The OF Blog: July 2009

Thursday, July 30, 2009

So someone's had a fantasy involving the President and an unicorn...




So I had this stress test done today...

For those of you who are wanting to know if I have a heart condition or not, I got back the results this afternoon. After being strapped to quite a few monitors before walking on a treadmill until my target heart rate of 169 beats/minute was reached, turns out that I'm in better shape than I thought. The treadmill ended up going almost to the point where I'd have to be running on it and during the course of several blood pressure checks, my blood pressure was lower immediately after the exercise (133/68) than it was on Tuesday morning at rest (142/100). I guess it's funny how much my blood pressure drops when I know I'll get to do some exercise (sadly, it's a "high" I don't indulge as much as I ought to, as I really do feel the workout buzz).

So yeah, I'm fine, nothing irregular showed up on any of the tests, but paying $350 (after insurance) for all these tests was not fun. Nope, not at all. At least I'll be back to work for a full day tomorrow...then get two more days off! Life is good again.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Which of these looks better?

Here are four covers by three authors written in two separate languages. Each of the three I consider to be master writers and the stories and/or writing so far in three of them (I have yet to read Amarkord, which only arrived today) are of a very high quality. I would recommend any of these works by José Saramago, Zoran Živković and Milorad Pavić to most anyone who visit this blog. But for those of you who like to engage in the idle game of judging a book by its cover, rank the visual appeal of these books if you don't mind:

First photo: Saramago, O Evangelho Segundo Jesus Cristo; Saramago, Cadernos de Lanzarote 4 (both in Portuguese)

Second photo: Živković, Amarkord; Pavić, Drugo Telo (both in Serbian)

Gotta love reading a popular history that uses a fantasy classic as a reference, no?

I'm currently reading Greek professor/SF/F author Javier Negrete's recently-published popular history on the ancient Greeks, La gran aventura de los griegos, in particular the section about Dionysius and the rise of the Sicilian colony of Syracuse in the fourth century BCE when I came across this line:

Para evitar nuevos asedios, Dionisio hizo fortificar la meseta de las Epípolas, y también reforzó las murallas de la isla de Ortigia, donde se construyó un castillo casi tan inexpugnable como el de Sauron en Mordor. (p. 458)

Certainly makes for an interesting connection, no? If this work were available in translation, I'd recommend this to quite a few, as Negrete does an excellent job relating his interpretations of the information garnered from his years of research in a fashion that is conversational and a pleasure to read. One of the best popular histories I've read in any language in quite some time...even if the author resorts to quoting Tolkien on occasion.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

If I could reform the Hugos...

No, this isn't one of those negative gripes, as I try (believe it or not) to be "positive" whenever it is possible for my warped, often-cynical soul to imagine such treacly thoughts. Rather, it is a thought that has emerged from reading the results of certain national awards in recent months, strengthened by a decision earlier this week to look into buying anthologies of national SF/F from various languages and/or cultures.

The thought is this: If national associations such as those who issue the Premio Ignotus, Seiun, Prix Imaginales, Premio Italia, Deutscher Phantasik Preis, etc. feature awards for Best Translated Novel (novella, novelette, short story, etc.), why not consider in the future adding a category (if, of course, the percentage of translated-into-English SF/F rises) for translated fictions?

Of course, since I myself cannot raise this issue directly (since my profession keeps me from even thinking about traveling in late July/early August, much less to a convention), I guess it's just a little something to let sail into the wind. Thoughts on this?

See this?

This is what I'm now wearing. I went to the local clinic this morning after attempting to work but feeling a bit light-headed and with a shortness of breath. The clinician did an EKG and a little abnormality showed up, so I had to call my mother to drive me (the only other option was an ambulance) to the emergency room all the way across town (I live in a suburb, by the way). There, after having three vials of blood drawn and another EKG, turns out that the abnormality may be a slight echo of something that was wrong some time before, so I have to wear the Holter Monitor for the next 24 hours and then Thursday afternoon I get to do a treadmill stress test to rule out anything really serious.

So yeah - I get to work maybe 1.5 days this week. Some vacation, huh? And one of the worst parts? I have all these shaved patches on my chest, so I probably will end up having to shave the entire thing later this week. Joy.

Monday, July 27, 2009

International Blog Against Racism Week: July 27-August 2

This week is the annual International Blog Against Racism Week, where participants of all ethnic/racial backgrounds choose to share snippets from their experiences or their writing that deal with the pernicious issue of racism in global societies. During the course of this week, I hope to have at least a couple of posts that touch upon this issue, as it is one that affects me personally (being of mixed ethnic/racial descent, and having two cousins that are descendants of three ethnic/racial groups), professionally (the majority of the teens that I work with come from minority racial backgrounds), and which is touched upon in a great many of the readings I do for both pleasure and (mostly in the past) for research.

Sadly, the first issue that comes to mind is the recent blow-up involving K. Tempest Bradford and Harlan Ellison. The details of this may be found in this link, where the issue expanded from perceived sexism to ageism to racism at the argument's nadir. I was reminded yet once again how slippery of a slope jokes and mock-ups can be and how quickly one's heated outburst can lead to shameful comments, such as the one Ellison posted on his own messageboard last week.

The Carl Brandon Society this afternoon posted an open letter touching upon this spat before broadening it to an appeal for bloggers and others to refrain from using inflammatory words. Below are the main principles of the letter (for those who agree, I suggest clicking on the link above and signing your name to it):

These principles are as follows:

1) The use of racial slurs in public discourse is utterly unacceptable, whether as an insult, a provocation, or an attempt at humor. This includes both explicit use of slurs and referencing them via acronyms.

2) Any declaration of a marginalized identity in public is not a fit subject for mockery, contempt, or attack. Stating what, and who, you are is not “card playing.” It is a statement of pride. It is also a statement of fact that often must be made because it has bearing on discussions of race, gender, and social justice.

3) Expressing contempt for ongoing racial and gender discourse is unacceptable. Although particular discussions may become heated or unpleasant, discourse on racism and sexism is an essential part of antiracism and feminist activism and must be respected as such. There is no hard line between discourse and action in activism; contempt of the one too often leads to contempt of the whole.

The Carl Brandon Society assumes in this letter that everyone reading it shares the common goal of racial and gender equity, and general social justice, in all our communities. We hope for a quick end to arguments over whether or not unacceptable forms of debate should be allowable. These arguments obstruct the process of seeking justice for all.


The Carl Brandon Society

Any thoughts regarding IBARW or the incident mentioned above?

"What is fantasy?"

The following passage is my translation from the Spanish translation of Serbian writer Goran Petrović's Atlas descrito por el cielo (a fine book that I wish were available in English translation so many of you who crave Borgesian-style writings might enjoy this as well):

"With fantasy?" questioned Esther. "What is a fantasy? The same as an illusion?"

"Not precisely. Fantasy is something that exists, but to many it seems that it doesn't. With illusion occurs the opposite, it is something that doesn't exist, but many believe that it does," answered Dragor in detail.
Do you agree or disagree with Petrović's charcter's response in regards to fantasy and illusion? Why or why not?

Steampunk! Brazilian style

I snagged this image off of Fábio Fernandes' Portuguese-language blog, pós-extranho. Before any ask, no, this is not a Brazilian Portuguese translation of the excellent Steampunk anthology that Ann and Jeff VanderMeer edited last year, but instead it contains stories originally written in Portuguese (I believe most, if not all, of the authors are Brazilians; Fábio is one that I know).

Very curious about this anthology and if there's some way that I could order it, I plan on doing it in the very near future (I believe the book just came out, so it might be some time before I can find it online) just to see how the stories and their themes compare to the ones found in the English-language anthology I mentioned above.

I guess this post makes for a nice complement to the one below, no?

Are we entering a new "age" of SF?

Finished reading Roger Luckhurst's Cultural History of Literature: Science Fiction yesterday before crashing. While I'm hoping to have time shortly to write a review of it, one question that I had after finishing this 2005 book concerns an issue that he did not raise at all, that of the possibilities surrounding translations and the infusion of ideas and motifs from a variety of non-Anglo (the language and cultures that emerged from England over the past 600 years).

What do you think? Is there a real possibility that the exponential increase of SF translations into and from English might lead to the creation of new paradigms that will stretch our understandings of SF to a point where Campbell, Gernsback, and crew would have had an extremely difficult time grasping those stories' meanings? Or is it more likely that Anglo-American concepts will impose themselves upon the emerging global SF markets?

I wish I had time to think more upon this, but I need to return to bed. Muscle weakness and stomach cramping are not conducive for arguing a point right now...

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Fantasy Masterworks #1: Gene Wolfe, Book of the New Sun: Shadow and Claw

We believe that we invent symbols. The truth is that they invent us; we are their creatures, shaped by their hard, defining edges. When soldiers take their oath they are given a coin, an asimi stamped with the profile of the Autarch. Their acceptance of that coin is their acceptance of the special duties and burdens of military life - they are soldiers from that moment, though they may know nothing of the management of arms. I did not know that then, but it is a profound mistake to believe that we must know of such things to be influenced by them, and in fact to believe so is to believe in the most debased and superstitious kind of magic. The would-be sorcerer alone has faith in the efficacy of pure knowledge; rational people know that things act of themselves or not at all. (p. 14 US, p. 17 UK)

I have already reviewed at length the first two volumes of this US/UK omnibus (The Shadow of the Torturer and The Claw of the Conciliator), but for this series of short commentaries on the Gollancz Fantasy Masterworks series, I thought I'd focus a bit on a few minor points of interest to myself. In particular, I want to focus more on the ways that Wolfe's first two volumes appear to be influenced by the blind Argentine author/poet, Jorge Luis Borges, whose motifs have been cropping up lately in several authors' fictions that I've been reading.

The first possibly Borgesian element is that of Severian's purportedly eidetic memory. When re-reading this omnibus for the fourth time this week, I was struck by the surface similarity to Borges's Funes. Now while the two authors employ the use of near-perfect memory differently in their stories, it is interesting in how each author's character have similar quirks about them. But it wasn't until near the midpoint of The Shadow of the Torturer that explicit references to Borges' signature stories begin to appear.

Severian's visit to Ultan's Library, with its labyrinthine passages and seemingly infinite number of shelves, not to mention its blind curator, is a direct homage to Borges himself and to stories such as "The Library of Babel" and perhaps The Book of Sand. Severian's conversation with Ultan bears some passing resemblence as well to how Borges would often frame his stories. Perhaps at a later time I'll go into more detail in regards to Borges' stories, but this is not the time.

Later on, in The Claw of the Conciliator, the influences are even more apparent. The section concerning Father Inire's mirrors and the fish that appears in them, are taken directly from Borges' "The Fauna of Mirrors," with the fish being at the center (China Miéville was also influenced by this short fiction when writing The Tain). The metaphysical explanation behind the mirrors and its form of travel/reality mirror similar discussions in several of the stories found in Ficciónes.

Being a fan of both authors, re-reading each for those subtle little bits leads to the accretion of semantic layers with each successive reading of the text. Whether it be discovering the multitude of ties connecting the two authors (throwing out mentions of Dr. Talos' play, Baldanders, and the like) or noting the level of skill that went into crafting these passages, Wolfe's Shadow and Claw is not only worthy of being "a" Fantasy Masterwork, it perhaps is THE fantasy masterwork of the past century. Its layers add to the re-reading experience and each successive read, for me, has led to a deeper awareness and appreciation for what Wolfe accomplished with his masterpiece. His The Book of the New Sun novels are among the most important novels of the second half of the 20th century, regardless of whatever shallow genre classifications might be used.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

A reading backlog seems to be occurring now

Despite my ability to read and process information very rapidly, I seem to have accumulated a stack of 11 books that are in varying levels of completion. Here they are, with one (unpublished) book's title and author x'ed out in case of possible name change:

Mark Teppo, Lightbreaker (p. 40 of 323)

Sang Pak, Wait Until Twilight (just began this 229 page debut novel)

Gene Wolfe, The Book of the New Sun: Shadow and Claw (beginning Chapter XV of The Shadow of the Torturer; re-read)

Goran Petrović, Diferencias (p. 35 of 172)

Petrović, Atlas descrito por el cielo (p. 22 of 223)

San Juan de la Cruz, Obra Completa 1 (p. 163 of 578)

Jesse Bullington, The Sad Tale of the Brothers Grossbart (p. 19 of 435)

Roger Luckhurst, Cultural History of Literature: Science Fiction (p. 79 of 305)

Tanith Lee, Night's Master (about to begin this 242 page novel)

José Saramago, El viaje del elefante (p. 12 of 271)

Author X, XXXXXX (about 40 pages into a novel that'll probably be somewhere in the 450-550 page range, but I can't guess well due to reading it as a file)

Out of these books, which would you think would be finished first, second, or third and why? Oh, and I guess I should add that I finished re-reading seven translations of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry's The Little Prince (language drill that I love to do with one of my favorite fictions) and just now completed Joanna Russ's The Female Man (more on that later, if any are interested, that is).

P.S. Felix, I think it'll be a while before I read that Serviss story. I'm waiting for Hades to chill a bit more.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Would you be interested in reading this book?

Here's part of the description of Garrett Serviss's Edison's Conquest of Mars, published in serial form in the New York Evening Journal in 1898, as described in Roger Luckhurst's Cultural History of Literature: Science Fiction:

Serviss, editor of Collier's Popular Science Library and author of texts on astronomy, conceives of the solar system largely as a series of sites for colonization: the diamonds of the Moon and the gold of a large Martian-occupied asteroid need to be seized and secured for American use. Once the initial engagement with the defences of Mars is played out, the text abandons mechanical display for a melodrama plot that - as with the boy-inventor tales - concerns race. The decadent Martian emperors are soothed by the music of a captured human woman; it transpires she is a descendant of ancient Aryans, used for centuries by Martians as slave labour. The nubile Aryan beauty is rescued and avenged by the American warrior throwback, Colonel Smith. Their final embrace allows Serviss to conclude the book: 'And thus was united, for all future time, the first stem of the Aryan race, which had been long lost, but not destroyed, with the latest offspring of that great family' (186). Edison and indeed the Mars setting are almost abandoned in these closing chapters. Yet it is the vehicle of American technical prowess that constitutes the ground on which the great fantasy of reunification of the white race - as propounded in the 1890s by imperialists like Cecil Rhodes - takes place under American not British command. (pp. 57-58). I mean, I knew just how the Zeitgeist was during that time from several courses at both the undergraduate and graduate levels, but to read once again something that would seem at home with the wild fantasies of Alfred Rosenberg is something else. And if anyone wants to read the entire thing, it's on Project Gutenberg. Enjoy?

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Want to know why I'm so cynical about the publishing industry?

After reading posts like this one at Editorial Ass about how at least 40% of books in most categories are pulped, is it really any wonder why it can be so damn easy to acquire review copies and/or arrange for book giveaways?

Always amazes me to read bloggers who talk about how they received books from publishers in such a way as if it were some sort of special favor, rather than overworked and (I suspect) underpaid publicists trying to get any sort of rise in sales, since the likelihood of around half the books printed for most authors will be pulped. Might as well try sending out one of those possibly doomed copies (which are pulped at the publisher's cost, not the bookstores') to blog review sites, since there's the chance that there might be increased sales of perhaps a couple hundred to a few thousand, right?

I'm not usually this cynical and I do appreciate the people I've come to know over the years that have to deal with this rather unforgiving (and sometimes asinine) business model, but when I read things like the link above...yeesh.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Ah, must be Worldcon/Hugo hunting season again

Been reading a few posts recently devoted to the perceived flaws in the Hugo Awards and the various ways that people ought to respond to such perceptions. I used to care more about the entire deal (and I guess this post indicates that I still care somewhat), but I find the interesting point being not whether or not the WSFS award needs to be reformed or have its voters select a "better" shortlist (frankly, I do agree with those who say that the novel shortlist this year is rather bland, to say the least), but that in a day and age of different "tribal groups" (yes, that term will be used to explain several facets of online/group behavior, lest some think I'm thinking just in pejorative terms of a few), that such an award as the Hugo could carry even a modicum of authority proclaiming "this is the best of the previous year."

Is it a matter of mere age bestowing increased respect? Are the awards surviving on the nostalgic memories of past winners whose works appear to be surviving the test of time? Is there an "exclusivity" factor to be considered? Why not consider a combination of various juried and "popular vote" awards and then find the only thing of importance in what you yourself take from your own encounters with these works?

As for myself, I am awaiting the shortlist for the World Fantasy Award (I could have missed its announcement, admittedly) more than I am discovering who will win the various Hugos this year. I do like to see various personalities displayed in juried picks than I care for a presumed "safe medium" that most "popular" awards convey. But then again, since when have I been known as a lover of the middle-of-the-road?

What about you? Do you find yourself drawn to other awards than the Hugos? Are the Hugos still worthy of your attention? Are there solutions to the annual gripefests? Will world peace and/or world domination by wildebeests be achieved first?

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Fantasy Masterworks #43: Geoff Ryman, WAS

Hell was full of the souls of children. They were made to sing merry school songs, chained to desks. They were drilled by tormenting demons in gray clothes with spectacles and fangs and rulers that beat wrists until hands dropped off.

There was a race of dwarves in Hell. They wore black leather harnesses, just like in certain L.A. bars. They had interesting deformities that took the better part of a day to create in makeup, and they flayed people alive. They sang and danced as they worked, like a Disney movie played backward. At the climax, Hell was harrowed by a visiting priest, and Mortimer escaped in a blaze of fire, out into the real world, an eternal spirit, to kill again and again in a chain of sequels. Mort was the wounded spirit of the eternal hatred of children. (p. 284)

Geoff Ryman's WAS is perhaps the black sheep of the Gollancz Fantasy Masterworks list. Unlike every other book that was republished under this banner, WAS contains no overt or even subvert "fantastical" elements to it. Instead, it is more a story about how fantasies can shape people's lives. But even that barely gets at the heart of this rather "mundane" tale.

WAS contains three main threads. The first is set in Manhattan, Kansas in the 1880s and revolves around Dorothy Gael, presumably the main influence for Frank Baum's original Oz stories. While there is a Toto and an Uncle Henry and Auntie Em, Dorothy does not lead a happy life. Orphaned at the age of five and condemned to a life of harsh mistreatment at the hands of her aunt and uncle, Dorothy becomes a painful figure to read. I had to stop reading at times because it was getting too close to my professional life (working with abused and troubled male teens), because Ryman did an excellent job of showing how such abused children often will flee into an imagined world in which they yearn for a release from the toils and trammels of everyday existence (not life, as for some, "life" has "died" when the traumas began). The climactic part of this thread is when Baum comes to meet Dorothy and he takes her misery and her almost-crushed hopes and he spins something from that to give back to her to cherish.

The second thread concerns Jonathan, a horror actor and The Wizard of Oz aficionado who is now dying of advanced AIDS. Jonathan himself comes from a troubled background and he finds himself wanting to know in his dying days just what can be found over the rainbow, whether or not Baum's Dorothy has a basis in real life. While his thread is not as painful to read as the Dorothy Gael one, there are certain uncomfortable moments about how Jonathan's own fantasies are both sustaining him and driving him deeper into a form of madness.

The third and unifying thread belongs to Bill, Jonathan's therapist, who also happens to have encountered someone else with a deep connection to the world of Oz. Bill's cheerful approach to life, tested many times (as seen in one important flashback), serves to bind the threads together in a way that illustrates how fantasizing can be a consoling and healing process. His thread, although by far the shortest of the three, serves to balance out the raw emotions of the other two threads and to help fashion an ending that while true to the notion that fantasies are not "real," appears to provide some form of reconciliation between Desire and Reality.

Is WAS worthy of being called a "Fantasy Masterwork?" Only in the most broad, vaguest sense. In many ways (the author's afterward is pretty explicit about this), the book was written to showcase the perceived conflicts between fantasizing and everyday reality and how the former can have deleterious (and occasionally meloriating) effects on the latter. Yet despite the author's attempt to wrest interpretation duties from the reader, I found the book to be engaging and thoughtful on several levels. The three threads did mesh well at the end, even if the first half was hard to follow the connections at times. The characterizations hit a little too close to home for me, but I do not regret having read such painful passages. But for me, this book does not sit well next to the genre fictions surrounding it on the Gollancz list. It is at least near a masterwork in terms of prose, chacterization, and thematic development, but the themes just seem to be at such odds with those contained in the other 49 books of the Fantasy Masterworks list that I am uncertain if many genre-mostly readers will warm to this novel as much as I did.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Non English-language spec fic favorites

Although asking people to narrow down a list of personal favorites for spec fic to ten might have been hard, I feel like pushing the envelope a bit: Name ten works that may or may not be "speculative fiction" that were originally written in a language other than English that you would say are among your favorites. Something tells me that the first two will be commonly suggested:

Jorge Luis Borges, Ficciónes

Gabriel García Márquez, Cien años de soledad

Roberto Bolaño, 2666

Carlos Ruiz Zafón, La sombra del viento

Milorad Pavić, The Dictionary of the Khazars

Zoran Živković, Impossible Stories

Danilo Kiš, A Tomb for Boris Davidovich

Italo Calvino, Le città invisibili

Dino Buzzati, Il deserto dei Tartari

José Saramago, Ensaio Sobre a Cegueira

In all but the last case (read in Spanish), I read each of the books mentioned above in the language that I used for the titles. But what about you? What books, translated or in their original texts, would you say rank among your favorites?

Friday, July 17, 2009

I'm bored and it's time for author carnage to begin

The recent Top 16 list I compiled and the responses made me wonder if the results would be any different if those who both voted for said books and those who didn't and would choose differently were to get the chance to vote on them. So for the next few weeks (or until I get bored), I'll have a bracket of sorts, culminating in a Highlander-like showdown of cheesy awesomeness...or something.

First up is Gene Wolfe's The Book of the New Sun series versus H.G. Wells' The Time Machine. Vote early...and often?

What the Birthday Squirrel got me

So the 17th was my 35th birthday. I liked the image of the Birthday Squirrel so much that I'm bringing it back so people can see what I bought with the money I received for my birthday, as well as possibly comment on how these books relate to this imagined "literary fiction" and "genre fiction" divide (a divide that is in turns semantic, cultural, and class-based, but hardly rigid or profound). Any of these below that you'd like to read? Any that you'd be the most curious to hear me comment upon in the near future? Any that you think a literate squirrel would be most apt to read?

Standing by (well, not really, but you get the picture) to hear back from you...and you, and you over there...

So, I guess I'm now approaching middle age, right?

Hopefully, the birthday squirrel will bring me lots of cool things for my 35th. Bound and determined to make it better than the past few years, even if I'm a bit down about the liver thing still being elevated. But it's nothing that a bit of exercise can't fix, so I guess I'll be taking care of that...starting Saturday.

And since the backlog at work seems to have eased with the state inspection being yesterday, hopefully I can catch up on a few emails, interviews in progress, and perhaps a review or two. Maybe. I'm sometimes as flighty as a squirrel, ya know...

Thursday, July 16, 2009

OF Blog reader's Top 10 poll results

There were several dozen entries here, but below are the top 16 books/series nominated by the readership, with the number of votes beside each one:

1. Gene Wolfe, The Book of the New Sun (6 votes)

2. Jorge Luis Borges, Collected Fictions/Ficciónes (5 votes)

3. Dan Simmons, The Hyperion Cantos (4 votes)

4. Iain M. Banks, Use of Weapons

(tie) Ursula Le Guin, The Left Hand of Darkness (3 votes)

(tie) Mervyn Peake, Gormenghast novels (3 votes)

(tie) J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings (3 votes)

8-16, with two votes each:

Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451

Arthur C. Clarke, Childhood's End

Philip K. Dick, The Man in the High Castle

Neil Gaiman, The Sandman

Peter F. Hamilton, Night's Dawn trilogy

H.P. Lovecraft, The Cthulhu Mythos

George R.R. Martin, A Song of Ice and Fire

Jules Verne, Journey to the Center of the Earth

H.G. Wells, The Time Machine

Read all but four (Banks, Dick, Hamilton, Lovecraft) from this list. What about you? Agree or disagree with who appears on this list and why so?

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Classifications from images presented?

Above are three pictures of a very small part of my book collection. Besides the obvious way to classify them, how many classification schemes can you detect from this one row of books? In which ways are these books not classified?

And for the hell of it, which books from those listed (remember, if you click on the photos, you'll see the spines much better) would you like to read, in whatever language is your native?

Oh, and for a very difficult challenge: Can you tell in which hand I held my cameraphone when I took the picture for the third pic?

Monday, July 13, 2009

My review of Ildefonso Falcones' La mana de Fátima now up at Omnivoracious

Here's the link.

Would say more, but I need to get back to work now. Ciao.

Jeff Ford wins 2009 Shirley Jackson Award for Best Novel

Just saw this posted on his blog, but haven't yet found out who won in the other categories. This is very cool, as The Shadow Year was one of my favorite 2008 novels. For those curious about the shortlist, here it is:

  • Alive in Necropolis, Doug Dorst (Riverhead Hardcover)
  • The Man on the Ceiling, Steve Rasnic Tem and Melanie Tem (Wizards of the Coast Discoveries)
  • Pandemonium, Daryl Gregory (Del Rey)
  • The Resurrectionist, Jack O’Connell (Algonquin Books)
  • The Shadow Year, Jeffrey Ford (William Morrow)
  • Tender Morsels, Margo Lanagan (Knopf Books for Young Readers)
I've read and enjoyed the Lanagan and the Tems as well (and will read the others eventually), so it appears to have been chosen from a nice group of finalists.

I'll edit this later when I find out the results for the other categories.

Edit: Thanks to Charles Tan pointing me the way, here are the other winners. Congrats to all!

Short Story: "The Pile" by Michael Bishop (Subterranean Online, Winter 2008)
Single Author Collection: The Diving Pool, Yoko Ogawa (Picador)
Anthology: The New Uncanny, edited by Sarah Eyre and Ra Page (Comma Press)
Novella: Disquiet, Julia Leigh (Penguin/Hamish Hamilton)
Novelette: "Pride and Prometheus", John Kessel (The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, January 2008)

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Fantasy Masterworks #41: John Gardner, Grendel

"Man," he said, then left a long pause, letting scorn build up in the cave like the venom in his breath. "I can see you understand them. Counters, measurers, theory-makers.

All pigs eat cheese.
Old Snaggle is a pig.
If Snaggle is sick and refuses to eat, try cheese.

Games, games, games!" He snorted fire. "They only think they think. No total vision, total system, merely shemes with a vague family resemblance, no more identity than bridges and, say, spiderwebs. But they rush across chasms on spiderwebs, and sometimes they make it, and that, they think, settles that! I could tell you a thousand tiresome stories of their absurdity. They'd map out roads through Hell with their crackpot theories, their here-to-the-moon-and-back lists of paltry facts. Insanity - the simplest insanity ever devised! Simple facts in isolation, and facts to connect them - ands and buts - are the sine qua non of all their glorious achievement. But there are no such facts. Connectedness is the essence of everything. It doesn't stop them, of course. They build the whole world out of teeth deprived of bodies to chew or be chewed on.

"They sense that, of course, from time to time; have uneasy feelings that all they live by is nonsense. They have dim apprehensions that such propositions as 'God does not exist' are somewhat dubious at least in comparison with statements like 'All carnivorous cows eat meat.' That's where the Shaper saves them. Provides an illusion of reality - puts together all their facts with a gluey whine of connectedness. Mere tripe, believe me. Mere sleight-of-wits. He knows no more than they do about total reality - less, if anything: works with the same old clutter of atoms, the givens of his time and place and tongue. But he spins it all together with harp runs and hoots, and they think what they think is alive, think Heaven loves them. It keeps them going - for what that's worth. As for myself, I can hardly bear to look." (pp. 65-66)
The above quote, where a dragon is conversing with the young monster Grendel about the delusions of Men, serves to represent a good portion of what John Gardner's short 1971 novel, Grendel, purports to cover. Told in a first-person point of view, this novel plays off of the events of the epic poem Beowulf in such a way as to create a story that has a deep resonance beyond that related to the poem itself.

Grendel has begun a twelve year-long war with the Danes; this is noted in a matter-of-fact way that serves more as a backdrop to the larger story that Gardner aimed to tell. Grendel's narration of events include not just his struggles against men (and ultimately, the unnamed Beowulf who slays him), but how the young monster relates to the world around him. In reading this story, I found myself in turns bemused and reflective, as Grendel and those around him, like the dragon above, muse on all sorts of things in life. There are many angles and schools of thought presented in the twelve chapters of this book, each representing a particular approach. This, combined with the sly references to the epic poem, made for an intriguing, enchanting tale that I certainly will be re-reading several times in the near future.

Is this book worthy of being called a "Masterwork?" Yes, as Gardner's prose is excellent, the story contains several layers of depth and meaning, and the character of Grendel is memorable. Even though it is almost 40 years old, the writing should be very accessible to most younger readers, as it does not feel "dated" at all and the ideas contained within the text are universal ones that humans have pondered for millennia.

June 22-July 12 Reads

Been very lax on this, as I've been very busy (busier than I thought I'd be) at work. But this will be more of a list and less of a capsule review, since several of these will be getting individual short reviews shortly:

225 Edmundo Paz Soldán, Los vivos y los muertos - Already commented on this before, but this is one of my favorite 2009 releases.

226 Andrzej Sapkowski, Narrenturm - Spanish-language translation of the first volume of his Hussite Wars trilogy that mixes historical fiction with a bit of magic. Different in style from the Geralt novels, it took me a while to get used to it, but once I did, I found myself wanting to read the next volume, which sadly won't be available for at least another year.

227 Evangeline Walton, The Mabinogion - Already Reviewed.

228 Ildefonso Falcones, La mano de Fátima - Review already written, will link to it when it goes live.

229 Robert E. Howard, The Conan Chronicles Volume I: The People of the Black Circle - Already reviewed.

230 Andrés Neuman, El viajero del siglo - This 2009 Premio Alfaguara winner was a good read, although not as great as the cover blurb hinted that it could have been.

231 John Gardner, Grendel - Review forthcoming.

232 L. Sprague de Camp and Fletcher Pratt, The Compleat Enchanter - Review forthcoming.

233 Andrzej Sapkowski, Camino sin retorno - Collection of Sapkowski's short stories, most of them set outside the Geralt universe. Good stuff.

234 Sherri Tepper, Grass - Review forthcoming.

235 José Saramago, Las pequeñas memorias (re-read from 2008) - Nicely-told memoirs of Saramago's youth in Portugal.

236 David Lindsay, A Voyage to Arcturus - Review forthcoming.

237 Michael A. Steele and John L. Kaprowski, North American Tree Squirrels - Great introduction to my favorite/most feared rodents.

238 José Saramago, El año de la muerte de Ricardo Reis - This story mixes in the final days of Fernando Pessoa/Ricardo Reis with what was occurring in Europe and Portugal in the 1920s and 1930s. Ending was devastating.

239 José Saramago, O Evangelho Segundo Jesus Cristo - First time reading Saramago's 1991 masterpiece in Portuguese. His Jesus is one of the more complex renderings imagined in the 20th century. Very controversial, of course, but considering the title, that was to be expected, no?

240 Michael Swanwick, The Iron Dragon's Daughter - Review forthcoming.

241 Mario Benedetti, El amor, las mujeres y la vida - Excellent collection of Spanish-language poems.

242 Patricia McKillip, The Forgotten Beasts of Eld - Review forthcoming.

243 Lord Dunsany, The King of Elfland's Daughter - Review forthcoming.

244 C.L. Moore, Black Gods and Scarlet Dreams - Review forthcoming.

In Progress:

Javier Negrete, La gran aventura de los griegos

Julio Cortázar, Papeles inesperados

Geoff Ryman, WAS

Future Plans:

Leigh Brackett, The Seagods of Mars and Other Stories

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Saramago on writing and "translating"

It is a shame that Nobel laureate José Saramago's blog, El Cuaderno de Saramago, is only available in Portuguese and Spanish, as he updates his blog almost daily, often with some interesting musings, such as the one below on writing being a form of translation. I had a formal translation almost done, but I left it at work, so for now I'm going to post the entry and give a brief synopsis of it without being too literal to his text. Later, I'll edit this post with a more exact translation (the irony is something else, no?):

Escribir es traducir. Siempre lo será. Incluso cuando estamos utilizando nuestra propia lengua. Transportamos lo que vemos y lo que sentimos (suponiendo que el ver y el sentir, como en general los entendemos, sean algo más que las palabras con las que nos va siendo relativamente posible expresar lo visto y lo sentido…) a un código convencional de signos, la escritura, y dejamos a las circunstancias y a las casualidades de la comunicación la responsabilidad de hacer llegar hasta la inteligencia del lector, no la integridad de la experiencia que nos propusimos transmitir (inevitablemente parcelada en cuanto a la realidad de que se había alimentado), sino al menos una sombra de lo que en el fondo de nuestro espíritu sabemos que es intraducible, por ejemplo, la emoción pura de un encuentro, el deslumbramiento de una descubierta, ese instante fugaz de silencio anterior a la palabra que se quedará en la memoria como el resto de un sueño que el tiempo no borrará por completo.

El trabajo de quien traduce consistirá, por tanto, en pasar a otro idioma (en principio, al propio) lo que en la obra y en el idioma original y había sido ya “traducción”, es decir, una determinada percepción de una realidad social, histórica, ideológica y cultural que no es la del traductor, substanciada, esa percepción, en un entramado lingüístico y semántico que tampoco es el suyo. El texto original representa únicamente una de las “traducciones” posibles de la experiencia de la realidad del autor, estando el traductor obligado a convertir el “texto-traducción” en “traducción-texto”, inevitablemente ambivalente, porque, después de haber comenzado captando la experiencia de la realidad objeto de su atención, el traductor tiene que realizar el trabajo mayor de transportarla intacta al entramado lingüístico y semántico de la realidad (otra) para la que tiene el encargo de traducir, respetando, al mismo tiempo, el lugar de donde vino y el lugar hacia donde va. Para el traductor, el instante del silencio anterior a la palabra es pues como el umbral de un movimiento “alquímico” en que lo que es necesita transformarse en otra cosa para continuar siendo lo que había sido. El diálogo entre el autor y el traductor, en la relación entre el texto que es y el texto que será, no es solo entre dos personalidades particulares que han de completarse, es sobre todo un encuentro entre dos culturas colectivas que deben reconocerse.

And now for the translation that talks about "translation":

To write is to translate. It always will be. Even when we are using our own language. We transport what we see and feel (supposing that "see" and "feel," as we understand them in general, are something more than words which to us it's relatively possible to express what is "seen" and felt"...) to a conventional code of signs, writing, and we leave to circumstances and to the casualities of communication the responsibility of having it reach the intelligence of the reader, not the integrity of the experience which we propose to transmit (inevitably parceled in as much the reality from which it had fed), instead to the least a shadow from which in the depths of our spirit we know is untranslatable, for example, the pure emotion of an encounter, the bedazzlement of a discovery, that fleeing instant of silence before the word which will remain in memory like the rest of a dream which time will not erase completely.

The job work of a translator will consist, of course, in passing to another language (in the beginning, one's own) that which in the work and in the original language already had been a "translation," to whit, a certain perception of a social, historical, ideological, and cultural reality which is not the translator's, substantiates that perception, in neither a linguistic nor semantic framework which is his own. The original text represents uniquely one os the possible "translations" of the author's reality, being that the translator is obliged to covert the "text-translation" into "translation-text," inevitably ambivalent, because, after having commenced capturing the experience of the reality which is the object of his attention, the translator has to accomplish the greater labor of transporting it intact to the linguistic and semantic framework of reality (other) for which he has the burden of translating, respecting, at the same time the place where it came from and the place to where it's going. For the translator, the instant of silence before the word is well like the shadow of an "alchemical" moment in which that which is needs to transform itself into another thing in order to continue being what it had been. The dialogue between author and translator in the relationship between the text what is and the text what will be is not only between two particular personalities that have to complete it, it is above all an encounter between two collective cultures which ought to recognize it.

In this piece, Saramago notes that the very fact of writing is a form of translation. One cannot render exactly feelings such as uncovering of a mystery or a fortuitious encounter with a dear friend. A writer has to pick and choose from commonly-accepted verbal codes those sounds that emulate to some degree the breadth and depth of emotion. Writers seek to approximate the pure emotions that we experience on a regular basis. But it is but a translation, a carrying over from one, personal idiom/form into another. Inevitably, there is something lost when thoughts and feelings are "translated" into the written medium, with a greater risk of misunderstandings and mistranslations taking place as the medium of communication moves from the personal and transcendent to something that has to be altered in order for it to be processed by others.

Interesting thoughts, to say the least. Sadly, my own "translation" barely covers more than the merest hints of what Saramago says in full. Hopefully, my full, formal translation later will help fill in the blanks.

Personal top 10 lists

Just an idle thought in-between working on an unexpected new surge of paperwork and reading more books in the Fantasy Masterworks series (hopefully, a slew of short commentaries will be up by the weekend on at least 4 books that I've read/am reading): What are 10 speculative fiction (the definition of which is left up to you, of course) would you say are among the best ever?

I'm curious to see what readers here would say, as I'd like to compile the results into a super list and put it over in the sidebar. Also, I think it'd be neat if other bloggers were to post something similar and provide a link, so there can be a comparison of sorts. Of course, this likely has been done to death in several places, but if it's (relatively) new here, it's still good, right?

My own list will appear later, so I won't influence the results any, if that were possible.

Sunday, July 05, 2009

Defining tastes, modes, or whatever the hell you want to call it

So there's some discussion of sorts going on at Ecstatic Days about the bizarreness of trying to define that ever nebulous "literary fiction." Jeff VanderMeer makes some good points about the posts written by J.M. McDermott and yours truly, although I could note that in my original post I was more concerned with noting that the narrative mode called "literary fiction" is more inclusive and outward-looking than what McDermott seemed to be implying when he was decrying what he had endured reading by one particular writer.

I guess I should reiterate what I said over there about how I see the entire fiction "divide" as being little more than the arguing of picayune points in a much larger, "important" field of material culture (yes, I'm influenced by Thompsonian Marxists. Bite me). Namely, all that societies create to address particular concerns is fair game and that classifications serve as a way of viewing how said societies and their members go about organizing data and assigning meanings. But that's just boring cultural history stuff, no?

For another take on "literary fiction" (and a host of other things), here's a recent videotaped interview with R. Scott Bakker. Around the 2 minute mark, he starts talking about "literary fiction," giving it a social definition with which I disagree quite strongly:

With any luck, Terry Goodkind will be asked to share his thoughts on "literary fiction" and whether or not his writings are "fantasy" or "thrillers" in nature...

Fantasy Masterworks #8: Robert E. Howard, The Conan Chronicles Volume I: The People of the Black Circle

Conan went up the stairs and halted at the door he knew well of old. It was fastened within, but his blade passed between the door and the jamb and lifted the bar. he stepped inside, closing the door after him, and faced the girl who had betrayed him to the police.

The wench was sitting cross-legged in her shift on her unkempt bed. She turned white and stared at him as if at a ghost. She had heard the cry from the stairs, and she saw the red stain on the poniard in his hand. But she was too filled with terror on her own account to waste any time lamenting the evident fate of her lover. She began to beg for her life, almost incoherent with terror. Conan did not reply; he merely stood and glared at her with his burning eyes, testing the edge of his poniard with a calloused thumb.

At last he crossed the chamber, while she cowered back against the wall, sobbing frantic pleas for mercy. Grasping her yellow locks with no gentle hand, he dragged her off the bed. Thrusting his blade back in its sheath, he tucked his squirming captive under his left arm, and strode to the window. Like most houses of that type, a ledge encircled each story, caused by the continuance of the window-ledges. Conan kicked the window open and stepped out on that narrow band. If any had been near or awake, they would have witnessed the bizarre sight of a man moving carefully along the ledge, carrying a kicking, half-naked wench under his arm. They would have been no more puzzled than the girl.

Reaching the spot he sought, Conan halted, gripping the wall with his free hand. Inside the building rose a sudden clamor, showing that the body had at last been discovered. His captive whimpered and twisted, renewing her importunities. Conan glanced down into the muck and slime of the alleys below; he listened briefly to the clamor inside and the pleas of the wench; then he dropped her with great accuracy into a cesspool. He enjoyed her kickings and flounderings and the concentrated venom of her profanity for a few seconds, and even alloed himself a low rumble of laughter. Then he lifted his head, listened to the growing tumult within the building and decided it was time for him to kill Nabonidus. (pp. 83-84)

Robert E. Howard's Conan stories, 21 tales written between 1932 and Howard's death by suicide in 1935, stand like a Colossus in the subgenre of sword and sorcery fantasy that followed. For his supporters, Howard's imagination burned like a meteor through the night sky, brilliant, dazzling, lasting all too brief of a time. Howard's detractors, however, deplore his seeming chauvinistic, capricious attitude toward women, and they would point to scenes such as the one quoted above as an example of how degrading this form of fantasy literature could be, not just toward women, but also toward the numerous real-world ethnic groups that Howard depicts in very slightly-altered form in his Conan the Cimmerian tales.

When I began reading this first volume of two (the other will arrive in a couple of weeks and I'll review it separately) on Friday, I had quite a few reservations. Oh, I had heard much about how vivid and "alive" Howard's tales were and that if read as simple adventure pieces, much enjoyment could be gained from them. But I was uneasy about learning of his casual references to "wenches" and his use of racial stereotypes. I feared that I might be in for a reading of a series of stories that, while certainly better-written than the imitative work, would possess the depth and meaning of a The Eye of Argon. After finishing this first volume, my reservations still remain.

Howard certainly had a flair for telling an action-packed, vividly-rendered tale in short story or novella form. His Hyperborean Age setting of an Earth tens of thousands of years ago that would serve as a clear mirror for the "distorted myths" that would follow, certainly allowed him much leeway in creating interesting backdrops for Conan's adventures. Depending on what the reader brings to the table, passages such as the long one I cited above can be thrilling, as the villains get their comeuppance in short order and Conan survives to fight for another day.

But for those like myself who have certain beliefs in regards to ethnicity and gender relations, Conan's tales present quite a few roadblocks to enjoying Howard's writing. The frequent mentions of naked or half-naked "wenches," many of them chained to slave masters or kings, serving mostly as props for Conan's enjoyment or as a weak-willed, weak-hearted damsel in distress for him to rescue, makes for a rather dated and sometimes repellent world-view that hopefully is fading into the past. I could not, as much as I tried, distance myself from my own views when reading these tales. While I could recognize Howard's ability to tell an exciting yarn, ultimately I was left thinking that most writers (John Norman being a notable exception) who have been influenced by Howard are at least writing tales that invert or subvert Howard's often-odious notions regarding race and gender.

Was this volume worthy of being called a "Fantasy Masterwork?" Despite my reactions to elements of his writing, Howard has had too much of an influence on too many writers over the past seventy-seven years for him not to be considered one. Whether or not one might enjoy his writings today depends on the type of baggage that the reader brings to the table. For myself, I can appreciate much of what he accomplished with these tales, but that I have reservations about some of his elements to enjoy them fully.

Friday, July 03, 2009

Quote of the Day/Night unlike most other such things

This is from pp. 417-418 of Andrés Neuman's El viajero del siglo, roughly translated:

Sophie spoke of her need for independence, of Rudi's family plans, the touch of her fiancé's buttocks above the breeches, of how she imagined sexual life with him, of the most bent penises that she had seen, of the curiosity which she felt in regards to semen, of her menstrual problems. And following that, bizaarely, she spoke of Kant. According to Kant, said Sophie, to kill a bastard son is less grave than infidelity...

Kant and menstruation, thought Hans, why not?

A few more thoughts on literary fiction

A few days ago, I read a blog entry by author J.M. McDermott that dealt with the falsity that he was encountering in the literary fiction that he was reading. At first, I found myself wanting to agree with the basic premise of his post, to acknowledge to myself that perhaps there is a bit of falsity to this literary fiction genre, before my inner skeptic began to kick the tires and wonder if there was something else to the matter.

Yes, I have read literary works where the authors seem to combat the ennui of their dreary lives in rather bizarre (and yet still ultimately mundane) fashion. In those twists, I do see too much of a Governor Sanford breakdown and not enough of the types of reactions that "my people," or my "tribe," I suppose (to make another allusion to a term that has more facets than I previously discussed). But I think there's a more varied forest than one would get from looking at one little cluster of elm trees.

Yesterday, I blogged about (and then translated) the latest Premio Alfaguara winner, Andrés Neuman's El viajero sel siglo. Over the past few years, I have found the Premio Alfaguara winners (and a great many of the books that Alfaguara publishes in general) to contain fresher elements of literary fiction than what one might find in staid Anglo-American fare. For starters, most of the Spanish-language lit fic that I've read is much more extrospective than the Anglo-American counterparts. While there are moments of introspective moodiness, the stories in general tend to turn to outside events. Take for example Edmundo Paz Soldán's just-released Los vivos y los muertos (The Living and the Dead). Set in a fictious upstate New York small town, Paz Soldán's short 206 page novel utilizes several point-of-view shifts of the town's teens and adult friends and relatives to tell the stories of several deaths and murders in that small town over a short period of time and how the residents coped.

Paz Soldán's attention to detail (his story is based on actual events near Cornell University, where he teaches, that happened several years ago), including things such as how the teens interacted with each other, how they had built their own self-protective bubbles before these bubbles were burst during the course of the novel, all this created an atmosphere in which I (and I would guess many readers) felt very connected to the characters. It was very "real" in reading it. It was that sense of veracity in a fictitious tale that I believe is a real strength of the best literary fictions. It's not a turning inward to explore an imagined person's reaction to a past that will capture readers in most cases, but rather that turning outward and including others, making them feel a part of the story, that tends to lead to more favorable reactions.

This is a topic that I'd like to explore more at a later date, but for now, I just wanted to introduce this and see if a good conversation could result out of it. Maybe this weekend, I'll have other stories to discuss that I think meet some of the criteria I mention above, as well as possibly exploring other reasons why for many (and myself), literary fiction is just as vital and as important as various other genre fictions may be for others.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

A translated blurb

My copy of the 12th winner of the Premio Alfaguara, Andrés Neuman's El viajero del siglo, arrived today. I think many here would be intrigued by the premise:

Un viajero enigmático. Una ciudad en forma de laberinto de la que parece imposible salir. Cuando el viajero está a punto de marcharse, un insólito personaje lo detiene, cambiando para siempre su destino. Lo demás será amor y literatura: un amor memorable, que agitará por igual camas y libros; y un mundo imaginario que condensará, a pequeña escala, los conflictos de la Europa moderna.

El viajero del siglo propone un ambicioso experimento literario: leer el siglo XIX con la mirada del XXI. Un diálogo entre la gran novela clásica y las narrativas de vanguardia. Un puente entre la historia y los debates de nuestro presente global: la extranjería, el multiculturalismo y los nacionalismos, la emancipación de la mujer.

Andrés Neuman despliega un mosaico cultural al servicio de un intenso argumento, pleno de intrigas, humor y personajes emocionantes, con un estilo rompedor que ofrece a estas cuestiones un sorprendente cauce.
And now, in better English than the one found in Amazon's Product Description:

An enigmatic traveler. A city in the form of a labyrinth from which it seems impossible to depart. When the traveler is about to leave, an unusual person detains him, changing forever his destiny. What follows after will be love and literature: a memorable love, which will shake equally both beds and books; and an imaginary world which will condense, in small scale, the conflicts of modern Europe.

El viajero del siglo proposes an ambitious literary experiment: to read the 19th century with the eyes of the 21st. A dialogue between the classic great novel and avant-garde narratives. A bridge between history and the debates of our global present: foreignness, multiculturalism and the [various] nationalisms, women's liberation.

András Neuman displays a cultural mosaic in service to an intense argument, full of intrigue, humor, and emotional characters, with a groundbreaking style which offers to these questions a surprising course.
From this blurb and the first 40 pages that I read tonight, this is shaping up to be another winner for the Premio Alfaguara. I have read all 13 of the books awarded this prize since 1998 and each and every one of them were memorable in their own ways. Also, quite a few of the winning novels share traits with English-language speculative fiction; those who can understand the blurb above will note a few of those on display there.

I have something I want to say about "literary fiction" and "speculative fiction" in the very near future, so I'll hold off on that for now. Just note that stories like these, if they were to be translated into the languages of more readers, might just give some new reading options to quite a few.

Oh, almost forgot - there was this one author blurb, about Neuman himself:

"Tocado por la gracia. La literatura del siglo XXI pertenecerá a Neuman y a unos pocos de sus hermanos de sangre."

("Touched by grace. The literature of the 21st century will belong to Neuman and to a few of his blood brothers.")

Who said it? Only Roberto Bolaño just before he died. And to think Neuman was born in 1977, making him 3 years younger than I am. Sobering thought that he earned such praise from Bolaño when he was in his 20s.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Fantasy Masterworks #39: Evangeline Walton, The Mabinogion

That day Pwyll, Prince of Dyved, who thought he was going out to hunt, was in reality going out to be hunted, and by no beast or man of earth. (p. 15)

Myths are an absolute bitch to translate properly. Grounded in a particular milieu, myths rarely reveal their full power to those not raised in that particular culture's time and values. Yet a good translation can approximate the best qualities of the original, making for a powerful tale that carries the echoes of something deeper, wilder, and more mystical than what a present-day reader may behold.

I have only the tiniest trace of Welsh ancestry (being in most part Irish and Cherokee ancestry, I grew up with other legends), so while I had heard of the Welsh myth/story cycle called the Mabinogion, I was not familiar with its particulars. So in some senses, I am the ideal reader for American writer Evangeline Walton's adaptation of that story cycle, also entitled The Mabinogion. Originally published as four books (Prince of Annwn, The Children of Llyr, The Song of Rhiannon, and The Island of the Mighty) in the 1930s, Walton's books aimed to "modernize" the Welsh stories without (according to Walton, in a couple of her endnotes) adding or subtracting from the originals. However, these stories were not successful until they were republished in the 1970s, likely in response to J.R.R. Tolkien's popularization of fantasy stories.

Each of the four books is in turn broken down into parts that revolve around particular story events. In the first volume, Prince of Annwn, the young Prince Pwyll dominates the first thread, while in succeeding "branches", the reader encounters the wizard-prince Gwydion, the beautiful Rhiannon, and the doughty Branwen. In each of these stories, there are echoes of certain cultural clashes, such as the invasions by the Romans and (later) the Anglo-Saxons, or of the infiltration of Christian values into what originally were pagan myths. Walton does not attempt to whitewash these, but instead she went to great pains to keep these competing cultural values embedded within the stories. From what I can judge, being almost wholly ignorant of Welsh mythology, Walton attempted to do for that story cycle what John Steinbeck at the end of his life aimed to do for Thomas Mallory's Le Morte D'Arthur: make the story "readable" for a "modern" audience while as retaining as much of essence of the original as possible.

Did Walton succeed? For me, I found myself paying very close attention to the stories. There were echoes of other cultures' mythologies in Pwyll's day-long duel with Havgan, whose strength waxes and wanes with the sun's rise and setting. Walton told stories such as this in clear, evocative language that was in turns direct and poetic, but never dull or obtuse. In reading this omnibus, I saw names and locales which I believe were later used by other fantasy writers, making me wonder if they had been influenced by Walton or if they too were tapping into the same mythological streams. Some might say these tales are very "Celtic," and I suppose that would be an aptly vague, almost meaningless title, except Walton's tales do not feel as though they are copies of greater works. Instead, she manages to infuse these stories with a vitality that makes for a very enjoyable read.

Is Walton's The Mabinogion worthy of being called a "Fantasy Masterwork?" In my opinion, yes. She relates powerful, timeless tales in clear language that might make many readers want to delve further into the original Welsh myths. The best translations inspire a curiosity as to how the original would be for the reader, and in this, Walton has succeeded with me.

Cubicle Fun with William Shatner

Smuggled into work on Saturday my life-size cardboard cutout of Shatner as Captain Kirk. Since then, I've had about a dozen or so co-workers either shriek or be startled when walking by my office seeing Shatner standing there.

As for what's on his shoulders...well, a female co-worker has become part of a greater in-joke involving squirrels, so when I put this beside her cubicle (we share office space) on Saturday, I taped two pictures of squirrels to Shatner's shoulders. Lovely, no?

Anyone else ever partake of similar fun with office space...well, ones that don't involve the smashing of copiers?
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