~ ONE JOURNEY ~
~ There is only one journey: going inside yourself. ~
- Rainer Maria Rilke
1421: The Year China Discovered America ~ Sunday, December 31, 2006
By Gavin Menzies.
Two words: trained otters?!?
I've other notes on it in my "reading and viewing" (gotta think up a catchier name than that) blog
, but it is getting more and more farfetched--or perhaps the implausibilities are merely building upon each other and piling up into a tottery house of cards.
Still, the claim that the Chines of the early fifteenth century employed trained otters ("working in pairs to herd shoals into the nets ...") as part of their exploratory fleet to keep everyone supplied with fresh fish and balance out the diet does seem to verge on the fantastical--as do a number of the other claims.
I am enjoying the book however, in the way that I enjoy Borges's fiction masquerading as a documentary commentary on a given, utterly fantastical subject (though Menzies's work is less bibliothecal). The details and evocations are skillfully presented, though we are also afforded the occasional glimpse of the man behind the curtain (in the form of utter implasibilities, wild leaps in logic and rather odd inferences). All the same, reading it as a work of imaginitive fiction is still very entertaining (I am after all, a fan of Borges).
I suppose the problem is that he passes it off as fact--and is apparently somewhat litigious in nature, so that for a while, scholars and historians were reluctant to speak out against him. But, that reticence seems to have faded, and now there's even a website
dedicated to debunking Menzies's claims (because the book has been so popular).
It's funny--books have come to be regarded as the more definitive source, in contrast with the internet these days (though it's always a case of caveat emptor and "don't believe everything you read"). So here we have a wee reversal in the form of a website discrediting an erudite-looking (but also popular and accessible) tome. What fun! ::Posted by Anduril Elessar @ 1:45 PM::::
Kazuo Ishiguro's _Never Let Me Go_ ~ Friday, December 29, 2006
I just finished reading Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go
and was really moved by it. I didn't think I would be--though the character of Tommy was always reasonably endearing despite his problems. But it ended up being a nuanced portrait of relationships and girl politics (which was interesting in itself, to see such precision and articulation in the documentation of such interactions) as well as an interesting character study. It amuses me that this is called Science Fiction, because aside from the premise (alternate history--that's all I'll say), if that's accepted, it's a portrayal of the lives of three people and their relationship to each other.
It was lovely in many ways (though the narrator was not prone to flowery evocations) and deeply wistful or nostalgic, like a watercolour that has been left out in a brief rainfall--the images are still discernible, but there is also the evocation of what it (in this case, Kathy's life) once was, as well as a sense of speculation and longing for what it might have been.
The style was definitely reminiscent at times of the descriptions in The Unconsoled
, but for the most part, it was a different narrative. And though I normally don't mind knowing
a lot about a book before I read it (often that will be what gets me reading it in the first place), I think the experience of this book might have been richer had I not known the premise--so I'm not going to go into any detail here, should anyone be curious to read it. Knowing what the background was meant that I was able to guess the big reveal at the end, long before the characters did, but I wondered whether, had I not known, it would have been more powerful, since the early clues that allowed me to infer what was to come might have been obscured by the other mystery, which I already knew the answer to.
At any rate, highly recommended, but not an uplifting or happy read. Make sure you're in the mood for it, and then let yourself sink in. ::Posted by Anduril Elessar @ 5:50 PM::::
Babies! ~ Sunday, December 24, 2006
We had an eventful day, beginning with an alarm that went off later than we expected. Thence, a headlong rush into Toronto, to drop off Tom's parents' car and on to a friend's place for a "meet the baby" celebration in the wake of her naming ceremony (which was an intimate gathering that took place yesterday). Little Emily Lauren is just lovely! She's about two weeks old in this photo, but the day after she returned from the hospital, her mom was featured in a photo (lighting a menorah) that was published in the national paper--Emily and her dad are visible in the background, and so she was not even a week old when she got national coverage! Not bad at all!
After a nice visit, we headed back to Waterloo and carol singing, some of which was by candle light, which was fun! I can never say no to any opportunity that involves singing, after all!
So, once that put us nicely in the Christmas spirit, we went to see Apocalypto
, which featured, in graphic detail, pillage, rape, cruelty and human sacrifice. It was an interesting film--and I really wished there could have been more sequences in the city just for the fascination of watching the worldbuilding.
The story itself was not unpredictable--you could kind of tell where it was going, though from time to time, I wondered whether there'd be some kind of twist. There were none, however. There were a few bits where I liked the ingenuity of his methods, but otherwise, no surprises. Still, there were some really engaging action sequences--though I could probably have done with less graphic detail. The argument in favour of the horrors would, perhaps, just be that then we have a teeny tiny glimpse of how awful such situations are--situations that continue to happen in places around the world today, where ethnic cleansing, wholesale slaughter, rape and displacement still happens. So seeing that perhaps is a reminder to those of us in our comfortable, secure ivory towers.
Overall, it was a fairly straightforward morality tale. I suppose I would rather have had all that energy, work and industry go towards giving us more glimpses of that world in which it was set--and recreating some version of the cities that we read about but have had little exposure to by way of re-enactment (we've all seen so many re-enactments of ancient Rome or Greece, for instance, that we're fairly familiar with what it probably was like, when it comes to general look and feel--this gave us a tantalizing glimpse of another culture in that way, and I would gladly have had more). I think meso-America (pre-Europeans) has a fascinating history and I'm glad that there's been some attention given to it in such a high profile way, even if it ends up being a flash in the pan rather than a new cultural meme.
I also would have loved to have seen it in a more everyday context, rather than as it was portrayed, which was from the point of view of guys who have just seen their families slaughtered, and have been dragged to the city in captivity, to be offered up as human sacrifices. Namely: frightening, violent, exotic, decayed, angry and horrifying. Though some argue that this shows the city and the civilization in a negative light, I do think some consideration should be given to the fact that it is being shown from the captives' point of view, rather than an omniscient one--presumably a choice made by Gibson to heighten the emotional intensity of the situation. Showing a more balanced perspective of some happy people living out their lives while others are miserable or angry would rather undercut the urgency of the story and the captives' fear, IMO.
And, despite the negative portrayal, I felt a dawning sense of wonder when I realised that after all the jungle we had seen they were now actually in a city.
Of course, I knew going in that there were inaccuracies (e.g. the village as it was would have been was from a different, later era than the city they showed, which was earlier in the cycle of the civilization, according to wiki)--but despite a few juxtapositions of diverse elements and periods (sometimes borrowed from other meso-American cultures, presumably to create a sense of visual interest), no-one seems to be objecting too much to the overall look and feel of the styling and the culture. And that's really the important thing, I'd think--to introduce us to a culture (or several) that we're simply not accustomed to seeing or observing, with its general tendencies, fashions and ways of life. And that, to me, was mesmerizing. ::Posted by Anduril Elessar @ 11:18 PM::::
I recently read a peculiar article about how there's a company (well, at least one) that is working on developing environmentally friendly bombs (i.e. ones that do not emit harmful radiation after they have been triggered. Most bombs contain heavy metals and therefore continue to poison their surroundings for years after). The rationale, of course, is that if there are going to be bombs used, then better they just serve their intended purpose, then have additional harmful characteristics that cause extended damage.
It's kind of creepy, but I guess if there have to be bombs, then it would be better to have environmentally-friendly ones. Still, it freaks me out to think in those terms. It must be so difficult in a way--a very special kind of doublethink required--to say "let's create something that can maim or kill its target but which will not, in addition to that, also cause long-term damage to the environment and others who suffer from the radiation."
I guess this is because I naively assumed (without having given such folks' morality much dedicated or nuanced thought, I'll have to admit) that people who make bombs have a certain moral compass--be it "us vs them" or even "someone has to do it so why not me?"--something fairly black and white, in that they either think in binary or in amoral terms. But this adds an unexpected twist to the scenario and touches on how complex morality is. And that is a disturbing thought, in certain ways, because it hints at nooks and crannies in the human psyche that are elusive and troubling.
It makes me think of the Ralph Fiennes character from Schindler's List
, who played with notions of forgiveness and the like, trying them on for size as if they were as superficial as garments he wore. It was a chillingly portrayed character. I have similar feelings towards that film The Last King of Scotland
or somesuch--I'm curious and yet I dread seeing it, for what I imagine will be its depiction of a sociopath of a dictator, marked, as such figures seem to be, by quixotic gestures of clemency that seem to hint at the possibility of goodness. Yet these are likely nothing more than the exercising of a certain kind of power (namely, the power over life and death, which is pointless, unless life is also sometimes granted for no better reason than because it can be).
This was also what haunted me in Lord of War
--not just the Iago-esque villainy of the Nicholas Cage character (absolutely horrible, and you want him to get his comeuppance, but he also forges a peculiar connection to the viewer because of his asides and confidences, in the form of a voice-over narrative), but rather, the portrayal of the African dictator and the dictator's son, to whom the protagonist sold arms.
Oh yes, and happy Christmas Eve. :-) ::Posted by Anduril Elessar @ 12:26 AM::::
Battlestar Galactica ~ Saturday, December 23, 2006
Quote of the day: "I base my fashion sense on what doesn't itch."
Appropriate enough, given my choice of casuals for the day. :-)
We've been dividing our time between Battlestar Galactica (the new television series) and Prison Break--the latter at Glenn's recommendation.
BSG took a little while to get off the ground, IMO, despite all the kabooms and explosions at the outset. I wasn't pulled in immediately. But it has gotten more interesting, though I do find it exasperating that the humans are always the underdogs. I really don't get how they survive at all, given that the Cylons (originally man-made machines that developed self-will and now look exactly like humans) always seem about ten steps ahead of them.
The opposition between humans and Cylons, in thematic terms, seems to play out a little sumpin' like this:
Cylon= monotheistic, intelligently designed, homogenous (there are only twelve models of Cylon... again, the reasons for this are unclear. If they can create a human-like creature from the ground up, then having a wider variety of them would seem a no brainer--at the least, you'd think they'd be able to do cosmetic surgery on them so that they'd look different and be able to infiltrate the human ranks more effectively. You'd also think they would age and so there would be some older looking versions of Cylon models as well as young ones)
Human= polytheistic, evolved, pluralistic
The humans appear to be relying on some kind of prophecy, but the Cylons appear to know far more about the prophecy than do the humans (e.g. a Cylon led the humans to the site of one of the significant turning points). If that's so--if the humans are so outmanoevered (and at every turn they seem to be), then it feels pretty fatalistic--like the Cylons are just sitting around letting the humans mess everything up for themselves because they can afford to?
All the positive turning points are extremely minor victories or else they are resolutions (usually with some very high level of compromise or sub-optimal solution) of problems that have been created within the story arc being depicted.
E.g. key character is shot and ends up in a coma. Lots of negative turning points ensue and stuff gets really, really bad. The positive turning point then is that the character regains consciousness--everyone's greatly relieved--but much of the bad stuff has irrevocable consequences and everything is far worse than it was before the shooting.
This pattern seems fairly typical--three steps back, one step forward. It gets rather wearing after a while to keep watching more and more bad things happen and to know that any victory will be pyrrhic at best and non-strategically significant at worst (e.g. Cylons infiltrate key outpost and learn stuff they shouldn't and the BSG folk are just barely able to contain the damage at a very high price and still have a compromised system; elsewhere, two characters who had a falling out in an earlier episode make up and decide to be friends, which is our feel-good moment and meant to make us imagine that somehow things have turned out all right after all).
Once in a very rare while, they throw us a bone in the form of some possibly strategically important victory, but often as not that's followed by our learning that some Cylon is sitting around watching the whole thing and allowing it to happen for his or her own nefarious purposes.
I've lately begun suggesting to Tom that I would actually welcome one of those "remember those fun times we had on Capricon" kind of episodes with a bunch of people sitting around laughing at a series of past hijinks--you know, one of those benevolent little "character development" episodes which *doesn't* involve some tragically killed boyfriend and the resultant emotional scars' consequences in the present. I might even welcome one of those flashback shows, depicting the fun and zany times, using clips from previous episodes, that always seem like "the writers had their week off so we're filming a flashback show". I'm that desperate to break from the largely downward spiral of the story.
I do like the characters, but will admit I'm getting rather tired of the show and the relentlessly negative overarching storylines (at least Stargate Atlantis, of which I saw a couple of seasons, had some fun episodes too).
I also admit that I rather like the Cylons, but they don't make a lot of sense to me. I'd like to see an episode (maybe there's one ahead) of the Cylons hanging out on some average day. What do they do? What to they talk about? Do they play poker with each other, and if it's the same model playing against itself, would one win, or would each recognise the small body language cues that would give away the bluff? In their cities, what do they do with their time? Hang out? Go for coffee? Have day jobs? Let the less-human-looking machines wait on them? What's the infrastructure? etc. ::Posted by Anduril Elessar @ 7:32 PM::::
Me 'n Ella ~ Thursday, December 21, 2006
Yes, I took the picture myself, and yes, alas, it is kind of blurry. But I feel that Ella is under-represented in our various portrayals and depictions of our cats. Loki always seems to be grabbing the limelight. So I'm going to even out that disparity at flickr in the near future as well by uploading many pics of Ella and only a few of Loki.
I also went for a walk today. It was very pleasant out, and my muses helped me out by giving me a bit of a breakthrough on what direction I might take on the Regency. I guess it won't be in the mail before Christmas, but I'll have something to do over the holidays. :-) ::Posted by Anduril Elessar @ 6:15 PM::::
Speaking of short stories (see below), here's a writer whose work makes me feel like a rank amateur. Just amazing stuff.
I've got her book Stranger Things Happen
out from the library. It's also available for free download from her publisher's website.
If you have the time and the interest, I recommend it highly. I'm actually going to buy a copy (wow), which I'm sure happens often enough after the free download--and it's not even a completely altruistic move of good faith (they're letting me download it so I'll ante up).
It's actually a helluva an amazing book (haven't finished it yet--I'm only a couple of stories in--but I'm already convinced) and so I want to have a copy of my own that I can take with me places and read at my convenience without a computer. I've even bought her second book (all that was in at the bookstore).
So, it's a short story anthology. I'm not usually a big short story person, but some of these images from the first stories I read are already haunting me. It's slipstream or surreal or what have you so if that's not your bag, maybe these stories wouldn't work for you. But wow--do they ever resonate for me. It's her amazing ability to imply. And her astonishing way of bringing together disparate elements in a fascinating and totally functional way, then adding in an element of chaos that keeps you on your toes, but works within the dream-logic of the narrative, so there's never (not so far anyway) any sense of deus ex-machina or some "out of left field" twist.
I think the last time I discovered a short story anthology that so fascinated and enchanted me was with Angela Carter's The Bloody Chamber
and Black Venus
. These are similar in that they are original, packed with vibrant, bold imagery and possessed of a unique voice. But otherwise, they are quite different in style, density and so on. I'd say Kelly Link is masterful at implication.
There's also a wonderful specificity of evocation. Two examples: "Eight Chimneys is as big as a castle, but dustier and darker than Samantha imagines a castle would be. There are more sofas, more china shepherdesses with chipped fingers, fewer suits of armor. No moat."
And: "Mr. Coeslak can tell the twins apart, even if their father can't; Claire's eyes are grey, like a cat's fur, he says, but Samatha's are gray
like the ocean when it has been raining."
But ultimately, it's her way of connecting elements of the story implicitly, so they seem to resonate or make sense at a level that isn't quite articulated, which is most fascinating to me. If downloading the whole book
seems too much commitment, she also has a short story (more urban fantasy, whereas the first book seems more informed by surrealism) from her latest collection up on her website. ::Posted by Anduril Elessar @ 10:16 AM::::
Persephone's Library ~ Tuesday, December 19, 2006
Well, I finished a short story today, tentatively entitled "Persephone's Library". I really like the beginning, but I'm not sure if it gets too heavy-handed after that. Still, I kind of like the idea behind it--and I do think I muddied the issue later on. Ultimately, it's pretty discusssion-oriented. It's also a character piece, where the SF premise just sets things in motion in the first place.
I'm going to let it sit for a few days, then hopefully send it off either on Friday or early next week to the Tesseracts anthology. I don't know if it's really up to par for that, but I might as well, since entering the anthology (deadline Dec. 31) was the impetus behind writing the piece in the first place. And I'm pleased to have managed to choke something out at all, given how stuck I've been (yet again!) on the Regency. I'm hoping to get tons done on that tomorrow, however. :-) ::Posted by Anduril Elessar @ 10:42 PM::::
Last Minute Crafts and Other Adventures ~ Sunday, December 17, 2006
Well, today has certainly been eventful:
a quick swing through a host of errands, from reserved book at the library pick up to drawing cash for the craft fair...
then, Toronto, and the last minute craft fair, organized by Erin.
Tom's mom was also there, at one of the tables, selling her lovely necklaces and beadwork.
We shopped around and I got quite a bit of funky gear, including a set of five buttons that were the first five letters of the Ghastlycrumb Tinies (that's all Erin has made, so far and I've got 'em all now! She made them into magnets. They're now on the fridge, and boy, are they tiny!). I find that particular tale deeply unsettling but oddly enchanting and charming at the same time. Go figure.
I also got a spider box (i.e. a box with a nice spider painted onto it). The image is on his website as available but now it is mine! Muahahaha. I do like spiders, after all. Looking at his website
, I also like his "spooky box" and trees, but he didn't have any of those there, alas, or I would have bought one for sure. But I'm very happy with the spider box too.
How novel--an illustrated post, with all the bells and whistles. Guess who recently got a new camera? Though the spider box photo wasn't even taken by my camera. It's just a bonus.
We also ran into Mark and Sarah--and their daughter Thea. The last time we had seen Mark and Sarah was about a year and a half ago, and Thea wasn't yet born, so it was lovely meeting her for the first time!
After the craft fair, we rushed to pick up a tree for Tom's mom, then head back to Waterloo because Tom has a gig tonight. Which is where he's at right now! I went for a bit. One day when I'm feeling adventurous, I'll go figure out youtube and then load up a few video clips onto there, since someone's new camera can also do those and despite being a cynic about such features, I'm finding it surprisingly fun. I've filmed a few of the cats already.
Then tomorrow, I have choir practice first thing and on down the list and through the day. Lots and lots to do! No further revisions yet accomplished. I'm hoping to do some tomorrow, even if they end up just being line edits. I figure that will at least be a start. If the harder stuff isn't yet coming, I'll work on the easy stuff--and hopefully something will fall into place for the more challenging bits. *sigh* ::Posted by Anduril Elessar @ 12:00 AM::::
Holiday Newsletter ~ Friday, December 15, 2006
Well, my fabulous blog readers, you're both in for a treat! I've finished my holiday newsletter
, and so I thought I might as well post it for all to see...Voila!
Check out the latest on a carefully selected assortment of the kind of mischief we got up to in the past year. You'll need the .pdf plugin to read it, alas, but I think most people have that in their browsers these days...
Some years, I try to get it out early. Years when I'm organised and all that stuff (last year, there was just no hope for it at all--besides, what could I say? Most of the news was not really all that appropriate for a festive circular). This year, Novembers swept by in NaNo and convalescence mode.
So, instead of a mailout, I'll likely be distributing it electronically to most people, alas. But, these things happen.
Creating it and writing it up has also been a fantastic procrastination tool this past day or so--since I'm stuck on the Regency. Some part of my head is lodged with the obsession that I have to "get it right" before I send it out to Folio Literary Agency (Paige Wheeler requested it--can't remember if I mentioned), so the pressure is on. I've been doing everything but work on it... including a holiday newsletter that I had previously decided I'd just not have time to write this year.
So, click either of the above links to view the fruits of my procrastination. :-D (note: this entry is another example of the fruits of my procrastination) ::Posted by Anduril Elessar @ 12:51 PM::::
How Great Generals Win ~ Thursday, December 14, 2006
I found a great quote by Borges today: "I have always imagined Paradise will be a kind of library." True enough.
Or perhaps libraries are paradise enow... At least, for me.
Whichever way it goes, something I do enjoy doing is randomly walking through the bookshelves and grabbing a title that catches my eye. Which is how I ended up with the catchily-titled How Great Generals Win
by Bevin Alexander. I'm about forty pages or so in--but thankfully, he comes to the point pretty quickly. Like the no-frills title, he doesn't withold the information. The introduction tells us up front how great generals win: by being tricksters and doing the unexpected.
Simple enough, it would seem (though there's also the factor of how difficult it might be to figure out what would be considered unexpected to your adversary). His argument for why it's not followed as often as it ought to be is that the military generally encourages straightforward heroism (as, indeed, does culture as a whole) and so promotes straightforward thinkers and so on.
So: attack from the rear, or march on some undefended, strategically important target that no-one would ever imagine being assailed. For instance, while Hannibal led the Romans on a run for their money in Italy, Scipio Africanus led a seige on Carthage, which was ill-defended. He won it--a strategic victory that served to demoralise his adversaries and helped turn the tide.
Thus far, certainly, it's not particularly complex in conception or premise, but it's readably written, reasonably convincing (though it's hard to say when looking at just one book) and engagingly narrated.
I also find the setup of the book refreshing in its straighforwardness--none of the coy, trendy "hooks" and "keep 'em reading by dangling tantalizing questions while withholding the answers"--it addresses the title up front, and the rest of the book presents examples and specifics.
So, why would I be reading a book about war and generals anyway? Well, firstly, it might be useful for something I might work on in the future. Secondly, war is one of the great plagues of mankind--one that we can't seem to shake off, unfortunately. I suppose that if it's to happen, then better to have a wily general who is sufficiently good with strategy and tactics that he can shorten the suffering and horror as much as possible. Also, I like chess, even though I'm not very good at it. But I wish I were--the game has, for me, an aura of glamour, brilliance and utter coolness. So, this sort of reading is by way of compensation. ::Posted by Anduril Elessar @ 10:37 PM::::
Winner!! ~ Monday, December 04, 2006
So, how cool is that?! Well, I'm glad it's done, and am somewhat happy with the first 25,000 or so words. The rest will need work--and I think structurally as well, it will need work. I've got some cool family history stuff in there that I think might best be interspersed with the other two storylines rather than presented in a clump as it happens to be at the moment.
Plus, I had some trouble with the story arcs for one of the characters and her experiences in India and Australia. That will take some work, methinks.
The latter part of it was mainly a brain dump--possibly useful to get down onto the page, but likely unusable except for reference and as notes to accompany an actual writing of the rest of the story. But still, 25,000 words of reasonable stuff and another 25,000 words of brain dump and potentially useful stuff is not bad for a month's work--particularly since I also had my surgery in November and lost a number of days to that (I was in the hospital for about five days or so)!!
Also, I've added more pics, at http://www.flickr.com/photos/leda_swann ::Posted by Anduril Elessar @ 6:26 PM::::