The OF Blog: March 2009

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Speaking of "marginalized" writers and groups...

Don't know why I didn't think to ask this in my previous post, but I was finishing up reading Daniel Goldhagen's 2002 diatribe against the Catholic Church's failure to act as a whole during the Holocaust, A Moral Reckoning, when the thought struck me:

"Is there a definable subgenre of SF stories that would be 'Jewish' in character, motifs, outlook, etc.?"

Did find a couple of books related to this theme on Amazon. However, this just leaves me wondering if this paucity is due to a lack of demand for such group-exclusive fictions, if there has been sufficient assimilation going on to make it very difficult to tell if a work is "Jewish" or not, or if there are other, more nefarious factors in action.

Very curious to look into this, as I think it'd be part of a greater future project I'd like to do for my own education, as what I've noticed from most books on the Holocaust (even cultural studies, which interest me the most) is that the Jews are relegated to a mostly passive, "victimized" role that extends beyond the brutality of the actual Shoah, but into their portrayals. Too often historians and others commenting on the Holocaust (even Goldhagen, himself an American of Jewish descent, focuses on the perpetrators to the extent that the horror of the atrocities inflicted is lost into this vortex of almost nameless, formless "Jewish victims") present the Jews as being passive objects of suffering, with only a few books, usually Anne Frank's diary or Elie Wiezel's Night being the two that "average" people know, being held up to demonstrate that the Jewish victims had voices of their own.

Although I'm not Jewish, I certainly would like to know more about their cultures in Europe during this time, how the Shoah was reflected in their literatures, and if Jewish SF might contain traces of this horrific event. If any have suggestions as to books to consider, it'd be greatly appreciated.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Why some people's complaints are a bit silly

One of the recurring themes of any internet forum discussion is that of complaint over X. In this case, the complaint is over how some feel that with the recent announcement that the proposed "final" volume of The Wheel of Time will now be published in three 250,000 to 300,000 volumes. Some keep citing the deceased author's Robert Jordan's wish that the book be published in one volume. Some have even gone as far as to demand that Tor, the series' American publishers, publish a 800,000-900,000 single-volume book.

To illustrate the daftness of this idea, I have enclosed three pictures of the largest hardcover I own, Adolfo Bioy Casares' Borges, which clocks in at 1663 pages with medium-to-small font. Let's look at the images:

Notice how this book appears on my bookshelf next to the other books. The page numbers for the four books to the left range from 330 to 497 pages. To the right, one is almost 1100 pages, the other around 800. Notice how it dwarfs all around it. It is a "normal" height for a hardcover book, which would be necessary for it to fit on many booksellers' (not to mention possible patrons') bookshelves. Now imagine a store trying to fit multiple copies of that into the limited space they give SF/F releases in many stores. It would reduce the volume of books by at least one-half, perhaps up to two-thirds.

Here is the font inside the book. It's on the small side, but not too much. Likely 400-500 words per page. Multiply that by 1663 and the total for a 400 word/page book would be 665, 200 words. For a 500 word/page book (think tiny print here), it would be 831,500. Mind you, this is with smaller than average font.

This third picture shows me holding the book out. I have relatively large hands and I barely can grasp it and hold it steady. The book weighs well over 5 lbs., likely closer to 7 lbs. Whenever I open it, the spine creaks (and let me note that the camera can't show the reinforcement along the spine, with a ribbed effect) and that's with me being extra cautious whenever I read from this book. If I were to re-read it say 3-4 times, I suspect the spine would collapse.

If I wanted to show what a "normal" font-sized book of around 800,000-900,000 words would look like, I'd have to add the Richard Morgan book in the background on top of it and then try to palm the two books. Do you think my hand, large as it may be, could do that?

While I know the option some would say would be to print the book on Bible-like tissue paper, but that too would be very impractical due to production costs. Which brings the entire thing around to economics:

Can booksellers afford to wipe out twice as much stock in order to keep extra-bulky books on display for 2-3 months? Can publishers, who have been urging/coercing authors for the past 5-10 years to reduce the page count per book due to increased costs for paper and binding, afford to print a book at a loss in mass quantities, if the break-even point for a book this size would be in the $35-40 wholesale range at least, and likely closer to the $50 mark if it were produced in mass quantities? Would consumers balk at spending $45-50 for a book, especially in the middle of a deep global recession? Would said consumers throw a fit if the book collapses in the middle of their first reading due to the heft of the book and the way the consumer might handle it? Would slighter-built consumers have problems holding the book in their hands?

Sometimes, people get so passionate about something that the practical realities elude them for a while.

It's been one of those days

Feel free to write in a caption describing what my dog is thinking/doing here...

So the "final" WoT novel has been split into three volumes

Press Release

Brandon Sanderson's comments

Don't have much time now to say anything at length, but rather than griping about "broken promises" or "greedy publishers" as some might be tempted to do (or have done on their blogs), I think what Sanderson's comments reveal more than anything else is how the various departments work with/against each other in the crafting of a manuscript into a finished product. Not to mention the influence that booksellers wield in determining what books are published/sold in their stores. So while none of this is surprising (after all, Tristam Shandy was originally published in several volumes, so this is a quite old practice), it is illuminating on several levels.

Thoughts on this announcement?

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Review Index

Since I'm practically done archiving all of wotmania's Interviews here, the next step is creating a place for various reviews that I and others have done over the years. Since most of my best reviews have been posted here originally, the process is much simpler for me - just find the ones I really liked and add a link with description to a new sidebar category. I suspect in the near future there'll be pre-dated entries from others that will appear there as well, or virtually everything ever posted under the Book Reviews category of wotmania's Other Fantasy section.

This list will be expanded frequently, depending on my satisfaction with certain reviews of mine. Feel free to see what I've done by looking to the right and scrolling down to the part just above the Archive section.

March 22-29 Reads

Since I was busy all of yesterday evening with the editing and porting of interview/Q&A content from wotmania to here (I have 3 small Q&As left to do then I'll be done with the Interviews section, with the much easier porting of some of the Reviews to follow, although I think most of that will be done by Jake and not me), I didn't have the chance to write up a summary of my reading list for the past week, so this edition will be for 8 days rather than the usual 7.

Many more books covered this week and I suspect despite having only 6 days, the next one will contain even more, since I am about to start my week off from teaching. There will be several reviews to be written and posted this week and I'll note those as well. Now for the 11 books read over the past 8 days:

84 Mervyn Peake, Titus Alone (original edition; re-read) - Review forthcoming. Liked it, but it wasn't on par with the first two, which are masterpieces of atmosphere and prose.

85 M. John Harrison, Viriconium (omnibus edition; re-read) - Already reviewed the first two stories. Reviews of the latter two parts forthcoming. Mostly outstanding.

86 Irwin Shaw, Evening in Byzantium - Bought this book last year after seeing Jeff VanderMeer praise this 1970s book on his blog. Excellent prose and characterization of a tale of a womanizing American movie director now living in France. Might review it later, but I want to re-read it first to decide all the wonderful passages that could be cited.

87 Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet (re-read) - Allegorical, quasi-religious text. Thought-provoking. Enjoyed it quite a bit.

88 Roberto Bolaño, Monsieur Pain - One of Bolaño's earliest stories and it shows. Good, but not outstanding, as many of his latter works were. Will re-read before commenting further on it.

89 David Shields and Bradford Morrow (eds.), Conjunctions 51: The Death Issue - Already reviewed.

90 Paul Auster, The New York Trilogy - Outstanding detective/metaphysical story. Will review in the near future. Deserving of all praise that it receives.

91 Neil Gaiman, The Sandman: Worlds' End - Recasting of the frame story approach made popular by Boccaccio and Chaucer for the Sandman universe. Stories were excellent.

92 Michael Moorcock, Byzantium Endures - This opening volume in the Pyat Quartet will be reviewed in the near future. Perhaps one of Moorcock's best-written works.

93 Jack Vance, Tales of the Dying Earth (ominbus edition) - Review forthcoming. Good, but much of it was a bit too pulp fiction-like for my tastes at the moment.

94 Mark C. Newton, Nights of Villjamur - Review forthcoming. Above-average debut novel. A few glitches with the atmosphere, but these were minor in comparison to the adroitness in which Newton develops his characters. Opener to a new fantasy trilogy that combines elements of epic, New Weird, and Dying Earth subgenres.

In Progress:

Daniel Goldhagen, A Moral Reckoning

Nick Gevers and Jay Lake (eds.), Other Earths

Gene Wolfe, The Best of Gene Wolfe

Future Plans:

Brandon Sanderson, Warbreaker

Jo Graham, Black Ships (re-read); Hand of Isis

Bill Ectric, Tamper

A.S. Byatt, Possession

Hope Mirrlees, Lud-in-the-Mist (re-read)

Andrew Fox, The Good Humor Man

Steph Swainston, The Year of Our War

Saturday, March 28, 2009

New Sidebar Category: Interviews

Since I'm in the middle of porting over quite a few more earlier interviews that I and others at wotmania have done over the years, thought it might be best to create an Interviews category in my sidebar. Yes, I know there are a few authors with multiple interviews over the years and that in some cases, I split the interview into two parts, but I like to think that by labeling the month/year, it ought to cut down on some of the confusion.

Within the next week or so, there should be another 20-30 added. Since I'm creating a category for these, I'm going to have future ported interviews carrying their original post dates, so if there suddenly seem to be more entries for 2003, 2004, and 2005, that's why. Figured that would save on the clutter on the front page as I do all this. So please be sure to keep looking at the Interviews bar for more interviews and Q&As!

Oh, and as a special tip, be sure to look for the two-part Hal Duncan interview to be posted within the hour.

Update: Since I have little to do this afternoon, I went ahead and ported over all the remaining interviews. I still have about a half-dozen Q&As to edit into interview format, but after those are done, every single interview or Q&A ever posted at wotmania will either be on this blog or at Neth Space. While there are a few that I helped with that I didn't add here (since they are available at other sites, plus I wasn't the primary interviewer), the current total of 63 links to interviews/Q&As ought to provide plenty of reading material for those who missed these originally being posted on wotmania over the past 6 years.

The wotmania Files: Q&A with Scott Bakker Part II (Nov. 2004)

Due to all sorts of things happening the past few weeks, forgot about editing/posting more of the Q&A session Bakker did with wotmania back in November 2004. Here it is for those curious to know more about the author and his works.
You have given some hints that this world was at least discovered by off worlders. Are we going to see more of that? Are the No-men meerly a technologically advanced people from another world? I guess I am asking if they are a different species from the people we see.

Also, thanks tons for doing this.

Good questions... The problem is that I see the unveiling of the world (which is HUGE) as part of the reader's adventure. All these issues come to play decisive roles in the story. I wish I could give you a better answer...

Otherwise, I'd like to thank YOU ALL, and especially Larry, for giving me the opportunity to do this. This MB is very, very cool.

Robert Jordan is a lucky man!

I mean, you are popular because you're good, so much so, that we have a little fan club in El Salvador, Central America, where I am from. Larry adviced me to tell you here so I am doing it now. But the point is, your storytelling is great, why would a great writter not become successful,or if he does, why be surprised by that?

Thanks, dark gholam. Be sure to say hi to everyone!

Well, two things, I guess. First, I'm painfully aware of the many ways we humans like to delude ourselves, particularly when it comes to flattery. Do you remember the coverage of Ronald Reagan's passing a few months back? The one thing all the American news organizations kept saying more than anything else was that Reagan 'reminded us of how great they were.' Somehow they managed to turn this poor guy's death into an orgy of self-congratulation. They did this because they're selling a product in a competitive market, and they knew that people want to be flattered more than they want to be informed. Just think of how awkward those words "Tell me what you really think" can be!

When you receive attention the way I've been, it pays-pays-pays to be suspicious, especially since it's so HARD to gain perspective on one's own perspective. I can actually understand what happened to Goodkind, I think.

Secondly, I had a hard youth in some ways. I grew up poor, working all the time, and profoundly suspicious of good fortune. Those kind of emotional habits are hard to shake.

My mind is a bit random so I hope you can excuse that these questions are a bit random.

Do polar bears wear sunglasses were you live?

Nope. But they DO drink Coca-Cola.

Were would you recommend someone that is interested in philosophy to start?

Hard question. I'm not sure there's any one book that I would recommend: the best place, really, is a freshman philosophy course. There's also a philosophy discussion section on The Three Seas Forum, where you can debate and ask questions to your heart's delight. So far it seems remarkably flameproof, despite the charged subject matter.

Do you ever drink soft drinks? If you do what are your favourite?

I compulsively drink caffiene-free Coke Classic. Tastes the same as the regular, but doesn't keep you up all night pondering the imminent destruction of the world. I like to feel rested when I ponder such things...

Do you prefer to write in the day or during the night?

I'm a lark when it comes to writing, which is a pain because all the years I spent working midnights transformed me into an owl.

How many books do you think you will write in your lifetime?

That depends. How long do I got to live?

Is death the beginning or the end?

Death lies beyond beginnings and ends.

Do you think you will some day be as popular as J.R.R. Tolkien?

Good lord, no! First off, I think the first 200 pages of TDTCB will ward off many readers, as will the general complexity of the world and the names. Kind of like St. Peter... Then there's the dark and violent themes I tackle, which I'm sure will convince many, like poor Dorothy from Curved Lake, Ontario, that my books should be burned. Then there's the fact that Tolkien is the God of epic fantasy, and as such, tends to be a jealous God, and will tolerate no others, and you know, blah, blah, blah, blah...

Do you see any parts of yourself in every character you create?

Only the well-endowed ones...

Couldn't resist! What can I say? I grew up on a tobacco farm. The first time someone mentioned "Touched by an Angel" I thought they were talking about a porno. I like to think of my humour as 'earthy' rather than 'dirty.'

Insofar as I put myself in their headspace, you could say that all of my characters are expressions of the possible headspaces I can occupy. I know this unnerves my wife, who now and again asks me to sleep on the couch after proofing a chapter.

Thank you for the great books and for taking time to answer questions from us lowly readers.


Thank you, Dark Matter!

I live in Australia and that leads me to my first question, I had a hard time getting your book down here, and it took so long to get here I have only read the first quarter. I think I have a British published copy, getting to the questions:

1. Are there going to be Australian editions or am I going to have to pay for international postage on ‘The Warrior Prophet’.

Simon & Schuster UK handle worldwide distribution in English (outside of the US and UK). I'll ask my editor there about it. Thanks for the tip, I Am.

2. The cover art (on the edition I have) is very evocative and I know most authors have no control over cover art. Do you like the images on the covers and what they suggest about the book/story?

I'm happy with the S&S cover, but I haven't the foggiest as to WHO that is staring out at you. I had thought that the Canadian cover was just so obviously superior, more 'eye catching,' so to prove myself right I took the book to one of my pop culture classes and put both covers up on the VDP, and without letting anyone know which I preferred, I asked my student which one they liked best.

They voted for the S&S cover by a 2 to 1 margin.

Which explains why publishers always reserve the right to put whatever they want on the covers. Though we authors fancy ourselves creative geniuses, the bottomline is that we haven't a clue as what sells books. In this case, I'm told that it's the face. Our brains have powerful face-recognition circuits, which often makes covers with faces more engaging.

I STILL prefer the Canadian covers though (as does my US publisher, thank Gawd).

3. Where does you interest in religion come from?

I've had a strange personal odyssey when it comes to religion. When I was young, I was 'born again,' but then around 14 or so I started asking questions, lots of them, and troubling enough to convince my mother to have the pastor over for dinner a couple nights. It had dawned on me that if everything had a cause, and those causes themselves had causes, then my thoughts, which were part of 'everything,' were themselves caused, and that there could be no such thing as free will...

I was the guy who you DID NOT want to talk to on acid or mushrooms.

So I spent my teens as an athiest and a nihilist, filled with moral outrage at the fact that morality did not exist, and yet everyone pretended it did.

Then I went to university, and somehow ended up reading Heidegger, the German father of what Sartre would later turn into existentialism. The intellectual ins and outs of my transformation are too complicated to relate here, but I ended up being an agnostic, firmly convinced of the reality of things like meaning and morality.

Then while doing my Philosophy PhD at Vanderbilt, I started playing poker on a regular basis with some classmates, one of whom was an avowed nihilist. I argued and argued and argued, and got my ass kicked. And I realized that if you were honest and only committed yourself to warranted claims, then nihilism was inescapable.

But nihilism, of course, simply HAS to be wrong. There's gotta be more than function, process, and mechanism...

And this is the central thematic question of The Prince of Nothing: What is this 'more'? What are the shapes we give it, and how do these shapes affect the way we see the world and each other? Is it real, or is it all a gigantic racket?

Could it be both?

I have no answers to any of these questions. All I know is that if you set aside your hope, your childhood upbringing, and stick only to what we know, the picture looks pretty grim.

Why epic fantasy? What is it about this form of communication that appeals not just to you as your chosen medium of writing, but to those of us here who love to read it?

*ducks the probable withering stare for turning the tables here*

No ducking necessary, you ducker. I think it's an excellent question!

I should start with a caveat, though. Everyone knows that there's a variety of 'worldviews' out there, and despite the fact that everyone is convinced that their's happens to be the true one, everyone remains convinced that their's happens to be the true - primarily because it just 'feels' right.

First: If it 'feels' right, then odds are it's wrong. Despite what the movie hero or the commercial says, our 'gut instincts' are miserable when it comes to getting things right. Since collective beliefs underwrite collective actions, and since the repetition of collective actions is what makes societies possible, only those societies that successfully manage the beliefs of their constituent members survive. Ronald Reagan didn't cause the collapse of the Soviet system: a collective crisis of faith did.

This is just a fact. If you were socialized in the traditional manner, your possess the belief system that your social system needs you to have in order to function as it functions. Our society is no different than any other in this regard, though most of us are convinced that we've monopolized the truth, just as most everyone in most every society has been convinced. In our society we call this requisite belief system 'Individualism.'

One of the things I find so fascinating about epic fantasy is the way fetishizes a certain type of world-view - specifically, the pre-scientific one.

More than anything else, science is a kind of discipline, a set of methods and techniques that prevent us from duping ourselves in the quest to answer questions of fact. This is the reason so much science is so alienating for so many people: we're hard-wired to prefer flattering, simplistic, and purposive answers. Evolution is the classic example here.

The world-views one finds in epic fantasy are examples of the world-views our ancestors developed in the absence of scientific discipline. This makes epic fantasy horribly important in at least two respects, First, those ancient worlds were the worlds enshrined in scripture. It's no accident that Banker's novelization of the Ramayana is shelved in the fantasy section. Fantasy worlds are versions of scriptural worlds. This is why poor Harry Potter has enjoyed all the controversy he has. For fundamentalists who still believe in the scriptural world of the Bible, being a 'young wizard' is as odious as being a 'young gunslinger' would be to secular readers. Second, since those ancient worlds arose without the 'benefit' of scientific discipline, they are bound to reflect a whole host of human foibles and human needs. They are pictures of the world as we want it to be.

March 21-28 Book Porn

These are all purchases this week, as no review copies arrived. However, I think many here will be curious about what I am currently purchasing, as well as seeing cover art both old and new, so instead of just the spines, here are the photos of each book's cover art.

Left: David Shields and Bradford Morrow (eds.), Conjunctions 51: The Death Issue (just reviewed it last night and this is an outstanding collection of stories revolving around Death and its various aspects. Highly recommended.); Mervyn Peake, Titus Alone (this is from the first paperback edition released in the US in the late 1960s. Review will be forthcoming. Enjoyed it, but not as much as the first two. Note that this is the original edition and not the expanded, apparently better revised edition of a few years ago).

Left: Roberto Bolaño, Monsieur Pain (one of Bolaño's earlier novels, written in the 1980s but not published in Spain until later. Good, but it's obvious that he hasn't fully come into his own as a writer then); Daniel Goldhagen, A Moral Reckoning (this book complements his 1997 gadfly look at the Holocaust, Hitler's Willing Executioners. While I want to be sympathetic with some of his arguments, his methodology and tendency to make sweeping pronouncements with no primary source citation has made this book, 100 pages in, into an often-irritating read).

Left: Neil Gaiman, The Sandman: Worlds' End (eighth volume in this excellent graphic novel series, this time recasting the Bocaccio/Chaucer frame story into a setting that fits with the overall Sandman world); Hope Mirrlees, Lud-in-the-Mist (I borrowed a copy from a friend in 2005 and decided that I wanted to re-read it shortly, so I went ahead and bought a copy. Good stuff).

Left: Steph Swainston, The Year of Our War (been meaning to read Swainston for a while now, so expect a review in the next month or so); Paul Auster, The New York Trilogy (omnibus of three novellas written by Auster in the 1980s. Outstanding work. Since this book may be voted in for a future review, I'll wait until the results are done before writing more than a cursory praise).

Left: Daniel Abraham, A Betrayal in Winter (second volume of a work I've meant to return to reading for almost two years now. Will do so in the next month or so); Michael Moorcock, Byzantium Endures (first in his Pyat quartet, which many writers whose opinions I value have held up as one of his better works. Will be reading this today and perhaps tomorrow, depending on time/energy).

Friday, March 27, 2009

Conjunctions 51: The Death Issue

Death is the great mystery that has bedeviled us for as long as humans or their ancestors developed the first spark of self-consciousness. It appears in so many guises in our stories, from Shakespeare's "the undiscover'd country, from whose bourn no traveller returns" to Neil Gaiman's sweet, goth-like girl. To define death would be to define the whole range of human experiences, emotions, as well as our hopes, dreams, and fears.

Lately, death has been on my mind. Two days ago, on March 25, I learned that a high school classmate of mine had died after a years-long battle with leukemia. Although he and I were never close (he was two years older than me and had struggled to stay in school until 18, when he dropped out), he is the second person in my high school class (we had as many as 71, with 58 graduating in 1992) to die. It is a sobering realization, knowing that cancer can take the young as well as the old. That, more than gray hairs, middle-age spreads, or achy joints, serves to remind people of their mortality.

What is there about death that entices us, scares us, makes us do all sorts of things to embrace it or attempt (vainly) to flee from it? What power does it have that can drive a person away from the bedside of a loved one (I almost vomited seeing my maternal grandfather in the ICU as the doctors tried to resuscitate him a second time; I left the hospital two hours before he died, because I just couldn't bear the emotional atmosphere there any longer. Still haunted by those dreams), while another frantically rushes to be there for that one final, bittersweet moment?

In the Fall/Winter 2008 issue of Conjunctions, called The Death Issue: Meditations on the Inevitable, 42 authors weigh in with their poems and short stories on this most mysterious of human experiences. The result is a powerful, sometimes disturbing collection of stories that showcase all the myriad emotions that the living can feel when confronted with death and with the dying.

The collection opens with Sallie Tisdale's "The Sutra of Maggots and Blowfish." Tisdale combines scientific inquiry into the brief lives and deaths of ephemeral insects with Buddhist reflections on suffering and loss. Below are a couple of excerpts that cut to the heart of her story:

My study of living things, part inquiry and part the urge to possess, became inevitably a study of predation and decay. I had to feed my pets, and most preferred live food. The mantises always died, their seasons short. The chameleons died, too delicate for my care. The alligator died. I tried to embalm it, with limited success - just good enough for an excellent presentation at show-and-tell. When one of my turtles died, my brother and I buried it in my mother's rose bed to see if we could get an empty turtle shell, which would be quite a good thing to have. When we dug it up a few weeks later, there was almost nothing left - an outcome I had not anticipated, and one that left me with a strange, disturbed feeling. The earth was more fierce than I had guessed (p. 8)

Buddhism in its heart is an answer to our questions about suffering and loss, a response to the inexplicable; it is a way to live with life. Its explanations, its particular vocabulary and shorthand, its gentle pressures - they have been with me throughout my adult life; they are part of my language, my thought, my view. Buddhism saved my life and controlled it; it has been liberation and censure at once.

Buddhism is blunt about suffering, its causes and its cures. The Buddha taught that nothing is permanent. He taught this in a great many ways, but most of what he said came down to this: Things change. Change hurts; change cannot be avoided. "All compounded things are subject to dissolution" - this formula is basic Buddhist doctrine, it is pounded into us by the canon, by the masters, by our daily lives. It means all things are compounded and will dissolve, which means I am compounded and I will dissolve. This is not something I readily accept, and yet I am continually bombarded with the evidence. I longed to know this, this fact of life, this answer - that we are put together from other things and will be taken apart and build anew - that there is nothing known that escapes this fate. When one of his disciples struggled with lust or felt pride in his youth or strength, the Buddha recommended that the follower go to the charnel ground, and meditate on a corpse - on its blossoming into something new (pp. 13-14)

Tisdale's take on death serves as a near-perfect opener for this anthology issue, as the dualism of change/decay and of the first-person narrator's intense desire to explore/probe is balanced by the Buddhist beliefs the narrator attempts to practice. Many times in life, I have come into contact with people who seek detachment, but whose basic personalities are those of intense, driven, world-absorbed people. The inherent contradictions in this relate well with the seemingly paradoxical observation that death ceremonies serve the living and not the dead.

Another take on death that grabbed my attention was Michael Logan's "The Pressure Points." Told in a series of flashbacks involving the husband/narrator and his dying (then later dead) wife, who has breast cancer, Logan's tale reflects the anger, hatred, and irrational reactions that the spectre of Death can raise among the living and the dying.

Weeks not hungry punctuated by specific cravings for olives, chocolate, pistachio nuts, and pills - waiting for the death pregnancy test to register positive. Teen year erotic wet dreams discharged between clenched night teeth into amputation nightmares. Biology needed another host to continue. We had no children. The whole family should be dead. I am willing to go back several generations. I understand vampire stories now. (p. 351)
Logan's short story, with its rapid-fire changes in perspective and point of view, captures much of the confusion and frustration that comes from watching a disease like cancer conducting its slow, inexorable fatal march across the features of a loved one. It reminded me of my reactions at the age of 14, watching (before I finally turned away, three months before her death) my paternal grandmother die of stomach, lung, and liver cancer.

These are but two stellar stories in a collection that contains more very good stories than poor or average tales. In reading this anthology this past weekend, I recalled so many of the emotions that I felt over the years when friends and family died, or when I learned that a then-current or former student of mine had died in an accident. Coming to grips with these sorts of situations supposedly is a sign of maturation, of "growing up," even if so often we fail to grow towards a greater understanding of what is transpiring when a living body ceases to be alive. However, the tales contained in Conjunctions 51: The Death Issue touch upon so many of our nerve points that for any wanting to read thoughtful, challenging, and sometimes provocative tales on death and how it affects both the living and the dying (a separate entity with its own rules, or just part and parcel of the former? Such a question is addressed in several ways in this anthology.), this might be the anthology for them. Highly recommended.

Two new polls, other review plans

Since I'm off work for all of next week and since I'm not planning on making a long trip for spring break this year, I'm going to have a lot more reading time, so I thought I'd mix things up by running two new polls, both of which are set to expire Wednesday night, so I'd have plenty of time to read/review by next weekend. The first poll covers older, generally-lauded novels, the other a mixture of classic and newer short fiction collections and anthologies. Hopefully, this will encourage me to not just read, but also to write more reflective essays/reviews on these works. I especially could use the encouragement (pressure?) to review more short fiction collections/anthologies, in more detail than I have in the past. I am, of course, leaving off works that I've discussed to some degree prior to now.

In addition, expect to see the following reviews in the next week (subject to change, especially more additions):

Sarah Monette, Corambis

Mervyn Peake, Titus Alone (original edition, not the recently re-edited/expanded edition)

M. John Harrison, In Viriconium; Viriconium Nights (collection)

Bill Ectric, Tamper

Mark Charan Newton, Nights of Villjamur

And maybe a few surprises, depending on how much reading I get done in the next 9 days.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

The wotmania Files: My "review" of Robert Jordan's Crossroads of Twilight, Part I

This was me having fun in 2006 after being challenged to read the 10th volume of WoT. I had previously stopped reading the series in 2000, so needless to say, I wrote long summaries of my stream of consciousness-like thoughts on it in several posts. Here's one for the Prologue and the first section. I'll post the others in the next day or so, if others are interested.In for a penny, in for a pound. The book is mine. The day is mine. Fear me, for I have no mouth and must scream. Or something. Anyways, time to begin

Edit: Forgot the epigraph:

And it shall come to pass, in the days when the Dark Hunt rides, when the right hand falters and the left hand strays, that mankind shall come to the Crossroads of Twilight and all this is, all that was, and all that will be [Bret "the Hitman" Hart, anyone?] shall balance on the point of a sword, while the winds of the Shadow grow.

Need I say more than what I've highlighted above?


One of the first things that strikes me about this Prologue is that in the beginning there was Rodel Ituralde. Is it pronounced "RO-dell," or could a case be made for "ROY-duhl"? I wonder if his friends called him Rodeo and what the is deep inner meaning of "Ituralde"? Hrmm... But at least the prologue is off to a nice enough start. He is not merely cold, his mustache is not merely neatly trimmed and rimmed with frost, but that his white gelding horse felt as though it were made of frozen milk. This certainly is not staid metaphors being tossed about here. I just pray that Rodel doesn't feel his "thing" rising to the point of kicking an 8 year-old Seanchan girl in the jaw.

But there is a good descriptive bit here of the weather changes, to remind those of us who may have forgotten that the Bowel...err, Bowl of the Winds was used and that winter's heart is colder than the *ahem* of a nun. Check. I'll drop that theory that WH was originally Narg's nickname now.

Ah, I was wrong! It's Wolf, not Rodeo for a nick! But Little? Little John, or is this a nick that started with the women? Anyways, this Ituralde dude is shaping up to be interesting...I wonder if he'll be the main character of this book?

Apparently the Domani king with the porn star name of Alsalam has gone insane in the membrane, insane in the brain. Weird-ass orders, coming from all directions. Something tells me that either ganja was involved or that like Folgers, someone has secretly replaced the house blend with the specialized crystal...umm...yeah.

Now some dude named Donjel has appeared. He seems almost as badass as Randyll Tarly. Dark leather eyepath, only a single sword, hang marks around his neck - I bet this dude used to eat Trollocs for breakfast and then crap them out to kick the shit around a bit more. Hopefully he'll get to lay the smackdown on some roody-poo candyass later in the story. That so would make this book worth reading.

More snow, more waiting, more desolation. I bet Moridin is set to arrive by the next train, right? Waiting for Moridin...yeah, that'd be a new way of approaching WoT. Maybe a fan-fic on this for the future?

By the light, I come under the White Ribbon....oooh, kinky! Is that like the Order of the Garter Belt?

More Lords, more titles, it's like a bargain sale. Servants not included. But these are not any ordinary lords...these appear to be Dragonsworn, which by the description seem to live in an anarcho-syndicalist commune, where they each in turn act as a sort of executive, but that the orders of the executive must be approved by a simple majority in the case of ordinary affairs but by a 2/3 majority in the....oh, look Dennis, here's some lovely filth!

Anyways...Rode...err, Little Wolf is meeting with Dragonsworn. Gets a bit pissed, tugs on ruby earring. Can't decide if he's about to get all Emo or go medieval on their asses. But I don't think he'll be launching into a 20 page speech about how the Dragonsworn should rise up and live their lives, mostly because no description of Rode- Little Wolf gives me the impression that he wields the Sacred Yeard.

Read a description of the Taraboners and promptly start saying to myself, "I am the Walrus!" But then there's a dude named Wakeda. Wakeda. Must be an anagram or else it's the Japanese for "I have the facial hair strength of many men!" Or something...

Aiel on the plain, Aiel over there, Aiel way over yonder - bad guys showing a brain, I see. And best of all, Randy Boy gets the credit for this. Sweet. Villians gotta love when a plan comes together, right? Nasty do-gooders!

But now a truce has been forged. Domani, Dragonsworn, together again, like chocolate and peanut butter. Ready to kick ass, take names, and chew bubblegum, but alas, they are all out of bubblegum. Anyways, Hannibal...err..Rode...err...Little Wolf has a devious smile and a secret plan that shall be revealed....later.


Man, I'm so hyped. I hope there's more snow travelling here! YES! Eamon, who has a kickass Irish name (although I'm partial to Eochaidh for familial reasons) is holding...his cloak. And it is cold. Not ball-breaking cold, but cold and steady, like a ninja stalking his target. But then the wind/cold has to get all Emo and sigh. Damn. But then again, it's deceptively quiet, just like a granny can be in the calm before the storm. SBD. Oh, and for those that want to read way too much into it, "men huddled together unless driven to move." I'll leave this passage up to Robert Waite to psychoanalyze from a historical perspective. Surely he has time after all those years speculating about Hitler's ball sac/emo condition.

But then again, I do learn that Valda (Valdarama? Kickass 'do, ya know) lacks a Gag Reflex around maggots....Umm-kay. And he's a scowler, not a sniffer. Very key difference here. Character development, FTW!

How lovely, horse hung is being buried, instead of being used for fuel for the fire. Idiots! Don't they know the warming power of a few clumps of dried horse shit? But alas, the maggoty smell has faded suddenly - I wondered if it was just the Dark One (BBNC?) who let one rip behind the Pattern and it just oozed in and out like a faint miasma of decay... But I most quote here:

The wind did not change; the stink just vanished...The stench had come from somewhere. But there are no beginnings or ends to the stench in the wind. But it was a beginning...
Page 27, hardcover, bitches. Look it up, yo Okay, I added a bit, deal.

"Scudding gray clouds..." - scudding....ha! Only Sexy Saddam knows how to 'scud' properly. He's like a pimp, ya know.

And alas poor Ailron, I knew him well! Stupid git, Valda thinks and I have to concur. Sadly.

Is it bad of me to think of the blind guy on Kung Fu when I see the name...Asunawa? Seems like a spoiled bitch, though. Tis a pity. Would have been better if he had studied with Goodkind and learned the torturous arts of the Mord Sith, such as how to stick a rod up a crack and...

Andorans in Murandy. Whitecloaks in Altara. Valda no longer in Morgase, who might be dead...or alive. Galadedrid being naughty, thus being called by his full name. Apparently no truth to the rumors that his middle name is Galadriel. Sigh.

Burn the witches! But first, build a bridge out of them and then see if they float as well as a duck...or a church.

And now, some Council of the Anointed to end this section. My guess is that they don't use balm.


Whadda know? Gabrielle is enjoying...what? What else but a ride through the snow! Yippee! I really hope she'll stop and make a snow angel. That's the best part about snow. That and snow cream and snowmen and snowfights and pissing in the snow and shoving your siblings' faces into it....not that I've ever done that, but...anyways, now where were we? Snow? Right...

Hrmm...I can hear it now in Gabrielle's thoughts on Toveine. Tiffany's cover version of "I Think We're Alone Now." After all, there doesn't seem to be anyone around...except for Logain of course. But he is so masculine that he doesn't need Rogaine. He has more than Fabio hair - he wills the hair into place, eschewing Saidin.

Oh wait, never mind. They aren't friends, not really. No pillow-friendly talk...le sigh. And somewhere in the world, a pimply-faced 14 year-old (or urza) is weeping.

But she does have a nice consolation gift of a green-gloved hand and a fox-lined cloak which just so happens to be shut with the her other green-gloved hand (a matching pair, she's special). But Gabrielle is obviously into kinky masochistic BDSM - she lets herself feel the cold, for the "refreshing vigor." Yep, definitely kinky.

Birds, birds, plants, snow, more plants, and ooh, some minerals! But alas, just only a bird in the sky and not that's not worth one in the bush, or however the hell that saying goes. But she is in a wooded area...just like all the other snowy wooded areas so far in this story. The geography is amazingly varied here. I wonder if we'll get to see a snowy plain next! OMG, I'm about to wet myself in anticipation!

Black Tower, White Tower...chess, anyone? Anyways, apparently it isn't a great tourist attraction yet. Maybe in the future, once that great big black wall gets built. It would have been ironic if it had been white. Then it could have had that Ying-Yang effect. But is it Yinging or Yanging? I can't recall.

But we do learn that the essence of Logain Albar is in her, kinda like how Mojo Nixon sang that we all have a bit of Elvis in us, except for Michael J. Fox, of course. He's like the anti-Elvis.

Finally, I see that Gabrielle is Down with the Brown. Sweet! And wrong-way bondage isn't a good thing, I suppose....but how would she know if it were so, if she hadn't had it done 'right' to her? But poor, poor Gabrielle - she's caught trying to read a guy's mind and to understand him. When will women ever learn?

Hrmm...devious mind, thinking of how to get around simple obedience. Sigh...they never learn, do they? I hope there'll be lots and lots of spanking going on...isn't that what RJ is renowned for in this series?

Logain appears. Mack Daddy of course, unless he's Daddy Mack. Your choice. Well-fitted coat dark as pitch, but no signs of silk slashed with cream. I'm SO sober right now! Then Logain does his manly man pose, and the other AS, Toveine, just fawns all over him. Sigh, I miss HS suddenly and my days as a football player

Toveine is a Red and she supposedly hates men, but Logain is just the shit, so of course she just <3s>must hate him for his claims about the Red Ajah setting him up as a False Dragon. will the real Dragon really "ride"?

More thoughts and speculation about Logain and his aims/apparent laxness toward the AS prisoners. And then the confession - she tried to seduce him, only to learn that he really was like a Dragon in the bed. Scudding, baby. I guess they might have named the Black Tower after him? Hrmm...

But then again, Gabrielle just goes back to thinking of Engla...err, Tar Valon. Tree, boulders, and smooth, white snow. That snow pwns.

And another Asha'man appears. Mishraile. Sounds kinda dark, no? Oh, he's with M'Hael, and not the one living in LA right now. Apparently there's a tension of deathly calm in the air. Still no silk washing. I'm disappointed.

Mishraile trying to talk Logain to leave for 'recruiting.' Hmm...he reminds me of a poacher. I'll have to RAFO, I suppose.

Ah, bonded women in the M'Hael section of the AM. Bet they're gay...or evil. Your choice. Choose wisely.

Looking for signs of insanity, but Logain is as cool as the other side of the pillow. He dismisses Mishraile, keeps his honeys and is just chillin'. Old school. Relaxed. Kickin' it.

Logain gets in touch with his feminine side and feels worry toward the women, which they then debate about for a while as to its meaning. Sheesh, women! Not that he probably isn't talking about this with Narishma about how Toveine seems to be a bit coy but that Gabrielle is wild in the sack but won't admit to liking it bareback.


Yuriko - I found it!

Oh, wait, her name is Yukiri. Damn. My bad.

But as we pick up her scent...err, not in that sense, she alas is not walking in a snowy woods at night á la a Robert Frost poem, but instead is of the wide hallways? Hrmm...I guess ADA nabbed the White Tower years ago, huh? Anyways, she is feeling as prickly as a starved cat, so I guess I shouldn't be noticing her attire yet, right? But it is morning time, time for the Tar Valon people to rise and shine and for the Novices to wake to a new round of switchings. This is so meta Catholic Nun School, ya know.

She is lost in thought about how cold the winter is compared to up north. But alas, she isn't walking barefoot uphill in TV carrying the firewood five miles to Elaida...yet. I bet that comes later, though. Right?

News is churning like newly-made butter inside her mind. As usual, rumors about things we've read about for books now and which some of us wish we could have forgotten. Everyone is everywhere, into everything and every and anyone. It's like an orgy of confusion, but will the chaotic money shot be worth it? Hrmm...

More thinking. Lots more thinking. But now it's time to stop the ever-present waiting and...greet another waiter. Meidani. Tall, slender, kinda girl mom would like to meet. Oh wait, never mind. That bosom apparently is standard-issued 36DD on a 5'8, 125 frame. Lara Croft meets WoT and is assimilated into the Bor...err, AS. Yep, that's it. Accompanied of course by Another Typical Warder. ATW from now on.

Rebels in da house! Whoot! There it is! *sighs, hoping for some groupies to shake it for me...female groupies, not Homsar, just to be on the safe side* Hating going on. When will they ever learn that it's love, man? LOVE.

But this is a fine example of Jordanian detail here: There is a talk about fishing rights in Arafel on rivers as opposed to lakes. It is so obvious that RJ is a GOB, Southern boy. I'm waiting for the discourse how how to frog jig. I bet it'll be amazing whenever it occurs.

ATW with these RAS. No, that's not Salvatore. You'll have to post about him your own self over at OF. Sowwy. And more hostility! Are these women all raggin' at the same time in this series? Or is it that RJ has had traumatic experiences and he's reliving them through this section? You make the call.

More and more talking about rumors about which Ajah did this, how so-and-so got naughty and got spanked, but alas no 15 page description of torture or about how the rebels' ears should be cut off, a la G--dk-nd (BBNC). Some things are a mercy, I suppose. But yet this is a scene full of chillness that has little to do with the nipply air...err, nippy air. But maybe nipply air is more appropriate?

More walking, more chattering about points of law (maybe hunting/poaching laws this time?). Whites jumping, Grays smiling, and five geese a'laying. Where's that damn partridge...oh yeah...before I forget...


There, I feel better. Now back to the show, as I am nearing page 44 of the hardcover (US) edition. As you can tell, a lot has been happening in CoT so far. Pity those fools that overlooked all this! It's actually not all that far.

More talk of Mistress Silviana and her birchings...hrmm...WoT BDSM? Moving on...

Even so, she could barely keep her eyes from lingering on one pair of Yellow who glided along a crossing corridor like queens in their own palace. - Dirty minds among us, interpret, now!

ATW appearance. More AS. Names out the wazoo. Pritalle? Does that rhyme with 'retail'? Anyways, back to more walking, after the spotting of a Black Ajah gal. I wonder if they secretly dress like Goths... But here, they sound like the Boogeyman! Out to get ya! Booyah! And it drags on for a couple of pages...moving right along to this lovely scene...

...of the corridor being empty! OMG! WTF! BBQ Trolloc! More talking, more scheming, more AS being name-dropped. Later to be dropped on their heads? One can hope, right? Or is that fear? Hrmm...

Elaida apparently 'favored' Siuan more than just hating on her. Secret lustful feelings emanating from the goat-like yearnings (not that goats aren't noble creatures, of course)? Anyways, just some futile attempts to sed..err, get 'friendly' with Elaida and Alviarin are being discussed. Are they a couple? Who is sending out the XOXO's? And who here will write out my name and make a <3?

But alas, all this speculation/waiting is broken by the arrival of Seaine, a White with ATW in tow. Acting quite illogical for a White/Vulcan, and she promptly gets bitch-slapped for it. Sadly, no birchings yet.

Ooh...a second mystery! Get the Mystery Machine running, Shaggy! Oh wait, this is merely about the pattern of youngish Sitters. Why they couldn't be Walkers or Runners is beyond me, but they are Sitters and perhaps secretly even Squatters. And so it goes...more guessing, theorizing...and waiting...for the Rebels this time and not for Moridin to respond to this post


Back to the loverly snow! YAY! Food conditions are so bad that Sir Robin's minstrels were consumed for food. YAY! And we learn that Gawyn doesn't sleep commando like a real manly man would have. Ask Randyll Tarly, Chuck Norris, or Donjel - they're real men

Anyways, Gawyn is deep into emoland here, worrying about Egwene, apologizing to her, crushing on her, worrying about Elayne, the Rebels, a fire, home for the holidays in Caemlyn, downing eggnog shots...yep, he's definitely a pussy.

Now an army has appeared out of nowhere. Rebels, of course. But without that kickass Hyperspace scene from the original SW movie. That rocked. Gateways are just so dull, ya know? It's like opening a door. Big whoop.

Horses in a barn, in a village renowned for....cheese Vive le fromage! Surrender Frenchies! Oops...getting carried away with myself sweet, Gawyn has himself some honeys...oh wait, they're Red/Black AS. Probably lousy lays as well. I guess the Red/Bed bit only works if it's on the Head and not in the dress, slashed as they might be with creamed silk.

Ah, the two try to lay the smack down on Gawyn, but he ain't having any of dat shit, so he's like all, so what? Tell me, huh? And they're like, no way, you're like a guy and have cooties, and he's all, so what, and then they get all secretive about why they want across the river to the side the Rebs are on and he's all emoing about this like the pussy that he is. Yeah.

So he like tucks up his peanuts and asks about Elayne, only to get slapped down with a vague "she's okay, just with some Rebs, but it ain't her fault. Stop worrying, whinyass mo'fo". This is some mighty fine character development here, along the lines of Anakin in the SW prequels. This so is begging for the Lucas treatment. Eat me, Raimi, RJ is saying, I'll get Lucas to film this shit!

And the scene ends with Gawyn...emoing. Consistent characterization. Sweet.


Clear blue skies, the sun a 'pale golden ball' of sunshininess! My oh my, what a wonderful day! Zippee-a-doo-dah, zippe-de-eh! My oh, my what a wonderful day! Plenty of blue skies, coming my way...oops, remembering an old song there

Davram Bashere is on the prowl and Mr. Bluebird is not on his shoulder. He's thinking about how a true winter back home in Saldaea would have burst trees and caused Saldean nips and balls to ache a bit...but only a bit, as the blood runs hot and furious in their veins. Viva la Raza! Andále! Arriba, arriba!

Sadly, the dude has a lame-assed named bay horse called Quick. Now I'm thinking of Quick Ben and how he would have opened a Warren and let loose...err, wrong story. Sorry about that, sometimes my mind wonders away from WoT and CoT, but rarely to SoT, unless it is to vomit Now back to the story.

A league north of C-Town, he's got a fancy spyglass made by that inventor Tovere that Randy Boy gifted him with some time ago. He's checking out all the men, because he's comfortable with his sexuality, ya know: fighting men, fletchers, farriers (say those three times fast!), armorers, laudresses (I hear they like a good 'tickle' once in a while ), wagon drivers and 'other camp followers' (translation: hoors! Lots and lots of hoors!). But these are for the likes of him, as they are a noble faction besieging cap-town, trying to keep the lovely Lady Elayne from her daily bathing in ass's milk, which I hear was the Third Age equivalent to Oil of O'lay (sp.?).

But apparently wolves and wolfhounds are mixing in the besieging camps, which puzzles Bashere, who can't seem to understand that some animals are 'born that way' and that 'there's nothing wrong with it.' He's such a bigot, isn't he?

But so far, this is all about the flags. Which I can understand. I taught students from all parts of Latin America. They too were all about the Flag, and not just the Grand Ol' Flag, the High-flyin' flag! Oh no, they were representin', ya know. Keeping it real. Just like these nobles are, WoT style. Yo.

Bael, deadly Aiel chieftain, veiled and ready for action. He was born in a crossfire hurricane, the product of Chuck Norris's semen mixing with the ovaries of Inanna. Go look it up. He's one bad mo'fo. He wants to haterize on the besiegers and to kick their asses.

But alas, politics gets in the way. Game of Houses, Game of Thrones, Game of Gin Rummy. It's all the rage and it's what shall decide the fate of nations, as no doubt a few here see that and think of a Robert Plant solo album from 1993.

Refugees flowing in, wood is valuable, apparently. A straggling group is surrounded by the besiegers, until C-Town regulars save the day! And there was much rejoicing and posturing and beating of chests like Tarzan. Then some went out and raped a few Tinkers. So it goes.OK, so that didn't happen. But it could have, right? Just laugh, dammit!

Bael departs and the manly men Aiel trot off, as if waving their private parts at the snow as if they were haughty Frenchmen holding the sacred Castle Arrggghhh! Or something.

Now Bashere has to comfort/counsel another Saldaen, Tumad, about the silly, poncy Andorans. But no "comforting" or frottage takes place here. Feel free to vomit after you look up that word

Rumors of Tenobia coming down from the North with the other Borderlanders. Bashere bitchslaps Tumad verbally by noting that there's bigger fish to fry and more things to emo about. This book so obviously should have inspired a few emo artists, right?

Broken Crown mention. My guess it's not a dental matter anymore. Thinking about a razor, but not to shave his mustache. But it's not a walrus mustache. He's Saldaen and he's okay! He sleeps all night and he works all day!

Another phrase (from p. 68 taken out of context: Every man could be mounted.... Debate that for a while.

But then this PoV closes with Bashere meeting up with wife, who calmly shows him her boobies while getting a 'flesh wound' treated. All in a day's work in Saldaea, killing two would-be assasins and then making laconic small talk with the midget husband. Ho-hum. Search is on for the assasins, but they were found dead by sword thrust from a narrow blade (must be special, that). He sends for a 'special someone' as his PoV fades to black...


C*ds**n* - Talk dirty to me?

[Before beginning, I've noticed some 'hate clubs' for C*ds**n*, *gw*n*, and F**l*, so I might just asterik their names just to avoid the wrath of those...or maybe it'll just be C, E, and F. No D though. Sorry.]

More snow, this time of the light feathery type. Perfect for snowballs and snow angels after a while, or for backdrop to Yuletide carols or my dream of makin' whoopie (not Whoopie Goldberg) in a driving snowstorm on top of Old Smoky...

Anyways...I'll wait a moment while you stop vomiting/retching profusely.

Oh, ready? Here we go! (to be said in a faux Mario 64 voice)

Samitsu, whose sister gave her name to Jujitsu, is looking out at all the falling snow drom a tall narrow window in the Sun Palace in Cairhien, Cairhien, home of the Game of Houses and the place where Asha'men Gone Wild! was recently filmed. The Tower of the Rising Sun (not to be confused with the whorehouse in N'awlin's known as the House of the Rising Sun, as popularized by Lead Belly and The Animals) is gone due to the carelessly roughhousing of the Asha'men.

Samu, as I'll nick her now (she should be grateful that it's not Shamu the Whale or my old Japanese roomie, Osamu, who had the same nick), is worrying (favorite sport of WoTlanders next to sniffing, braidtugging, scowling, and waiting) about the orders that C left her a week or so before she went away, away. Keep those pesky meddling kids...err, Cairhienin out of trouble and C's hair. And of course, she's fretting over Randy Boy's decisions as to who gets to pretend to rule which country, although she admits to herself that Dobraine (rhymes with 'no brain'?) isn't too shabby.

There's another page or so of worries. Damn, these people worry more than my mom does when she used to be on the ra...err, nevermind. Anyways, worryage broken up by Sashalle. What I'd give for an AS to be named Shaneyney here. It'd so make my day/night. Descriptions of Shaney...err, Sashalle made her sound like Sir Mix-a-Lot's anaconda might want some...ahem.

And now for the unintentional AS blush moment of the PoV: Not for the first time, she found it difficult to meet the other sister's gaze. (interpretation: She wants to knock boots...titties? with her, right?)

More blabbage, as the covert sexual tension is heating up, as they are leaning forward a bit, getting a bit...closer to one another. Oh yeah, baby (to be said in a Barry White voice). This goes on for most of three pages before Corgaide Marendevin interrupts in a comedy of manners segment which showcases RJ's "borrowing" from Jane Austen, especially Pride and Prejudice. Apparently there is an Ogier in the Kitchen, but surely God is still in his Heaven, right?

More talk of AS and stilling and faces and aging and aging creams, but alas, no mention of Boudreaux's Butt Paste that some AS were rumored to be using to make their rears as smooth as their fronts. Sigh...

More walking...damn these women must be in a lot of shape.. All they do is walk, talk, and worry...and sniff and braidtug on occasion. Now if she had only hiked up her leg and...well, that would have broken more than the wind whistling through the meadows, right?

And not just AS, but Nobles are strolling, looking like multi-hued peacocks, if they just aren't postin' up flashing the 4-1 or the 3 in a circle or the V-L. Noble gangs...yep, another feature that I'll look forward to seeing RJ explore in the future, perhaps later in this book?

Someone's in the kitchen with Dinah, someone's in the kitchen I know-oh-oh! Someone's in the kitchen with Dinah, strumming on that ol' banjo! Oh wait, it's just an Ogier named Ledar. Anagram is Radel, one letter away from being the romantic whirlwind/badass junior named Rodeo...err, Rodel.

Anyways, stupid talk about Dragons, Asha'men, and craziness, oh my! But it does serve to bring into focus events from the earlier books, which is a good and useful thing to do. It's amazing how much I remember of this despite not having read any WoT per se in almost 6 years.

Oh wait, Ledar is simply Loial trying to play Bond, James Bond. Sigh...where's Xenia Onatopp and Pussy Galore when you need them?

Some conflict/staredown (Dude! You can't win! Only good stare a woman can give ya is a bedroom eyes stare and she don't want your scrawny Asha'man ass! She's thinking "Ledar" all the way, because once she's tried Ogier, it's ovah!) with Karldin, who might be the long-lost Asha'man brother to Jimmy Dean. Hrmm....sausage?....hrmm...maybe Samu does want him...

More walking, even an 'arduous climb' from the kitchens to Dobraine's pad. Apparently everyone thinks he's croaked and the bloody sheets seem to indicate that, not to mention those dead, pesky bodies that hit the floor, Drowning Pool style. But then Samu goes all Bret Hart and thinks that she's the best there is and she patches him up to where he's still alive, but hangin' by a thread. And somewhere, Survivor is writing a theme song for this moment.

And this Prologue closes with Logain and his Ho's somehow riding into the city, at some point in the past/present/future to what took place earlier. And now for the main course to begin...tomorrow.

[Actually, this Prologue wasn't as bad as I remembered it being from 2002 when I read the free legal E-book from M$ Reader. So maybe this bodes well for the future?]

New WoT-oriented blog

I've known of this for a little while, thanks to Dom, one of the co-operators here, but this morning, the blog known as The Thirteenth Depository went public. Run by several wotmania Admins and regulars, including Linda and Dom, this blog will not just be a repository for the wotmania FAQ on WoT, but also for several other WoT-related projects. Linda, Dom, and the other contributors are hard-working, diligent people, so hopefully people will visit this new blog and weigh in from time to time.

Rumor Volat II: WoT in the Hell

So there have been rumblings, grumblings, and other assorted things being reported in the past few hours about the title of the rumored first volume of the Jordan/Sanderson (slash!) finale to The Wheel of Time series. Apparently it will be called The Gathering Storm and there is now speculation on whether it'll be two volumes or three and if it'll be even be published first in hardcover.

While these rumors may provide grist for the discussion mills at the blogs and forums linked to above, I find it amusing that at the end of the night (or very early morning, since it's just after midnight here as I write this short piece) that very little is still known and that people still have to await for the official announcement in the next few days for anything to be confirmed. Doubtless there's been a few to fire off emails to Sanderson or to various people employed by Tor (I sent one, but it was more to acknowledge receiving Sanderson's upcoming Warbreaker, although I did inquire if there would be advance review copies this time around, since I figured anything else would be dependent on quite a few factors that would be out of most people's hands at any publisher).

In the meantime, while others can continue to update with speculation, rumor, and eventually solid news on this, I'll start by trying to sleep for 5 hours, then I'll get ready to work and be gone from the house for about 10 hours before I check my emails, use my exercise bike for 30-60 minutes, and then eat, perhaps naps, and then finish reading Neil Gaiman's The Sandman: Worlds' End and maybe slog my way through Daniel Goldhagen's A Moral Reckoning, about which I'll have plenty to say next week. After all, rumors may spark thought and later action, but I prefer doing what I can rather than speculating on what I cannot control. Might not be such a bad policy for others to consider doing in the future.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Interesting link in an email from NEA

This bit from the National Education Association's general counsel reminds me why I never really go into detail about my teaching position (it's also why I don't use my last name in my blogger address, even if I sign under my full name when I have reviews/articles published elsewhere). Anyone want to weigh in on this?

Way back in 1974, California teacher and aspiring actor Lou Zivkovich famously was fired for posing nude in Playgirl magazine. His response, as reported by Newsweek, "I didn't murder anyone."

Nowadays, thanks to advances in technology, you don't even need a major publisher to get fired; just post your racy photos, sexually graphic writings, or wild party stories on a personal Web blog. You'll be amazed by how quickly tech-savvy students can disseminate your postings to their friends and your employer.

Here's a roundup of some of the recent horror stories:

In Virginia, high school art teacher Stephen Murmer was fired after posting photos of his "butt art" on the Web, which were viewed by scores of students. The budding artist applied paint to his posterior and genitalia, which he then pressed onto canvases. With the help of the ACLU, he sued the school district last fall claiming a violation of his First Amendment rights.

Band director Scott Davis from Broward County, Florida, was dismissed after school officials viewed his MySpace profile that included his musings about sex, drugs, and depression.

A Colorado English teacher lost her job after composing and posting sexually explicit poetry on her MySpace site. Police were even called in to investigate.

Nashville teacher Margaret Thompson was removed from teaching after posting "racy pictures" of herself, along with candid photos of her students, on her MySpace profile.

Florida middle school teacher John Bush was terminated because of "offensive" and "unacceptable " photos and information on his MySpace page.

Massachusetts teaching assistant and Massachusetts Teachers Association member Keath Driscoll was first suspended and then fired for his MySpace postings including "sexually suggestive" photographs, videos of drinking alcohol, and references to women as "whores." MTA took his case to arbitration and won almost a complete victory. In a decision dated March 24, 2008, the arbitrator ruled that Driscoll should not have been fired and ordered him reinstated with back pay, seniority, and benefits. The arbitrator did conclude, however, that Driscoll had engaged in misconduct that warranted some form of discipline, which he determined to be a three-day suspension.]

But the clueless award goes to Atlanta-area high school football coach Donald Shockley, who was forced to resign in early 2008 for storing on his school computer photos of his assistant principal dressed in lingerie and posing in sexually suggestive ways. The photos were discovered by a student whom Shockley had asked to work on his computer and who then posted the photos on the Internet and sent them to other students at the school.

In October 2007, reporters for The Columbus Dispatch conducted an investigation of MySpace profiles posted by Ohio teachers. The newspaper quoted one 25-year-old teacher bragging that she's "an aggressive freak in bed," "sexy," and "an outstanding kisser." Another teacher wrote on her page that she had recently "gotten drunk," "taken drugs," and "gone skinny-dipping."

In the wake of these reports, the Ohio Education Association urged all OEA members to remove any personal profiles they may have posted on MySpace or Facebook. The Association also warned members that such profiles "can be used as evidence in disciplinary proceedings," which could "affect not only a teacher's current job but his/her teaching license" as well.

But what about free speech? Don't school employees have the right, on their own time, to blog about their private lives without fear of losing their jobs? Probably not.

It's the general rule that school employees can be disciplined for off-duty conduct if the school district can show that the conduct had an adverse impact on the school or the teacher's ability to teach. And it wouldn't be too difficult to make that showing if the teacher's blog includes sexually explicit or other inappropriate content and is widely viewed by students.

As to a possible free speech claim, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2004 that it was not a violation of the First Amendment for the City of San Diego to fire a police officer for posting a sexually explicit video of himself on the Internet. The unanimous Court said that such speech was "detrimental to the mission and functions of the employer."

And last year, a U.S. District Court ruled that a Connecticut school district's decision to fire a probationary teacher because of his postings to his MySpace page did not violate the teacher's First Amendments rights. The court called the online exchanges between the teacher and his students "inappropriate" and added that "such conduct could very well disrupt the learning atmosphere of the school."

There's an old lawyer's saw that goes something like this: Never put in writing anything that you wouldn't want read in open court or by your mother.

Maybe it's time for an updated adage: Never put in electronic form anything that you wouldn't want viewed by a million people, including your colleagues, students, and supervisors-and your mother.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

You must be this high IQ to read ***'s writing

The reactions to my linking to that MJH comment on urban fantasy have been interesting, to say the least. While I knew there'd be some opposition to what was being said, it seemed at first (and second?) glance as though much of the criticism stems from certain readers' prior exposure to Harrison, usually through his blog posts that I've linked to in the past and not so much to his fiction writing (most either haven't read any of his works or read only parts of Viriconium).

Among the criticisms, well-argued or not alike, was the notion that Harrison uses "too many big words" and that he comes across as being unnecessarily verbose. It is a rather odd accusation, tantamount to calling an author too erudite for an audience. Claiming that a writer, especially one who has been lauded in the past for his prose, uses "big" words in an attempt to "impress" or "humble," is a bit...odd.

Leaving aside the particulars of that discussion (I agree with those who noted that urban fantasy can be more than just what is commonly marketed as such), I wanted to address briefly the issue of writers using "big words" and the claims of erstwhile audience members that such things smack of "pretension." After all, isn't the semantical arguments brewing in those linked posts but just one tiny part of a larger argument about what an author ought and ought not to do?

Writers write for various reasons and to various people. Most are going to write, or at least start out attempting to write, a story that they themselves would want to read or tell. Others, especially essayists such as myself, want to engage in discussions and their words will be chosen to create the maximum effect toward that end. Some writers doubtless bend their stories towards the specific desires and expectations of an audience. Each of the three approaches can work to an extent, but what happens when a writer from the first group encounters an audience from the last?

Should a writer such as Harrison be expected to write to the expectations/reading skill levels of a very specific audience? Should such an author be urged to curtail the florid, baroque qualities of his/her prose in order to satisfy that audience's demands? Or would it be okay for that hypothetical everyman writer to just grab his/her crotch, spit, and tell that demanding audience to go fuck themselves, as s/he is going to write for the "fortunate few" who are willing to work their way through allusion-rich prose in order to grasp the full nature of the story the author aims to tell?

There have been many works that have failed to engage me. Sometimes, that is the author's fault, but many times it is mea culpa, mea maxima culpa. And if I use Latin or other foreign expressions, it's not because I want to "impress" or "humble" whoever is reading what I'm saying, but rather because whenever I struggle to put a voice to a je ne sais quoi notion, I want to use the most precise language tools at my disposal. But yet there are those who for whatever reason (I suspect that many times it is because of a struggle with some of the expressions, although that is not always the case) want to criticize another for expressing him/herself by using "high" language. What is "wrong" with using such, if the writer knows how to use it appropriately?

Sometimes, I wonder if there is this expectation that an author has to "lower" her/his prose rather than readers aspiring to aim higher and to learn more. But perhaps this is now a day and age where we have to check our IQs in at the door?

Monday, March 23, 2009

M. John Harrison, A Storm of Wings

In the dark tidal reaches of one of those unnamed rivers which spring from the mountains behind Cladich, on a small domed island in the shallows before the sea, fallen masonry of a great age glows faintly under the eye of an uncomfortable moon. A tower once stood here in the shadow of the estuarine cliffs, made too long ago for anyone to remember, in a way no one left can understand, from a single obsidian monolith fully two hundred feet in length. For ten thousand years wind and water scoured its southern face, finding no weakness; and at night a yellow light might be discerned in its topmost window, coming and going as if someone there passed before a flame. Who brought it to this rainy country, where in winter the gales drive the white water up the Minch and fishermen from Lendalfoot shun the inshore ground, and for what purpose, is unclear. Now it lies in five pieces. The edges of the stone are neither shattered nor worn, but melted like candle wax. The causeway that once gave access here - from a beach on the west bank where lumps of volcanic glass are scattered on the sand - is drowned now, and all that comes up it from the water is a strange lax vegetation, a sprawl of giant sea hemlock which for some reason has forsaken the mild and beneficial brine of the estuary to colonise the beach, spread its pale and pulpy stems over the shattered tower, and clutch at a stand of dead, white pines. (p. 111)
M. John Harrison's second Viriconium novel, A Storm of Wings, begins with a lyrical, unsettling introduction that serves to displace the reader from the setting, or rather from what the reader might have imagined Viriconium to be based on the first novel, The Pastel City. This is a place of "unnamed rivers," of towers made too long ago for any to remember their names or purposes, of drowned causeways approaching beaches littered with volcanic glass, where "strange lax vegetation" grows, spreading up and over the "shattered tower." There is a sense of ruin here, but underlying is the feeling that something alien exists here.

The basic elements that Harrison introduced in The Pastel City - tegeus-Cromis, Tomb the Dwarf, the war between the Old and Young Queen, the Reborn Men - all these have been reimagined here. Viriconium is no longer just (as if it ever were a single entity!) a city existing among the ruins of a greater city. It is not a Rome haunted by its own dead remains, but instead something more, something more strange and bleak. The introduction, "The Moon Looking Down," contains references to an invasion of metallic locusts from the stars that fly in from behind the moon and land in Viriconium, sowing discord and madness:

In this time, in the Time of the Locust, when we have nothing to ourselves but the hollowness within us, in the Time of Bone, when we have nothing to do but wait, nothing human moves here. Nothing human has moved here for eighty years. Fire, were it brought here, would be pale and dim, hard to kindle. Passion would fade here on a whisper. Something in the tower's fall has poisoned the air here, and drained the landscape of its power. White and sickly and infinitely slow, the hemlock creeps out of the water to run sad rubbery fingers over the rubbish in the fallen rooms. The collapse of the tower seems complete, the defeat of artifice accomplished.

Yet in the Time of the Locust are we not counselled to patience? Eighty years have passed since tegeus-Cromis broke the yoke of Canna Moidart, since the Chemosit fell and the Reborn Men came among us; and in the deeps of this autumn night, under the aegis of an old and bitter geology, we witness here in events astronomical and enigmatic an intersection crucial to both the earth and the precarious foothold on it of the adolescent Evening Cultures. "Wait! Things are. Things happen. Only wait!" The estuarine cliffs impend, black, expectant; the air is full of frost and anticipation... (pp. 111-112)
Harrison's prose is excellent here. Consider the rhythm and cadence of each sentence, as he describes ruin and the defeat of human artifice. It is 80 years in the "future," but there is this sense that something is unfolding, something that is omnious, something that will not be explained in full. Things will be repeated, or rather certain patterns will re-emerge in a new setting to create even newer forms, for tegeus-Cromis, Tomb, the Reborn Men, and others will see their roles reprised, but in a dream-place where semantic relationships have shifted.

It is usually around the second or third chapter of A Storm of Wings that many readers run into a wall of their own creation. Expecting a serial story that builds upon the opening tale, they are confronted by a tale that is non-linear, that doesn't follow the "rules" and expectations derived from reading The Pastel City. Perhaps it is here, when the Sign of the Locust is introduced, that the towel is tossed and mayhap the book as well:

The Sign of the Locust is unlike any other religion invented in Viriconium. Its outward forms and observances - its liturgies and rituals, its theurgic or metaphysical speculations, its daily processionals - seem less an attempt by men to express an essentially human invention than the effort of some raw and independent Idea - a theophneustia, existing without recourse to brain or blood: a Muse or demiurge - to express itself. It wears its congregation like a disguise: we did not so much create the Sign of the Locust as invite it into ourselves, and now it dons us nightly like a cloak and domino to go abroad in the world. (p. 125)
Ritual is a powerful thing, but when the object being ritualized breaks those ties and becomes independent of itself, can such a thing be "tamed" or even understood? In reading this passage, I felt a growing unease about my own ability to process what is going on. Realizing that I had to abandon treating this story as something to deduce or to piece together, I began focusing on the mood being established, on trying to imagine a place that isn't a set place, but rather a condition, one in which "human" points of view might be the intrusive, domineering ones that need to be irradicated:

"The world is not as we perceive it," maintained the early converts, "but infinitely more surprising. We must cultivate a diverse view." This mild (even naive) truism, however, was to give way rapidly - via a series of secret and bloody heretical splits - to a more radical assertion. A wave of murders, mystifying to the population at large, swept the city. It was during this confused period that the Sign itself first came to light, that simple yet tortuous adaptation of the fortune-teller's MANTIS symbol which, cut in steel or silver, swings at the neck of each adherent. Ostlers and merchant princesses, soldiers and shopkeepers, astrologers and vagabonds, were discovered sprawled stiffly in the gutters and plazas, strangled in an unknown fashion and their bodies tattooed with symbolical patterns, as the entire council of the Sign, elected by secret ballot from the members of the original cabal, tore itself apart in a grotesque metaphysical dispute. A dreadful sense of immanence beset the city. "Life is a blasphemy," announced the Sign. "Procreation is a blasphemy, for it replicates and fosters the human view of the universe." (p. 126)
It was at this point that I really became "hooked" with the story. Not that I cared overmuch to know the origins of the Locusts or why they had come to Viriconium, but rather because I wanted to see if Harrison would explore further the notion of "life is a blasphemy" in this tale. He did, and passages such as this clinched the deal for me:

Under a sky like a glass mantle, at an intersection in the disintegrating ground plan of the city, two insects performed a dance in the suicidal light. Disease had maimed them, their eyes were like rotting melons yet vivid heraldic insignia flared along their blue and green flanks like the lights of deep-sea fishes. Stiff and quivering, with curled abdomens and spread wings, moving one damaged limb at a time, they had the air of being painted on one of Elmo Buffin's sails, or tattooed in glowing inks on an upper arm. Clouds of coloured vapour streamed through the galleries which curled over them in a flaking mineral wave. Balancing on their rear legs they curled themselves backwards into the annular symbols of some organic alphabet; they dragged themselves between the bone-like pillars of the colonnades, following the veins of serpentine and obsidian as if they were cooling streams; they tore with their forelimbs at the masks they wore - perhaps to obtain relief, for part of the function of these was to enable them to perceive the world they found themselves marooned in. (p. 234)
I chose this passage late in the novel not because it bears great import for the novel's plot resolution (if anything, the plot is but a reprisal of the first under different means), but because it illustrates the power of Harrison's prose, of his ability to create evocative similies, such as "their eyes were like rotting melons," that stir up vivid images that complement the weird, distorted timescape, where the Locusts' mind-plague has shaken human understanding of what constitutes reality, while simultaneously this plague has caused all sorts of mass violence and psychosis as a result of certain "natural" or "sacred" bounds being crossed. But it is that little bit, where two of the Locusts are wounded, dragging themselves along the city streets, before finally ripping at the masks that enable them to perceive this strange, alien world that they are seeking perhaps to "tame" for their own concept of "reality," it is here where the true power of Harrison's narrative lies.

A good fantasy does not need an impressive list of imagined dates, nor should it require things being spelled out in laborious detail. A good fantasy can and often does traffic in the Unknown, in those haunted recesses of our minds where we cast all the things that we cannot comprehend, in hopes that something will percolate there that can be imbibed and thus utilized. In A Storm of Wings, Harrison taps into that Unknown, weaving a beautiful, shimmering, aethereal tapestry out of strangeness, insanity, and repetition that I believe is a vast improvement over his solid The Pastel City. While it certainly isn't a story for those who want the plot to be deducible or explicated, for those who love the strange, the unknown, the threatening, A Storm of Wings likely will be just the book for them.
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