"My arms aren't that
sore, I can totally go to the gym and work with a new personal trainer," I said on Monday.
"Ow, ow ow
ow," I said on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday.( Arms blah )
Other than my perennially cranky limbs, my health's been very good. I've been moving around enough to keep my knees happy. I don't remember the last time anyone in the house had so much as a cold. My ears are being very well behaved. I have a weird ongoing thing where it sometimes feels like food is caught in my throat, but my ENT checked it out and says it's just congestion.
I finally went to a decent allergist (after years of thinking I should) and learned that I'm allergic to roaches and dust mites; we don't have roaches but we do have a lot of dust, given all the books and all the cats, so I guess that's a good reason to change my sheets weekly, have the sainted Angela over to clean the house monthly, and maybe get an air purifier for my room. I could also get allergy shots but there's no guarantee they'll help, I hate injections, and it just seems like more than I can emotionally cope with right now. Ask me again when I've slept.
Still not caught up on sleep post-RWA. Hoping to fix that this week.
=====( Being good partners )
J went out of town for a week. Every day he was gone, Alex got more and more vocal and unhappy and lonely and affectionate. When he came back Alex glued himself to J and would not leave his side until J went to bed and shut the door. Then Alex plunked down sadly outside J's room, looking woefully at me every time I walked by. Apparently he has decided that he's J's cat. J wasn't consulted about this but doesn't appear to be displeased. He still gets to pick our next cat. :)
The cats are generally getting along very well. There's still occasional chasing and swatting and hissing, but you know, they're cats. Sam and Sophie generally hang out on X's bed all day, grudgingly managing to get within a foot or two of each other. Alex sleeps in my room at night, up on top of the dresser; Sam sleeps on my bed or windowsill.
We still have no idea how they'll all react to the appearance of a baby. We'll figure that out when it happens, I guess.
=====( Baby prep )
And because I totally needed a new side gig while all this is going on:
Introducing Reading While Cooking
and I are collaborating on this literary and culinary advice column. Submit a request with your preferences and restrictions, and we'll recommend books and recipes for you. The first post went up today
and we plan to do at least one a month, maybe more.
We're very grateful to the people who have put requests in our queue, since we couldn't really do an advice column without people who want advice. If you want some tasty things to read and eat, send us a request
It's the first time I've tried using Patreon; so far we have one backer who's pledging a whole $2 per post. :) But it's a start. If we're not profitable by the end of the year, we'll probably consider the project a glorious failed experiment--as so many books and recipes are--and move on to something else. In the meantime, we're having fun.
- thinking about:
behavior.being useful, behavior.love, behavior.planning, body.allergies, body.arms, body.exercise, body.hands, body.health, body.pain, body.sleep, body.strength, experiences.annoyances, experiences.marriage, experiences.work.freelance, food, food.cooking, people.cats, people.futurekid, people.josh, people.xtina, places.home, projects, projects.reading while cooking, stuff.books, stuff.tech
I mentioned this a few days ago over in the book of faces, but since I don't ever cross the streams, I'll mention it here too so those who don't follow that datastream will know.
On July 29th, 2015, the 57th anniversary of NASA's creation, I set in motion the process for my retirement from the NASA community. I'll be turning in my badge and heading off into the sunset on September 30th.
So at the end of June I began my introduction to Sam Peckinpah with Ride the High Country
(1962) and this month I've continued the project with The Wild Bunch
(1969), Straw Dogs
(1971), and The Getaway
(1972) and I am returning to the Somerville
this Wednesday for Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia
(1974) because I really want to know what kind of movie belongs to that title, but I am not talking about any of these movies tonight because I don't have the time. I am sleeping very little and I miss the sea so much that I'm reading and listening to maritime things to make myself feel better. Hence Miranda
I don't know what it was about 1948 that produced two mermaid movies within four months of each other, but you can find them on either side of the Atlantic: Mr. Peabody and the Mermaid
in the U.S. and Miranda
in the UK. Both feature married men whose fishing vacations entangle them with alluring mermaids and suspicious wives, although my memories of the American film suggest that the similarities end there: Ann Blyth's wordless, childlike Lenore is a figure of fantasy in William Powell's midlife crisis, while Glynis Johns as the eponymous Miranda is quite real, outspoken, and decidedly adult. She is a magnificent siren. None of the men in the story stand a chance. Viewers of various genders may feel likewise.
The premise of the film is straightforward: on a fishing holiday in Cornwall, good-looking doctor Paul Martin (Griffith Jones) finds himself the catch instead, pulled overboard into the cave of a mermaid who agrees to let him return to London only if he brings her with him. He disguises her as a wealthy young invalid and installs her in his apartment, explaining away the eccentricities of her behavior and her diet with the necessities of an invented rest cure, but his wife Clare (Googie Withers) is no fool; she doesn't make the leap from metaphorical to literal siren at once, but eventually somebody's going to notice that the ornamental fish are disappearing from the aquarium in the parlor while every heterosexual male within earshot of Miranda falls all over himself to attract her attention. The casual mix of folklore and light comedy is one of the film's delights. We learn quite early on that Miranda's last name is Trewella; half a movie later, it's offhandedly confirmed that her great-grandmother was the Mermaid of Zennor
. She's always cool to the touch. She sleeps in a cold salted bath with seaweed for comfort and shells she brought from her native waters. Taken to the zoo for the day, she steals a fish meant for the seal exhibit—the last silvery edge of tail disappearing into Miranda's mouth is a worthy forerunner of Madison biting through the back of the lobster in Splash
(1984)—and exchanges a volley of barky insults with the offended pinniped; she delights a cockle vendor by standing the crowd a round of bivalves and then singlehandedly cleaning him out, leaving nothing but a litter of shells. The tail effects are sparing but effective. Out of the water, her fins are always restlessly flickering, curling with contentment in a curious catlike motion; swimming, she has the dolphin-backed curve of a dive down cold; underwater, she moves with an easy sleek ripple and the floating clouds of her hair hide the details of her nudity, not the fact of it. Equally refreshing is her frank nonhumanness, which is not the same thing as naïveté. In her sea-cave in Cornwall, she reads water-wrinkled issues of Vogue
and theater magazines that she's stolen from boats and beaches; her trip to London is full of wonders, but she wants more than anything to see an opera at Covent Garden, where the people might sing almost as well as mermaids. She doesn't have the longing of Andersen's mermaid for the land, but she plans to enjoy it while she has the chance.
And otherwise the film behaves very much like a bedroom farce where three men are interested in the same woman and three women have their suspicions without being able to prove anything and the woman at the center of the controversy is cheerfully and unconcernedly sincere in her desire for all three of her lovers, because why shouldn't she be? Paul was the first man she caught and kept, but lovestruck chauffeur Charles (David Tomlinson) blushes so endearingly when Miranda purrs over the size of his ears, while bohemian artist Nigel (John McCallum) irresistibly insists on painting her. The question is which one she'll choose to give her what she wants: a child fathered by the land. True to the folklore of merrows, Miranda finds sea-men unappealing and is set on netting a more handsome mate. Not that any of them imagine that she wants them for so practical and disposable a purpose, of course. Like a spell, she asks them to repeat her name and they fall into her sea-cold arms, murmuring, Miranda, Miranda
; they preen like bowerbirds for the right to carry her around in their arms instead of pushing her properly in her bath-chair; each of them fancies himself the only man remarkable enough to attract the attention of such an enchanting creature as Miss Trewella. I appreciate, though, that none of her enchantment is coyness or conventional flirtation; she doesn't need it. Humans are the ones who tangle themselves up with morality and modesty and awkward, indirect, counterproductive courting behaviors. Miranda's approaches are direct and bracing as the slap of a wave and Johns' rough cat's tongue of a voice makes her immediately persuasive without falling back on coquetry. I know less about the British Board of Film Censors than about the Motion Picture Production Code, but I'm fairly certainly the film's ending wouldn't have passed in this country. Good for Miranda
Having imprinted on Splash
as a very young child, I am always looking for good mermaid movies; this is one. Peter Blackmore adapted the script from his own stage play and I keep meaning to track the original down and read it. (He also authored a much later sequel called Mad About Men
(1954), but all signs point to it not being as good, so I've decided I don't need to see it.) I should mention before I try to pass out for the night that if you have fond memories of David Lean's Blithe Spirit
(1945), the redoubtable Margaret Rutherford very nearly co-stars here as Nurse Carey, who is overjoyed to discover that her new charge is a real mermaid; she and Miranda bond instantly and I would have cheerfully watched the two of them take in the sights of London from a sea-slanted perspective for another hour. Oh, and if you like fish, don't watch this movie without some on hand. At least, 80 minutes of a character who eats nothing but raw oysters and fish sandwiches and seaweed made me want sushi like nothing on earth. This seaside excursion sponsored by my sympathetic backers at Patreon
Fig and Ibid think hot weather is the best. And I think they have some means of drawing energy directly out of the ambient atmosphere. A process that involves jumping on me from the top of the book shelf, and clawing at me to get me to play. Or as it turns out, gently push them off the edge of the bed.
(Also, they wanted me to know they ran out of dry food just after all the stores closed. They don't actually like dry food but they didn't like not having the option to eat it....)
There's a certain chance they will be locked out of the bedroom tonight so I can get eight hours sleep.
All right: this review is overdue by nearly two weeks and I have only slept less since then, but I'm running out of July and skygiants
has assured me that so long as my writeup says something more coherent than "HOOKS FOR HANDS!!
" I'll be all right. I can guarantee that. Unlike the novel unfairly referenced above, William Wyler's The Best Years of Our Lives
(1946) was terrific.
I must credit Mark Harris' Five Came Back: A Story of Hollywood and the Seond World War
(2014) for getting me interested in William Wyler. Prior to this spring, I could have told you that I'd seen about half a dozen of his movies and liked several of them, but I didn't know a thing about him personally except that his original choice for Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights
(1939) was Robert Newton and I thought that showed good taste. He was Jewish, a Swiss citizen from then-German Alsace-Lorraine; he came to Hollywood as a distant cousin of Carl Laemmle and quickly worked his way up from stage hand to Universal's youngest director, where his painstaking directing style got him nicknamed either "Forty-" or "Fifty-Take Wyler" depending on which actor you asked and how recently they'd worked with him; I was charmed to learn that for years he commuted to work on a motorcycle. Of the five directors whom Harris tracks through the war, Wyler was the only Jew; the only one with family in danger in Europe.1
He enlisted with the Signal Corps eleven days after Pearl Harbor, thirty-nine years old and a married father of two. In order to get the footage for the film that later became The Memphis Belle: A Story of a Flying Fortress
(1944), he flew five missions over Germany and occupied France with different B-17 crews of the 91st Bomb Group, including two after he was formally grounded. He shot 16-millimeter footage through the ball turret of the Memphis Belle
, a crazy stunt even by the standards of combat pilots. He blacked out once aboard the Our Gang
while concentrating so intently on getting good aerial shots that he failed to notice until after the fact that he'd disconnected his oxygen. While in uniform, he punched out an anti-Semitic doorman and accepted an official reprimand rather than lose time defending himself in a court-martial. And most pertinently to this story, following the documentary realist success of The Memphis Belle
, Wyler reviewed the unmanned camera footage taken from the P-47 Thunderbolts that were the subject of his next project and agreed with his co-director John Sturges that none of it was usable, even as "atmosphere shots." Just as he had done with the Memphis Belle
and the other B-17s, he took a camera—a 35-millimeter Eyemo this time—aboard a low-flying B-25 and shot footage of the coast of Italy through the open windows of the plane. And he lost his hearing. He was permanently grounded. He was discharged from military service at once. His career as a filmmaker for the War Department was over; what he didn't know was whether, as a deaf director, he could ever make films for anyone
The happy ending of this story is that, as shattered, disoriented, and despairing as Wyler was when he returned to the U.S. in 1945, his career was not over. He never regained more than a fraction of the hearing in his left ear; for the rest of his life, he would listen to scenes as they were filmed through a feed from the on-set microphones. But if classics like The Heiress
(1949), Roman Holiday
(1959), and The Collector
(1965) are anything to judge by, it worked out all right. And all of this means that what we have in The Best Years of Our Lives
—Wyler's first post-war film—is something extraordinary for its time: a commercial Hollywood A-picture made by a disabled veteran with combat experience. I wanted to see it at once.2
We were still worried going in. Despite its instant-classic reputation for handling themes of healing, disability, and disillusionment with sensitivity and restraint, by modern standards the film could still have come off as maudlin, simplistic, or condescending. 1946 was a prime Production Code year. We weren't sure how much realism either Wyler or his screenwriter Robert E. Sherwood3
would have been able to put onscreen. Instead, even if the middle-aged couple thoroughly enjoying an active sex life after twenty years of marriage are still shown sleeping in separate beds and the isolationist who gets punched in the face in a satisfying echo of Wyler's doorman dust-up spouts only veiled racism about "a bunch of radicals in Washington," the film is surprisingly even-handed about the chances of its three protagonists, which means that is neither unrelentingly downbeat nor breezily dismissive of the difficulties all three face in their strange new postwar existence, trying to reintegrate into peacetime society with their different experiences and their different kinds of damage.
Those differences are a major factor in the film's realism. There's no such thing as a normative war narrative in The Best Years of Our Lives
—if anything, civilian expectations of war experience are consistently, sometimes uncomfortably refuted. Fictional Boone City may be a Midwestern Anytown, but none of the protagonists is standing in for the "typical" soldier. Army Air Forces Captain Fred Derry (Dana Andrews) was a soda jerk before the war; he's returning a decorated bombadier with recurring nightmares and a glamorous wife he knew for barely a month before going overseas. His father and stepmother are affectionate and supportive and live in a two-room tenement behind a railyard. None of his medals translate into a marketable skill set. His nightclub-going wife married a dashing flyboy with a four-hundred-dollar paycheck and doesn't know what to do with an uncertain, unemployed civilian in a secondhand suit. By contrast, Army Sergeant Al Johnson (Fredric March) comes home to the American dream of a loving wife and two children and the "nice fat job at a nice fat bank" that earned them a swanky apartment, but his children are grown and strange to him and there's a sting in the tail of the promotion he can't refuse—as an authentic veteran in charge of loans to ex-servicemen, Al is effectively the bank's plausible deniability for all the requests he's expected to turn down. Domesticity makes him so twitchy that on his first night home, he drags his wife and daughter on a bar crawl that finishes in blackout. No matter where he is, he drinks too much. And Seabee Homer Parrish (non-actor Harold Russell) is missing both of his hands. He served in the South Pacific and never saw any of the islands he's asked about, always being belowdecks: "When we were sunk, all I know is there was a lot of fire and explosions." He's dexterous with his prostheses—a pair of steel split hooks—and he has a quick deflection for every one of the well-intentioned, cringeworthy remarks with which able-bodied strangers try to cover their shock, but his parents' efforts at acceptance only read to him as pity and he can't believe that his childhood sweetheart-next-door finds his new, disabled state anything but repulsive.
You could make a melodrama out of these elements. The Best Years of Our Lives
doesn't. It's the film's other strength. ( Other things may have changed, but that hasn't. )
There are no quick fixes in The Best Years of Our Lives
. The film admits plainly that some things cannot be fixed at all: so you go on with what you've got, even when that's yourself. Sometimes love helps and sometimes it doesn't. Sometimes nothing helps except
going on. That's a degree of nuance and maturity I did not expect from a film from 1946, which I think means only that I underestimated William Wyler. Oh, God, it's dawn again. I haven't even mentioned how much I love Gregg Toland's deep-focus cinematography. This divagation sponsored by my considerate backers at Patreon
1. Wyler's parents were already in the U.S.; they had followed their son to Hollywood in the '20's. Starting as early as 1936, he tried to get other relatives out: sent money, negotiated endlessly with the State Department to sponsor their emigration. In 1945, he returned for the first time in more than twenty years to his newly liberated birthplace of Mülhausen/Mulhouse. His family and childhood friends were nowhere to be found. He never found them, or what had happened to them, beyond the obvious. The Jews of Mulhouse were gone.
2. I am eliding most of the story of how I ended up at Skygiants' house two Fridays ago with two DVDs of The Best Years of Our Lives, although I remain amused that the library sent me home with both of their apparently identical copies because one of them might be scratched and the librarian wasn't sure which. In fact, we got halfway through the first copy and the disc seized up. We watched the rest of the movie on the other copy.
3. Sherwood was working from MacKinlay Kantor's blank-verse novel Glory for Me (1945), which I have not read; Harris details some of the differences in Five Came Back. I don't think I disagree with Wyler's belief that a spastic character would have been unplayable by a non-disabled actor. Once he rewrote the part for a double amputee, he insisted on finding a disabled actor to play it.
4. Homer's uncle Butch is played by Hoagy Carmichael and he is marvelous, a lanky, laid-back pianist-cum-publican who teaches his nephew to play the piano in a scene I will not spoil and reasures him with the long view: "Your folks'll get used to you and you'll get used to them. Then everything will settle down nicely—unless we have another war. Then none of us have to worry because we'll all be blown to bits on the first day. So cheer up!" And after that I had Tom Lehrer stuck in my head.
The longer I go without making an entry, the harder it becomes to summarize all the huge things that have gone on since the last time I made an entry, and therefore the longer I go without making an entry. I should probably just nip this vicious circle in the bud.
So, in no particular order:
-- A thing that has been making me happy for a few days: ♥ ♥ ♥ NO BOSTON OLYMPICS ♥ ♥ ♥
Seriously, the entire concept of having the Olympics here was, as I have been saying to people for months, literally the single worst idea I've heard this year, but I was pretty convinced it was going to happen anyway, because that is how things have generally worked with huge sporting events and their placement committees and city governments and protesting populace in recent years. Fortunately, the Boston Mayor decided that the city government here would actually listen to the protests, a revolutionary step that should be taken more often. Every time I go downtown for, oh, probably the next few years I am going to remember and be thankful that it isn't all being torn down and relocated for shit we don't need or want.
-- I got a second nose ring. It is on the same side as the first, and about an eighth of an inch behind it. My body modification policy is that I won't get anything that I don't solidly want, i.e. the same exact thing in the same exact location, for a full calendar year, but this idea has been kicking around in my head since I got the first nose ring fifteen years ago. Before I went off to college in Philly, I'd only ever seen pictures of people who had single nose rings or studs, let alone having met anybody in real life who had even one, but the person who did my first ring had two studs on the same side and it looked absolutely amazing on her. Every so often while looking in the mirror over the years I'd hold up a second ring, and it usually passed the other test-- do I look more like my internal mental image of myself with this item than without it-- but it's only recently it passed the full-year marker.
Went to Brian Moeller
at the Boston Tattoo Company in Davis Square, and it was a lovely experience. I walked in off the street and they were friendly and polite and charged a reasonable amount and gave me exactly and precisely what I wanted. It's healing up nicely, and, as I remembered from the first one, really isn't all that unpleasant during the healing process (certainly nowhere near as bad as a tattoo).
The amusing thing is that (and I had this some with the first ring but nowhere near as thoroughly) people don't notice. I have found it entertaining to have to explain to people that I have a new facial piercing, but that's how it's been going down. Like, B. has been my lover for a decade and I had to tell him about it, and he's a pretty observant guy.
-- Speaking of B., as I said, we've been together for ten years now. The anniversary was back in June, and his anniversary with gaudior
(also the tenth, this year) is a movable feast but usually in late July/early August, so we split the difference and the three of us went to Quebec City for a week's vacation last week. gaudior
and I haven't been traveling much and haven't been traveling out of easy driving distance of our fertility doctors, because we're trying to have a kid and timing is a thing, but it had been ten years since gaudior
took a vacation that wasn't going to see people for conventions or holidays, which is a great vacation but a different sort of vacation, and it was about time.
Quebec City is a wonderful place to spend a week and I recommend it, although you should probably think of it as a hiking holiday. The hills did more of a number on me than the hills of San Francisco ever had, as, even though they theoretically aren't as bad, San Francisco has replaced more of its slopey bits with actual stairways than Quebec City has. After an incline passes a certain point I would honestly rather have stairs than slope, because at least you can sit down on stairs for a while if you need to, and your thigh muscles aren't going 'what
angle are you trying to put your foot at again?' every step. There is a funicular, which helped a lot.
I've never been to London, but the descriptions I'd heard of QC were 'about sixty percent Paris and forty percent London, with French food and American-style plumbing', and the non-London parts of that statement are precisely accurate. The pastry is as good as in France, and we got to introduce B. to maple products (it turns out that if you didn't live in New England and didn't go to state fairs as a kid you may, somehow, be unaware that the maple tree loves us and wants us to be happy), and we had a whole lot of poutine with the kind of cheese curds you can't get around here. This included some cheese curds purchased from a Benedictine monastery near the town of Magog (B. said 'if I see any signs for Gog also, I am turning this car around', which is fair), and those cheese curds were so good that they stood up to sitting in a hot car for some hours and then being put into an American pseudo-poutine in which I made brown gravy and we poured it and the curds over pasta because damn if I was making French fries directly after a long road trip. It was ludicrously delicious. This is not meant to be a real or thorough travel report, but this is a reminder to myself and a note to other people that if the Boutique de l'Abbaye de St-Benoît-du-Lac ever manages to get online shopping together, they sell the best cheese curds I have ever encountered.
The thing I will probably remember about QC longest is that the horse-cabs that go through downtown have a depot just in front of our hotel, and in an attempt to combat the smell all the hotels on that street (it is lined with them) had planted massive, massive beds of lilies. So the street literally smelled of horseshit and lilies, for blocks. Lilies do not cover the smell of horseshit, being in a different part of the odor spectrum, but the mingled smells were pleasantly and peculiarly medieval-feeling in a way I had never expected to encounter.
-- Readercon happened. This is not a con report, either. It was a decent con in that I did all of the programming that I was supposed to be on, and I saw some of the people I wanted to see, but I got sick in the middle and didn't manage to attend after Saturday afternoon, so I didn't see enough of people and didn't get to much programming that wasn't including me. Next year I may well not click the program ticky-box that says that I am willing to moderate, because I think I have moderator-burnout; it takes a certain set of social skills, because I am invested in everyone on the panel having about the same amount of time to talk, and keeping the conversation flowing smoothly, and interrupting anybody who is starting to be a blowhard but without making them feel as though I've shut them up forcibly so they don't escalate, and it's a great deal of work, really, and work that I basically only do in this context. I'm good at it, and I got good feedback about every panel I moderated this Readercon, from random audience members, including about the panel I thought went sufficiently badly that I wince when I think about it, but at this point my principle mental association with cons is exhaustion, so it's time to start doing less work.
Books purchased: American Shore
, Samuel R. Delany, new Wesleyan edition; Archivist Wasp
, Nicole Kornher-Stace, which I have been looking forward to since her short story in Clockwork Phoenix 4
; Faces Under Water
, Tanith Lee, and The Year of the Gryphon
, Diana Wynne Jones, both cheap used like-new hardcovers of things I've been wanting to have around.
-- Also, marriage equality happened! It is not the end of the tunnel, for me or for others, by any means, it is not the entire lifting of the weight, there is a lot of work to do; but it is a lifting, it is a victory, it is a longed-for and much-awaited light. For my family, personally, it is the financial consideration of one of us not having to adopt the children the other might bear, our own children, should we ever want to travel even in our own country with them; it is the sigh of relief on realizing that it would take days instead of hours to drive anywhere that we are legal strangers; it is more certainty that we will never again have to pay the gay-marriage tax, which was the money we paid when we could not file federally as married. It is real financial and emotional and legal gain, for me and for my household and for others that I love, and I saw it coming but could not, of course, be really sure until it happened, and I am delighted that it did.
-- That, of course, is not everything that's been going on in my life the last month or so, not even everything vitally important, but it's enough to be going on with, I think. Whew.
Voting for the Hugo Awards closes tomorrow, July 31, at 11:59 p.m. PDT.
I’d hoped to post additional reviews on the different categories, but I seem to have done the time warp again, and suddenly it’s the end of July. D’oh!
So instead, have a scattering of related thoughts and links.
- Hugo Voting Site. (In case you misplaced the URL.)
- On Voting No Award, by Kevin Standlee. Standlee explains in clear, straightforward terms how voting “No Award” works.
- Dierdre Saoirse Moen’s Sad Puppy-Free Hugo Voting Guide, for anyone looking to know which nominees were part of the puppy slates. While I didn’t vote No Award for 100% of the puppy nominees, I did put the majority of them below No Award.
- At least three of the nominees appear to support voting No Award, even over their own works:
- Williamson’s nominated work “Wisdom From My Internet” was on both the Sad and Rabid Puppies’ slates for Best Related Work, which I found both fascinating and revealing, as it does not appear to be related to SF/F in any way.
My overall impression? The Hugos have not been destroyed. There are some cranky people who want to piss all over things, but what else is new? Despite the shenanigans I think there are some very strong works on the ballot this year. Far fewer than usual, but enough that I remain excited to find out who takes home some rocket trophies. I also expect No Award to make a strong showing this year.
I encourage folks to vote, and to nominate next year, and beyond that, we’ll see what happens.
Mirrored from Jim C. Hines.
It is nauseatingly hot outside. I mean that literally. Running a half-hour errand on foot has made me feel physically sick. I have drunk water, eaten salt, and am sitting in front of a fan. This is not the weather I operate best in.
1. I really wish I were at Bard College
right now. I had heard of Ethel Smyth's The Wreckers
(1906), because the subject matter is germane to my interests and because it kept coming up in discussion of Benjamin Britten's Peter Grimes
(1945), sort of simultaneously as a forerunner of Britten's work and a point against the notion that English opera sat around looking at its fingernails for the couple of centuries between Purcell and Britten; I had heard of Smyth herself because she was a mostly lesbian suffragist as well as a composer and one of the models for Hilda Tablet. I cannot make either of the remaining performances. Anyone who lives in upstate New York and wants to tell me how it worked out, please go!
2. If these poems are representative, I need to read a lot more by Niall Campbell: "The House by the Sea, Eriskay
" and "The Letter Always Arrives at its Destination
3. Courtesy of rose_lemberg
: all available evidence indicates Alyssa's father has been fishing in a hell dimension
Even more than watching an opera about wrecking, I wish I were by the sea. I've been meaning to post this picture
for months: it always looks like a summoning to me. I wish I had an offering that worked as well.
While I'm here at this address, however, I just opened a large package from yhlee
and not only does it contain two year's best anthologies, a complete paperback set of Geraldine Harris' Seven Citadels
(1982–83), and a splendidly cracky-looking manga by the name of MYth: A Promise
(2007–2013), but there is also an assortment of Magic
and Legend of the Five Rings
cards tailored to my interests. I now have an Ancient Carp
! (It's iridescent.) The flavor text makes me associate it unfairly with Leviathan
. Thank you.
The end of the month is when all my cooking magazines arrive in a bunch. So that's what I've been reading this week. I thought that this time around, I'd take a moment to discuss each of them in turn, as we enter the deep twilight of the print magazine's existence. Spoiler: it shows.
For a while, the late, lamented ecookbooks.com was giving away a free subscription to Bon Appetit with every purchase of $50 (iirc) or more. If you were already a subscriber like I was, the free year was just tacked on to the end of your subscription. As a result, I have somewhere around a five to ten year free subscription to the magazine. Which is the only reason I am still reading it today.
A couple years ago Bon Appetit got a new editor, a man, and an accompanying editorial shakeup and redesign. After a couple stumbles (see my post about the cover they did with Gwyneth Paltrow
back in 2011), they settled on a tone and style for the "bold new direction" of the magazine that can basically be boiled down to "Maxim
as food magazine." I am not by any means the first to complain about the bro-ification of this new incarnation. There are no long reads. Every fucking article is a set of disconnected bullet points accompanied by lots of big photos and snazzy graphics and wacky fonts and shit. The content is thin enough to spread on a piece of toast. And the recipes have definitely headed in the direction of attention-grabbing and overly simple at the same time -- the worst of American cooking, all flash and "bold flavors" and show-offishness. This is my least favorite of all the major food magazines and I as soon as my free years expire, I am out of here.
Alas, I have also started to be consistently disappointed by my heretofore-favorite food magazine, Saveur
. It, too, seems to have moved away from long reads a bit, and perhaps a touch toward celebrity chefs, which I could be less interested in but only if I tried. Their "Saveur 100" issue is always great, though.
The best of the lot, these days, would be Food and Wine
except for one thing, which is funny because a few years ago this is the one I was thinking of dropping. Mostly, though, because I have no interest in the "and wine" (and beer, and spirits) part of the magazine -- this is the "one thing" that keeps it from the peak. They are enamoured of celebrity chefs, it's true -- I mean, they're the "Best New Chefs" folks, after all. But their recipes are consistently excellent in terms of flavor and clearly-explained technique. Also, Food and Wine
's articles are more fun to read than anyone else's.
At the top of the pile in terms of pure cooking value is Fine Cooking
, whose articles are 100% practical and down-to-business, but the magazine is always full of good ideas and step-by-step pictorials teaching you not only individual recipes but processes by which you can endlessly vary a type of dish depending on your tastes and the ingredients you have on hand.
And now to change the subject completely:
My long-awaited copy of Sex is a Funny Word
by Cory Silverberg arrived in the mail yesterday and I immediately read it cover to cover because I knew the kids would want to look at it immediately. This is the middle-grade successor to Silverberg's phenomenal What Makes a Baby
, which explained babymaking and birth in inclusive, gender-neutral language. The book that made room for artificial insemination and C-sections for the preschool set. I love What Makes a Baby
to pieces and I cannot recommend it highly enough to everybody.Sex is a Funny Word
is just as good -- although much, much longer. It's got the same artist, Fiona Smyth, and the same bright colors. And it quite thoroughly answers the question "what is sex(y)?" from a variety of perspectives and with a true cultural sensitivity that I just don't often see. It makes space for multiple perspectives and reactions. And, yes, it makes space for alternative sexualities and gender-creative folks, too. And it encourages questions.
As predicted, April grabbed it off her desk and made it about 1/4 through last night.
I think it's so cool, I'm including a buy it here
link (although right now it seems to be out of stock at the publisher) and an image of the cover.
In brief, AMAZING. If it’s playing anywhere near you, run and see it immediately. (It only has about two more days left in the USA.) If not, see it on DVD when it comes out.
This is a difficult movie to review because I don’t want to give too much away. It not only has several surprising plot twists, but also a lot of gorgeous imagery that’s wonderful to see for the first time, when you don’t know it’s coming. So I won’t say much about the plot.Baahubali
is an original historical fantasy that plays out like it was based on an ancient myth. Though it doesn’t have the complexity of character or moral ambiguity or intellectual heft of The Mahabharata
, those epics and other the ancient tales of India clearly inspired its epic scope, archetypal themes, and magical imagery.
Classic tropes from Indian legend – the boon, the rivalry between princes with disastrous consequences, the humble but loving mother who adopts a son with a destiny, the mountain in the clouds, the war formation the enemy doesn’t expect, the woman wronged who demands bloody revenge – all make appearances here, and are given their proper, larger-than-life weight. The hero reminded me of Bhima in personality and physique, but a number of incidents were clearly inspired by the life of Krishna. For instance, the baby held above the waters echoes Vasudeva crossing the flooded Yamuna to hide away the infant Krishna.
The song I linked in the last post is a version of a hymn to Shiva, the Shiva Tandava Stotram, which is attributed to Ravana. I’ll quote some of it because even in translation
(by P. R. Ramachander), you can feel its power and beauty and sensuality. (Remember how magnificent it sounded in Telegu.) That is the sort of ancient writing, still living today, which inspired this movie.
The celestial river agitatedly moving through his matted hair,
Which makes his head shine with those soft waves,
And his forehead shining like a brilliant fire
And the crescent of moon which is an ornament to his head,
Makes my mind love him each and every second.
He, with the shining lustrous gem on the hood
Of the serpent entwining his matted locks,
He, who is with his bride whose face is decorated
By the melting of red saffron kumkum,
And He who wears on his shoulder the hide
Of the elephant which was blind with ferociousness,
Makes my mind happy and contented.
A lot of the movie walks the fine line between magnificence and camp, but even when it’s ridiculous, it’s gloriously ridiculous. This is what you get when you put together an extremely talented director steeped in Indian myth, a brilliant cinematographer determined to tell the story visually so even people who don’t understand the dialogue will love it, and a totally committed cast, and have them all go for broke. Sometimes this results in "Did somebody order a LARGE HAM?”
hamminess. More often, it captures the larger than life spirit of myth.
When a woman reveals her secret plan for revenge, a strong warrior staggers backward from the force of it. A desperate prayer to Shiva is answered with a boon that allows a dying woman to walk underwater. A man whose destiny is to climb the unclimbable mountain falls a thousand feet, only to rise to climb again. A sleeping warrior on a riverbank, her arm dangling in the water, is seduced by a prankster lover who swims through schools of bright fishes to paint a tattoo on her hand. If you ask why he was in the river and where he got a set of underwater paints, you’re missing the point.
A lot of the power of myth is in its lack of naturalism. Events occur and choices are made not because of the realistic motivations of ordinary humans, but because archetypal stories are playing out. If Baahubali
had been more realistic and less theatrical, it wouldn’t be half as magical.
It was the most expensive movie ever made in India, and while the CGI is occasionally a little shaky, it uses its budget to the max. When CGI first came upon the scene, I thought it would be used to create fantastical worlds and creatures – sense of wonder brought to sight. And sometimes it is, but more often it’s used to create big, pointless, repetitive explosions. Baahubali
uses CGI to create beauty and wonder. Just look at the waterfall and the city in the trailer. The entire movie
is like that.
(Plus blood-splattering battle sequences and bull-wrestling. I’m glad they put the disclaimer that no animals were harmed and all animal falls are CGI at the start of the film rather than the end, because otherwise I’d have been concerned.)
Though I’ve emphasized huge! Epic! Grand! In my review, there’s also lots of nice little touches. Many of the characters have marks on their foreheads, like bindi, which helpfully identify them when you’re trying to distinguish Magnificent Warrior Dude # 1 from Magnificent Warrior Dude # 2. (This isn’t usually difficult. They all look quite different, and also have different Magnificent Moustaches. But given my general terrible facial recognition skills, I appreciated it.) The hero has a coiled cobra, the mark of Shiva. A pair of princes are marked with a sun and moon. There’s a complete throwaway bit, lasting maybe five seconds, where a pair of bull-masked dancers butt heads, that is SO COOL. I also enjoyed the funny-on-purpose moments.
My only real criticisms are political rather than artistic. There’s a song/dance number where the hero melts the warrior heroine's icy heart via stylized fighting and pulling off her clothes. It’s clearly meant to be about him breaking her emotional barriers with his sincerity, sensuality, and passion. But, well. Not to mention the unfortunate implications of what was actually intended, where she embraces her femininity and warmth… and then totally forgets how to fight so he can rescue her. And then there’s the attack of the dark-skinned barbarians, with its own set of unfortunate implications.
In a more enjoyable use of traditional gender roles (traditional in India), there is not one! Not two! But THREE awesome middle-aged moms! One is a loving mother raising a son she doesn’t quite understand. One is a total badass who rules a kingdom with cool authority after taking on a regency with a baby in one hand and a bloody dagger in the other. The third initially seems passive, turns out to be anything but, and has one of the best scenes in the entire movie. (For the benefit of my one reader who’s actually seen Baahubali
: a handful of twigs.)
Be warned: Baahubali
ends on a very dramatic TO BE CONTINUED!!! Well, it is subtitled “The Beginning.” But I ate up all three hours and would have happily sat through three more. The first hour, especially, is pure magic. I haven’t felt so transported in a movie theatre since the opening scenes of The Fellowship of the Rings
The Red: First Light by Linda Nagata
And that is my 109th review of a book by a woman this year, which means I can now say I have reviewed more books by women in 2015 than tor.com, Romantic Times (spec fic only), SFX, Strange Horizons, Interzone, io9, F&SF, Vector, Analog, Asimov's, NYRSF, Science Fiction Studies, Foundation, CSZ, and LARB did in 2014.
On track to exceed Locus' numbers in this matter on or around the 7th of August.
Feeling super sad about Bat again now that I'm going home and he won't be there. And then I hit how he was in pain and didn't understand what was wrong, and I didn't know to fix it soon enough.
I will have fun with rushthatspeaks
today and I'll be glad to be home, but right now I'm glad check-out time isn't for another hour so I can cry in my room.
left the house before ten to come get me. I am loved.]
Fable: Blood of Heroes [Amazon | B&N | Indiebound] comes out in exactly one week.
Making life more interesting, Revisionary is due to my editor on Saturday, August 1. It’s going to be a hectic week or two in the Hines house.
Anyway, since it seemed to go over well last time, I figured I’d give away another book. Next week, I’ll be sending out another author newsletter about the book, and when I do, I’ll pick one subscriber at random to receive an autographed copy of Blood of Heroes.
If you’re interested, you can sign up here.
And on that note, I gotta get back to revising Revisionary… Have a lovely night, all!
Mirrored from Jim C. Hines.
I will write a real review later, but in brief, this is a south Indian historical fantasy that plays like a myth transferred straight to the screen. It's absolutely gorgeous to look at, is full of moments straight out of legend, has a fantastic score and amazing action sequences, and also has a number of surprising plot twists.
It's only playing in the US for about two more days, and should be seen on the big screen. I haven't enjoyed a movie this much in literally years.Trailer.
(Not subtitled, but the movie has English subs.)One of my favorite songs.
I know, I know, you wonder what FFA
is even for, but I am here to tell you: for the Great Woobie-Off
And best of all: skygiants informs us
that the winner, the Woobiest of all the Woobies, is, of course
. Search your feelings: you know it to be true.
On a similar note, would you like to have your heart broken
, and then fixed better than it was before with gay porn? Damn, son, cesperanza
has still got it: "All the Angels and the Saints"
, Captain America/Bucky Barnes. Yeah, I know this is like a year old; this isn't even my fandom, I haven't been reading in it, I ran into this randomly, and whoa
So I have a theological question.
I am re-reading Elizabeth Goudge's The Valley of Song (1951) for the nth time. It's one of the books where I notice different things with each reading; that's part of the reason it's her best book, although others include the beauty of the writing and the numinous generally busting out all over. This time, a line in the scene in which the protagonist is waiting outside the door to the Valley of Song (only children may enter this country which is called by mortals "Fairyland, or the Garden of Eden, or Arcadia, or the Earthly Paradise, or the Elysian Fields, or some such ridiculous name. We just call it the Workshop," so in order to let someone else go in, Tabitha has taken on some of their years as her own and is now too old herself to be allowed inside) sprang out at me:
Andrew turned to Tabitha, his face radiant. "I may go in!" he said, and he gripped her hand. "Come on, Tabitha."
Tabitha pulled her hand away and leaned against the wall, hiding her face, and the same misery that had overwhelmed her when Julie went in without her came over her again. This dreadful shut-out and cast-away feeling! She had never felt so wretched. She had not known one could feel so miserable. Her voice came to Andrew from behind her hands, muffled and forlorn. "I can't go in with you. I'm too old."
"Too old? You can't be!" said Andrew, and he pulled her hands away from her face.
"Five years too old!" sobbed Tabitha. "I'm fifteen. I can't go in."
There was a long and anguished silence, while Andrew struggled to make up his mind about something, then he took a deep breath. "Then I'm not going in either," he said. "If you're shut out, I'll be shut out too."
Tabitha liked to hear him say that. It was almost worth being shut out to hear him say that. The door swung wide and a great breath of life-giving air blew through it.
"Come in, both of you," said the splendid voice, and there was almost a note of celestial impatience in its splendour. "Little girl, you carried that burden well, but long enough for a child. Come in and be with him. He'll need firm handling. Boy, you were ready to be exiled with her, and the readiness is all. Am I to be until the Last Trump holding this door open?"
Those of you who have read Mary Renault may be nodding already, because this is a concept I learned first from The King Must Die (1958):
"Horses go blindly to the sacrifice, but the gods give knowledge to men. When the King was dedicated, he knew his moira. In three years, or seven, or nine, or whenever the custom was, his term would end and the god would call him. And he went consenting, or else he was no king, and power would not fall on him to lead the people. When they came to choose among the Royal Kin, this was his sign: that he chose short life with glory, and to walk with the god, rather than live long, unknown like the stall-fed ox. And the custom changes, Theseus, but this token never. Remember, even if you do not understand . . . It is not the sacrifice, whether it comes in youth or age, or the god remits it; it is not the bloodletting that calls down power. It is the consenting, Theseus. The readiness is all."
Where does this idea originate? Is it as simple as going back to the Binding of Isaac: that it was enough for Abraham to be willing to sacrifice his son? Is there a more complicated aetiology I don't know about, or a particularly Christian significance that would have been important to Goudge? I happen to believe it, just as I believe that an unconsenting sacrifice has no power (see Peter S. Beagle's The Last Unicorn (1968): "Real magic can never be made by offering someone up else's liver. You must tear out your own, and not expect to get it back. The true witches know that"), and I think it is not an uncommon belief. But I don't know where it comes from, if it doesn't come from the story I thought of first, and I'm curious.
The lizard (our daughter) rescued a lizard (a reptile) from the cat. The cat is currently attempting to eat the lizard (a reptile)'s tail, which the cat broke off in the course of going after her prey. The lizard (our daughter) put the lizard (a reptile) outside.
Good grief, I can't even blame anyone else for this particular disambiguation pickle.
- recent browsingA cool web implementation of Borges' "Library of Babel."
- recent gaming
The latest new-to-me game that I have played is a worker-placement board game called The Lords of Waterdeep
. It was introduced to me by a guy at Little Wars who had bought it. I was intimidated at first by the rules summary (I have played very few games in this genre) but even though I came in dead last I ended up enjoying it quite a lot! As you might imagine, it is Forgotten-Realms-themed, although the only Lord whose name I recognized was Khelben Arunson. (I used to read Forgotten Realms novels, back in the day. What can I say? They were in the library and they were entertaining and I liked AD&D 2nd ed.) I'm told the setting has changed over time, which, reasonable enough.
Anyway, each character is secretly one of the Lords, each of whom gets bonus points for different kinds of completed quests. I think the types were something like warfare, commerce, piety, arcane, and maybe there was another, maybe not. I ended up with a half-drow who got bonus points for piety and arcane, which sucked because by dint of shuffling we hardly saw any of those until later game. Each player starts with two agents, and starting with the first player (at first determined by who's been out of town most recently--in this case me, because of Readercon!--and then by whoever has the First Player token that you can claim by placing one of your agents in a particular location. Each location will give you something, like (say) two fighters or four ducats or the chance to play an Intrigue card from your hand. You can also build more buildings, and the building's owner collects particular things (say, a ducat, or a choice of a cleric or a rogue) whenever someone uses that building. You score points mainly by completing quests from a quest deck, which you do by paying off the prerequisites--say five fighters and four gold, or whatever, and then they'll award you points and/or some other benefit, like a couple of mages. It's all very smooth, and the game ends in eight turns, period. After the first two I felt pretty comfortable with the rules--I didn't play well
, but I had some sense of how to play. Definitely worth a try.
- recent reading
Lorin Wood. Woosh!: Spaceship Sketches from the Couch
. Exactly what it says on the tin, most of them rendered in markers, pens, and white pens. This is a short book (80 pages) but I'm looking for examples of how to sketch spaceships, and it's very charming. There's a brief interview with the artist on the back, and the artist's bio says that he was "encouraged...to pursue the visual arts from his earliest years" (80). I wonder what that must be like? My parents did not at all encourage me in writing. They told me it was a waste of time. Of course, since I am oppositional and my response to being told not to do something is to do it...anyway, they supplied me with everything I needed to
write (paper, notebooks, writing implements, later computer and word processing software and printer) so I can't complain too much.
Gencon soon! In the meantime, off to code...
Make plans with your lover to cook an elaborate middle eastern dinner, starring the preserved lemons
you put up last month.
Get distracted by pointless meetings all week at work and end up taking work home with you for the weekend.
Show up to your lover's house an hour late, with a half-written slide deck and a broken Powerpoint master template. Narrowly avoid having a complete meltdown over how your virtual desktop display has decided to develop a heretofore unseen bug in which it does not resize to fit your laptop screen, and won't let you view anything useful on the remote screen, and how are you supposed to get the data you need out of the remote server if you can't see or enter commands into your fucking terminal.
Realize that there is no way you are going to make an elaborate multi-course dinner tonight. Stubbornly insist on doing something
with the preserved lemons anyway.
Root around in the freezer and find an uncooked hamburger patty and some ground pork. Remember that there's a jar of instant couscous in the pantry. This is enough to improvise with.
Ask your partner to chop up and saute an onion in olive oil while you curse at your virtual desktop software, powerpoint, and yourself for agreeing to give a talk first thing in the morning on Monday.
When the onion is caramelized, add spices to taste and lightly fry them. Ground coriander seed and dried parsley are good choices. Do not add salt at this point, because the lemons are preserved in brine and are very salty. Crumble the hamburger patty and add it and the pork to the onions. Cook until the meat is browned. Dice up a preserved lemon (leaving several remaining in the jar for the elaborate tagine that you are definitely going to make some day that is not today). Add the lemon and a cup or so of couscous to the pan. Lightly toast the couscous in oil, because Mark Bittman says you must never neglect to toast couscous before adding water, regardless of what the instructions on the package of couscous says, and you should never go against Mark Bittman's advice. Except when you should, but toasting the couscous is actually a pretty good suggestion.
Add the couscous, meat, onion, lemon, and all to a pot of boiling water. Turn off the stove and let the couscous rest for several minutes. Marvel at how delicious your half-ass improvised meal turned out to be. Resolve to repeat this experiment, but adding fresh fennel and shaved carrot next time.
The next time I say I can do RWA in NYC without taking time off from my regular work, tell me I'm wrong. Tell me loudly and firmly.
This post brought to you by my very sore arms from doing a whooooole lot of catch-up work tonight, and more to do tomorrow.
Poor arms. I quit PT too soon, I think, or maybe it just didn't do enough good. I've upgraded my insurance so I'm going to try some fancier physical therapists and see whether they can help more. That means commuting into Manhattan but oh well, arms are worth it, and at least once a week I can do it on a day I'd be in Manhattan anyway.
RWA was mostly exhausting. I didn't get to any program items at all. I went to five cocktail parties in one night and two the following night. I skipped the award ceremony, though I watched from home until the livestream cut out (and cheered tiffanyreisz
). I felt lost and alone in the sea of people I didn't know. I saw a lot of people I probably know on Twitter but didn't recognize. A few people who knew me from Twitter said hello. I met a few people who were really nice. I hung out with a few people I already knew. I wore my pronoun button and it was consistently ignored, including by people I'd just finished explaining it to. Everything was very white and Christian and het and cis
and I felt very uncomfortably marginalized pretty much the whole time, all the more so because my experiences at Readercon were so totally different. Now I'm more wary of going to WFC, where I won't know as many people as I do at Readercon and where there hasn't been a massive cultural change toward treating people like me as human beings, but I don't know whether that's exhaustion anxiety talking.
I got no good sleep last night, and I only know that I slept at all because I had a really unpleasant dream about being sexually assaulted. My SleepBot motion tracker looks like a ventricular fibrillation ECG. I was so exhausted that I burst into tears midday for no reason at all. I pulled myself together to spend a little time with J before he left for a week-long business trip. Then I caffeinated, got work done, went to an absolutely stellar TMBG show
(one of the best I've ever seen, approaching the awesomeness of the 2007 Bowery Ballroom shows but with a totally different vibe; once that wiki page exists I'll put my full comments up there), and came home and got in a quick videochat with Josh and did more work and iced my sad sad arms (and my inexplicably sad left thumb--no idea what's up with that). Now it's nearly 6 a.m. and I don't even know what I'm feeling other than all the way through tired and out the other side. But I think I should sleep.
- thinking about:
body.arms, body.pain, body.sleep, body.tiredness, events.cons, events.cons.rwa, experiences.annoyances, experiences.music, experiences.music.live, experiences.music.tmbg, experiences.work, ideas.gender, mind.dreamtime, mind.feelings.loneliness
Had breakfast with several people, the first of whom asked if I was up for company before she sat down. Yes, that is how you do it. They invited me to join them on their ferry and bike-riding but I cheerfully said "nope!" I loafed about until around 4, semi-napping when I felt the need, and then set off for the nearby lighthouse on foot.
Trip to Nobska Lighthouse, in tweets/pictures.( Read more... )
I've been reading this amazing Metafilter thread on emotional labor
all day. It's very very long, but worthwhile. Here's a sample:
I had a dream last night that Robert Downey Jr. surprised me with something he thought I would like, based on my interests: Himself, springing out of a pile of leaves by my bed, enthusiastically wearing a unicorn horn and hooves like a brony. The dream was so satisfying, I think, not because I really want this to happen, but because it was nice to feel supported in my interests, however silly they might be—my husband vocally does not support this interest.
HOW RELATIONSHIPS SHOULD BE.
And today I appear to be sick. I refuse to regard it as payback for the pleasure of the last two days. I'm still not thrilled about it.
1. My poem "Keep the Home Fires Burning" has been accepted by Not One of Us
. I wrote it last November in a state of slightly hallucinating exhaustion because ashlyme
had written this post
. It features the return of Charon's bee-stamped obol
, which should be a title of its own.
2. Have a Roman glass fish flask
. Because it is very beautiful and also looks like a fish.
is a pretty great condensation of a hilarious episode from Herodotos. While we're talking about classical beauty, I cannot argue with this observation about Idris Elba
4. I love this portrait
. It looks like a frame from a slightly skewed film. The model's own photography is surrealist and great
5. Last night I re-read Sheryl Jordan's The Raging Quiet
(1999) for the first time since college. Now I'm trying to figure out why its setting still doesn't quite work for me when Orsinian Tales
(1976) is probably my favorite book by Ursula K. Le Guin.
Background, in case you have not read the latter: Orsinian Tales
is a collection of short stories set in a small country in Central Europe that is fantastic only by virtue of being fictional. It shares historical events with Hungary, the now Czech Republic, Poland; its language reminds me of Romanian. It is none of them and takes its name ultimately from its creator. It was her earliest secondary world. But it is shaped by the events of this one, as reflected in the stories—they are recurringly political and personal, the one against the backdrop of the other. The earliest takes place in the mid-twelfth century, the latest in the original collection in 1965; the title story of Unlocking the Air and Other Stories
(1996) later extended that timeline to 1989 and something very like the Velvet Revolution, after which I have seen no more Orsinian tales. (The Compass Rose
(1982) contains one other Orsinian story and a science fiction piece that shares some ambiguous references—I wouldn't count it, but Le Guin herself notes that one of the protagonists has an Orsinian name.) All together, they make a mosaic of an imaginary country that seems to exist, like Jan Morris' Hav, in the interstices of very real ones. I do not feel the same way toward Le Guin's Malafrena
(1979), an ambitious attempt at a nineteenth-century novel which is not quite believable as Orsinian metafiction, but I recommend the collection to everyone I can get to hold still long enough to listen to me about it. "Brothers and Sisters" is one of the stories I keep coming back to. I was two years older than Stefan Fabbre when the keystone was knocked out of my arch. The Raging Quiet
's setting is one of the reasons I have trouble getting a fix on it. Nothing about the plot demands a secondary world. The protagonist is a sixteen-year-old widow accused of witchcraft in the small fishing village where her much older husband brought her, abused her, and shortly thereafter died; her closest friend is a deaf boy mistaken for a madman and beaten to drive out his devils; their only ally is the village's priest, who still cannot save her from being tried for witchcraft. The names are more or less Irish, except when—in the case of the landed gentry—they're more or less English. The author explains in an afterword that the characters and their story came to her "so vivid and complete that I found I could not force it into a particular time or place in history, for fear of distorting what I had been given. So I left their tale in the freer atmosphere of myth, and simply wrote a fantasy set in an ancient time." I have trouble taking the setting as either ancient or mythical; the coastal village of Torcurra and the manor house of Fernleigh have an eighteenth-century feel except for the outcroppings of medievalism, like some of the information we are given about men's clothes and the persistence of trial by ordeal, all of which I could accept as
fantasy except that Christianity is a huge force in the novel, explicitly. And that anchors the story for me quite firmly in our world sometime, because unlike C.S. Lewis I do not believe that Christ just happens across the multiverse. As a result, it's impossible for me to accept the setting as purely otherwhere—like Greer Gilman's Cloud, which has witches and manors and a religious system which never even heard of monotheism—and I keep trying to evaluate it by the standards of historical fiction, against the author's wishes. I genuinely don't know why she didn't set the novel in historical Ireland. It already has characteristic speech patterns, weather, geology; there's peat-cutting, for crying out loud. There are stone circles and passage tombs. I knew much less about history in high school and I remember finding the half-fictionalization jarring even then. This time around, it really jumped out at me.
And I don't know if this is unfair of me, because Orsinia has a Karst like Slovenia and Guy Gavriel Kay's Sarantium is blatantly remixed Byzantine history with more magic and if we want to be really brutal about it, Lloyd Alexander's Prydain isn't Wales, but you could have fooled me from the way people go around being named things like Gwydion. I don't know why I find it harder to accept Jordan's early modern not quite Ireland, unless it's the reasons thrown out above: it's neither close enough to real history to read without apparent anachronism nor sufficiently marked as some other genre (alt-history, high fantasy) to forestall comparisons; and it tells me something about Jordan that she didn't think of Christianity as a marker of our history. Or maybe I'm missing the point entirely. Has anyone else read this novel? It's YA, it deals with difference and disability, and I still like best the character I liked when first I read it, because some things about me haven't changed in sixteen years and character preferences, unless I do something boneheaded like forget Owen Davies
, are one of them. I still wish it had been a historical novel. Given all the elements that are necessary for the story, I don't see how a real time and place would have damaged it.
P.S. Ashlyme sent me this just now and it's fantastic: Delia Derbyshire and Barry Bermange's "The Dreams: Sea
" (1964), from a series of soundscapes built around people describing their dreams. I always die on the land. The land at the bottom of the sea.