but that doesn't make her even faintly nice
. That he behaves increasingly less like a prize himself, though, is something Al Roberts will never understand. Which is where we came in.
I was not surprised to read that the source novel by Martin Goldsmith, who co-wrote the screenplay, was published in 1939. The cars and the clothes and the music belong to the 1940's, but Al himself, in his stone-broke shame-swallowing frustration and especially in his ultimate role as eternal drifter, haunter of truck stops and all-night diners and other transient spaces of America, could pass without challenge for one of FDR's forgotten men. The DIY production values don't hurt the story's mingled sense of claustrophobia and desolation; Ulmer was directing for the echt-Poverty Row studio Producers Releasing Corporation and while it is not apparently the case that he shot Detour
in less than a week for less than $20K, he had little enough film that some shots are flipped to maintain continuity and New York City is played by a sound stage of swirling fog and street signs. Outside of some highway and gas station shots in the Californian desert, all travel scenes are rear projection. Los Angeles is a hotel room with the blinds drawn. Nowhere the characters go, from roadside motels to used car lots, has any substance or safety. Al Roberts takes Horace Greeley's advice as much to heart as any young man before him, but the dream of the American West as a strike-it-rich land of wide-open opportunity and reinvention is even more viciously debunked in Detour
than it is in The Prowler
(1951). His westward trajectory is a hell-spiral; on finally arriving in L.A., he acknowledges in a rare moment of consensus reality that "far from being at the end of the trip," with a hot car, a dead man's ID, and a spiteful blackmailer in tow "there was a greater distance between Sue and me than when I started out."2
The print I saw at the Brattle was almost as road-worn as its hitchhikers; the film crackled and spidered and skipped so many frames that we lost half-sentences out of the dialogue and at points the background noise of the soundtrack went wub wub wub
like an unhappy fan belt. I am sure that if given half a chance the Film Noir Foundation
will produce a 35 mm restoration which this film absolutely deserves, but I feel there is something to be said for seeing a hopeless little fable of self-deluding amorality in an appropriately grindhouse atmosphere. This anti-odyssey brought to you by my well-traveled backers at Patreon
1. At least within the purview of the Production Code. In their every other interaction, as they settle into the perverse domesticity of a shared hotel suite with a deck of cards and a bottle of booze, Vera shows unmistakably who's on top: "In case there's any doubt in your mind, I'll take the bedroom." She says where and when and what next. Her voice drops to its softest and huskiest to inform him, hands on her hips from smoothing down her sweater, "I'm first in the bathtub."
2. There are some sideways fashions in which Detour resembles an extended episode of The Twilight Zone, liminal ending and killer ironies included—or maybe an even more downbeat version of Stranger on the Third Floor (1940), with no last-minute Peter Lorre on tap to free the protagonist from his self-imposed conviction of guilt. I really don't want to make it sound too in keeping with the rest of its genre, though; it's not.
News travelled fast and far in the sixteenth century. The pulse of all humanity was quickening as if our planet, after traversing, on its journey through space, some somnolent and bemused zone of the Universe, were now emerging into a region bathed in vivifying rays, or filled with cosmic benzedrine in the interstellar dust. It seemed to act simultaneously on all levels of the nervous system of mankind, on the higher as well as on the lower centres, as a stimulant and aphrodisiac, manifesting itself as a thirst of the spirit, an itch of the brain, a hunger of the senses, a toxic release of passions. The human glands seemed to produce a new hormone which caused the sudden surge of a novel greed: curiosity – the innocent, lecherous, creative, destructive, cannibalistic curiosity of the child. -- Arthur Koestler, The Sleepwalkers
Making my way through The Sleepwalkers
. Currently reading Koestler's coverage of Copernicus, set against the background of the 16th century AD. I thought one or two of my readers might appreciate that paragraph quoted above.
My editor, Sheila Gilbert of DAW Books, won the Hugo for Best Editor – Long Form! I’ve worked with Sheila for more than a decade now, and she’s been both a wonderful editor and an all-around great human being. I’m so happy to see her receive this well-deserved honor and recognition.
Photo via Edward Willett
Michi Trota became the first Filipino to win a Hugo award. She won, along with Michael and Lynne Thomas, for her work on Uncanny Magazine. Combine that with Alyssa Wong winning an Alfie from George R. R. Martin, and you get one of the best photos of the weekend:
Photo via Alyssa Wong
Looking at the voting stats, Invisible 2 came in pretty high on the longlist for Best Related Work, which is wonderful to see. Thank you to everyone who nominated it.
Mary Robinette Kowal gives a masterclass in how to accept the consequences of your actions like a grown-up, as well as single-handedly showing that no, the convention wasn’t selectively using its code of conduct to punish people for political views or beliefs.
Andy Weir and The Martian won the Campbell Award and the Hugo for Best Dramatic Work, Long Form, respectively. Which led to actual astronauts accepting in both categories. I made a joke on Twitter about it not being a real party until the astronauts were wearing the Campbell tiara. Little did I realize…
Photo from Twitter (uncredited)
Next year’s North American Science Fiction Convention (NASFIC) will be in San Juan, and my friend Tobias Buckell is one of the guests of honor! This is awesomeness times two!
There’s so much more wonderful and amazing news from Worldcon. Huge congrats to all the Hugo winners. Nnedi Okorafor won for Binti. N. K. Jemisin took home the Best Novel Hugo for Fifth Season. A translated work, “Folding Beijing” by Hao Jingfang, won the Best Novelette. So many well-deserve honors.
While no event is ever perfect, almost all the accounts I’m reading describe Worldcon as a great time.
I’m sure there’s other great stuff I haven’t mentioned. Please remedy that in the comments! 🙂
Mirrored from Jim C. Hines.