Piers Anthony's But What of Earth? is an astonishing book, a novel he had originally written in the '70s and which was subsequently rewritten at the pPiers Anthony's But What of Earth? is an astonishing book, a novel he had originally written in the '70s and which was subsequently rewritten at the publisher's insistence but apparently without Anthony's permission. This got Anthony's dander up, and now, 13 years later, he has his revenge. In this book he lashes out at not only his publisher and his unwitting co-writer, but also, and most especially, at the bevy of copy editors who scrawled on his manuscript. Somehow he got his hands on their marks, and he quotes them at length, in order to hold them up to for ridicule, in the lengthy endnotes that make up a good third of the book. I am not making this up. Here he calls them "conniving bitches" (p230); suggests that one missed a nuance because "she was in the Ladie's Room at the moment" (p235); hypothesizes that one of them is "surely unmarried" (p257); exclaims to one, "May God preserve the man who tries to hold *your* hand" (p268); and objects when they call his text sexist (passim). His comments on their notes set a new high water mark for creepy and bitter. Addressing one of the copyeditors, who had wondered how a character missed the obvious, he says, "The obvious can be the hardest thing to recognize -- which is why women disrobe in lighted apartments with uncurtained windows, providing the men of the neighborhood with nightly entertainment. Ever do that yourself?" (p237). Is...is that a threat?
In any event, it's vintage Piers Anthony. At one point, after a character calls another one a bastard, he appends a helpful note patiently explaining: "Actually, 'bastard' is not the ideal word; technically it means a person born when his parents weren't married..." etc. (p249). At another, again addressing a copy editor, he whines straightfaced, "Don't you have better uses for your time than this?" (p235).
The whole endeavor is similarly unintentionally hilarious. "Forgive me if I'm getting paranoid, but somehow I perceive something other than helpful literary criticism operating here," Anthony writes about the copyediting (p237). And he is correct, if these were copy editors who had marked up his text, they would be overstepping their bounds. But it is pretty clear that the publisher deemed Anthony's submitted manuscript unpublishable, and passed it around in a desperate attempt to get some advice from several hands, before having the whole thing rewritten. Perhaps to preserve what was left of Anthony's dignity, he passed the substantive editing off as copyediting, and Anthony bought it. But how many copy editors does he think his work merits? Why would a science fiction novel have five copy editors, all poring over the same copy? Bear in mind that Anthony regards all copyediting "as make-work so there won't be too many unemployed girls tramping the streets of Parnassus" (p209).
Is it even necessary to mention that Anthony sought to prove objectively that his version of this book (published here for the first time!) is superior to the co-written/rewritten version by having a neutral third party judge them both? No. No, of course he would do that.
The novel itself is an interesting idea executed in a pedestrian fashion but with splashes of typical Anthony ridiculousness. The notes, however, are a laugh riot, and I cannot recommend them highly enough to anyone interested in seeing the depths to which we can sink.
You'll note that whoever copyedited the current text was too cowed to change Ladie's Room to ladies' room....more
This book may not be as good as my enjoyment level would imply it is; but it is fascinating and very sad, in a way that I want to call charming. BothThis book may not be as good as my enjoyment level would imply it is; but it is fascinating and very sad, in a way that I want to call charming. Both Hillyer's conception of what constitutes poetry, and the very world that made such poetry possible, had been gone for two decades when he wrote this book, and Hillyer's rear-guard action, although he doesn't know it is one, was doomed from the start.
One anecdote Hillyer tells is illustrative: someone is holding Robert Frost up as an example of a "rootless" poet who is not inspired by the classics. "By good fortune, a professor of Greek who formerly had taught Mr. Frost was present, and summoned us to his study. He produced his old records, opened to Frosts's name, and there across the page, recitation after recitation, test after test, was an unbroken series of A grades."
This anecdote strikes me as unlikely, although I guess stranger things have happened, but more importantly it is absurd. The fact that Frost got good grades in Greek is a non sequitur. That this was not apparent to Hillyer, and that it could not help but be apparent to any poet a couple of decades later, is what gives the book its pathos.
Watching Hillyer take a poem and write next to each line "good," fair," or "bad," satisfied and sure of every esthetic judgment, is marvelous. Such a performance will never come again, and if it looks like kitsch, that's partially our jealously. Also, partially it's kitsch.
There's some pretty good advice about poetic diction, but it comes from a worldview that was narrow for 1938 and has now narrowed so much further that it has closed, like a summer passage between icebergs. There's no way through it any more.
Of course, I agree with him about 80% of the time. ...more
The problem with this book is that the author tried to emulate the breathless style of Cracked.com, but was too intelligent to let himself actually doThe problem with this book is that the author tried to emulate the breathless style of Cracked.com, but was too intelligent to let himself actually do it. The result is half-baked: flip without being amusing, glib without being interesting. All he manages to emulate is a propensity for oversimplification, moronic generalizations, and a constant self-advertisement that wants to assure you that gee whiz! every sentence is going to blow your mind. “Any chapter of this book is enough to show that [Shakespeare] was one of the most powerful figures in world history.” Really? Even the chapter on Starlings? Constantly floored by minor coincidences, constantly titillated by his own ability to relate to “normal people (as opposed to professional scholars)” (his words; ugh) Marche manages to prove that Shakespeare made up the name Jessica and wrote some famous plays. Maybe a less ridiculous title would have produced a better book; Marche clearly loves the material, it’s just unpleasant to have an author constantly selling it to you, with a wink and a snicker....more
Although sometimes the arguments smack of special pleading (Yrsa would hold a drinking horn; Wealtheow holds a cup; therefore the Beowulf poet intentiAlthough sometimes the arguments smack of special pleading (Yrsa would hold a drinking horn; Wealtheow holds a cup; therefore the Beowulf poet intentionally suppressed the horn in order to obscure their relationship?), overall this book offers some fairly persuasive arguments. There sure are a lot of parallels between Yrsa and Wealtheow, e.g. and perhaps too many for it to be coincidence. Perhaps in some sense Wealtheow IS Yrsa.
What I found disappointing about the book, though, was that I'm not sure what the IS means. Inspired by? Cognate with?
When Viktor Rydberg says that Volund IS Thjasse, he means that both are names for a character that pagans would have recognized as being identical, as synonymous as Aphrodite and Cytherea. When he says that Fridvelus IS Njord, he means that Saxo misunderstood or misappropriated Njord's myth and applied its events under a new (non-divine) name, but that we can use the deeds of Fridvelus to understand better the deeds, character, attributes, and mythology of Njord. Damico means that Wealtheow IS Yrsa in the latter sense, but she is unable or unwilling to make the extra leap that would let us learn about Yrsa (or Svava, or even Hrolf Kraki or Helgi) from Wealtheow. Everything different from what we'd expect about Wealtheow is apparently just a nonce fabrication of the Beowulf poet. So in the end I don't really know what to do with the information even if I were convinced of it.
Such a proposed identity is like saying that Orlando from As You Like It IS Rosader from Rosalynde. It's uncontroversial, but unhelpful. No one's reading of Shakespeare, or Lodge, has ever been enriched by this clear connection.
Strange to say, I probably would have enjoyed the book more if it had been crazier....more
The arguments in this book are not always persuasive, in a finalizing way; there're too many could bes, and not enough analyses and rejections of contThe arguments in this book are not always persuasive, in a finalizing way; there're too many could bes, and not enough analyses and rejections of contradictory theses -- in a word not enough control groups or rigor -- for me to feel like Newton has closed the book on the subject. But what's fascinating is the book that Newton has opened instead. (Not the definite conclusion but) the plausible possibility that a character from Beowulf could have sailed out of the poem and into the real world on an adventure that culminates in the composition of the poem itself is exciting on several levels: it's an answer to a critical riddle, a great heroic dynasty-founding narrative, and a Borgesian short story in outline, all at once....more
The self-righteous, condescending, long-winded, overcautious "Mystery of Marie Roget" is Poe at his worst. This book, about the real murder and its seThe self-righteous, condescending, long-winded, overcautious "Mystery of Marie Roget" is Poe at his worst. This book, about the real murder and its sensational coverage, is better. It's thorough, and it does a good job explaining why Poe's story is as bad as it is; but ultimately the curious circumstances are not that curious, so as a result Mary Rogers' nonmurder is not much more interesting that Dupin being smug and wrong is. ...more