a garden in riotous bloom
Beautiful. Damn hard. Increasingly useful.
other gardeners 
30 September 2016 11:05 - RIP: Ethrosdemon/Kassie
sparkymonster: (Default)
ethrosdemon/Kassie passed away on Tuesday due to liver failure. She died with her mother at her side. ethrosdemon did not want anyone to know she was dying.

ethrosdemon did not want a service or memorial of any kind. She didn't want flowers or cards sent to her family. Kassie's mom suggested that people if people want to do something, they should donate to a local animal shelter or rescue. I think we all know how much ethrosdemon cared deeply about her animals. I think she would also appreciate donations to local LGBT youth centers and organizations that help people living with HIV and AIDS.

Missyjack wrote an obit talking about Kassie's presence in fandoms & fannish activity.

Please feel free to pass this information around to people you think would want to know. Unfortunately ethrosdemon did not make a list of people she wanted contacted after she died. Also ethrosdemon did not let people know what she wanted done with her online presence and fic. Her family needs space to grieve and this is not a good time to ask.

ethrosdemonwas a complicated person to be friends with. She was smart, charming, passionate and loving. She was also volatile, narcissistic, stubborn and harsh. My feelings about her life and death are complicated. It's OK to feel a bazillion different things. Kassie always had a hard time with goodbyes and it's not surprising this final goodbye is difficult.

30 September 2016 10:07 - September 2016 in Review
james_davis_nicoll: (Default)
22 books reviewed. 13 by women, 9 by men. F/T = 0.59

5 books by POC, or 23%.

Year to date

191 books read. 112 by women (0.59), 77 by men (0.40), 2 by authors who identifies as neither (0.01). 44 by POC (0.23).

To put in context:
rosefox: Me pulling hair away from my face, trying to see. (confused)
The other night I dreamed I wrote a book and forgot entirely that I had done so. Blocked it out of my head. So when [livejournal.com profile] mrissa said "I read an ARC of your book and it's pretty good" I was utterly confused. And then she said "But there were some problems with the way you portrayed the Middle Eastern market" and I was even more confused. I felt bad that I had committed racefail and I couldn't really fix it because I didn't remember writing it.

Then there was a lengthy dream scene about rolling up RPG characters. The DM wanted us all to have 200 [something] but the base character I picked from the book only had 60 [something] so we agreed that on any day when I was in a bad mood I'd get an extra hit die because I hit harder when I'm grumpy.

We started playing the game, and I guess we were LARPing because I started doing a folk dance with five of the other players. We danced in pairs and I mostly remembered the steps from my country dance days but it was hard to keep track of the steps and play my character at the same time. My dance partner was much better at it than I was and kept gently reminding me not to keep my legs so straight because this was a different era than the one I was used to dancing in.

In character I was snooty with racist undertones to the other characters who were dancing and as myself I felt bad about it. "Feel bad about racism but have plausible deniability" was apparently the dream theme. Ew. >.<

The dream ended with a giant Jewish holiday dinner with lots of friends and friends of friends. [livejournal.com profile] rose_lemberg and [livejournal.com profile] prezzey called to tell us all that they were getting married, except their child actually made the call because he wanted to and they thought it would be fun to let him. It was very sweet. And the more observant Jews at the table taught me some interesting things about holidays and fine points of observance and schisms and so on.

And then I woke up, wondering how I managed to write an entire book and forget.
29 September 2016 21:56 - Admiral
yhlee: Drop Ships from Race for the Galaxy (RTFG)
I picked up Sean Danker's Admiral out of a mistaken belief that it had an amnesiac protagonist. Wait, no, don't run away! I like amnesiac protagonists. But it turns out that I had misapprehended the jacket copy. In all fairness, the jacket copy doesn't eliminate the possibility that the protagonist is amnesiac, but that is not, in fact, what's going on.

Admiral opens with our nameless protagonist waking up unexpectedly on a starship with three recently-graduated trainees from Evagard, which has recently won a war with the Commonwealth. That's the good news. The bad news? The ship appears to be completely marooned. Neither our protagonist nor the trainees has any idea how they ended up where they are. And then things start to go wrong.

This turned out to be quite a page-turner, as the "honorary admiral" uses all his skills of persuasion and improvisation to chivvy the trainees along as they careen from one near-disaster to the next using the resources available--and the stakes just get higher and higher. If you enjoy space adventure with banter and tense action, definitely give this a look. I wish there had been more about the world, but it would have slowed down the action. Instead, Danker adroitly feeds us tantalizing details bit by bit. It's very well done. It also leaves me hungry either for more in this setting or for a next book that is heavier on the worldbuilding.

The author bio says that Danker served in the Air Force. I'm not surprised. This book abounds in attention to what I can only call mechanical detail--the awareness that a starship is going to be made of parts, which might break, or can be repurposed, or can be damaged, or have to be routed around. I'm always aware that whenever I write about starshippy things, everyone can tell that I don't have a damn clue. (I still haven't figured out what you call the "walls" on a boat. I also keep mixing up port and starboard, although I guess that stands to reason since I also mix up left and right. My husband's parents, who own a sailboat, find me very entertaining.) Now, I can't tell whether the details make sense, but Danker writes with such conviction that I believe him--and to be honest, I tend to suspect that he thought everything out. Someone with a more mechanical/engineering background is going to have to be the judge of that, though. I majored in math so I wouldn't have to deal with physical things. :p

Refreshingly, although there are castes and genetic engineering, there's a sense of compassion in the protagonist's understanding of humanity. Unlike the trainees, he expects that people from the Commonwealth are just people like anyone else, not monsters. There's also a great comic scene where everyone is speculating on what the Empress of Evagard looks like and whether she has a harem and is it men or women or both.

In any case, some of my random library picks end up getting returned unfinished. This was a delightful surprise. I enjoyed it a lot, and I'll be looking forward to more from Danker in the future!

[cross-post: Patreon]
sovay: (I Claudius)
And today, massive insomnia and being woken rather jarringly by the property manager knocking on the door to ask if now was a good time for her to fix the fan in the bathroom (it was not). My brain has felt like a cloudy chalkboard ever since. I really hope this fifth-century electrum stater from Kyzikos does portray Odysseus sacrificing a ram as part of the ritual of drawing up the dead in Book 11 of the Odyssey. I will never be able to own it, but its existence in the world will delight me.

james_davis_nicoll: (Default)

ca 1880s. Group of five unidentified men with glasses of beer and a keg. Possibly brewery employees. Image Citation: Waterloo Public Library, C-5-19

Fewer drunks, more money
swan_tower: (Default)

You know how there are those shows that are kind of structurally or ideologically broken, but you sort of don’t care because the banter is so good?

Supergirl is kind of the opposite of that. On a script level, it’s pretty mediocre; the dialogue often clunks and the characterization can be inconsistent and the plots rarely have clever solutions. But I find myself just not caring, because it’s doing so many other things to make me happy. It is the candy-colored cheerful superhero show that I wanted The Flash to be for me, without all the problems that made me bounce out of that one.

Case in point: the first season of The Flash basically had two female characters, Iris and Caitlin. Neither of them was particularly interesting; Caitlin’s plot revolved around her dead boyfriend and Iris was a pawn, lied to for no good reason by her best friend, infantilized by her father, rarely if ever given a chance to affect the story in a meaningful way. Supergirl, by contrast, is so stuffed with women they’re coming out at the seams. This is not one of those shows with a central female character and then a bunch of dudes. You have Alex Danvers, Supergirl’s adopted sister (and if you love rock-solid sister relationships, dear god this is the show for you); Cat Grant, her prickly and influential boss; Astra, her aunt and antagonist; Allura, her mother, appearing in both flashback and computer simulation; Lucy Lane, Lois’ younger sister and Jimmy Olson’s ex, who the show is smart enough to give a role to beyond “Jimmy Olson’s ex”; the villains Livewire and Indigo and Silver Banshee, who all play a role in more than one episode; Eliza, Alex’s mother and Kara’s foster-mother, a biologist who nerds out when she meets another alien; Miranda Crane, a senator with anti-alien views; they even have the (offstage) president be a woman (and if the show’s writers weren’t thinking about Hillary Clinton, I’ll eat my laptop). These women talk to each other. They talk to each other so much that they get to have nearly every kind of relationship; they’re family and friends and rivals and co-workers and mentors and allies and enemies. (Not lovers, though — I can’t recall any lesbian relationships, at least not in the first season.)

The show is overtly feminist, too. I wouldn’t call it a triumph of complexity in that regard — see above comments about the writing being not all that good — but from time to time it goes straight at the familiar issues, the way that women’s achievements get downplayed relative to men’s, the way that women are held to standards men don’t have to meet. Clark Kent is an offstage presence, only appearing briefly a couple of times (and then always in silhouette), or conversing with Kara in text messages. In this canon, Kara was supposed to be the protector for her younger cousin, but circumstances caused her to arrive on Earth years later and younger than him; the growth of Kara from feeling like she’ll never live up to Kal-El’s reputation and achievements to someone who wins his praise and respect is really satisfying.

AND LET’S TALK ABOUT THE ETHICS. As in, this show has some. You may recall that ethical failings are a big part of why I wound up noping out of The Flash; I just about punched the air when this show made a point of addressing those issues. You literally get one of the characters telling Kara that due process and human rights matter, and that running a “secret Guantanamo” (actual phrase from the dialogue) is 100% not okay. And Kara acknowledges this! And then they do something about it! I called Astra an antagonist; I chose that word instead of “villain” because her situation isn’t black-and-white, and the show is capable of acknowledging that she’s pursuing good ends via bad means. There’s another antagonist in a similar position, too. I love that kind of thing, and seeing it here makes me really happy.

It still has shortcomings on a higher-than-script level, mind you. The racial diversity is just barely better than token, and queer representation is basically absent. And while the show nods in the direction of the problems posed by having superpowered people around, it doesn’t really delve into them. But I can watch it and have fun without constantly being frustrated, which is exactly what I was hoping for. And every so often it rises above itself with some really good dialogue or a great plot development — which leaves me hopeful that season two will improve on the first.

Behind the cut there be spoilers!

Read the rest of this entry  )

Originally published at Swan Tower. You can comment here or there.

29 September 2016 09:00 - Pleasure and Pain
ceciliatan: (darons guitar)

Mirrored from the latest entry in Daron's Guitar Chronicles.

I ended up seeing Sarah’s doctor, because that was faster and a better idea than sitting around in some New York City emergency room waiting to be seen for a non-emergency. He confirmed I probably had a concussion and said the main thing to do was to avoid things that might aggravate it, including hitting my head on anything else, vigorous physical activity, brights lights, and loud noise.


Read the rest of this entry » )
29 September 2016 04:33 - What's this on the radar?
sovay: (Cho Hakkai: intelligence)
My husband just sent me a beautiful thing: the restored recording of the world's first computer-generated music. Unsurprisingly, Alan Turing was involved. Starting in 1948, he used the tones generated by the Manchester Mark I and later Mark II to keep track of the computer's internal processes—"one note for 'job finished', others for 'digits overflowing in memory', 'error when transferring data from the magnetic drum', and so on"—meaning you can probably blame him in some distant ancestral sense for the Quacks, Sosumis, and Wild Eeps of the classic Apple Macintosh and that synthesized major chord I believe most of them still make when they boot up. In 1951, Christopher Strachey programmed the Mark II to play "God Save the King." The BBC recorded it and two other short musical programs later that year. From the severe frequency shifts of that recording, Jack Copeland and Jason Long calculated the correct speed at which the acetate disc needed to be played in order to reproduce the pitches actually generated by the Mark II, then digitally cleaned up some of the noise and stuck the whole two-minute recording online. It sounds a bit like a seasick cello. If you have perfect or even decent relative pitch, you will wince. The Mark II had a terrible ear. All three recorded melodies will sound—accurately—more or less out of tune to a human who can carry one with or without a bucket. I don't care. It makes me happy. I will buy a copy of the publication which contains Copeland and Long's full article when it's out. In the meantime, I have played a piercingly flat (and sometimes sharp) version of "God Save the King," "Baa Baa Black Sheep," and "In the Mood" five times in a row. Science is such a wonderful thing.
28 September 2016 20:12 - results of the title giveaway
swan_tower: (Default)

Last week I solicited title suggestions and promised to give away a signed copy of Cold-Forged Flame to one person.

In the usual way of my brain, it did not settle on any of the proposed titles — but receiving all those possibilities finally provoked it into getting off its posterior and coming up with something that it liked. (This really is how my brain works. When I was in junior high and got the Elfquest roleplaying game book, which I used to make up characters to tell stories with instead of for use in the game, the entire section on generating your character’s appearance never got used the intended way. I would roll the dice, decide I didn’t like the suggested result, roll again, reject the second result, rinse and repeat until I made up my mind what I wanted to pick off the list.)

But I promised a giveaway, and a giveaway you shall have! Our lucky winner is Joshua of The Rabbit Hole. Drop me a line and claim your prize!

. . . what’s that you ask? You want to know what the title I settled on is?

You’ll find out next spring, when I intend to release the collection in question. 🙂 Until then, you must live in suspense!

(But I’ll give you this hint. I wound up deciding that I liked it because of an unexpected echo of something in Diana Wynne Jones’ novel Fire and Hemlock, which is the book that made me a writer.)

Originally published at Swan Tower. You can comment here or there.

sovay: (Sydney Carton)
Autolycus purrs on my lap as I type, compactly curled into a black fur croissant. Hestia has claimed the basket chair for her own, partly snuggled under the green weighted blanket that usually lies on the bed. It has been not quite raining since this afternoon when I walked out to City Hall and the post office in Union Square, returning by way of Hub Comics. I made baked beans with hamburger for dinner and read some more Alistair MacLean at the kitchen table. Otherwise I have mostly been working and it is not very interesting. I hope to watch a movie tonight.

I was just sent an appeal from Kirk Douglas, who hopes to celebrate his hundredth birthday in December while still being proud to be an American. That is a lot of history to live through, and I don't think alarmist to remember.

On the importance of names, the acknowledgement of humanity in the individual as well as the incomprehensively collective, and the burial of the dead as more than symbols: Maaze Mengiste, "The Act of Naming."

I am tired and the most fun I've had today involved walking up and down hills in incipient rain, but I don't feel awful. We have ordered our Rosh Hashanah challah from Mamaleh's.
28 September 2016 18:27 - er, um
yhlee: soulless (orb) (AtS soulless (credit: mango_icons on LJ))
I completed the rough draft of Ninefox in January 2012. I have a somewhat older Scrivener file of it; unfortunately, I can no longer prove anything with the very original hardcopy deadtree rough draft written out in longhand because it was destroyed in the flood.

Ann Leckie's Ancillary Justice (which is a super book, and I love the trilogy!) came out in October 2013. I didn't make my first attempt to read the book until February 2014, and didn't finish the book until later that year.

...I think people are vastly confused about just how fast (a) I write and (b) revise a book then (c) take to get it to (d) an agent and then (e) get it accepted by a publisher (Solaris made an offer after something like twenty rejections elsewhere) who then (f) has to go through the whole process of...look, what I'm saying is that this is not a fast process. :p

Again, I love the Imperial Radch books, but maybe consider that gloves, robots, music, and other random setting elements are not unique? There are probably a lot of random sf/f settings floating around in which gloves are Culturally Significant!

(Also I suspect Breq & friends would eat Jedao for breakfast, ahahahaha. XD)

On the other hand, it is absolutely true (and I have previously stated) that hexarchate worldbuilding owes a lot to Planescape (AD&D campaign setting), Legend of the Five Rings (Kel = evil Lion, Shuos = evil Scorpion, Andan = evil Crane), Battletech/Mechwarrior, and Warhammer 40,000. Although, God knows, it's not like the concept of having factions...is unique in human history/narrative?
28 September 2016 20:25 - Dear Yuletide Writer
rachelmanija: (Autumn: small leaves)
Dear Yuletide writer,

Thank you for writing for me! I am very non-fussy about Yuletide and love the fandoms I requested, so please don't stress too much about making me happy. Write me something in a fandom I love, and I will be happy. If you click on my Yuletide tag you will find past letters with lots of detail on what I like in general.

Two little FYIs: I started writing my letter at home, then left before I could finish it. I am currently away from home and can't write as much, so less tl;dr isn't indication of which I want most, just due to circumstances. The other is for any friends who might be trawling this letter for treat prompts. I still love anything I requested for any Yuletide in history, so if you don't know any of these fandoms, feel free to pick up anything from past letters that's in the Yuletide tag set.

Read more... )
28 September 2016 12:39 - Searching For Revisionary Goofs
jimhines: (Snoopy Writing)

Revisionary - Cover Art by Gene MollicaThe mass market paperback edition of Revisionary comes out in February. This means I have a whole new set of page proofs to review.

If you’ve read the hardcover (thank you!) and noticed any typos or other problems, now would be the perfect time to let me know so we can get those fixed for the paperback release. You can comment here or shoot me an email at jchines -at- sff.net.

In other news, I’m still working on backup machines while I wait for the new PC to arrive, which is why blogging and email and such has been a bit sparse. Hopefully that will all be resolved by the end of the week!

Mirrored from Jim C. Hines.

28 September 2016 11:43 - Nicked from File770:
james_davis_nicoll: (Default)
New Game: create a better table of contents for the stated theme than editor Kristine Kathryn Rusch did.

My attempt at a TOC:

Read more... )
ceciliatan: (darons guitar)

Mirrored from the latest entry in Daron's Guitar Chronicles.

As promised, here’s another song that Meg sent! She writes:

The background on this one is: Basically it’s kind of a song-ified version of Chapter 584, “Touch and Go”, and some of Daron’s frustrations preceding, therein, and further perpetuated by the chapter.

When I first read it I was just as surprised as Daron was at just *how* angry and closed off Ziggy got during the chapter. Granted, I realized going in that they were still in an undefined and unconfirmed place in terms of their relationship (in both the personal and professional sides, really), and that if anything on any level settled, it wasn’t going to do so easily, but still. The awesome description at one point, of how Ziggy’s face “closed like a storefront bringing down a chainlink gate”, is pretty much how I felt by the end of this chapter. Crash. The fact that it was also the end of that particular Part of the story made the feeling of a dead stop land even harder.

Read the rest of this entry » )
28 September 2016 03:33 - And painted by the Bosphorus in blue
sovay: (Default)
1. I took my mother to Mamaleh's this afternoon. I had wanted to ever since it was such a hit last week with my father (and me: their Reuben is competitive with the Deluxe Town Diner, my previous local benchmark. Maybe with a slight edge. Their corned beef is amazing even before they pile Russian dressing and cole slaw—I prefer it to sauerkraut—on it. All their deli meats are in-house). She loved it. We ordered sable, a fish she had not had since she visited relatives or her godmother in New York City; unless I'd encountered it under a different name as sushi, I'd never had it. She was very encouraging that I should. It came smoked, delicately edged with what looked like paprika, with a ringed arrangement of cucumber and tomato slices, red onion, capers, and cream cheese. It was expensive, the same price as the smoked sturgeon. It was worth it. A rich, silky, melting fish, exactly as good as my mother had remembered for decades. I ate a cold tongue sandwich—I really like this thing where I can now get tongue on marble rye at Mamaleh's and in corn tortillas at La Victoria in Arlington—and still saved the last bite of sable for the end of the meal. My mother loved her 50/50, which was approximately the size of a city bus. She drank some of my chocolate egg cream and then ordered one of her own. (Is a pretzel rod in an egg cream a regional thing? I have never encountered it before, either in Boston or New York. Do I just order my egg creams in the wrong boroughs for it? Philadelphia?) Then we found out that their bagels are good. Like, insanely, four-in-the-morning-in-Manhattan good. We took home a dozen. I spent the rest of the evening in Lexington, helping clean the house in preparation for incoming relatives with an hour off for a stunned nap, from which I woke up starving and ate a bagel covered with whitefish salad. The block of halva we also took home did not survive the night. I am so happy about this restaurant. I'd been hoping about it since the owners were interviewed in the Globe in the spring, but first it wasn't open and then it wasn't open for dinner. Given its name, I am especially glad that it serves food that makes my mother happy. She wants to order the chicken livers next time; she thinks I may have eaten them as a small child in Portland, when my grandmother would have made them. I'm up for it.

2. The stove in the new apartment isn't dead, but it's mostly dead: two burners on a good day and no oven period. The property manager came to look at it early this afternoon while I was at my PT appointment, before [livejournal.com profile] derspatchel left for work. She suggested we try lighting the other burners by hand to see if we could burn off some of the rust and crud and if that didn't work, she'd bring the appliance guy to check it out. She must have rethought her position, because later in the afternoon she called me back to say that she had brought the appliance guy and he had all but taken his hat off while somewhere a stove-sized bugle played taps. So next week we're getting a new stove. I know not to feel jubilant until it's actually installed and isn't an electric range or anything else godforsaken, but this is already such a change from the landlord with whom we had the five-month fight just to acknowledge that the oven was defunct and the broiler had had small animals living inside it, I'm quite impressed.

3. I like having the two versions for comparison, but I really love the first, which is the more faithful: Angela Leighton translates Leonardo Sciascia's "Hic et Nunc."

Tomorrow I need to mail a whole bunch of bills, make several phone calls, and work an inordinate amount of catch-up for all the hours I missed yesterday and today. I feel very cautious about being in a good mood given this last year's baseline of violent self-damaging depression into which I am sure I will crash back at any minute, but the change is really nice.
27 September 2016 09:00 - Bete Noire
ceciliatan: (darons guitar)

Mirrored from the latest entry in Daron's Guitar Chronicles.

Tony came to get me from Artie’s to take me (and Ziggy) up to see Priss. Artie waited with me down in the lobby of the building, which he really didn’t have to do, but was nice of him.

This gave me a chance to ask him something. “You’ve known Remo for a long time.”

“Not as long as you, though.”

Read the rest of this entry » )
sovay: (Lord Peter Wimsey: passion)
I spent most of my day out of the house on a dentist's appointment and surrounding errands, but I managed to purchase a dish drain and a heavy-duty extension cord so that I can now dry dishes without wasting paper towels or worrying about cat prints and actually use the indefatigable toaster oven of Leonard Street. Both of these factors significantly improve my relationship with the new kitchen. [livejournal.com profile] derspatchel inaugurated the toaster oven by making grilled cheese with English muffins and ham. I'm thinking it is nearly corn pudding time again.

The mail brought three bills and my contributor's copy of Not One of Us #56. I am very pleased that my poem "Ghost Ships of the Middlesex Canal" appears almost as a postscript to Mat Joiner's canal-haunting "The Drowned Carnival," alongside ghostly, bloody, mythic and futuristic work by Tim L. Williams, Jennifer Crow, Erik Amundsen, Beth Cato, David Ebenbach, Alexandra Seidel, and Patricia Russo, among others. It's the thirtieth anniversary issue. The back cover features a memorial portrait of Sheeba, the editor's beloved black-and-white cat whom I was lucky enough to meet in 2004, and the opening Reisepass ends with an appeal acutely relevant in this political season: Resist othering.

Speaking of: some of the new neighbors watch Donald Trump on TV. This was before the debate started. Rob took his laptop into the kitchen so as not to hear it through the windows (which the neighbors leave open while blasting the volume; I can't identify any of the shows they follow, but they are so shouty that I don't want to watch any of them). I hope they're doing it for purposes of disapproval. The idea of any real equivalency between him and Hillary Clinton would be funny in literature, is frightening in real life. Reading the media expectations for tonight's debate was an illustration in two different kinds of grading on a curve. Clinton had to present a coherent intellectual and political argument while presenting within a narrow definition of sympathetic femininity, simultaneously consistent and complete. Trump had to refrain from obvious racist slurs and not pick his nose on camera. (And even if he did that, I am sure he has supporters who would praise his alpha-male disregard for the prissy restraints of so-called civility, like not shooting people who disagree with you.) My mother does report that she thought Clinton did well. My father wanted her to be more ferocious with Trump. I need to change my voter registration this week, having moved within Somerville since the last time I sent in my form. I have no idea if my vote will make a difference, but this is not a year to sit the election out.
james_davis_nicoll: (Default)
The plumes are estimated to rise about 125 miles (200 kilometers) before, presumably, raining material back down onto Europa's surface. Europa has a huge global ocean containing twice as much water as Earth’s oceans, but it is protected by a layer of extremely cold and hard ice of unknown thickness. The plumes provide a tantalizing opportunity to gather samples originating from under the surface without having to land or drill through the ice.
rosefox: A painting of a peaceful garden. (peace)
I wrote this last year, on October 2:

All the fans and air conditioners and open windows that noisily let us survive the summer are quiet now. The dryer and dishwasher have finished their tasks and fallen silent. The laundry is folded and stowed. The people and cats are asleep, except for me. There is such contentment in this moment of stillness.

My brain promises me that if I do enough, and if I do it well enough, I will reach a moment of the house being perfect, at which point I can finally relax. My own work on coming to terms with my brain has helped me to expand my definition of perfection. There are little untidinesses around me, to be sure, and I'll tidy a few of them before bed; but those untidinesses also make a house a home. I don't want to live in a museum exhibit. I want to live in a place where the stray bits of cat fur and scratched-up furniture remind me of our adorable cats, and J's shirt draped over a chair and X's water bottle abandoned on the corner of the table remind me of my marvelous spouses. Soon there will be toys underfoot, and parts of bottles scattered over the kitchen counter, and tiny mismatched socks in inexplicable places, to remind me of my beloved child. And I will sit in this battered but extremely comfortable chair, and put my mug down on the fluff-attracting but gorgeously vibrant red tablecloth, in my beautiful lived-in home, and it will be perfect.

Tonight I turned off the ceiling vent fan for what is probably the last time this year, and such a beautiful hush fell. I tidied just enough to make the morning easier for J and X, and did a load of laundry mostly out of habit. Now all the machines are silent, and I'm sitting at the table in the comfy broken-in chair, and there are candles casting shimmery golden light on the red tablecloth, and everyone is asleep. There was even a tiny unmatched sock in tonight's laundry.

I was right: it's perfect.
sovay: (I Claudius)
In keeping with the recent theme of ancient Near Eastern civilizations, Orientalism, and Jewish representation, this afternoon I saw Cecil B. DeMille's The Ten Commandments (1956) for the first time in my life. The Somerville was screening a 35 mm IB Technicolor print, so I figured it was now or never.

At the intermission I staggered out and said to [livejournal.com profile] derspatchel, "I feel like I've been clubbed with a Sunday-school primer."

After it was over, my mother (who had not come with me) asked what I thought and I said, "Well, I don't think it's going to change how I lead next year's Seder."

I am not sorry to have seen the movie. It's full of great actors, it's gorgeously filmed, it's a cultural touchstone and a truly monumental spectacle and I got to see it larger than life, which I think is the only way to treat DeMille's pyramids and Heston's beard. Everything about Yul Brynner's Rameses is terrific, from the amounts of clothing he is not wearing (but a lot of jewelry in which he looks very good) to the fact that he is actually giving a performance as well as pageantry: a beautiful, commanding man wasting his energies on envy and insecurity and cruelty he doesn't need to resort to; he breaks himself on the God of Moses as surely as Pentheus on Dionysos' smile. The matte-painted parting of the Red Sea stands up to its reputation, but I was really impressed by the simple practical effect of the commandments writing themselves in fire on the red granite of Sinai, sparking and roaring like a cutting torch of Paleo-Hebrew.1 A lot of the smaller theatrical touches worked very well for me: the recognition token of the white-and-black-striped red Levite cloth that serves first as Moses' tell-tale swaddling, then as the ironic livery of his exile, and finally as the fulfilled reclamation of his heritage; the game of hounds and jackals between Cedric Hardwicke's Pharaoh Sethi and Anne Baxter's "throne princess" (because apparently you can't get away with depicting dynastic incest even in a movie with as impressive a third-act orgy as the Golden Calf) Nefretiri that ends when the ebony head of one of Sethi's jackals snaps off and skitters across the floor to be picked up by Rameses as he enters, unconsciously providing the final word in a discussion of birthright and inheritance; a scale balanced with silver weights and mud bricks with which Rameses maliciously underscores his charges of treachery against his cousin and Moses defends himself to his Pharaoh. When the Nile turns to blood, Rameses defiantly pours out water in a blessing upon it and the clear stream thickens and reddens mid-flow. DeMille's staging of the Exodus includes Moses' adoptive mother binding her fate to her son's and the mummy of Joseph borne on a palm-decorated bier, going home to be buried in long-lost Canaan. A lot of the bigger theatrical gestures did not work for me, especially once Heston shifts into really declamatory mode. The luminous green mist fissuring the sky and pouring in a smoke of pestilence through the streets, ankle-high, grave-deep, is a terrifying interpretation of the tenth plague, but I could not take seriously the passage of the Angel of Death over the house of Aaron and Miriam once it turned on the spot into the first Seder, complete with youngest child piping up innocently, "Why is this night different from all other nights?" Hearing a crowd of extras repeatedly shout "The Lord is our God! The Lord is one!" in English is really disorienting if you have ever said the Sh'ma on a regular basis. I appreciated the rabbi credited up front as one of the film's consultants along with archaeologists and scholars from the Oriental Institute and the Egyptian Department of Antiquities, but the overall effect of the movie is still a Jewish story being told for a Christian audience, through a Christian lens. To be fair to DeMille, I didn't go in expecting anything else. It was nearly four hours long and brilliantly colored and very loud. Edward G. Robinson looked like he was having a lot of fun. Any more intellectual analysis is going to have to wait until I feel less like a very intricately painted obelisk fell on me.

The Somerville was also screening Ben-Hur (1959) as the second half of what David the projectionist called the Charlton Heston Jewish Film Festival, but especially after seeing Spartacus (1960) last night,2 I was pretty much epic'd out. I sort of reeled home and fed the cats and wrote a job application, which was exhausting. I don't know if I would feel differently toward The Ten Commandments if I had grown up on it as an Easter tradition, the same way we always watched A Claymation Christmas Celebration (1987) and the Alastair Sim Scrooge/A Christmas Carol (1951) for Christmas and Lights (1984) for Hanukkah; I never had a default version of the Exodus story other than the one my family told every year, which changed a little every year. I didn't even see The Prince of Egypt (1998) until well into college. At the moment I can't imagine how The Ten Commandments would even work on a small screen, when I think much of the effect it had on me was the cast-of-thousands enormity of the production and the friezelike, painterly compositions, as if the whole thing were a moving progression by Alma-Tadema or some other pre-Raphaelite artist specializing in the ancient world.3 I was delighted to come home and discover Arnold Friberg's concept art and costume design for the film, which look, and I mean this in the best possible way, as though they should be decorating the walls of a library à la John Singer Sargent. And now I kind of want to read something with Jewish characters written by actual Jews, which shouldn't be at all hard to find. Who knew that eating at Mamaleh's yesterday would suddenly feel like a cultural victory? This awareness brought to you by my epic backers at Patreon.

1. The only T-shirt I own with Paleo-Hebrew on it is the one [livejournal.com profile] ladymondegreen sent me from the Archaeological Seminars Institute in Israel. I wore it for the occasion.

2. I still think Kirk Douglas would have knocked it out of the park as Judah Ben-Hur. So did he—being turned down for the part by either William Wyler or MGM seems to have been one of his major impetus for making Spartacus. I can't say that was a bad idea, especially considering what Spartacus did for Dalton Trumbo and the breaking of the blacklist, but Douglas would have brought the requisite intensity to the role, plus he was fit as hell and actually Jewish. It would have been fun.

3. I can't imagine how long it must run with commercial breaks, either. My reaction to the latter parts of the film was rather like a road trip version of "Dayenu": all right, the Lord has hurled horse and rider into the sea, are we done yet? All right, Moses has brought down the laws from Sinai, are we done yet? All right, Moses has destroyed the Golden Calf and divided the faithful from the idolators, are we done yet? All right, the people have wandered in the wilderness for forty years, are we done yet? All right, Moses is on Mount Nebo, are we done yet? Cecil B. DeMille, it would have been enough!
25 September 2016 20:46 - Grunt
yhlee: Sandman raven with eyeball (Sandman raven (credit: rilina))
I've read and enjoyed Mary Roach's nonfiction in the past; the one I definitely remember reading is Stiff, which looks into the world of cadavers. The latest book of hers I've read is Grunt, which is about the military. Roach's particular approach to her subjects is what endears her most to me. She is frequently funny, self-deprecating, and able to see the ridiculous side of subjects that we don't necessarily automatically see as funny or ridiculous. At the same time, she has a sense of humanity and compassion. When reading Grunt, I was frequently reminded of a book I read and enjoyed in high school, Wayne Biddle's A Field Guide to Germs. Biddle managed the trick of discussing an abecedary of diseases with both wit and kindness toward the human sufferers.

As Roach says in her introduction to Grunt,
"People think of military science as strategy and weapons--fighting, bombing, advancing. All that I leave to the memoir writers and historians. I'm interested in the parts that no one makes movies about--not the killing but the keeping alive. Even if what people are being kept alive for is fighting and taking other lives. Let's not let that get in the way. This book is a salute to the scientists and the surgeons, running along in the wake of combat, lab coats flapping. Building safer tanks, waging war on filth flies. Understanding turkey vultures."

I'm someone who tends to get hypnotized by the tactics/strategy/logistics/great commanders perspective on military history, so books like this are a useful and necessary corrective. And my dad spent some time as a US Army surgeon, and I'm interested in histories of medicine in general, so that got my attention as well.

This book is not for the faint of heart. Some chapters have medical grue; if you're a sensitive reader, you may want to proceed with caution. I grew up with full-color photos of open heart surgery lying casually on the living room table and thought that was normal for much of my childhood, so I am hard to squick with either pictures or verbal descriptions. (It also helps that I can't visualize jack.) In person would be a different story, largely because I've never desensitized my sense of smell.

Table of Contents: Read more... )

All in all, this is--I hesitate to use the word "fun" given the subject matter, but Grunt is engaging written, the chapters flow interestingly into each other, and Roach brings up a number of topics that I wouldn't have necessarily thought to research otherwise. Recommended.

Thank you to the generous person who donated this book!
24 September 2016 20:10 - Dear Yuletide Writer
yhlee: snowflake (StoryNexus: snowflake)
Dear Yuletide Writer,

Hello, and thank you for writing for me!

General likes: I have pretty broad reading tastes, but some things I enjoy include angst, schmoop, fics that stick close to canon, fics that go a long way from canon, odd AUs (everything from coffeeshop to high school to IN SPAAAAAACE), power dynamics (especially in smut if one is inclined to write such a thing), witty dialogue, comedy, darkfic, amnesia, dubcon/noncon, military tactics/strategy/logistics, plotty fic...

DNWs: Animal harm and issuefic. [1] I have also listed a couple DNWs specific to fandoms where warranted. If you're not sure about something you want to include, feel free to query via the mods.

[1] I've read some brilliant issuefic, so it's not that I'm against the category, but this year I am inclined toward iddier reading.

If you are feeling experimental--IFs, second person, odd narrative structure, etc.--I encourage you to go all-out. I like that sort of thing! But at the same time, please do not feel obliged. I like not-second person (etc.) fics, too. :D

Optional note: I am open to both AUs (as you have figured out) and crossovers. In particular, a Captive Prince/L5R crossover could be amazing if someone wanted to try it. I assume Laurent is a Doji duelist and Damen is a Hida bushi...or what about Vorkosigan/L5R? Just imagine!

I've talked a little about what I like about each requested fandom, and listed possible prompts in case you find that sort of thing inspiring. If you come up with an even better idea, however, go for it! It is important to me that you have fun writing what you write. :D

If you are hard-up on time and need an emergency fandom, I would recommend Captive Prince. It's a trilogy, BUT you could read just the first book (titled, helpfully enough, The Captive Prince) and use that for a basis for a missing scene or an AU. Alternately, you could go with Vorkosigan Saga (although the whole thing is ungodly long), just read the first omnibus (Cordelia's Honor), and base a fic off what you find there, going AU as necessary. I don't mind AUs in general and will not hold it against you! As much as I love L5R, it has a ridiculous amount of backstory scattered in five zillion places. I completely disrecommend L5R as an emergency fandom.

I love all three fandoms equally so have simply put them in alphabetical order. I'd be thrilled by fic for any of them.

Captive Prince (Damen, Laurent), Legend of the Five Rings (Hida Kisada), Vorkosigan Saga (Aral Vorkosigan) )
24 September 2016 19:50 - [stories] The Sky-Sister's Garden
yhlee: Texas bluebonnet (text: same). (TX bluebonnet (photo: snc2006 on sxc.hu))
The Sky-Sister's Garden

For Nancy Sauer ([personal profile] daidoji_gisei).
Prompt: "vegetables."

People who dwell on sea or land often do not realize the effort to which the sky-sisters go to cultivate the clouds, the winds, the swirl of stars in the great wheel of night. Every caprice of the weather is governed by laws written in the language of butterfly wing and unstable equations. The dwellers on sea and land sacrifice goats or geese or, occasionally, imperfectly formed geodes to influence the rains ands snows and sun in their favor, little realizing that the sky-sisters, for all their attentiveness, cannot do more than nudge the weather to help them.

One such sky-sister was known for her skill at coaxing constellations to march properly across the sky as the seasons passed, instead of lingering too long and scattering meteor-signs of ill omen. With her digging tools and specialized shears, she traveled the skyways, her pet bird--the sky-sisters have a weakness for birds--perched upon her shoulder. Patiently she stopped by recalcitrant polestars or planets out of alignments, singing and tugging until they grew in their proper places.

Even the sky-sisters have time for leisure, however. During those hours, this particular sky-sister lavished time on a small plot of land upon a sky-island that the lord of clouds had kindly anchored in the atmosphere for her benefit. There, taking advantage of the peculiar ways that seasons manifested in the sky-realm, she grew sugar snap peas and parsnips and carrots, tomatoes and cabbages and kale. (Never beets, however. She was not fond of beets.) Her bird benefited the most from the garden's harvest, but she too ate the resulting salads and soups.

Try as she might, however, the sky-sister could not grow zucchini. She tried planting it close to the sun. The zucchini wouldn't sprout. She tried planting it close to the moon. The zucchini wouldn't sprout. She tried planting it on the underside of the sky-island, in case the zucchini had unorthodox notions about the proper place of gravity. The zucchini wouldn't sprout.

This only made the sky-sister more determined. She fertilized the zucchini with fewmets imported from the Mountain of Nine Dragons. The zucchini wouldn't sprout. She watered it with the tears of poet tigresses. (She shed a few tears herself, contemplating their odes. Tigresses are surprisingly excellent poets.) The zucchini wouldn't sprout. She chanted imprecations from the Book of Aspiring Chlorophyll. The zucchini still wouldn't sprout.

At last the sky-sister sat down on her sky-island and looked around at all the vegetables that did grow. "Why isn't this working?" she asked, and absentmindedly plucked a sugar snap pea to gnaw on.

At this point, her pet bird had the grace to look embarrassed. "You really like zucchini, don't you?"

The sky-sister hadn't realized that the bird could talk, but when one spends one's free time on a floating island, this sort of detail doesn't faze one. "I don't see how you could have guessed that," she said wryly.

"I do too," the bird said. "I just like it at a more embryonic stage of development."

The sky-sister considered this. "Well," she said philosophically, "it's good to know that the problem was not my skill at gardening, but my skill at applied ornithology."
james_davis_nicoll: (Default)

Shredded apple mixed into the filling of a lemon meringue pie was an unusual combination that intrigued Kitchener food writer Jasmine Mangalaseril.
23 September 2016 20:45 - On the one hand
james_davis_nicoll: (Default)
I am sad I do not own this.

On the other, I don't have the vocabulary to discuss the contents coherently.
23 September 2016 18:08 - I was talking to you while you ate
sovay: (Sovay: David Owen)
The saga of the cat in the morning glories continues!

Following my last post, I did not see the cat in the morning glories or anywhere else. I observed that the food I put down always disappeared overnight and someone was neatly drinking the water, but I worried. I knew he had survived for weeks without me, but having gone to the trouble of setting up a plan with Charles River Alleycats and the property manager, I did not want irony to step in at the last minute. This afternoon I woke up late, dressed quickly, took a can of catfood and my copy of HMS Ulysses (1955) and went downstairs: I figured I'd put out the food and wait a while on the steps, just to see. I'd met him in the afternoon before. Theoretically we had an appointment with Huron Veterinary Hospital, but that depended on my ability to furnish a cat. The food was gone again and there was no cat in sight.

This is where magical thinking comes into the narrative: I hadn't seen him in the back garden before, but I wanted to be thorough. I rounded the driveway with Alistair MacLean and a can of Science Diet in my hand and the cat was curled up in a white plastic lawn chair with a pile of canvas in it, looking as tigery and green-eyed as ever. He uncurled when he saw me. He blinked. He thrummed. He butted his head up into my palm and slipped down off the chair and tried to twine my shins. "Hey, mow mow," I said. "Hey, beauty. Oh, sweet sweet," which is an endearment I use with my own cats. I did not have enough free hands. I led him back around to the front of the house (with a pit stop for EMERGENCY BELLY PETTING in the driveway: he played the game of bite-and-lick, tussling with my arm and then grooming it) and into the foyer and fed him there with all doors closed before running upstairs for the large blue carrier I had borrowed from Dean last night with a somewhat frazzled towel of mine inside. Despite recognizing immediately what the carrier was for, he went into it much more easily than either of my cats: I scruffed him gently, backed him toward the carrier, and tipped him in. He began to complain at once, but not as loudly as Autolycus (the gong of the Siamese with a grievance) or Hestia (our little dragon, who produces the death hiss of fiery doom). I told him that I sympathized; this was the part that sucked. The property manager picked us up and we went to Huron Vet.

To summarize the evolving situation, the cat has an ID chip. He is a neutered male about four years old, his name sounded like "Taz," and he is registered to an address apparently near Assembly Square and an owner whose name is not the same as the former tenant's. He looks to the staff of Huron Vet like a Maine Coon or at least a healthy percentage of one. He was wearing a flea and tick collar, but it was old enough for the material to have started to shrink and crack and he had, in fact, fleas. (I have been assured by both Huron and Porter Square Vets that it is really not possible for me to have caught cat fleas in the amount of time I handled him, especially since I stripped and bagged my clothes as soon as I got home due to the property manager being a heavy smoker and me being allergic to cigarette smoke.) So now we're not sure if he got lost from his original owner and the former tenant took him in or what, but a message has been left at the phone number associated with the chip and Huron Vet will board him for the next three days, leaving further messages if there is no response. At the end of three days, if the cat has not been claimed, he will go to the MSPCA for adoption. Or he'll go home with one of the staff of Huron Vet, because they were all but fighting over him by the time we left. Even with fleas and heinous mats in his fur, he is a charmer: chill, purry, gorgeous, intensely interested in people. I am hoping this is the kind of situation where his original person will be overjoyed to find out that he's alive and well and Odyssean (if he really came from Assembly Square, I count the crossing of 93 as equivalent to ten years at sea, give or take a Cyclops) and will come and retrieve him posthaste. But if it isn't, he will still end up with people who treasure him. And in the meantime he is being taken care of and made much of and de-flea'd and with any luck someone will clip the mats out of his fur, because they interfere with a sleek belly-petting experience. I expect so. Everyone I have dealt with at both Charles River Alleycats and Huron Veterinary Hospital has been amazing. I regret only that I did not take my camera so that I could have some further pictures of him charming everyone's socks off.

Personally I must say he doesn't look like a Taz to me. But then I would probably have called him the Return of Martin Guerre or something equally difficult to fit on an adoption form.
sovay: (Rotwang)
A couple of nights ago I re-read E. Nesbit's The Story of the Amulet (1906) for the first time in decades. Of the three Psammead books, it's the one we didn't own, so I can't actually remember reading it more than once—which was all right, because for years what I mostly remembered about it was the sudden outcropping of anti-Semitic stereotypes in the chapter with the Queen of Babylon in London. I must have been quite small, but having a bunch of sharp-dealing stockbrokers with "beautiful long, curved noses" and names like Levinstein and Rosenbaum and Hirsh and Cohen express horror at the waste of good food which is the Queen wishing that London's hungry poor "may have in their hands this moment their full of their favourite meat and drink" before being bloodily cut down by her Babylonian guards still managed to leave an impression. I did not feel better even when the massacre was undone with a quick wish into dream: "I think I have explained before that business men do not like it to be known that they have been dreaming in business hours. Especially mad dreams including such dreadful things as hungry people getting dinners, and the destruction of the Stock Exchange." As an adult reader, I get that the intended target of Nesbit's satire was capitalism; I just wish she'd had the kind of first readers or editors who could have told her it works better if you don't drag Yiddishkeit into it. She didn't and I didn't re-read it for years. But then I was thinking about C. S. Lewis and the ancient Near East and the inevitable convergence of these two subjects is The Story of the Amulet, so I decided to give it another try.

I don't think it holds up for me. I feel bad about it. By all rights it's the Nesbit I should have loved best, with the time travel and the magical ancient world; a plot summary sounds like solid gold. With their father on assignment in Manchuria and their mother recuperating from illness in Madeira with their baby brother the Lamb, the four older children of Five Children and It (1902) and The Phœnix and the Carpet (1904) are staying with their old nurse at her house in Fitzrovia when they unexpectedly have to rescue their old acquaintance the Psammead from a sketchy pet shop; since he can no longer grant them wishes, in thanks he points them toward a charm in a similarly sketchy curio shop which he promises "can give you your heart's desire." It turns out to be half of an ancient Egyptian amulet with "the power to take you anywhere you like to look for the other half," with which it must be reunited before it can work its wonders. Guided by the divine voice which speaks through the Amulet and the cranky advice of the Psammead, Robert, Anthea, Cyril, and Jane careen through time in search of the missing portion of the charm, in the process learning a lot about the civilizations around the ancient Mediterranean and facilitating the perfect union of two imperfect souls. There are some stunningly numinous scenes and an intriguing undercurrent of mysticism that comes out at the climax. But even without the random jags of casual British anti-Semitism,1 too much of the book reads to me as a sort of Edwardian whimsy of the ancient world, and I don't think it was meant to.

The scholarship is not the problem. As far as I can tell, Nesbit wrote the book because she fell in love with the ancient Near East and possibly a little with E. A. Wallis Budge of the British Museum, who provided her with accurate hieroglyphics and translations and historically attested names; I think she really did her research. Some of it has since been superseded by new evidence or less Orientalist/racist interpretations,2 but in terms of material culture her ancient settings are terrifically described. There is a well-woven element of social critique to the narrative, as the flaws or virtues of past civilizations show up comparable or contrasting failings in contemporary English culture—some of them extremely scathing, as when the Queen of Babylon observes that giving the vote to the lower classes is a brilliant way of maintaining the status quo while promoting the illusion of choice. The trip forward in time to a Wellsian utopia reads as didactically as Wells' own The Shape of Things to Come (1933), but in terms of the quest it's a reasonable consequence of the children wondering if they can just find out from their future selves how they did it; their succeeding visit to the nearer future actually does set up a time loop, since a piece of information they learn there furthers the climactic recovery of the unbroken Amulet. And I am interested in all the ancient places Nesbit has the children visit—Babylon, Tyre, Iron Age Britain, Predynastic Egypt; Atlantis, why not, it's the past counterpart to the future utopia. But they're not strange enough to be themselves. Part of it is the tone, I think. Some of the episodes are obviously tongue-in-cheek, as when the children's attempts to put Julius Caesar off the invasion of Britain instead intrigue him so much that he decides to conquer the island after all ("if only to find out what Britain is really like") or their twopenny bribery of an Egyptian guard leads to the invention of coinage in Late Dynastic Egypt. "You will not believe this, I daresay," Nesbit allows, "but really, if you believe the rest of this story, I don't see why you shouldn't believe this as well." But even some of the dramatic chapters scramble their ratio of Elfland to Poughkeepsie in ways I find difficult to read. The writing of the scene in which the captain and crew of a Phoenician merchantman decide to wreck their ship rather than betray the secret location of the Tin Islands suggests that the reader should view them romantically: "the brave gentlemen-adventurers who went to their death singing, for the sake of the city they loved." What they are singing as they row for the rocks is "Tyre, Tyre for ever! It's Tyre that rules the waves!" at which point my disbelief collapses because I can't stop my brain from trying to make that scan to "Rule, Britannia!" It should go without saying that almost nobody in Nesbit's ancient world sounds like they actually hail from it. That's not necessarily a bug, if what you're talking about is register or idiom or style. Mary Gentle's Ash: A Secret History (2000) famously has fifteenth-century Burgundian mercenaries and Carthaginian legionaries using modern profanity; the classical Athenian narrator of Tom Holt's Goatsong (1989) sounds like the guy who just sat down beside you in the pub. They can get away with it because their characters' habits of mind are not modern: however much they sound like the present, they think like the past. Almost none of Nesbit's historical characters do. They're very English, or they're not-English in the expected ways. She gets the best contrast with the Queen of Babylon, who sounds like a flirty, gossipy society lady but behaves with imperious carelessness toward any of the social norms or moral codes of her twentieth-century visitors and the England they come from; elsewhere the effect is cozy. It cuts down on the reality of the past. It's fancy dress rather than the alien up close.

I find this especially frustrating because Nesbit can do strange. It's the reason I love The Enchanted Castle (1907) so much. The numinous in The Story of the Amulet is magnificent when she lets it out to play. For this was not like the things that had happened in the country when the Psammead had given them their wishes. That had been funny somehow, and this was not. It was something like Arabian Nights magic, and something like being in church. No one cared to speak. ) It's beautiful, powerful stuff, but first there's the rest of the book.

I'm not sure what conclusion to draw. I understand that most authors cannot sustain an entire novel at a pitch of theophany; I don't even expect it from most books. I am capable of enjoying many forms of art which have been visited by the sexism, racism, or sometimes just plain whatthehell fairy. Some people whose tastes I trust rate The Story of the Amulet pretty highly and I believe its general reputation is the same. I may just not be its target audience after all: I appreciate more of this book in the abstract than in the actuality. I finished it and I re-read the three Roman stories from Kipling's Puck of Pook's Hill (1906) and the two American ones from Rewards and Fairies (1910). C. S. Lewis may have ripped off the Queen in London for The Magician's Nephew (1955), but I like the version with Jadis better. I like Jimmy and Rekh-Marā and the power behind the Amulet and Nisroch. Maybe I'd like the rest of the book better if so much of the narration were not Nesbit talking to the reader, because she keeps saying things like "in all their adventures the muddle-headed inventions which we call foreign languages never bothered [the children] in the least." At least she didn't take them to Carthage.

1. In a book about the splendor and interest of the ancient Near East, too. You want to know who else did that? Nazi Assyriologists! Never do things like a Nazi Assyriologist! Okay, if you want to memorize train schedules like Wolfram von Soden when he ran out of Akkadian vocabulary and morphology, that's cool. Also the thing where his contributions to our understanding of the language are incalculable and still influential today, nice work if you can get it. But he also wrote a fairly infamous paper in 1937 claiming that the epic of Tukulti-Ninurta proved an Indo-Aryan strain in the Assyrians because a Semitic culture could never have come up with something so creative and powerful on its own, so I think my advice generally stands. To be scrupulously, historically fair to von Soden, he was never a card-carrying Nazi: he just belonged to the SA. I just think that at the point where you pull a How to Suppress Women's Writing on the collective Semitic capacity for art, you kind of get your Parteibuch anyway.

2. Seriously, what is with the original inhabitants of Predynastic Egypt being fair-haired and fair-skinned and helplessly overrun by "cruel, dark big-nosed" conquerors who remind the children of "Mr. Jacob Absalom, who had sold them the charm in the shop near Charing Cross"? Did we miss the memo about Nazi Assyriologists?

3. The name on the Amulet is Ur Hekau Setcheh; it is not entirely clear that it is the name of the presence that works wonders through the Amulet, which "can make the corn grow, and the waters flow, and the trees bear fruit, and the little new beautiful babies come . . . can keep off all the things that make people unhappy—jealousy, bad temper, pride, disagreeableness, greediness, selfishness, laziness . . . can give you strength and courage . . . can give you your heart's desire" and speaks in "the sweetest and most terrible voice in the world," likened by Nesbit to "nightingales, and the sea, and the fiddle, and the voice of your mother when you have been a long time away, and she meets you at the door when you get home." If you asked me which of the major Egyptian gods that sounds like, I'd say Hathor first and Isis a close second and the distinction may have been immaterial to Nesbit considering how closely the two were associated/syncretized in later Egyptian religion (and the prominence of Isis in the esotericism of Nesbit's time). If so, I don't think I'm going out on a limb to notice that the children's quest is to restore something that was broken and lost and scattered, or that the "beautiful, terrible voice" performs a similar act of magical union—with souls rather than pieces of jasper or carnelian—through the Amulet once it is healed. It manifests in a green radiance that looks at first "like glow-worms' lamps" and becomes "the light that no man may look on and live . . . a glory and splendour and sweetness unspeakable." You see why this book frustrates me?

4. I believe the name is now rendered as Rekhmire, since Egyptian hieroglyphs, like their Semitic abjad neighbors, generally believed written vowels were for weenies. (Check out the different English renderings of Akhenaten's name sometime. That one's so well-known, it's a plot point in an Amelia Peabody mystery.) I can't tell if Nesbit's character is meant as a riff on the historical person or not.

5. While we're speaking of precedents: when Jimmy reflexively swears "By Jove," Rekh-Marā just as automatically cautions him, "Call not upon the gods . . . lest ye raise greater ones than ye can control." That sounds to me quite a lot like The Case of Charles Dexter Ward (1927)'s "I say to you againe, doe not call up Any that you cannot put downe." Is there a really obvious antecedent for both (other than, I suppose, common sense), or should I contemplate the unlikely prospect of H. P. Lovecraft reading E. Nesbit?
james_davis_nicoll: (Default)

In 2015 author Robert Godwin revealed the story of William Leitch an almost unknown Scottish/Canadian scientist who in 1861 suggested that rockets could be used for spaceflight because they obeyed Newtonian principles.

In William Leitch Presbyterian Scientist and the Concept of Rocket Spaceflight 1854-64 Godwin reveals the life of this brilliant mind from the early Victorian era. In September 1861 Leitch wrote an essay called "A Journey Through Space" in which he proposed the idea that a rocket would be the most efficient way to travel outside the Earth's atmosphere. His idea would be forgotten and not be "rediscovered" by science for another three decades
james_davis_nicoll: (Default)

11 September 1916 118th Battalion, Presentation of the Colours, Victoria Park, Kitchener. Photographer unknown, possibly Gordon Eby (1890-1965) (Der).

Boys and Girls
22 September 2016 12:44 - an update on the title giveaway
swan_tower: (*writing)

I maaaaaaaaaaaaay have a title for the thing mentioned here.

(Par for my brain’s course: it isn’t anything anybody suggested to me. But getting suggestions kicked me out of the ruts I was stuck in.)

However! This does not mean you should stop sending me ideas. a) I haven’t formally committed to anything yet, so I can still change my mind, b) it’s fascinating to see what people suggest, and c) I’ll still be giving away a signed copy of Cold-Forged Flame to one person who’s contributed title possibilities. So keep ’em coming!

Originally published at Swan Tower. You can comment here or there.

pantryslut: (Default)
Thanks to an editorial reorganization, this turns out to be my last Earworm Weekly column.


If I'd known, I would have written one on Earth, Wind and Fire's "September." The 21st of September being the last day the column appeared and all (and the day I learned the news). But so it goes.

This week I am reading "We Gon' Be Alright: Notes on Race and Representation" by Jeff Chang. It's a hard book to summarize, so go ahead and just read this Kirkus Review (starred!) and that will give you a good sense of it.
22 September 2016 14:24 - [hxx] [crackfic] Bring On the Dice
yhlee: icosahedron (d20) (d20 (credit: bag_fu on LJ))
And now for something completely different, COMPLETELY NON-CANON hexarchate crackfic.

Fun fact: The original draft of Ninefox Gambit featured Jedao torturing geese. IT WAS TERRIBLE I REPENT I'M SORRY but it did mean that we had a household excuse for roast goose for a few Thanksgivings. (For reference, the draft I handed in to my agent was the sixth.)


"No," Cheris said for the fourth time. She was sitting in a room with Jedao, which was the problem right there. Surely Jedao had to respect lucky unlucky four? For her sake if nothing else? "You would make the world's worst gamemaster."

Jedao was sorting all his dice by color, then shape, then size. "I'm an excellent GM," he said. "If my best friend at Shuos Academy were still alive, he'd vouch for me. And anyway, why not take the empirical approach? Try me."

"It's against my religion to let Shuos chessmasters be the GM," Cheris said. It was almost true. Her mother's people didn't approve of the Shuos, period. Or any of the hexarchate's factions, come to that.

"You can be the GM," Jedao said. He was looking at her earnestly, always a bad sign. "Can I play a paladin?"

"I don't think you can pull off lawful stupid," Cheris said crushingly.

Before Jedao could make a retort, Nirai Kujen came through the doorway, carrying his own velvet bag of dice. He was dressed in a beautiful dark suit that probably cost as much as a bannermoth, and rings glittered on his fingers. He was also smiling: he had a heartbreaking smile, but its cruel edge didn't escape Cheris's notice.

Kujen tossed his dice bag on the table, spoiling Jedao's carefully sorted piles of six-sided dice, then sauntered over behind Jedao's chair. Jedao's expression was politely unrevealing. "You're in luck," Kujen said brightly. "I'll be the GM."

"You don't even have the rulebooks," Jedao said without turning around.

Kujen scoffed. "Perfect recall, remember? I paged through your copies while you were tied up with some boring tactical thing." Casually, he began massaging Jedao's shoulders.

"Do you want me to get rid of him?" Cheris said to Jedao. "I'm not the one stupid enough to chat with a sociopath in my free time, so I have no problems dragging him out by the scruff of his neck." Sometimes it was good to be a Kel.

"I'd like to point out that you cooperated with Jedao, who has sociopathic tendencies himself, to a much greater tendency than your orders required," Kujen said.

"I'm a reformed sociopath," Jedao said, "as of the third draft. For your information."

"Villain decay is a sad, sad thing," Kujen said. "Really, who cares about a few geese? Especially since geese are delicious."

"If you keep talking about torturing geese," Jedao said, "she's not going to let you be the GM, either."

Kujen's hands paused. "Why are you letting a low officer tell you what to do, anyway?"

"I thought it would be an interesting exercise to follow someone with a working moral compass," Jedao said. "Not that you have any idea what I'm talking about."

Kujen's left hand drifted fractionally lower. Jedao was very still. "I'd like to point out," Kujen said sweetly, "that I've been alive longer than you have and you've killed a hell of a lot more people. I'd give you the numbers, but I understand math isn't your strong suit."

"All right," Cheris said, standing up, "that's enough."

"I haven't said anything that isn't true."

"Oh, leave him alone," Jedao said. "Maybe he'll run a scenario where we get to beat up bad guys, and they'll get totally slaughtered because in 400 years I've never gotten him to understand small-unit tactics."

Kujen rolled his eyes. "For pity's sake, Jedao, what's the point in RP if you use it to do the exact same thing you already do for a living?"

"I hate to agree with him," Cheris said, "but he has a point. I was hoping for vampires, personally."

That got Jedao's attention. "You what?"

"And romance," Cheris said, partly to see Jedao twitch, but partly because she thought it would be fun. "Especially if there will be sex with pretty vampiresses in moonlit bedrooms. Are you good at talking dirty, Kujen?"

Jedao had his head in his hands and didn't seem to notice, or care, that Kujen was stroking his hair. "Someone please shoot me," he said.

"You always say that," Kujen said, "so you shouldn't be surprised no one takes you seriously anymore. And by the way, I do the best vampiresses ever."

"Excellent," Cheris said. "Jedao, you're not going to leave a poor, defenseless Kel in a one-on-one RP session with a sociopathic scientist, are you? You have to play, too." Since they were stuck with Kujen anyway, she might as well get some use out of him.

"I hate you both," Jedao said.

[cross-post: Patreon]
sovay: (Cho Hakkai: intelligence)
Happy autumn. I just read that DNA evidence affirms that Indigenous Australians are the most ancient continuous civilization on Earth. I find it equally wonderful that in the same way that all humans of non-African descent contain some percentage of Neanderthal DNA, all humans of Indigenous Australian descent contain about 4% genetic admixture from "an unknown archaic population . . . that is closer to Denisovans but also sharing a common ancestor with Neanderthals," i.e., people on this planet we didn't even know about. On being told this last fact, my mother said promptly that she expected it was the gods. I don't know if the deities of Australian myth are the kind that have children, but I like that she thinks of this sort of thing first.
22 September 2016 11:03 - There She Goes
ceciliatan: (darons guitar)

Mirrored from the latest entry in Daron's Guitar Chronicles.

I made it up to Artie’s office for a mid-afternoon meeting, and walking up to the building I was reminded of a time he took me out for a beer. It felt like a long time ago. The day Ziggy had told me about the deal with the devil. I wondered if I would have turned Artie’s invitation down if I had been trying not to drink? And would that have been a mistake? Figuring out how alcohol consumption and my career prospects fit together was a puzzle I’d have to work on another day, though. Today had other challenges.

Read the rest of this entry » )
james_davis_nicoll: (Default)
Say, a convenient example of cultural appropriation.

Poorly done cultural appropriation, at that. Those particular "difficult" positions look quite doable, given a block and tackle and/or duct tape. Might want to stretch first. And be more fit than me[1].

Pretty sure the term "London Bridge" is nowhere to be found in the Burton translation. Or the original.

Party game! But I don't need those any more. At least it's less likely to end in injury than Blind Man's Darts or the William Tell game.

1: if we're going to call things I cannot personally do impossible, then impossible things include "sprinting", and "seeing objects to the left."
22 September 2016 01:30 - Lisez-vous dragons en français?
swan_tower: (natural history)

Le tropique des serpents!

Cover for the French translation of The Tropic of Serpents

That’s right, the second book of the Memoirs of Lady Trent is out now in French! Merci beaucoup to Sylvie Denis, my translator, for all her splendid work, and to my publisher L’Atalante.

Originally published at Swan Tower. You can comment here or there.

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