Oct 01, 1984
it was amazing
Greg Bear's The Infinity Concerto
by tENTATIVELY, a cONVENIENCE - June 3, 2017
This is the 18th bk I've read by Bear & I admit that I di review of
Greg Bear's The Infinity Concerto
by tENTATIVELY, a cONVENIENCE - June 3, 2017
This is the 18th bk I've read by Bear & I admit that I didn't particularly expect to be surprised by him but, Lo & Behold!, I was. This is not only a Fantasy bk instead of the usual Hard Science Fiction it's a dagnabbit-all-to-heck'n'tarnation excellent one!
Fantasy writers often write epics, usually in the form of trilogies. The Infinity Concerto is so epic it's practically a trilogy all by its lonesome. Instead, it's part of a diptych. The 2nd part's called The Serpent Mage, I haven't read that one yet.
I read on the back cover "and it is not good to be human in the Realm of the Sidhe" & that was exciting enuf b/c, thx to having done a piece inspired by Yeats (sortof) called "The Only Jealousy of Cascando McKenna" ( https://youtu.be/1YQI5IBEA0A?t=29m24s ), I knew that the Sidhe are part of Irish mythology & that it's pronounced "she" (or something close to that).
""The Shee sound like they—" Michael began, but Savarin interrupted.
""Pronounce it correctly. It's spelled S-I-D-H-E, from the ancient Gaelic—or rather, the ancient Gaels heard hem calling themselves by that name. They pronounce it as a cross between 'Shee' and 'Sthee.'" - p 35
THEN, on p 1: "He rolled out of bed, kicking a book of Yeats' poems across the floor with one bare foot.": a sort of foreshadowing that's only recognizable as such if you understand that Yeats referred to the aforesaid myths. This led to my feeling like a Mr. Smartypants b/c not only did I immediately get it, I'd already done a piece about it. n'at
The world must be full of children who thrill to secret adventures in alternate universes entered thru strange passages. I was certainly one of them. To this day, I love secret doorways behind bkshelves & the like.
"It was a silly decision. The world was sane; such opportunities didn't present themselves. he withdrew the paper and read it for the hundredth time:
""Use the key to enter the front door. Do not linger. Pass through the house, through the back door and through the side gate to the front door of the neighboring house on the left, as you face the houses. The door to that house will be open. Enter. Do not stop to look at anything. Surely, quickly, make your way to the back of the house, through the back door again, and across the rear yard to the wrought-iron gate. Go through the gate and turn to your left. The alley behind the house will take you past many gates on both sides. Enter the sixth gate on your left."" - p 3
I'm hooked. Those instructions had been given to him by an old man friend of his known as Arno Waltiri who had been a film music composer:
"Two months before, on a hot, airless August day, Waltiri had taken Michael up to the attic to look through papers and memorabilia. Michael had exulted over letters from Clark Gable, correspondence with Max Steiner and Erich Wolfgang Korngold, a manuscript copy of a Stravinsky oratorio." - p 7
I found the reference to Korngold particularly engaging - not b/c I like his music that much but just b/c I even know who he is & b/c he was one of the composers condemned by the Nazis as "degenerate" who was lucky enuf to escape to the US. To quote from the liner notes of a CD entitled "The Music Survives! Degenerate Music":
"Another pre-war progressive was Ernst Krenek. His opera Jonny spielt auf, more than any other, embodied the concept of 'Entartete Musik'. An offensive half-ape, half-Negro playing a saxophone and with the star of David on the lapel of his tuxedo, named Jonny, became the logo for music they didn't like. The opera was an enormous hit all over Europe and was the first to confront audiences with sights and sounds familiar through the modern world around them: cars, whistles, jazz bands, sirens, electric bells — with the final jubilant chorus suddenly interrupted by an air raid siren: a frightening premonition, making its place at the end of our sampler all too appropriate.
"Jonny spielt auf was used to launch the 'Entartete Musik' series alongside another, contrasting, opera — Erich Wolfgang Korngold's Das Wunder der Heliane. Both operas were premiered in 1927, though Korngold's father, Vienna's most important critic, tried to collaborate with the National Socialists to prevent Jonny detracting from Heliane's success. Korngold's opera took music to levels of expressiveness not even reached by Strauss or Puccini. The aria 'Ich ging zu ihm' is one of the more reflective moments in this work. During his exile in Hollywood, Korngold created a cinematic style which would shape the future of film music, as can be heard in the excerpt from his soundtrack Between Two Worlds.
"The irony of the Jonny vs Heliane 'fight' is that the progressive, subversive Jonny was written by the monarchist, Roman Catholic Krenek, whereas the author of Heliane — a whirlpool of noble Germanic sentiment — was the Jewish Korngold. Both composers were Viennese of Czech extraction, roughly the same age, established in Berlin and exiled in Southern California where they died, probably having never met one another."
As such, the reference to Korngold in The Infinity Concerto, while completely casual & one-time-only had a similar poignant foreshadowing resonance as did the reference to Yeats. Waltiri is a fictional composer but Bear adds the extra nice touch of providing an appendix of "The Film Scores of Arno Waltiri (Highlights)" on p 342 that includes Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey, James Agee's Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, Rudyard Kipling's The Man Who Would Be King, & Henry Roth's Call It Sleep.
I found this list to be tantalizing. Roth's story of a Jewish immigrant family in NYC has never been made into a film as far as I know. Perhaps Bear's hinting that he'd like to see it be. Austen's Northanger Abbey is Austen's parody of Gothic novels & has been made into TV versions by both the BBC & PBS but is that good enuf? Agee's Let Us Now Praise Famous Men was a bk made w/ photographer Walker Evans & documented the lives of impoverished tenant farmers during the Depression. As far as I know that hasn't been made into a movie either. Another hint from Bear? Kipling's The Man Who Would Be King was made into a movie by the great director John Huston in 1975 starring Sean Connery - that was 9 yrs before this bk was published so it seems reasonable to assume that Bear knew about it since the movie wd've been a high profile release. As such, it seems to be an anomaly in the 4 choices I picked as a sampling.
""I submit to you, perhaps Waltiri knew the answer to an age-old question, namely. 'What song did the sirens sing?"
"Michael closed the book. "It's not all nonsense," Waltiri said, returning it to the shelf. "That is roughly what happened. And then, months later, twenty people disappear. The only thing they have in common is, they were in the audience for our music."" - p 11
I'm hooked even more. Waltiri dies.
""Two days later, a tiny brown sparrow flew into Arno's study, where the library is now. It sat on the piano and plucked at pieces of sheet music. Arno had once made a joke about a bird being a spirit inside an animal body. I tried to shoo it out the window, but it wouldn't go. It perched on the music stand and stayed there for an hour, twisting its head to stare at me. Then it flew away." She began to cry. "I would dearly love for Arno to visit me now and then, even as a sparrow. He is such a fine man."" - p 13
So he goes.
"Walking straight in the darkness was difficult. He brushed against a wall with his shoulder. The touch set off an unexpected bong, as if he were inside a giant bell." - p 13
Into another world.
"He left Clarkham's house. A flagstone path curved around the outside of the side gate. When he had gone through the front door there had been no moon, but now a sullen green orb rose over the silhouettes of the houses on the opposite side of the street. It didn't cast much light. (And yet, the moonlight through the French doors had been bright. . . .) The streetlights were also strangely dim, and yellowish-green in color." - p 14
""Why the alarm?" Michael asked.
"Risky tossed her lank hair and spat in a corner. "The riding of the noble Sidhe against the race of man," she said, her voice thick with sarcasm. She appraised Michael with a cool eye. "You're new," she said." - p 26
As a fantasy writer, Bear distinguishes himself by referring to few or none of the standard template character types. Contrast that to James P. Blaylock's The Elfin Ship (& my review thereof):
"In addition to the afore-mentioned standard fare of elves n'at there're also trolls:
""The two trolls waiting on the riverside, however, were anything but laughable. As Jonathan stood watching the trolls which were watching him, the one atop the roots reached down in among them. came up with a tone, and began to gnaw at it." - p 44
"Apparently the secrets of strong teeth are known to trolls. They must not use US dentists. & then there's that "evil creeping over the land"" - https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/4...
Instead we have things like animated mannikins:
"He assumed a stance before the mannikin, imitating Coom and feeling foolish—
"And it promptly swing up its stick and knocked his to the ground. The mannikin vibrated gleefully, twisted on its stake and became limp again." - p 73
As if all this weren't excellent enuf, Bear goes into another favorite territory of mine: language:
"["]I'd say the resemblances between Sidhe and human languages are strong, but the syntax and methods of understanding are quite different. For example, the Sidhe use a meta-language . . . a language of contexts. And Cascar is like a hundred languages thrown together. They never run out of words that mean the same thing, or very nearly. I can't speak it well. I can sometimes make myself understood, but . . ."
""I understood it for a time," Michael said. "During the Kaeli. One of the Crane Women touched my head, and I understood everything they said."
""And what was that like?"
"Michael thought back, "Like listening to music. Each word seemed to be the equivalent of a note. Notes are always the same in music, but place them next to each other and they sound different . . . or lengthen the notes, shorten them. Use the same word in a different context, and it means something else . . . sounds different."" - pp 141-142
"["]There is a section in 'Hudibras' by Samuel Butler—if I can remember . . ." He screwed up his face in concentration and peered at the ceiling, "'But when he pleased to shew't, his speech/ In loftiness of sound was rich;
"A Baylonish dialect
Which learned pedants much affect;
It was a party coloured dress
Of patch'd and py-ball'd languages;
'Twas (Irish) cut on Greek and Latin
Like fustian heretofore on sattin.
It had an odd promiscuous tone,
As if h' had talk'd three parts in one;['"]" - p 143
Wch is quite similar to language as I envision it.
Bear throws in another spinner:
""Human sex is dangerous here."
""Such things are closely regulated. We do not want children. The Sidhe and Breeds can have young—we cannot."
"Michael just looked at him.
""The people who have been here longest, and the Breeds, say it is because there are no seedling souls in the Realm. A human child is born empty. A Sidhe or Breed child is expected to be that way, and already has an internal . . . how would we say . . . compensation. But human children are vessels waiting to be filled. They are filled by creatures from the Blasted Plain—Adonna's own aborted children, some say." He set his lips and waved off further inquiry. "Talk about it is considered obscene. No more."" - p 144
A sample child:
""Ishmael," Helena said, kneeling on the walkway. The pit was as deep as it was wide, and the walls were made of slick, hard tile. The figure was naked and the pit was bare except for three bowls, receptacles for food, water and waste, all arranged neatly against one wall.
"Michael's eyes had adjusted well enough that he could make out the details of Ismael's face. It was small, round, disproportionate to such a tall body. The hands were large and hung from arms which began thin at the shoulders and widened to grotesque forearms and wrists.
""We have some questions to ask," Helena said.
""I'm not otherwise occupied."
""Has he been here since he was born?" Michael whispered.
""Almost," Helena said. "He was one of the first that we know of. He's been here since the War."
""Time passes," Ishmael said. "Questions." He sat down leaning against the tiles and stretching his pale legs out on the floor.
""Who are you?"
"A sideshow for the guilty. A product of lust. Something so evil it must be evilly confined through all its endless life. An abortion walking. Victim."" - p 177
Oi! That's rough.
"["]I can't love you, not like I should. Today you've seen why."
"The Yard. To love you properly, I'd want to give myself to you completely . . . and I can't." She searched his face and reached out to touch his cheek. "Don't you see? They've taken love away from us here. We might make a mistake, a slip. I couldn't stand the thought of having a Child."" - p 182
& I thought I had problems.
Michael finds himself in a world where a new god is revered.
""I'm an atheist," Michael said. "I don't believe there's a God on Earth."
""Do you believe Adonna exists?"
"That took him aback. He hadn't really questioned the idea. This was a fantasy world, however grim, so of course gods could exist here. Earth was real, practical; no gods there. "I've never met him." Michael said.
""It," Eleuth corrected. "Adonna boasts of no gender.["]" - pp 159-160
Interesting theological question, eh? If a god exists in an imaginary world is it imaginary? Or something like that. Then there's always love & confusion:
"["]Why are you confused?"
""I told you," he said.
""Not really. You don't love me? That confuses you?"
"He said nothing, but finally nodded. "I like you. I'm grateful . . ."
"Euleuth smiled. "Does it matter, your not loving me?"
""It doesn't feel right, making love and not reciprocating everything. Feeling everything."
""Yet for all time, Sidhe males have not loved their geen. And we have survived. It is the way."
"Her resignation didn't help at all. It twisted the perverse knot a little tighter, however, and the only way he could see to forestall the discussion was to kiss her. Soon they were making love and his confusion intensified everything, made everything worse . . . and better." - p 161
Michael gets his training:
"Spart schooled Michael on how to throw a shadow while asleep, and how to sleep like the dead, his heart barely beating, while at the same time his mind was alert. He controlled his breath until he seemed not to breathe at all. He explored his inner thoughts, paring them down to the ones most essential to his exercises." - p 184
That all seemed worthwhile so I decided to try doing the same. Every time I threw my shadow in my sleep I fell out of bed. Every time I slept like the dead I actually died (don't ask me how I came back). Every time I controlled my breath I farted too much. I guess I just don't have it in me.
Michael's life never has a dull moment.
"He half-ran, half-stumbled crab-wise, trying to find the center of impulse again. But he had no clear way to throw another shadow. The guardian, dress flapping and pressing back against her distorted frame, had risen a foot or so above the path and was accelerating toward him like a piece of fabric on a spinning clothesline. She pitched head-forward in her flight until the hat pointed directly at him and the dress fanned out, a deadly trailing blossom." - p 203
"For a moment, the dim lighting and the folds of her skin had concealed the fact that she was unclothed. She sat naked and still in the large chair. Michael was convinced she waited for him to come close enough to reach out and grab. But nothing moved. She didn't even appear to breath. Was she dead?
"He reached out to touch her shoulder. His finger curled back involuntarily into his palm and he forced it to straighten.
"The skin gave way beneath his finger, first an inch, then two. Repelled, unable to stop, he continued pressing. She hissed faintly and her head folded in like a collapsing souffle. Her arm and chest began to collapse and she fell into a pile of white translucent folds, sliding from the chair to the floor." - p 205
Have you ever had a day like that? It's horrible visiting yr old mom. About the best that you can hope for is that some Sidhe will smear some paste on yr forehead while you sleep.
"The paste had evaporated. The visions swirled and Michael opened his eyes slowly. He had never dreamed in the Realm, and he didn't believe what he had seen was actually a dream. It had a certain quality, a stamp, which indicated he had once again had a message from Death's Radio . . . this time, without the use of words." - p 226
Bear's vision of reaaaaalllllly Old School War is practically appealing after the nightmares of the 20th century.
""It was not entirely a bad thing, that war. Nobody died . . . not forever. We were like young gods then and injuries of combat, while distressing, were remediable. But gradually we learned the desperate arts of tact, and lying, and deceit, of gamesmanship and honour. Then we learned distrust and our magic grew stronger. The war became earnest. Enemies found it necessary to either be polite or to attempt to destroy each other. There was no middle ground." - 234
""No swords, no baubles. Those are all human misunderstandings of magic, human preoccupation with technology. Magic lies purely in the mind. The Sidhe are among the most dishonorable, unreliable creatures on all the faces of Creation, but they have one thing—concentration. What they want, they focus on completely."" - p 299
That cd be dangerous if you happen to be walking at the time in an earthquake zone or something. Then again, Sidhe are more or less immortal so why worry?
All in all, this was great. Bear's at least as good a fantasy writer as he is a hard science SF one & that's a pleasant surprise. Also, what the heck, he acknowledges doing linguistics research wch puts him in a category similar to Tolkein. Wdn't fault him for that!
"please refer to a marvelous book by Robert A. Stewart Macalister, The Secret Languages of Ireland, first published in 1937 by the Cambridge University Press. It's still in print from Armorica Book Company/Philo Press. A good university or public library should also have it. Lovers of languaes—or dabblers, such as myself—will find it fascinating." - p 341 ...more
Notes are private!
May 26, 2017
Jun 05, 2017
Jan 01, 1979
David Bischoff's Nightworld
by tENTATIVELY, a cONVENIENCE - May 8, 2017
This is Bischoff's 1st published novel, he was born in December, 195 review of
David Bischoff's Nightworld
by tENTATIVELY, a cONVENIENCE - May 8, 2017
This is Bischoff's 1st published novel, he was born in December, 1951, in Washington, D.C., I was born in September, 1953, in nearby Baltimore, this was published in 1979, Bischoff wd've been 27 at the time. So, yeah, I suppose somewhere in the back of my thoughts I tend to appraise this w/ those factoids in mind. I've only previously read his The Crunch Bunch (1985) wch was a Young Adult novel. I liked it but had already forgotten it a mere 8 mnths later. That's to be expected, I read it as 'light reading', the same reason I read this one.
Usually when I choose to read something 'light' it's b/c I've just finished something 'heavy' (in this case Mark Abley's Spoken Here - Travels Among Threatened Languages: https://www.goodreads.com/story/show/... ) &/or b/c I'm in the midst of reading something 'heavy' (in this case Victor Hugo's Notre Dame back-to-back in the same bk w/ his The History of a Crime) & I 'need' a break. The 'inevitable' problem then ensues that the 'light' reading does provide welcome relief but fares poorly in contrast. Such is the case here w/ Nightworld.
So, yeah, Nightworld is 'light' alright, it has a sufficiently engrossing plot but nothing visionary, it's funny(-ish), the writing style's not about to go-down-in-history but it does its job. In the PROLOGUE the stage is already set:
"The vampire turned in the same direction, for at the base of the mountain lay the Gates.
"They gleamed with silver fire as the vampire approached and slipped its identification card into the appropriate slot. With a sharp-nailed finger, it tapped the combination.
"A voice erupted from the speaker grille . . .
""Guardian Nine Oh Sex Aye Four," it said in an emotionless monotone. "You are expected, Vampire Four Nine Bee Oh Oh. The Master awaits. Follow the red arrows to the elevator. The path has been altered since last you entered. To veer from it is to suffer damnation—"" - p 2
Here we have the vampire trope updated for the computer era. I've long since tired of traditional monster stories, having read Dracula in 1965 or thereabouts & having gotten bored w/ the tendency of hacks to beat a(n un)dead blood-sucker to death w/ a sharpened stake. Still, Bischoff has a fresh take on things & that helps save this novel: S-O-N! Save-Our-Novel!
This is one of those reviews where I have almost nothing to say about the bk b/c it's plot-centric & I don't want to be a spoiler. The stage gets set further:
""Centuries ago, this world was a colony of an empire in space. For reasons of its own, that Empire designed this world in a style which belonged to a time centuries past on the Homeworld. But then, the Empire suddenly died, or, at any rate, lost contact with this world.
""Styx's technological facilities, which were quite extensive, were regulated by a machine called a Computer, situated somewhere deep below the surface of the planet, For some reason, the Computer malfunctioned, doing strange things to the environment, manufacturing hideous creatures, and recreating terrible mythological conditions modeled on the many legends of Homeworld's myth-rich past."" - p 17
Right, likely story.. That's a good enuf premise for a bk to sprout out of, esp if it pleases Satan: "This was the most important task ever set before the hoofed little fellow, and above all else it wished to do a good job, to please the Master. Pleasing Satan meant long hours immersed in pleasure-center stimulation. Did Bischoff get to immerse himself in "pleasure-center stimulation" after pleasing his publisher? Or did someone like Penelope come along?:
"But those lines of her face seemed designed, rather than a random collection of parental characteristics. They were that perfect—smooth, symmetrical, aesthetic yet specially accentuated into an idealization of facial structure." - p 93
Yeah.. wassup w/ Penelope?! No doubt, yer average reader figures out pretty early what her story is but.. I won't ruin it for you. &, no, she's not "Miss Jones".
"Fierce pride pulsed through the memories. Strong hatred for the Divine throbbed through them. Better to rule in Hell than to serve in Heaven. Better an independent entity in tortuous solitude than a lackey to some other Consciousness." - p 110
It's odd. That's the 2nd time the "Better to rule in Hell than to serve in Heaven" has been quoted in my presence in the last yr. My retort is: Better to not rule or be ruled. I mean: Why wd I want to rule in Heaven or Hell? Or anywhere else? Or serve anywhere either? Neither Masters nor Slaves. N'at. For that matter, better an independent entity in sociable solidarity than a lackey to some other Consciousness.
The story follows a pretty standard line: bucolic-hero-gets-life-disrupted-&-goes-on-hero's-journey-to-come-back-a-better-man. N'at. What the heck, I like this myth. I prefer it hero-goes-out-meaning-well-& gets-psychologically-&-partially-physically-destroyed. I think of James P. Blaylock's The Elfin Ship & The Disappearing Dwarf &/or Esther Friesner's Majyk By Accident & Majyk by Hook or Crook & Majyk by Design - not that those are 'classic' examples or anything.
"His had been a placid life before, secure, reliable, steady. He knew who he was, who his parents were, who his God was, and how he related to all. He had a solid, tangible place in his world. His world was an important wheel that fit into the machinery of what he knew. Indeed, he was able to look nostalgically at the events of only two weeks ago, before the advent of Turner in his life. The Oliver Dolan who had those experiences seemed tangibly altered from the youth now suffering from insomnia." - p 116
This having been published in 1979, tape was still cutting edge technology. I know that my space ship will have VHS no matter what.
"The captain let that pass. He walked to an instrument panel between a pilot and copilot who were busily supervising orbital insertion, drew a small cassette from the breast pocket of his uniform, and slotted it.
""This little recording was made specifically for you, to be viewed upon near-arrival on Styx," Worthington said, punching 'play', "Check the video."" - p 130
You can tell this spaceship is less technologically advanced than mine wd be b/c they're using mini-dvs, a storage unit w/ a very limited lifespan. That must be why the captain punched the play button instead of more gently pressing it. The thing is that that type of frustration-venting just tends to make matters worse.
The character that saves & disrupts Oliver Dolan's life is Geoffrey Turner:
"010101111—TURNER, GEOFFREY: PRESENT PSEUDONYM OF HISTORICAL MANDROID PRODUCED 2266 AD. LAST IMPERIAL DUTY: SUPERVISION OF WORLD-SCAPING OF PLANET STYX OF STAR SYSTEM AZ108063. PREVIOUS NOTORIETY: NOVELIST FAMED FOR WORKS OF SCIENCE FICTION—'THE TIME MACHINE' (1895); 'WAR OF THE WORLDS' (1898); 'FIRST MEN ON THE MOON' (1901) FURTHER INFORMATION: 010101110 — WELL, H. (HERBERT) G. (GEORGE)." - p 141
H. G. Wells, homage has been pd to him in many a story. I wondered whether "Geoffrey Turner" was an in-joke name, such as the name of a Wells character, but I haven't reached any satisfactory conclusion.
""Of course, her activities took decades. Bust she was in no hurry—she was effectively immortal. And when the revolution came, not a shot was fired, not a person killed. There was no coup as such. Over the years and under the careful guiding hand of the computer Victoria, society began to emulate British Victorian society. English became the standard language of the world—British English. The sort we speak now." - p 145
But are the characters speaking "British English"? I actually didn't notice any instances of clear Americanisms OR Britishisms. I didn't notice any colour vs color of theater vs theatre.
Anyway, the hero gets his opportunity for pay-off but doesn't even obtain "orbital insertion". Too bad.
""You're safe," she said. About her torso she wore a skin-tight glossy sheath ornamented with strips of dazzling, winking lights and gemstone clusters. This material rose to a point just below her breasts, which were bare beneath the translucence of a silky top. Her legs were wrapped in the gauzy nothing of a full, sweeping skirt speckled with mirror-beads that shone in the light." - p 193 ...more
Notes are private!
May 06, 2017
May 08, 2017
Mass Market Paperback
Jan 01, 1985
Jun 01, 1986
really liked it
Lisa Goldstein's The Dream Years
by tENTATIVELY, a cONVENIENCE - April 15, 2017
Maybe some day I'll start writing flash fiction reviews & review of
Lisa Goldstein's The Dream Years
by tENTATIVELY, a cONVENIENCE - April 15, 2017
Maybe some day I'll start writing flash fiction reviews & I won't need to redirect you anymore. In the meantime, my full review is here: https://www.goodreads.com/story/show/...
Another new writer to me. While I was reading this I coincidentally ran across an excerpt from a Damien Broderick book where he discussed the difficulty of pigeon-holing this as SF (or some such). That interested me. &, yeah, I wdn't call it SF, it's more of a romantic art history fantasy. I liked it.
The basic premise is that a fictional member of the Paris 1924 circle of Surrealists encounters brief glimpses of a woman who turns out to be from 1968. Then he gets brought forward in time to the May 1968 revolution in France partially impelled by attraction to the mysterious woman. Other nightmare forces get drawn into the revolutionary conflict & more Surrealists from 1924 enter the fray as magicians that'd partially inspired the revolution.
Given that I like Surrealism, esp the paintings & movies, & given that all of the Surrealist characters, except for the main one, Robert, are based on historic figures, & given that I have some interest in the Parisian events of May, 1968, I enjoyed this.
Chapter one begins w/ this epigraph:
""Putting life in the service of the unconscious."
THE HISTORY OF SURREALISM"
I have Nadeau's bk, it's one of at least 20 Surrealist bks I have, & when I read the above quote I assumed that I'd read it. SO, for the vague purposes of this review I decided to pull the bk off of my shelves & to leaf thru it looking for something useful & was surprised to find that it's one of the bks about Surrealism I haven't read. As punishment to myself, I then flung myself out the window, I live on the 41st floor of a home for incurably sane threats-to-the-status-quo, only to find myself right back at my desk again where I'm writing this review. Weird. While I haven't read the bk, it appears that one or more rats have nibbled at its lower right corner. Make of that what you will.
When I read these bks for review I write notes in pencil on the inside front cover. This bk has a browning cover whose age is causing it to fall apart. Pencil notes on this browning jacket are hard to read, they're even harder to read once the cover has tape over the notes to hold it together. As such, I struggled to read the note for p3: "_____ & the _______ TOWER"? "Breton & the ______ tower"? It even occurred to me that I might've thought of some reason to refer to the bk about the 'unabomber' & the Harvard professor who reputedly sadistically used him. But, no, it says: "BRETON & THE FORTUNE TELLER". Too bad, I had higher hopes.
""Objective chance," the fortune-teller said. It was obvious from the way she spoke she didn't understand the words. "He's right. You'll see."
""See what?" Robert said. "Are you going to put a curse on me?"
""Unbelievers," the woman said scornfully. "I think that some day we will go on strike."
""You will?" André said. His somber mood of a moment ago was gone. "For what? For higher wages?" He put a hand in his pocket and drew out a few coins. We'll eat lightly tonight. Robert thought as André gave her a few francs.
""For belief," the woman said. "For magic."
""For dreams," André said seriously. "Go on strike for your dreams."" - p 3
Jacques Rigaut is another character. He's obsessed with suicide & he eventually kills himself. Whenever I think of Surrealist suicides I think of Jacques Vaché instead. Vaché was dead by OD by 23, Rigaut by shooting himself at age 30. Don't commit suicide, folks, if you're sensitive enuf to be that depressed you're probably adding to the well-being of the world more than the brutes who cruelly plow their way thru w/o getting depressed or feeling much of anything other than the occasional triumph of their sadism. Don't let them have the upper hand.
""Nobody will get anything when I die," Jacques said. "I don't have anything. And I won't have anything in four years, either."
""You're sticking to your schedule then?" Robert asked. He had heard Jacques's story before but it still intrigued him. What would it be like to place yourself under a death sentence? André, he knew, was fascinated.
""Yes, I am," Jacques said. "In 1919 I gave myself ten years and I haven't seen anything since then to dissuade me. In fact it makes life easier, simpler. I make no plans for the future. I put nothing off until later. I haven't saved any money—I don't need it. If someone asks me what I want to do with my life I just say, 'Die.' "
"That's a stupid question anyway," Robert said. He's bluffing, he thought. He likes the attention. It's just a game he's playing. But he's been playing it for so long, about six years. "Have you got a date picked out?" he asked.
""Oh, yes," Jacques said. "Ten years to the day from when I first made my vow. I don't tell anyone when it is. I don't want anyone to stop me."" - p 111
Hadn't these people heard of "intervention"?! You know, where you realize that your friend, who you care about, has a self-destructive problem & you try to assist them to work thru it?! Rigaut made his vow to commit suicide when he was 20. That's hardly an age when one has reached maximum wisdom. Rigaut was in the midst of the creation of Surrealism, certainly that alone was worth living decades longer for. What a stupid waste. I'm glad, eg, to've lived long enuf to witness 37 yrs of Neoism. Rigaut's vow & subsequent suicide make for a good story but surely his continued life wd've been worth more.
"["]I—" he paused to emphasize the word—"have never been arrested."
""I'm not so sure that's something to be proud of," André said. "All the great men and women of history have been put in jail. In jail or in mental institutions. Nietzsche, de Sade . . ."
""I'm just as crazy as they were," Jacques said. "I just don't get caught. And when have you ever been arrested? But I don't mean to begin an argument. I wanted to show you, gentlemen—" he opened the newspaper—"our advertisement, which came out today." - p 8
"André looked through the newspaper. "Here it is," he said finally. " 'Bureau of Surrealistic research, 15 Rue de Grenelle. We welcome all bearers of secrets: inventors, madmen, revolutionaries, misfits, dreamers. Relate to us your stories, answer our questions, tell us your dreams, leave your work and play with us. We sow the seeds for the new night-blooming flower. Open 1-5.' " He closed the paper. "All right," he said. "We'll see what kind of response that gets."" - p 9
Now I was hoping to find the Bureau in the index to Nadeau's bk so I cd conveniently quote from it about when it started & what some of the 1st accounts of it have to say. Alas, zilch. I cd look for similar info online but that gets too easy & boring after a while so I decide to consult other bks on Surrealism in my collection instead.
It's not in the index of Wayne Andrews's The Surrealist Parade, one I just picked up t'other day. Tsk, tsk. There is no index in André Breton's Manifestoes of Surrealism & I didn't look thru it thoroughly enuf to see if the Bureau's mentioned. It's not in the index of Marcel Jean's The History of Surrealist Painting. Tsk, tsk. There is no index in Herbert Read's Surrealism, flipping thru Read's lengthy introduction I find no mention of the Bureau. The index to Sarane Alexandrian's Surrealist Art doesn't mention it. Tsk, tsk. The Lucy R. Lippard edited Surrealists on Art doesn't have an index & the Table of Contents doesn't appear to point to anything promisingly relevant. Tsk tsk. I skip over José Pierre's 2 little volumes: Surrealist painting 1919 - 1939 & Surrealist painting 1940 - 1970. The index to the Marcel Jean edited The Autobiography of Surrealism doesn't mention the Bureau. I even looked briefly at the Jack Hirschman edited Artaud Anthology but got nothing useful out of that except a reminder that he & I share September 4th as a birthday. These are all bks that Goldstein might've seen before the release of her bk in 1985.
I remember the Bureau as something I'd read about so I'm surprised to not find mention of it in any of the above. Alas, I resort to looking online. Wikipedia provides this: "Located at 15 Rue de Grenelle, it opened on October 11, 1924 under the direction of Antonin Artaud, just four days before the publication of the first Surrealist Manifesto by André Breton.
"According to art critic Sarane Alexandrian, the public at large was invited to bring to the Bureau "accounts of dreams or of coincidences, ideas on fashion or politics, or inventions, so as to contribute to the 'formation of genuine surrealist archives'."' ( https://en,wikipedia.org/wiki/Bureau_... ) Perhaps I shd've looked deeper in Alexandrian's bk.
Robert time travels:
"Robert ran after her. The street seemed to elongate as he turned the corner; the houses moved for a moment and then were still. Someone shouted. A loud blasting noise came from the direction of the river. Terrified he ran on, hoping he hadn't lost her. he felt horribly disoriented now. Where was he? "The police!" a high woman's voice said to his right. "The police are coming!"
"He blinked, blinded again as his eyes teared from the smoke. Those impossibly tall buildings—surely he would have noticed them before." - p 11
Imagine running & having your environment morph into its future self around you. Nice. I have to wonder sometimes how many authors write passages imagining how they'd play in motion picture form.
"He walked toward the lights of the Tuileries Gardens, passing quietly through the trees. How could he tell André, after all? He had known André since— He stopped a minute. Since 1917, that awful and miraculous year, the year he had gotten trench fever and been sent home from the front. André, a medical student then, had been working in a mental hospital. They had met in a bookstore, reaching for the same volume of Rimbaud." - p 18
Breton had been a medical student studying mental cases so the above is passably believable. To someone like myself (me, myself, & I) meeting in a bookstore is romantic. Not long ago I tried inviting a woman I was attracted to in a bookstore to a reading. If she had gone it would've been the beginning of an ever-increasing era of sheer ecstasy in her life. She declined. The turkey neck I had tied to the fleshy appendage I was waving at the time should have in no way turned her off. People are so weird. At the Bureau the fictional Robert reports to the historical Artaud:
""Of course not," Antonin said. "All the world will pass through this doorway. First the shamans, the magicians. The Dalai Lama. The Dalai Lama might have passed through today—if he did you missed him. And then everyone. Everyone is a magician. Everyone is the Dalai Lama."" - p 29
& the Dalai Lama is named Monty Cantsin. & Artaud turns out to be fictionally correct in more ways than one. But the fictional Robert is having none of it. He'll get his. I'm reminded of the 1970s Maryland Writer's Council's bookstore in downtown Baltimore. The guy who ran it, whose name I'm, alas, forgetting, provided the rare visitor w/ some powerful ranting. The only time I remember meeting him the rant was about Baltimore being like Paris in the 20s. He might very well have had the Bureau of Surrealist Research in mind. I liked him. Other people I talked w/ about him considered him 'crazy'.
Much of the 1924 action takes place in a café where conversation runs rampant:
"Yves Tanguy began to tell a story about a man who claimed that he was employed to live someone else's life. "His employer was too frightened to go out and do anything by himself, so he hired this man to live for him. He'd go to bars and get into fights, went climbing in the Himalayas, became a smuggler in Africa, took monk's vows for about a month . . . And everywhere he went he'd bring back something, some souvenir, so that the employer could claim to have done these things himself. Or that's what he told me, anyway."" - p 35
In my personal experience, it's 'good business practice' for rich people to get other people to take the risks for them & to then take the credit for themselves. I could point to at least 2 'friends' of mine who've done just that. Beware. But let's jump-cut to 1968:
""Look!" Robert said, pointing down the street. A group of people had moved a dining table out into the street and were sitting around it eating and talking. Were they protesting something, perhaps an eviction, or were they celebrating the absurdity of the moment? He laughed. Everyone is a surrealist, he thought. We just do what everyone would do if they could. As they watched, a reporter came up to the group, took out a pad of paper and a pen and began to ask them questions. With great solemnity someone at the table began to butter the reporter's tie. The reporter stepped back." - p 57
On page 60, a threatening nightmare character appears, a nightmare on the side of the forces of hierarchy. If only the characters could learn to avoid places like page 60 & the back cover they wd've been fine.
"Someone screamed or cried out. A fifth man had appeared among the players, a man wearing a mask of horns and fur and metal, a fantastic mingling of man and machine. The players jumped from the stage. Robert strained to see clearer. Was that really a mask? Where was it joined to his body? He shuddered, seeing a creature come fresh from his nightmares, from the dreams he could never remember in sunlight. Than man raised his hand and the earth rocked. More people screamed." - p 60
Now imagine this: 'Robert & Solange sat peacefully in the café on page 59, enjoying each other's company. Robert knew that Solange was nervous about something but was afraid to express it. Finally, she burst forth with: "Robert, we have to find a way to avoid the next few pages or one or another of us might be injured or killed!" Not as prescient as Solange & inclined to put on a conventional masculine front, Robert replied: "It's ok, I know the author, (s)he wouldn't let anything really bad happen to her protagonists, she's too romantic." Just then, page 60 was reached, Solange, not convinced by Robert's ill-justified bravado, reached off the page & flipped the pages furiously until they were safely out-of-trouble & in bed with each other. Life is good.'
Goldstein has Breton criticize Artaud - but then I have to wonder where Breton's money came from & how Artaud supported himself. These things matter.
""He doesn't take surrealism seriously," André said. "All he sees are commercial possibilities. We aren't an art movement but a movement to change the world. We aren't surrealists to make money."" - p 66
Breton's criticizing Artaud's acting in movies. The selected filmography provided by Wikipedia includes "Graziella" (1926), "The Passion of Joan of Arc" (1928), "Verdun: Visions of History" (1928), "La Femme d'une Nuit" (1931), "Lucrezia Borgia" (1935), & "Koenigsmark" (1935) - none of which wd've been made as of the time of Bréton's fictional (but plausible) criticism. In retrospect, this fictional criticism seems unfair given the way Artaud led his life in contrast to the way Bréton led his.
Given my liking of Surrealism & my interest in the historical figures placed in this fictional narrative, I enjoy scenes like the following:
""Surrealist morality," Georges said. "That's good. 'It is the highest morality to sleep in a church whenever possible,' ' he said, imitating André's pedantic way of speaking. " 'Ant surrealist who fails to do so must atone for his sin by—' "
""Reciting all of André's poems."
"They walked in silence for a while. "I'll tell you one of the things I'm tired of." Robert said finally. "Everything André does he does for political reasons. To shock someone. I don't want to sleep in a church if there has to be a reason behind it. I just want to have a good time."" - p 72
""Look at that," Georges said, whispering. By the rays of the setting sun they could see a crudely drawn mural of Christ on the cross. "What if we added a bit to it—a couple over here making love in the corner—"
""What?" Robert said, mock-horrified. "Realism in art?"" - pp 72-73
That's funny. What's really funny is imagining a church that you can walk into & lay down in & go to sleep safely. I remember around 1972, a decade before this novel was written, hitch-hiking w/ a friend & asking a minister if we cd stay the night in his church. The answer was NO. He explained that he'd 'had bad experiences'. Around the same time I hitched into Syracuse to visit my sister. I arrived too early to considerately phone her so I went into a church to lay on a pew. Shortly thereafter, a woman who presumably worked for the church entered the room & saw me & left. Given that even as a teenager I was acutely aware of what bullshit Christinane's purported caring for the poor was I expected the worst so I snuck up into the balcony & hid & peered discretely over the balcony wall to see what wd happen next. It was only a few minutes later when the same woman came in w/ 2 or 3 policemen & pointed to where I'd been laying down. After the police left, I got out of there. So much for Christinane 'charity'.
All too few women seem willing to acknowledge that there're oppressive matriarchies everywhere. As such, it's nice to read a novel by a woman writer in wch the main character parody his rich narrow-minded mom.
"Claude came into the room without knocking. "I've been thinking about your future, young man," Robert said, still sitting behind the desk. "I've decided it would be best for you—best for the entire family—if you became—say, a shepherd. I can give you money for a warm coat and a pair of fleecing shears, but that's all. It's time for you to grow up, you know."
""She's talked to you already, has she?" Claude said.
""Yes, she has," Robert said. He noticed that he was still holding one of the pieces of paper and he put it back in the drawer. "I suppose you're going to take over the family business now?"
""That's right," Claude said, nodding pleasantly. "What do you think? I can use a partner, someone willing to learn. You might even be able to stay in Paris."
"Robert put his feet up on the desk. "I don't even know what the business is," he said. He thought of Rimbaud, trader in darkest Africa. The idea still did not appeal to him. "What do we sell? Black slaves? Objects of religious significance? Cursed stones?"
"Claude sighed. "All right, you're a poet," he said. "I don't understand why poets can't make the effort to get along like everyone else."" - p 79
Imagine fiction w/o all those "he saids". Just sayin'. Or imagine fiction w/ nothing but "he saids". Steve McCaffery cd pull that off.
Probably one of my favorite things about Surrealist writing are the manifestoes:
""Can I read it?" André said, "Here, wait. I brought you these," he said, handing Robert the papers under his arm. "The manifesto of surrealism. I wrote it last week. We're a movement now, with a name and a purpose. I can add your name to the others who have signed it."" - p 85 ...more
Notes are private!
Apr 09, 2017
Apr 16, 2017
Mass Market Paperback
Aug 12, 1985
James P. Blaylock's The Disappearing Dwarf
by tENTATIVELY, a cONVENIENCE - March 14, 2017
I just read Blaylock's 1st bk, the predecessor of review of
James P. Blaylock's The Disappearing Dwarf
by tENTATIVELY, a cONVENIENCE - March 14, 2017
I just read Blaylock's 1st bk, the predecessor of this, The Elfin Ship, less than a mnth ago so one might think that reading this now means that I'm enthusiastic about Blaylock's writing & just cdn't wait to get more of it but it was more of 'house-cleaning' activity. reading this one meant that I cd finish w/ Blaylock & have all of his bks in my collection up on the shelves & out of my piles-of-bks way. That's not very flattering, eh? But, don't get the wrong idea, I enjoyed it.
As I've explained in probably far-too-many other reviews: I have a tendency to read stuff-that's-important-to-me slowly & to intersperse stuff-that's-easier to give myself some slack. The Disappearing Dwarf is definitely in the latter category.
I'd read that Laurence Sterne's Tristram Shandy is one of Blaylock's favorite bks & he quotes from it at the beginning of this. The quote is about imbibing "radical moisture" in order to "know not what it is to fear death", in other words, potomania - alcohol-induced 'bravery' (or foolishness). I like that Blaylock likes Sterne but I must admit to finding none of Sterne's formal inventiveness & playfulness in Blaylock's writing.
I read The Elfin Ship less than a mnth ago but the action since then has advanced more than that: ""We've been back six months," the Professor said, "and you've got an air of boredom about you.["]" (p 5) It might be interesting to read a series of bks during the seasons that they take place in & taking a break between them equivalent to the time lapsed in the stories. That wd've meant that I wdn't've read this one until July. Oh well, too late.
As I mentioned in my review of The Elfin Ship ( https://www.goodreads.com/review/show... ): "There's the peaceful small village that the reluctant humble hero hails from. There's the magician & the elves & the dwarves n'at. The evil creeping over the land." In other words, the standard tropes of fantasy. Add to those the door-into-an-alternate-world-or-some-such:
""This notation here," the Professor continued, "hasn't anything to do with dogs, I'm sure of it. It refers to a door, I think."
""A door to where? To the center of the earth?"
"The Professor perked up at the idea. "Quite possibly so, Jonathan. There are theories about it being hollow, you know."" - p 15
Indeed, there are & I once enjoyed reading those theories enuf to even organize the "Sinnit-Nut Hollow Earth Symposium". A digitized recording of Side A of the original cassette release from this can be heard here: https://archive.org/details/noise-arc... Please read the comment that I added if you go there.
Blaylock's wonderworlds are reruns of sorts, images from a pre-existing image pool imagined slightly anew by him. That's ok, I like this neo-Verne world, this world w/ caves filled w/ antiquities & oddities (if not treasure):
"In the dim shadows of one corner stood a collection of stuffed animals, a sort of taxidermist's wonderland, that looked as if it had stood just so for two hundred years. An elephant with long curving tusks and tufts of wooly hair along his back watched them through green glass eyes. Beside him stood a great long hippo and three crocodiles that had to have been twenty feet from head to tail. There were zebras and antelope and great cats and a weird hollow-eyed buffalo that was almost as big as the elephant. Four white apes stood in a cluster further back in the darkness. Pushed in among these strange dusty creatures were more chairs and wardrobes and tables and candelabra and such, heaped together in disarray." - pp 34-35
What? No stuffed humans or elves or dwarves or trolls or linkmen or goblins? Wassup w/ that?!
"Most puzzling of all the notations on the map was the legend scrawled across the top—merely the word "Balumnia," the name, possibly, of the city along the river or of the country where the river lay." - 44
""I once read a book about this Balumnia," he said. "It must have been twenty years ago. It was a wonderful book by the elf author, Glub Boomp. A fantasy novel."" - p 63
If only Jonathan read my review of The Elfin Ship it wdn't've taken him 19pp to remember Balumnia b/c I wd've reminded him that he knew what Balumnia was a mere 6 or 7 mnths ago:
"""Fine," Jonathan said, picking up an empty wooden crate and putting the pirate book in the bottom with a few others by the same author. Then he ran across a shelf of books by Glub Boomp, the elf author from the White Mountains who wrote about lands way off in space and about the Wonderful Isles and a country beneath the sea called Balumnia that was peopled by mermen. Needless to say, Jonathan stacked these away in his crate too."
Then again, according to that version of the story Balumnia is "a country beneath the sea" "that was peopled by mermen" wch ain't the case here. Get yr stories straight people. Some of us DO pay attn (sortof).
Selznak was the evil dwarf magician in The Elfin Ship who was defeated in the end but whose life was spared b/c our heroes aren't bloodthirsty sorts n'at. Surprise, surprise, he's back in the sequel & up to no good AGAIN:
"["]I promised Twickenham in a way that I'd keep an eye on Selznak. Of course he was up to no good, but it was pretty common stuff—murder and the like—and it was clear he knew I was there. In April he disappeared. I had it on authority that he was off downriver, so I moseyed along down to the Wood, where I lost track of him. You can't track evil through the Wood. There's too much of it already.["]" - p 48
Blaylock seems to be of the school of untamed-nature-is-evil-nature's-ok-when-it's-being-harvested-in-sleepy-hamlets-but-not-in-its-full-vitality. I doubt that I'd survive a night in the Amazonian jungle but that doesn't mean I want to turn it into grazing lands for McDonald's cows-bred-for-slaughter. Blaylock even imagines his obese character eating singing squid. I guess it depends on what they're singing.
""Well," said Gump, sticking in his two cents worth, "we don't have to worry about any squids. The Squire would just eat the things. I've seen him eat squid sandwiches that would turn your head. They were marvels. And he wouldn't care if they sang either; he'd eat them anyway. A singing sandwich is right in the Squire's line."" - p 65
If he ate a squid that was singing Cathy Berberian's "Stripsody" wd my head turn around 360 degrees & keep on turning? Wd I get head if the squids were singing the "Ode to Joy"? Things like this cd be important y'know.
I recall that Blaylock likes the work of Robert Louis Stevenson too so it's no surprise that shades of Treasure Island appear:
"If books could be believed—and it was beginning to look as if they could—then it seemed as if pirates spent their lives amassing great chests full of emeralds and gold for the purpose of burying the lot if it away on some goat-populated desert isle, only to sail back years later and fight over it and make up songs about it and bury it again, finally, somewhere else. He had never heard of pirates spending any of it." - p 67
What the piratical HEY!, I like Treasure Island so much I even watched a sequel movie called Return to Treasure Island recently. The main moral I got from that is: don't-get-married-if-you-still-want-to-have-fun & The Disappearing Dwarf does seem to echo that somewhat, too, by having our heros be bachelors.
The back cover of this edition has the following copy: "Into darkest Balumnia", wch strikes me as spin-off of the old "Into darkest Africa" but Balumnia isn't made out to be the least bit like Africa. UNLESS Africa's like this:
"Bomb or no bomb, Sikorsky or no Sikorsky, he'd had enough of being on the lookout. As he straightened up he caught a glimpse of a pair of eyes, milky eyes, watching him from the darkness of a recessed doorway not three steps away. There was a whispering in the doorway and the faint cackle of something laughing weirdly to itself, at a joke that no one else could hear or wanted to hear. From the shadows of the doorway, a thin, pale, skeletal hand reached out toward him, beckoning to him with a bent finger. Tattered lace hung round the wrist." - p 128
That's not the way I remember darkest Africa but, then, I've never been there. I've never even been there w/ Jonathan, the fictional character, but he & I are like 2 peas in a pod anyway:
"They pushed in through the doors of the inn and booked two rooms for the night from a lad in enormous spectacles who read a thick book behind a wooden counter. Jonathan cocked his head sideways to read the title on the volume. he had always been compelled to discover what it was that anyone he met was reading." - p 149
Well, ok, we're not really like 2 peas in a pod but I do the same thing when I see someone reading. Such as Dickens's The Old Curiosity Shop or Theophile Gautier's The Mummy's Foot:
"When they did, they were presented with the sight of a hippopotamus head, mouth agape, staring back out at them. In among his teeth sat a small, satisfied-looking pig with his mouth open too. And in the pig's mouth, peering out as if through a window, were the head and shoulders of a mouse. A price tag dangled from one of the hippo's teeth: Two hundred dollars."
"Too bad this place isn't open," Gump said. "I'd like to talk him down fifty or so and buy that thing. I've always wanted one."" - pp 165-166
Gotta have one, simply gotta. Although it wd be even cooooler to have the mummified piece of Nearchus's ear that Zeno bit off:
""If there are three north-south streets between Royal and Oak that aren't on the map, and six east-west cross streets . . ."
""And no end of alleys," Gump interrupted.
""And, as you say, no end of alleys, then how many blocks do we have to explore in that one section?"
"The Professor ticked off streets on his fingers. "Let's see, that's . . . eighteen square blocks altogether."
""Multiplied by no end of alleys," Jonathan said.
""How do you multiply something by no end?" Gump asked.
"Jonathan shrugged. "You'd have to have a lot of zeros."
""More than we have time for," the Professor put in. "It all has to do with the study of infinitudes. Very complex affair."
""We studied those in school," Gump said. "It was fascinating. You take a line and divide it in half. Then you cut it in half again . . ."
""What do you cut in half again?" asked Bufo. "Both halves or just one? Seems pretty sloppy just to cut one half in half and leave the other one half alone. What does it do with himself?"" - pp 175-176
I'd never heard of fishing w/ kites before but I like the idea (even if it shd be called 'birding w/ kites'):
"Not far from the road two dark gypsys were fishing for seabirds with kites. Jonathan was tempted to stand and watch for a bit, as now and again a big gull or heron would swoop down and lunge at the bait dangling at the tail of the bird-shaped kite." - p 212
I HAVE heard of John Sheehan's "balloon fishing" where you go to a fishing spot before any of the other fisher-folk arrive & attach a balloon to your hook, submerge it underwater somehow, & then bring it up casually as if there's nothing abnormal about snagging an inflated balloon w/ a fishing line & leave w/o explanation. So, that's kinda normal to me - but what I want to know is what were the gypsys planning to do w/ the seabirds's credit info?
Sometimes it helps the plot to have the characters be considerably slower on the uptake than the reader:
"he barely gave a thought to the strange fact that the girl's hand was very cold and was dry as dust. For a moment, just as she stepped out into the moonlight, Jonathan had the strange thought that her hair wasn't blond, as it had seemed to be in the lantern light. It seemed momentarily to be gray, like old ashes in a grate, and her face, rather than being pleasantly thin, appeared skeletal just for the slip of an instant." - p 220
Some guys never learn - but don't feel too bad, Jonathan, computer dating services tend to pair me w/ women who look like they'd been left for dead in a body of water & bloated out to twice their living size.
This, predictably enuf, is the 2nd bk of a trilogy, it has to be a trilogy, right?!. the 1st 2 parts were only published a yr apart but the next one, The Stone Giant didn't come out until 6 yrs later in 1989. Maybe by then Jonathan managed to hook a live one. ...more
Notes are private!
Mar 14, 2017
Mass Market Paperback
Jul 12, 1982
Jul 12, 1982
James P. Blaylock's The Elfin Ship
by tENTATIVELY, a cONVENIENCE - February 20, 2017
Blaylock's name was vaguely familiar when I picked up t review of
James P. Blaylock's The Elfin Ship
by tENTATIVELY, a cONVENIENCE - February 20, 2017
Blaylock's name was vaguely familiar when I picked up this bk & its successor. As it turns out, I've read one other bk by him, The Last Coin, 9 yrs ago. People often comment on how-time-flies when you get older but it's forever weird to me that in the 9 yrs from 1977, when I published my 1st bk, & 1986, when I went on the "6 Fingers Crossed Country T.Ore/Tour" my life changed dramatically but in the 9 yrs since I read The Last Coin it doesn't seem like much time has gone by at all.
Anyway, one thing that's changed is that the reviews I was writing then were just capsule reviews & now they're often veritable monsters of cross-referencing or what-not. The review I wrote then is basically this:
"Blaylock is in that minority of SF writers who're also clearly comical. I like that combination. Other writers that spring to mind are the team of G. C. Edmondson & C. M. Kotlan, Ron Goulart, & Rudy Rucker. I'd read more by him if I ever ran across anything again. There's something about absurdist SF that's dear to my parallel dimension baboon heart."
Not much, write? [sic] I really don't remember The Last Coin & that review isn't going to help much. As far as my recent reading goes, I'd put The Elfin Ship more in the company of Esther Friesner's Majyk: something that I enjoyed but don't necessarily recommend.
The front cover of The Elfin Ship has a quote from Philip K. Dick on it that says: "A magical world, magically presented... having journeyed there, you will not wish to leave, nor ever to forget," The front cover of The Last Coin has a quote on it from William Gibson: "Blaylock is a singular American fabulist!". That's pretty powerful promotion-speak. Blaylock must be a popular guy. Dick died on March 2, 1982. The 1st edition of The Elfin Ship was published in August 1982. Was Dick's praise sd on his deathbed?!
When I was a kid & every yr was a thousand yrs apart, I read Tolkein's The Hobbit followed in probably quick succession by his The Lord of the Rings trilogy. I'm pretty sure I read the latter at least twice & the former I may've even read 3 times. I don't usually do that so, obviously, I loved it.
The Elfin Ship seems to be exploring similar territory. There's the peaceful small village that the reluctant humble hero hails from. There's the magician & the elves & the dwarves n'at. The evil creeping over the land. The epigraph is a quote from Kenneth Grahame's The Wind in the Willows. Even tho that was a famous bk in my childhood &, apparently, still is, I can't remember reading it. Here's what Wikipedia has to say about it:
" The Wind in the Willows is a children's novel by Kenneth Grahame, first published in 1908. Alternately slow moving and fast paced, it focuses on four anthropomorphised animals in a pastoral version of Edwardian England. The novel is notable for its mixture of mysticism, adventure, morality and camaraderie, and celebrated for its evocation of the nature of the Thames Valley." - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Win...
It seems like a precursor to Tolkein then. That folksy pastoral thing is established in The Elfin Ship right away:
"Jonathan waved him in and shut the door against the cold wind. First it was airships, then Gilroy Bastable, all out under peculiar circumstances. "H'lo there, Gilroy! Quite a night out, wouldn't you say? Could be described as a wet one if it came to descriptions, don't you think?"" - p 6
""Filthy night out; that's what I call it. Full of mud holes and hurricanes. Blew my hat into the river. I saw it with my own eyes right here in my head. Hat sails off spinning like the widow's windmill, turns round the church steeple twice, then lands smack and was gone in the river. Brand new hat. Hideous night."" - p 7
& then there's fun w/ dream (il)logic:
""But I was thinking, Professor, that if a dog had a dream about a man, mightn't that man say a few words now and again, like men do? And so, if a dog were to talk in his sleep it mightn't all be dog talk; perhaps the people in his dreams might get a word in now and again."" - p 35
In addition to the afore-mentioned standard fare of elves n'at there're also trolls:
"The two trolls waiting on the riverside, however, were anything but laughable. As Jonathan stood watching the trolls which were watching him, the one atop the roots reached down in among them. came up with a tone, and began to gnaw at it." - p 44
Apparently the secrets of strong teeth are known to trolls. They must not use US dentists. & then there's that "evil creeping over the land" that I mentioned earlier:
""Who is this Selznak?" asked Jonathan, gazing into his glass of ale and wondering what sort of a fiendish thing Gosset had encountered. He offered some of his ale to the Professor, who looked at it then shook his head. "He's not an altogether nice chap, I gather."
""Nice chap!" Gosset almost shouted. "A curse is what. A dwarf of some sort from the Forest. Came upriver six months back through Willowood. You heard about Willowood?"
""Yes," said the Professor.
""All gone by the boards. Empty! Things are . . . abroad in the land," Gosset said darkly." - p 60
The Goblins were probably my favorites. They're like indestructible party animals:
"Jonathan was certain it was intent upon firing the ship. Instead, the creature set fire to its own hair and leaped blazing to and fro about the deck. Wild laughter issued from between its pointed teeth, and the fire seemed to melt the skin from its face and it ran down and left only a grinning skull with flaming hair." - p 71
Now, there's an instance where "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you" gets a little tricky. Then there're axolotls:
""All we need are axolotls. A man can't keep live axolotls with him all the time, you know. What we have to do is find an axolotl den and borrow a few. They don't mind. Not a bit. Glad to do it, in fact, as long as they're returned to their den afterward and given a bit of salt."" - p 84
Now, here's where Blaylock starts to get on rocky turf. I seriously doubt that a Mexican salamander aka a Mexican walking fish, a neotenic salamander, wd take kindly to being taken away & borrowed, salt or no salt so any aspiring magicians out there had better come up with a vegan substitute - & I don't mean platypodes either.
"Dooly went back to looking for shallows. He shouted and pointed at an odd creature near the shore, and the Professor and Jonathan at first feared that it was the little rope-chewing beast. But it turned out to be nothing more than a normal unremarkable platypus that blinked at them in a friendly way as they drifted past." - p 134
Now, given that Blaylock is an American author & that the platypus is native to Eastern Australia & Tasmania it wd appear that The Elfin Ship's setting is not the US@ or necessarily any existing Earth continent. What saves Blaylock from being reported thru time travel to HUAC as a result of this suspicious activity is that he frequently mentions bookstores in a positive light:
"They passed two interesting-looking bookstores, filled to overflowing with a likely hodgepodge. It looked like G. Smithers country to Jonathan, and he noted the cross streets, intent upon stopping in for some browsing on their return." - p 149
Goblins & trolls wdn't stop me from used bookstore browsing either.
""Well how much is it worth, do you suppose, six pence?"
""Easily," said Jonathan.
""Then half that. Everything here is half price. Didn't I tell you that already? Seems like I did. The almanacs are free, but you'll have have to wrestle the mice for them."
""Fine," Jonathan said, picking up an empty wooden crate and putting the pirate book in the bottom with a few others by the same author. Then he ran across a shelf of books by Glub Boomp, the elf author from the White Mountains who wrote about lands way off in space and about the Wonderful Isles and a country beneath the sea called Balumnia that was peopled by mermen. Needless to say, Jonathan stacked these away in his crate too.
"But he really struck paydirt when he stumbled upon the collected works of G. Smithers of Brompton Village. At home Jonathan had a dozen or so volumes, most of them dog-eared and falling to bits after having been read and re-read and loaned out and so on. But there was a complete set of G. Smithers, one hundred-twenty-nine volumes in all and every one as good as the other." - pp 175-176
[It's a little-known fact that the merman of Bulemia camouflage their undersea village w/ vomit to keep away the unwelcome]
In short, our hero has the right priorities.
"The Moon Man—for that's how Jonathan thought of him—was a peculiar-looking person, there was little doubt about that, but it was very easy to see that he might well be a king of some nature. Behind his spectacles his eyes were very jolly, but Jonathan could see that there was some nature of seriousness on his mind. As with the Squire, however, Jonathan would find that the Moon Man liked the right sort of things: eating apple pie and cream for breakfast, capering with platypi on the riverbanks, strolling along between hedgerows, admiring marbles with the Squire and, it turned out in time, investigating the mysteries of kaleidoscopes and paperweights." - p 156
Along w/ all the rest of the usual fare there're rings-of-power too. A fantasy bk that didn't have any of these standard tropes might be hard to write but it might make a nice change.
""Show friend Dooly your ring, Squire, like a good fellow," Twickenham said.
"The Squire put his bag of marbles away and winked at Dooly. Then he very slowly said, "Twicky Twicky Twicky Twickenham—ham sandwich," and waved the ring on the middle finger of his left hand in Dooly's direction." - p 161
""Of the rings, three have been found. Miles the Magician has one, Squire Myrkle another, and you, Dooly, the third. Where the fourth is is unimportant. It's likely that your grandfather traded it finally also. Rumors came along several years ago that he was spending a good deal of time of late beneath the sea in a submarine contraption and that he had as a companion a pig of exceptional intelligence dressed as a clown. It was kept previously in a teakwood cabinet above Seaside by a bunjo man, or so the story goes. I'm beginning to suspect, however, that something is amiss in the tale.["]' - p 165
The pig's tail is screwy, that's what's amiss. But that's ok. The descriptions of how the towns have changed now that something's a foot in this tail struck me as ferally appealing:
"["]The houses are inhabited now by things from the swamp. Goblins and hobgoblins and animals behaving in odd ways go about freely in the town and even carry on trade with two or three of the merchants who have elected not to give up their shops."" - p 180
Even the hobgoblins are upwardly-mobile in a prosperous society.
"The whole quiet vista was something close to awesome; it silenced all of them. But perhaps most awesome of all was the weird ship that floated at anchor off a sandy spit halfway around the lagoon and at the end of the path across the rocks. It was an astonishing craft, obviously built either by elves or by one of the tribes of marvel men in the Wonderful Isles—built by someone, anyway, who knew what such devices ought to look like. It was a spiraly affair, with odd, seemingly senseless crenelations and spires and a series of what might be taken for arced shark fins down the center of its back. On a foggy night the thing would certainly resemble a sea monster more closely than a ship, for it had several round portholes at the front, tow of which on either side of its pointed nose, glowed from some inner light and looked for all the world like eyes. On the sides were protruding fins, shaped like the fins of an enormous tide pool sculpin. Seawater to the rear of the vessel seemed to be churning and bubbling, and a whoosh of water shot out of the end every minute or so." - p 200
A part of why the above passage 'works' for me is that it evokes Jules Verne's character Captain Nemo from Twenty Thousand Leagues Under The Sea & Mysterious Island - 2 novels that've made a positive impression on my fantasy life. Blaylock is far from wholy original but he's good at keeping a literary tradition of comraderie & adventure going.
"Escargot dug around in his bag and came up with a bottle of cream sherry and a bag of walnuts. In the light of one of the lanterns the four of them sat about on deck chairs cracking walnuts and sipping the sherry which was very good—made across the sea in the sunny Oceanic Isles." - p 229
Sounds good to me.
""And two nights ago. In this very room. I opened up that wardrobe and there was a ghastly sight. There was moths. A dozen of 'em, and they had my sweater on the floor. Knives and forks they had. The whole lot of 'em, and they were sawing the bloody sleeve off. Moths the size of golf with little arms and hands. It was ghastly. A positive horror."" - p 269
The thing is, they didn't have napkins, the barbarians. Now, I admit, the goblins don't seem to consistently use napkins either.
"A figure appeared shortly thereafter, outlined in the lamplit window. Jonathan could see that it sported one of Lonny Gosset's caps, sidewise on its head. The thing cackled with laughter and dumped what must have been the contents of a silverware drawer out onto the roadway, for there was the clatter and clang of cutlery as the contents of the drawer fell together below. The sound, apparently, pleased the marauding goblins somehow, for something like a cheer rose from a number of goblins within the cabin. One of them stumbled out and down and retrieved the spilled silverware, then clambered back into the cabin and dumped the boxful out the window again." - p 286
Sigh.. the goblin kids w/ their sideways caps & their dumped cutlery music these days.
"About the Author" informs us that "His favorite author is Robert Louis Stevenson: his favorite book is Tristram Shandy." (p 339) I can relate. ...more
Notes are private!
Feb 21, 2017
Mass Market Paperback
Nov 01, 1994
Esther Friesner's Majyk by Design
by tENTATIVELY, a cONVENIENCE - September 10, 2016
Having already read the 1st 2 bks of this trilogy I was review of
Esther Friesner's Majyk by Design
by tENTATIVELY, a cONVENIENCE - September 10, 2016
Having already read the 1st 2 bks of this trilogy I wasn't really in any hurry to read this last one. You can read my review of Majyk By Accident here:
https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/2... & of Majyk by Hook or Crook here: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show... . As I wrote at the beginning of my review of the latter:
"In my 55 or so yrs of reading SF & Fantasy I've more or less never gotten into series. I've thought of series as just cheap marketing tricks, a way of sucking the reader into repeat purchases that're based more on soap opera continuity than on solid writing around new ideas."
Nonetheless, Friesner is funny & I certainly don't want to dismiss writing that makes me laugh. Friesner spoofs a patriarchy in wch women whdn't even read let alone write & has one of her female characters secretly write torrid romance novels (are there any other kind?):
"SLOWLY, INSOLENTLY, MASTER TANCRED ALLOWED his eyes to caress every voluptuous curve of his defiant captive. "So, my lady," he breathed in a voice like molten wine. "You think that your beauty and spirit are shield enough against a wizard of my powers?"" - p 1
Intertwining the romance novel & the models for their covers in with fantasy & having it all pushed ad absurdum is gimmicky but it works for me.
""Mysti said I should introduce him to Milkum. Milkum liked his looks and was willing to give him a try—not as a client, just as a model. Milkum never does business with nobodies. We put him on the cover of Tempt Not the Troll."
""Boffin as a troll?" I had to laugh.
""He wasn't really a troll. He was adopted and raised by trolls and he always thought he was a troll until he was rejected from the tribe after his foster-mother died and he went wandering through the mountains, amassing a fortune in gold, until he saved the life of Hyalina, the beautiful orphan whose wicked uncle had suppressed her father's will and cheated her out of the diamond mining empire which was hers by right and offered her shameful insults, forcing her to flee his loathsome and unnatural lusts until she hid in the mine and the roof fell in on her. Then in Chapter Two—"" - p 28
It's common for me to read things & to catch references to things that I figure other readers won't recognize. In this case, I catch a reference that I figure many people must be able to recognize or it wdn't make it into such populist writing:
""I've got to agree with Scandal," I said. "Even if I don't know what he's talking about all the way. I mean, he must have been murdered. He's gone. Vanished. Poof."
""Poof," Lucy repeated. "Nut how poof? When poof? Who poof?"
""Colonel Mustard in the library with the lead pipe." Scandal declared. "Now can we go back downstairs and eat some more?"" - p 30
This bk was published in 1994. I played the board game Clue when I was a kid in the early 1960s. I see from some cursory online research that the game was created in 1949 & that there's a 2013 edition AND a Clue: Harry Potter Edition. Does the latter have a Wizard Mustard & a Professor Plumb-Crazy? Wizard Mustard in the alternate universe with a magic wand.
Friesner is a truly inspired comic writer. One of my favorite touches is her description of the talking "grackwassel wood":
"["]Now pull! Ohhhhhh! Ummmmm! Wait! Waitwaitwait, not so fast, you beast! Open me slooooowly. Make it last, baby. Oh my god, my hinges are starting to turn! I'm feeling it all the way down to my mothproofing! Ahhhh, ooooooooh, ohhhhhh—!"
"Etcetera. The thing about grackwassel wood isn't just that it talks—we've got lots of trees that can do that; no really classy funeral is complete without a weeping willow coffin to save the price of professional mourners—it's the way it talks. It's the things it says. If you put something valuable in a grackwassel wood chest or cupboard or box, it's safe. When a thief shows up, either the wood makes so much noise it rouses the whole house, or else it keeps saying those things and embarrasses the thief to death." - p 38
Friesner distinguishes between witches & wizards, a distinction that I doubt is distinct to her but one that I found interesting enuf to quote regarding in my review of the 1st bk of this series:
""I am a witch, not a wizard. Wizardry's the art of making something out of nothing; witchery's the art of making do with what you've got. I can make a pine cone sprout into a lovely set of pinewood furniture. I can capture the image of a cat in the reflective surface of a soap bubble, I can make a rock into a rocking chair, but I can not make a mop out of thin air."" - p 142, Majyk By Accident
& then in Majyk by Design there's this:
"She looked at me as if I'd asked why zombies make the best university professors. "This is not a healing salve unless I add certain herbs to the basic ointment. It must be adjusted to combat the specific illness. Didn't Master Thengor teach you anything about medicine?"
"Master Thengor had tried to teach me lots of things, with no luck. Still . . . "To tell the truth, I don't remember him ever giving a class on healing magic."
""Good. At least you're honest. Wizards never bother teaching or learning any enchantments that might cure people. They leave that to us witches. It's so much more spectacular to fling spells that harm instead of heal."" - p 95
Being a person who's, ahem, less than enthusiastic about weapons & the utter paranoid consumerist mania for them in the country I live in, I was amused by the following bit of talking-cat sarcasm:
""Quite rude," Aunt Glucosia agreed, absent-mindedly running a whetstone over the blade of her dagger. "Maybe they didn't know he was going to use their product for evil purposes."
""Oh, riiiiight," Scandal said. " 'Honest, Officer, when he came in here and bought that AK-47 I thought he was only gonna use it for a paperweight!' "" - p 99
I'm not totally against guns, I just think that everytime someone kills someone w/ one the arms dealer who sold the weapon shd be held accountable. That might stifle the greed a little. Or the arms dealers might just switch to other lucrative businesses of similar ethical dubiousness like heroin dealer or pimp (assuming they're not already in those businesses to begin w/).
One of the primary gimmicks of Friesner's Majyk stories is to have something common on Earth be described from the POV of the story's alternate world:
"Our lovely guide paused before a tall, shining red and white box the size of a coffin. I touched it, expecting something so bright to be metal, but it was made of a strange, hard substance that felt like a beetle's back. She pressed one of the many small panels decorating the front of the box. A terrifying rumble shook it, followed by a loud clunk. She stooped to retrieve a cylinder from the compartment at the bottom of the mysterious box.
"It took me a few moments before I realized she was offering it to me. I forced my hand not to tremble as I accepted it. It was cold and damp, but at least it had the recognizable feel of metal, even if it was garishly swirled with red and white. I stared at it, not knowing what to do.
"She laughed. "Allow me." She took it back and made a sign of power over the top of the cylinder. I heard a pop and a fierce hiss before she handed it back. A hole had opened in the metal, releasing weird sounds and smells." - p 107
Marvelous. Do you ever think like this? Do you ever imagine some activity of your own from a different perspective than your own? I find it an interesting exercise. EG: I often scoop a piece of paper under insects inside my house & take them to a convenient window that I can open slightly & stick the paper out of & then blow on to evict the bug from the paper in order to loose it in the outside world.
Now, imagine that scenario from the bug's perspective: a moving surface forces its way under you, this surface then carries you thru darkness & light & eventually thru a gap in an obstacle that you might very well have been batting against trying unsuccessfully to find a breech in.. &, then, Voila! you're out where there's much more space & more plants to be eaten, a veritable paradise of for your little insect tummy. Alas, you're eaten by a bat a few seconds later. Life is short, art is non-existent.
This interworld misunderstanding, this lack of correct translation between Earth & Orbix has plenty of potential wch Friesner uses well:
"I remembered Master Thengor's teachings about Word of Power: the more complicated they are, the stronger the enchantment. It wouldn't do if just anyone could say them and command all that sorcerous strength.
""Hexlresorcinol," the sorcereess intoned. "Mono- and dislycerides. Polyabscorbate. Hydroxypropylcellulose." She reached the last one. "And just a dash of sodium benozoate to retard spoilage and reduce flavor loss."" - p 124
Since this is, after all, the concluding volume of the Majyk series, our hero, Kendar, finally communes w/ his accidentally acquired power & it tells him:
"Sonny, don't get started on who's got the right to do what to whom on this world. Think back to the last piece of meat you ate. Did you worry about the cow's rights or did you just ask your mama to pass the salt? How about the last time you walked on the grass or chomped into an apple? Plants are alive too, you know." - p 147
Friesner does another thing I love to do, she mutates old sayings or creates them anew & acts like nothing's odd:
""You know the old saying, Glucosia dear," her sister reminded her. " 'The heart has its reasons that Reason does not know, or want to know, and will throw you out of the house if you try to explain them, so save your breath to cool your porridge.' "" - pp 178-179
Hip-Knee-Hooray! A similar strategy for producing humor is to take religious illogic from this world & apply it to the religion of Orbix:
""I've always had one question about your God Wedwel," Mysti said.
""If Wedwel can do anything, can he create a rock so heavy he can't lift it?"
""Yes, and as soon as he does, the prophecies say that he's going to drop that rock right smack on top of Welfies who think they're so clever for coming up with that old chestnut."" - p 198
A benevolent God wd drop the rock on the chestnut itself to make chestnut paste for the Welfie to eat IF the Welfie cd move the rock off the squashed foodstuff.
Why is everyone always picking on the demons?:
"Aunt Carageena took the first point as she brought her sword down on the demon's ear and slice it clean off. He threw his head up, his jaws parted in a howl, smoking brown blood flowing down his neck. Aunt Carageena seized her trophy and used the leathery relic for a shield.
""Showoff," Aunt Glucosia sniffed.
""Jealous," her sister shot back." - p 238
The demon popped my friend & I in its mouth & swallowed us whole. We managed to anchor ourselves in its upper stomach with our pocket knives before we fell in to the foul-smelling pool of stomach acid below. Digging in further, we started ripping open the lining to try to carve our way out of the predicament. The demon howled with indigestion. It decided to never eat human snacks again.
Those of you who've read Rabelais will recognize the following twist: "["]Meanwhile you've been making the beast with two bank accounts with this—this—bimbo!"" Does that make a bank an orgy? ...more
Notes are private!
Sep 05, 2016
Sep 10, 2016
May 01, 1994
May 01, 1994
Esther Friesner's Majyk by Hook or Crook
by tENTATIVELY, a cONVENIENCE - May 28, 2016
In my 55 or so yrs of reading SF & Fantasy I've mo review of
Esther Friesner's Majyk by Hook or Crook
by tENTATIVELY, a cONVENIENCE - May 28, 2016
In my 55 or so yrs of reading SF & Fantasy I've more or less never gotten into series. I've thought of series as just cheap marketing tricks, a way of sucking the reader into repeat purchases that're based more on soap opera continuity than on solid writing around new ideas. Whenever I hear someone talking about their tastes in SF in terms of series I'm disappointed - it's too close to talk about one's favorite tv shows for me, a person who stopped watching tv 46 yrs ago.
Nonetheless, I'm usually happy to find exceptions to my own rules - if only for the sake of retaining an 'open mind'. The cover of Majyk by Hook or Crook proclaims "The sensationally silly series by the author of Majyk by Accident" & I have to at least agree w/ the "silly" part. This series is silly & that's one of the main reasons why I decided to read all 3 parts of it - I can use some silliness in my life. As I wrote in my review of Majyk By Accident ( https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/2... ): "I consider the serious reviews to be the important ones but I might very well enjoy things like this more. Make of that what you will."
I didn't really enjoy this one as much as I did Majyk By Accident & that's easily enuf attributable to the fantasy world being no longer fresh to me - another downside of serials. Some (most?) people want repetition, I generally am more impressed when a creative person has a whole new set of ideas for subsequent works. Fortean weather is new to this sequel:
"["]You're not getting me out in this weather."
""Oh, it's not that bad," I scoffed, and stepped outside. Shading my eyes with one hand, I looked up into the stormy sky. "There's hardly anything coming down at all any m— Ow!" A parrot the size of a layer cake smacked me right in the eye.
"I grabbed it by the throat and glared at it while a tempest of robins, finches, and larks pelted me. Far out over the swamp it was raining albatrosses and hens." - p 1
& counteracting this Fortean weather becomes the main quest of the novel.
""No," I repeated. "My mother always said that only a fool goes outdoors in fowl weather."
""Aaargh!" The cat fell over and stuck all four legs up stiffly in the air. "It's a deadly ninja throwing pun!" he cried, twitching from tail to whiskers. He made a loud choking noise and went limp." - p 2
I find that funny.. &, yet, at the same time, it's only in writing that the word "fowl" is explicitly known to be NOT the word "foul".
"Act like an all-powerful wizard, and nine out of ten people will treat you like an all-powerful wizard. Act like yourself and you'll get hit with a ladle." - p 21
Ah, so true, so true. I'm reminded of the sage SubGenius saying (wch I probably misquote): "Act like an equal & they'll treat you like a dumbshit." As for the "all-powerful wizard" part I'm reminded of 2 canonized filmmaker presentations I witnessed. No claim was too outrageous for the adoring suckers in the audience to lap up. One of these presentations inspired my friend etta cetera & I to found the S.P.C.S.M.E.F. ( http://idioideo.pleintekst.nl/spcsmef... ).
Friesner references Dungeons & Dragons, a game I've never played - perhaps revealing her own social milieu:
""It's not always this loud, gents," Strelblig explained. "You just happen to have come during the last round of our annual contest."
""Can't be a beauty contest," the cat said. "So what is it?"
""What is it?" The master thief was astonished at the cat's question. "Why it's tournament-level Palaces and Puppies, is all!"" - p 45
In half of this bk's world, dogs, like cats, are legendary creatures. Hence "Puppies" instead of Dragons.
Friesner is funny in a way that makes me wonder if she's in the Church of the SubGenius:
"An elder god slithered across the floor and tried to carry off the unconscious fortunetellers. The bartender threw the dead chicken at him and told him not to eat any customers until they'd paid their bills. The elder god slunk away in a sulk, dragging his tentacles and sucking on the chicken neck." - p 47
Shades of H. P. Lovecraft followed by shades of W. W. Jacobs (wch, in turn, was probably shades of Theophile Gautier's "The Mummy's Foot"):
""Monkey paw, sir?" said a voice behind me. I turned and saw a peddler with a tray full of weird relics. "Nice fresh mummified monkey paws, special today. You still get your full three wishes, but at half price. Satisfaction guaranteed."" - p 48
"fresh" & "mummified" at the same time - 'proving' that in ad-speak one can have the best of both worlds simultaneously. &, yes, the literary & film references just keep on comin':
"Scandal leaped from Ainsella's lap to mine and put his paws on my shoulder. "A word to the wise, boss," he whispered. "If he tells you his name is Inigo Montoya and that you killed his father, don't argue; run like Hades."" - p 64
I suspect that just about everyone I know wd immediately get that reference. I only got it b/c people were astounded recently when I didn't know it. Inigo Montoya is a character in William Goldman's 1973 novel The Princess Bride made into a very popular film by Rob Reiner in 1987. But you already knew that didn't you.
If Friesner's lucky, she's surrounded by friend who appreciate her punning abilities. If she's unlucky, she's surrounded by people who groan.
""Come on, I mean it! We've got a long voyage and this ship just doesn't look seaworthy. It doesn't even look like a ship!"
""It is not a ship," Rhett said. "Any fool can see that."
""Any fool just did," Scandal remarked.
""It is a snail. A goodly giant four-masted snail."
""A snail?" I repeated.
""What else did you expect?" Rhett shrugged. "This ship belong to the Postal Service."" - p 70
"I found Anisella in the little cookhouse built high on the giant snail's shell, her hair tied back with a thin copper wire. She wasn't wearing an apron—allergic to cloth, remember? But a chain-mail halter and kilt get very hot when you're working near cook-fires, and so . . .
""Oh, hello, Kendar." She looked happy to see me. Happy all over. "I hope you don't mind that I've taken over the cook's job. I love to cook almost as much as I love to clean house and do the laundry. Sometimes I get so sad when it seems like there aren't enough chores in a day. But then I just go and make clothing for orphans and I feel much better, even if working with cloth does make my hands break out in hives. It's for a good cause. How long have you been standing there?"
""Dinner's almost done. I'll serve it just as soon as I slip back into my clothes. I hope you like it."
""Oh yeah. Oh boy. Like it. Oh boy. Oh yeah."" - p 71
Such parody of male-female heterosexual relations led to my looking her up online to get further confirmation that Friesner's a woman. I reckon she actually is. She seems to have a much better sense of humor about sexual relations than many a feminist.
""King Wulfdeth looks like a Whiffenpoof?" Scandal asked.
""One of the legendary monsters of my world, half man and half sheepskin," the cat explained. He leaped back into my lap and sat there like I was his human throne. "My former human used to be once, in fact. They haunt the moldy dungeons of the kingdom of Yale and gather together to give their mating cry: 'We are poor little lambs who have lost our way, baa, baa, baa.'"" - p 109
Friesner is reputed to've taught at Yale before making it as a freelance writer.
"Still, some part of me hoped to see Undersiders walking on their heads or wearing their clothing backwards or putting mayonnaise on their corned beef sandwiches. When you travel so far, you want to see monsters." - p 133
Or faces in their chests with a mayonnaise & corned beef sandwich partially hanging out of its mouth.
"She pulled down the Golden Fleece's banner of piracy and ran up an innocent looking flag. On a bright red background the black and white, almost human, face of a round-eared mouse beamed happily over the waves." - p 135
The brand that dare not speak its name.
""Okay, the face. Whatever it is, I call it a face. White and black, mostly white. Hole-eyes. A black nose. the nose looks like a black Ping-Pong ball, does that make sense? Come to think of it, the ears—if they're ears—on top look like two Ping-Pong paddles, also black. O call them Ping and Pong, and one day they were walking through the deep dark forest and . . ."" - p 29, John Sladek's Roderick
""You know, boss," Scandal told me in confidence, "Back home we only caal chicks and foxes."
""Whatever you call them, they look like they're happy tonight," I said.
""Why should they not be happy?" Rhett commented. "They are each wearing enough gold and jewels to feed a family of four for a week." He flashed a warning look at Scandal. "And I do not mean that there are families of four who eat gold and jewels, so do not bother making your silly joke." - p 139
Yep, that one wd've been too obvious so Friesner manages to squeeze it in by preventing it. Friesner is also the editor of 6 "Chicks" anthologies:
Chicks in Chainmail (1995)
Did You Say Chicks?! (1998)
Chicks 'n Chained Males (1999)
The Chick is in the Mail (2000)
Turn the Other Chick (2004)
Chicks and Balances (2015)
Do Chicks give birth to Chicklets? This might not be great lit but it IS Chick Lit & it's more fun than a barrel of Monkey's Paws: ""I am going to be fine, although I will be seeing double until breakfast tomorrow morning. They will serve us stale bread and water, but we will have our choice of whole wheat of rye,"" (p 154) ...more
Notes are private!
May 22, 2016
May 29, 2016
Aug 01, 1993
Aug 01, 1993
Esther Friesner's Majyk By Accident
by tENTATIVELY, a cONVENIENCE - April 24, 2016
As I typically do, I alternate between reading a serious review of
Esther Friesner's Majyk By Accident
by tENTATIVELY, a cONVENIENCE - April 24, 2016
As I typically do, I alternate between reading a serious bk & at least one that's more for fun so that I can take a break from the labor-intensiveness that goes into the serious review writing. The serious bk read at the same time as this one was Marco Deseriis's Improper Names - Collective Pseudonyms from the Luddites to Anonymous ( https://www.goodreads.com/story/show/... ). I consider the serious reviews to be the important ones but I might very well enjoy things like this more. Make of that what you will.
I don't generally read fantasy, wch is what I reckon this is, given that I prefer science fiction's more prophetic &, yes, scientific nature. Still, this had a good sense of humor & sometimes that's all I ask for. It starts off w/ this:
""SO THERE YOU ARE, YOU WORTHLESS RATWHACKER!" Velma Chiefcook's heavy hand fell on my shoulder like a sack of potatoes. The great hall of Thengor's Academy of High Wizardry echoed with her harsh voice, the huge chandelier overhead swaying, the timid fire-sprites inside their separate glass cells flickering with fear. Even the tall brass-bound doors guarding the mighty Master Thengpr's apartments shuddered on their hinges." - p 1
I reckon this children-at-the-school-of-magic trope is a well-worn path but this was published in 1993 & that's 4 yrs before the extremely popular Harry Potter series so maybe Esther Friesner's sitting around wondering why SHE isn't rich instead of J. K. Rowling.
As those of you who've been around know, the word "magic" is usually used to mean stage magic & the word "magick" is usually used to mean ceremonial magick. Long ago, I proposed to abbreviate the latter to just "magik". (see my letter under the heeading "Sound Thinking" on p 14 of "Kaos" issue #10 (London, 1987 or 1988)). In this bk another variation appears:
""Majyk," Tolly breathed. He stared at the golden cloud above Master Thengor's bed, and his beady blue eyes began to shine with greed. "It's the stuff that puts the spunk in our spells, the energy in our enchantments, the charge in our charms, the can-do in our cantrips. Without it, we wizards are nothing. We could wag our wands until the unicorns come home, but if we didn't have a little Majyk, we wouldn't be able to turn snakes into snacks or cats into catsup!"" - p 11
2 of the main characters are a cat who's come thru into a student wizard's alternate universe & the student. Cat's are a mythical creature in the student's world. The cat speaks in 20th century American slang:
""I don't want to learn how to use it," I said. "I just want to get it all back together, get it off my back, and get on with my life."
""Okay, don't have a cow," the cat said. "So we get the rest of the Majyk together for you, if that's what floats your boat."
""I don't have a cow," I told him. "Or a boat."
""No? You look like the kinda guy who's always been a little dinghy["]" - p 52
Or maybe he's just 2 tents?
Orbix, the student wizard's world, is based on fairy tales:
"Silly question; everyone knows what happens to wolves. They're worse than lemmings, some ways. The poor dumb animals are always getting themselves killed falling down the chimneys of brick houses, into big pots full of boiling water. If not that, they sneak into old ladies' homes, dress up in the grannies' flannel nightgowns and crawl into the bed until someone finds them, panics, and calls a woodchopper to come in and take care of the beast. It's an awful mess. Bloodstain-resistant sheets, pillow-cases, and flannel nightgowns are the most popular Grandma's Day gifts on Orbix, followed by Wolf-B-Gon chimney filters." - p 61
In other words, between the fun Friesner has w/ slang & its possible misunderstandings & fairy tales & their translation into 'reality' there's plenty of fun to be had. All in all, Friesner's use of the interplay between Earth & Orbix is absolutely fructiferous!:
""You guys think the wizards on this world got power? Ha! They're small potatoes next to my old human. Now there was a wizard. A computer wizard. I remember one Columbus Day when he was just hacking around and he fixed it so one of those big electric news banners on Times Square kept on scrolling 'You mean it;s NOT flat?' —signed 'Ronald Reagan.'"" - p 92
Hacked electronic road signs DO exist regardless of whether the world is round or Frame of Reference shaped & there's plenty online about it. My friend Lizard & I even discussed doing it 30 yrs or so ago & never did so I tip my head to all those who've pulled it off:
"ROGUE PANDA ON RAMPAGE
"TRAPPED IN SIGN FACTORY
"FREE KITTENS IN LEFT LANE
"Entering bat country
"OMG THE BRITISH R COMING
"SORRY MARIO THE PRINCESS IS IN ANOTHER CASTLE
"THE CAKE IS A LIE
"COPS EVERY WHERE
"NAZI ZOMBIES! RUN ! ! !
"RIGHT LANE CLOSED EXPECT RAINBOWS
"FREE CANDY AHEAD 3/29 - 4/2
"THIS SIGN HAS BEEN HACKED
"I AM BECOME DEATH
"EAT MY SHORTS
"FLYING MONKEYS AHEAD
"KLAATU BARADA NIKTO
"YOU'LL NEVER GET TO WORK ON TIME HAHA! !
"NOBODY HAS EVER LOVED YOU
"HONK IF YOU ARE WEARING A THONG
"SMOOTH OPERATOR" - www.stuffyoushouldknow.com/blog/galle...
&, of course, there're even websites that tell you how to do it. As an advocate of Criminally Sane behavior (w/ a sense of humor) I just-can't-stop-myself-from-reproducing-this:
"How many times have you driven by an electronic road sign like one of these?
"This is the ADDCO portable sign. Today, you see what is on the inside, and how they are programmed to display important information.
"*** WARNING YOU SHOULD NEVER TAMPER WITH THESE SIGNS ***
"The access panel on the sign is generally protected by a small lock, but often are left unprotected. Upon opening the access panel you can see the display electronics.
"The black control pad is attached by a curly cord, with a keyboard on the face.
"Programming is as simple as scrolling down the menu selection to "Instant Text". Type whatever you want to display, Hit Enter to submit. You can now either throw it up on the sign by selecting "Run w/out save" or you can add more pages to it by selecting "Add page"
"** HACKER TIPS ** Should it will ask you for a password. Try "DOTS", the default password.
"In all likelihood, the crew will not have changed it. However if they did, never fear. Hold "Control" and "Shift" and while holding, enter "DIPY". This will reset the sign and reset the password to "DOTS" in the process. You're in!" - http://jalopnik.com/5141430/how-to-ha...
&, yeah, strictly speaking, I wdn't want anyone to commit such an act thoughtlessly in a way that might endanger public safety but if the sign's not currently in use to provide needed traffic info I certainly wd get a laugh if I saw a road sign that sd something like "GOD MADE ME NOT DO IT" or whatever.
& &, of course of course, there're probably multiple Flat Earth Societies. Here's a link to an example: www.theflatearthsociety.org/cms/ . Personally, I think the Earth's hollow but it's been turned inside out & the former outside is now filled w/ well-'nigh impenetrable garbage.. Or maybe that's the future.
""The only problem with the holes was whenever a wind blew over them—even a breeze—you heard music. It wasn't great music, but the way it wandered up and down the Ichthyonic Scale was kind of hypnotic. Entire civilizations fell under the music's spell. Healthy men and women would just sit around in white rooms staring at shiny crystals and telling everybody how they were really Master Pasmoddle the Great from the Age of Large Pointy Animals so they didn't need to go out and get a job."
"Scandal scowled at Grym. "And I bet your tribe decided they were the giant horned hamsters, huh?" The barbarian tried to look Who, me?
"I picked up the cube. "This is what Orbix looked like in the Age of Teen Death Ballads, the one that came just before the age we're in now. It didn't last too long—we never know when the next shape shift's going to come—but we got a lot of good music out of it."" - p 95
Scandal, the cat, is having none of it. Perhaps an honorary membership in the I.S.C.D.S. (International Stop Continental Drift Society) is in order?:
""I changed my mind," Scandal replied, keeping his eyes on the path. "I'm happier not knowing. I'm saner not knowing. I'm telling myself it was the Plate Tectonics Fairy who did it."
""Yeah, she got together with Tinkerbell and Glinda for a wild party one Saturday night, downed a few too many tequila-and-pixie-dust shooters, then went home and zapped Orbix so every few aeons it gets the geological hiccups."
""Gee, that's amazing!" I was really impressed. "Except for the names, you got it right!"" - p 96
"She tossed a pinch of blue dust over the churning gunk in the pot, then spit into it. Immediately a gigantic bubble formed itself on the surface, then broke free and bobbed across the room.
"A perfect double of Scandal floated inside." - p 141
Scandal's spitting image, so to speak. Yeah, yeah, you got it without my having to spell it out for ya. Friesner does, however, spell it out for ya w/ this interesting distinction:
""I am a witch, not a wizard. Wizardry's the art of making something out of nothing; witchery's the art of making do with what you've got. I can make a pine cone sprout into a lovely set of pinewood furniture. I can capture the image of a cat in the reflective surface of a soap bubble, I can make a rock into a rocking chair, but I can not make a mop out of thin air."" - p 142
& then, of course, there's always reading entrails. Is that what surgeons do?
""Entrails?" My stomach lurched. All good wizards are taught how to read entrails: You take a poor innocent animal, give it a tidbit, pat it on the head, then split it open, spread its insides out on a board and read the future in the twists, curves, colors, and markings of your victim's guts. Given a choice, I'd rather just wait for the future to get here. I always cut Introductory Entrails." - p 151
Kendar, the student wizard, has a family.. Ah.. families..
""Where can I find Dad, Mom?" I asked.
""Hmmm. It's not meal time. Killing something."" - p 178
""Your brother Basehart killed his first deer when he was six years old." Dad's moustache bristled with pride. "Just a fawn, it was, but he strangled it with his bare hands and I said to all my friends, 'Now there's a child of destiny!'"" - p 179
A parody of romance novels fits right in:
""But just as you are about to drown, her faithless but adored name on your lips, she dives in and rescues you, almost dying herself in the attempt. You take her into your arms and gaze into her eyes. The fires of unbridled love—long smoldering beneath the thin surface of a polite marriage of convenience—surface suddenly, in an overwhelming surge of torrid tenderness that takes you by surprise and sweeps you both away on the crest of wave after thundering wave of—!" She stopped cold.
""Go on, go on!" Mysti begged.
"Lucy shook her head. "No, no, that won't work. It's got to be the man who rescues the woman."
""Why?" Mysti was peeved.
""Because it's always the man who rescues the woman." Milkum put in. "And if that's what the public's been buying up until now, we mustn't upset them, must we?"" - p 202
After all, romance novels are fantasies read mostly by women into wch they must inject themselves if they're to work & such passive consumers aren't likely to be able to identify w/ active heros now are they?
Friesner builds her world of Otbix bit by bit, character by character, eventually reaching the capitol of Kendar's territory:
""Grashgoboum was founded shortly after the War of the Two Cousins Once Removed and Their Aunt Pooki," I said. "The last king in the direct line died accidentally during a friendly game of knoblop when his chicken escaped the scoop-net and flew up into his horse's face, causing the beast to stumble, step into one of the goal-buckets, and throw his rider. Because it was third hork of an exhibition game, he had just taken off his helmet so he could balance the mince pie on his head for extra points. Unfortunately, mince pies don't help much when you hit a stone wall headfirst. It was very tragic. That game was being held in honor of the king's engagement to Princess Sluice of Wend."" - p 218
Friesner 'breaks the rules' of some fantasy writing by not sticking to an immutable world. She lets her imagination loose & lets contemporary Earth intermingle w/ Orbix in a way that milks the joke value of both:
"["]Why I ought to—!" With that weird strength you sometimes get in hopeless situations, I raised Graverobber over my head and swung the sword wildly around and around.
"And around and around it continued to go. The blade glowed with Majyk's golden light and gave off an unearthly chud-chud-chud-chud noise. The carpet slowed its fall, then stopped and hovered peacefully in midair beneath the whirling blade." - p 221
""Tchah!" The king waved off her objections. "I'll see about that." He immediately summoned a messenger. "I shall send him on ahead to Uxwudge Manor with a letter marked with the king's own seal. This says Lord Lucius Parkland Gangle is not to begin the witch's trial until I get there," King Steffan said, showing us the document. Then he passed it to the keeper of the king's own seal who in turn held it so that the king's own seal could mark it with his needle-sharp teeth.
""Good boy," said the keeper, tossing the beast a fish.
""Ark, ark!" the king's own seal replied, clapping its flippers together before it waddled out.
"(Anyone can carve a seal out of soft stone and use it to stamp hot wax with the king's device, making a paper legal. But no one can forge the unique pattern one special animal's teeth make, which is why the monarchs of Grashgoboum will always live in palaces that smell like herring.)" - p 231
Friesner even uses neologisms:
"Imaginesia," Mother Toadbreath wispered.
""Don't you mean amnesia, toots?" Scandal asked.
""I said imaginesia. What's wrong with the king. First you forget everything you ever knew, then you remember things you didn't ever know. I read about it a time or two in my books, but I never thought to see an actual case. My this has been an educational day!" She looked pleased." - p 252
Great word! Imaginesia must be what propaganda aims for.
"Zoltan wiggled his fingers and said, "Verticillium japonica" to undue his summoning of a demon. Since I recognized that as a Latin name for something Japanese I looked it up & found that Verticillium Wilt is a disease of Tilia japonica, Japanese Linden. That might not mean much to you but it's the 2nd time that Lindens have popped up in my life in the recent past under unusual circumstances.
Anyway, yeah, another writer I like, read her works, they're not as 'important' to me as Marco Deseriis's Improper Names but this was enough fun to keep me distracted & amused. If there were a range of 1 to 10 stars on GoodReads I might even give it a 7 but instead it gets a 3. ...more
Notes are private!
Apr 12, 2016
Apr 26, 2016
really liked it
John Brunner's Catch a Falling Star
- by tENTATIVELY, a cONVENIENCE - September 3, 2014
I think I've been somewhat resistant to labeling Joh review of
John Brunner's Catch a Falling Star
- by tENTATIVELY, a cONVENIENCE - September 3, 2014
I think I've been somewhat resistant to labeling John Brunner a Fantasy Writer b/c I prefer the Science Fiction genre but this bk has convinced me he's a Science Fiction & Fantasy Writer b/c it's yet-another reasonably major work of his along those lines.. - although, "those lines" are pretty ambiguous & this cd really also be called SF. Whatever.
Alas, as w/ so many Brunners I've been reading lately, "A much shorter and substantially different version of this novel appeared under the title The Hundredth Millenium, copyright ©, 1959, by Ace Books, Inc." This version being copyrighted 9 yrs later in 1968. Yawnsville, Daddio, I wish Brunner hadn't taken the typically commercial path of rewriting so many older works.
The bk begins w/ a John Donne quote:
"Go and catch a falling star,
Get with child a mandrake root,
Tell me, where all past years are . . ." - p 2
& I have to wonder whether this brief passage might've been the inspiration for the entire work. "a mandrake root" being 'human shaped', getting it "with child" is evocative of ceremonial magik - also a possible origin tale of the "Trees of History" & the plant-houses that appear in Catch a Falling Star:
"It has been established, for example, that these houses which so cosset and protect us are not a product of the natural order of life, but cunningly fashioned by subtle tampering with vegetable heredity; where today can you find such an artificer as he who contrived the first of them? Likewise the lights that hover nightly in the sky, and render us independent of the fixed return of the sun" - p 9
The far-distant future (or past) described is one in wch people are taken care of by their environment, houses grow from plant seeds, lights fly in the sky & can be called down to illuminate local areas, meat walks to the town & conveniently dies to be delivered as edible packages direct to the home. The people living this life take it for granted, they don't know the origins of these comforts. Some people become "Historickers", people who somehow immerse themselves in the past b/c they consider the present to be an inferior decadent time. This is done w/ the aid of "Houses of History" or "Trees of History".
One such resident, not a Historicker & critical of such escapist immersions, realizes that another sun is approaching the Earth & that in hundreds of yrs it'll burn the surface clean of humanity & other such life-forms. The tale takes off from there on a hero's journey that sometimes borders on Gulliver's Travels in its exaggerated mutations of humanity.
"Cool night breezes tugged at his full beard as he stood listening to the clamour and fitful music of the city going about its night-time affairs. In the far distances he could faintly discern the insane laughter of the next day's meat as it assembled on the gentle slopes of the hills inland prior to descending to the shore and there making rendezvous with its predestined master, Death. Overhead hordes of circling lights blinded the populace against the stars." - p 12
Jump-cut to the journey's having begun & the heroes having encountered a meat-herder for the 1st time in their lives:
""I feel a kind of curse is laid on us! Why are we happy here, tending our beasts and never going further than the brow of our valley? Other men explored the world, sailed the sea, levelled mountains, and that spirit is in me—somewhere!" He thumped his chest with a bunched fist. "It must mean something, that our visitors are separated now by generations when formerly they came in hordes, and every year! I think in short that our lives are going to waste, performing empty tasks for the benefit of distant unknowns who have never given us the benefit of gratitude. Tell me honestly, stranger Creohan: before you encountered Arrheeharr, did you even suspect that we existed?"" - p 83
Jump-cut again to a vanished moon mentioned peripherally, perhaps the reason for the development of the tame flying lights; a vanished moon being a subject in another Brunner bk recently reviewed by me, The Dramaturges of Yan (see my review here: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/8... ):
"Before them the Dos had reigned, and the Glygly, and the Ngrotor; before them, the Chatrik, whose domain had not ended with the frontier of the air—but they had been content to plant huge forests of mutated lichens across the face of the now-vanished moon, which ultimately ran wild and digested all the satellite's substance into organic matter that was sprayed out and seeded into nowhere, leaving a mere mist of particles to testify to the former presence of a solid astral body. Likewise they had built pyramidal uninhabitable houses, or temples, on the arid soil of Mars, for a purpose comprehensible only to themselves. They could not have turned aside a star . . ." - p 150
Thusly evoking for me future bks in wch lichen are the 1st space travelers or pyramids on other planets are used as tombs for people who become reincarnated thru gene cloning by far-future beings. Imagine being reborn thru cloning by non-humans billions of yrs from now!
But, I digress, unusually in SF, the bk cover doesn't deliberately mislead the reader into irrelevant fantasies in avoidance of spoilers. Instead, it anticipates an exciting turning point in the plot near the end:
"As they drew closer, they detected an opening in the side of the mountain, not large—perhaps twice as tall as Creohan—and trapezoidal in shape. Limping, they crosse the rough heaps of rock scattered over the threshold, and saw it gave into a passageway whose walls were illumined by pale blue fluorescence, the colour of a summer sky. Beyond, something huge and powerful pulsed, as though they were entering the veins of a beast and listening to its heartbeat. The air was crisp with a scent of electricity." - p 207
Don't worry, I haven't spoiled the plot for you anymore than the bk cover does. The story lies in the getting there. ...more
Notes are private!
Sep 02, 2014
Sep 03, 2014
really liked it
John Brunner's The Traveler in Black
by tENTATIVELY, a cONVENIENCE - May 20, 2014
I have a paper bag full of John Brunner bks on the floor o review of
John Brunner's The Traveler in Black
by tENTATIVELY, a cONVENIENCE - May 20, 2014
I have a paper bag full of John Brunner bks on the floor of my bedroom, where I do most of my reading. When I need a break from whatever more challenging bks I'm reading (it's been William Gaddis's The Recognitions + others for quite some time now) I dip into the bag & pull one out. Two dips ago I pulled out Now Then, a collection of 3 novellas that include his earliest published story + a bit called "Imprint of Chaos". My review of Now Then is here: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/8... . The most recent Brunner dip produced The Traveler in Black. I noticed that a revised "Imprint of Chaos" began this & that 3 more tales developed the initial idea further. I almost put it back in the bag to pick another one b/c, while I liked "Imprint of Chaos" I didn't want to repeat read it & wallow in what I consider to be a somewhat minor Brunner work.
In my review of "Imprint of Chaos" I postulate the Traveler in Black as Entropy Personified & quote the following to substantiate this: "The black-clad man chuckled. 'He to whom the task was given of bringing order out of chaos in the universe,' he replied."
Now, according to http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictio... , entropy is:
"2 a : the degradation of the matter and energy in the universe to an ultimate state of inert uniformity"
wch (ignoring the implications of the word "degradation") describes the Traveler in Black's purpose quite well. HOWEVER, the "b" part of the above definition:
"2 b : a process of degradation or running down or a trend to disorder"
- in particular the "trend to disorder" is the OPPOSITE of the Traveler in Black's goal. So wch is he? Entropy Personified? Or Anti-Entropy Personified? I think he's Entropy Personified w/ "entropy" meaning the bringing chaos into order:
"["]I am he to whom was entrusted the task of bringing order forth from chaos. Hence the reason why I have but one nature."" - p 26
"["]what is the purpose of your task?""
""Why! When all things have but one nature, they will be subsumed into the Original All. Time will stop. This conclusion is desirable."
Manuus looked sourly at the brazier. "Desirable, perhaps—but appallingly dull.["]" - pp 26-27
I think I wd've asked: 'Why is it "desirable" & to what? Whom?" Also, I'm no sure I don't agree w/ Manuus's position: is order necessarily preferable to chaos? I'm sure many people in my lifetime have been preoccupied w/ that issue upon noticing that the 'order' imposed on them isn't one conducive to the flourishing of their natural strengths. Take the character Jorkas:
"this was not a young man riding a horse, nor was there in fact a horse being ridden, but some sort of confusion of the two, in that the man's legs were not separated at all from his mount. They ended in fleshy stalks, uniting with the belly of that part of the composite animal resembling a horse." - p 33
""Yes, he bears the imprint of chaos, does he not?" said the man in black. "He is left over, so to speak. He is fairly harmless; things have by-passed him, and his power grows small."" - p 35
""He has rather endured from a period of absolute confusion["]" - p 35
Imagine what we now call mythological beings, such as the minotaur (ignoring that as a metaphor), as actual creatures from a time when natural diversity was much larger. The bringing of 'order' seems to all too often carry w/ it the stamping out of unusual. Jorkas, being a Rara Avis, disappears as possibilities become more narrow-minded. Whenever I'm confused, it's probably usually due to an insufficiency of knowledge or a lack of clarity of communication. I generally prefer to solve this problem thru increasing my understanding. Is an age of "absolute confusion" an age of 'insolvable misunderstanding'?
Jorkas's power becomes so reduced that "the eldritch song Jorkas had been used to sing was turned a lullaby with nonsense words to soothe asleep happy babies in wicker cradles." (p 189) I suppose, as fates go, that's not such a nasty one.
The Traveler in Black identifies himself thusly:
""I have many names, but one nature. You may call me Mazda, or anything you please." - p 12
Many readers may recognize "Mazda" as a brand of car (modest, aren't they?) but how many know this?:
"Major Deities and Figures. The driving forces of Persian mythology were two powerful gods, sometimes presented as twin brothers. Ahura Mazda was the creator, a god of light, truth, and goodness. His enemy Ahriman, the spirit of darkness, lies, and evil, created only destructive things such as vermin, disease, and demons. The world was their battlefield. Although they were equally matched during this period of history, Ahura Mazda was fated to win the fight. For this reason, Ahura Mazda, the Wise Lord, was the supreme deity of Persian mythology. The Zoroastrians identified him with purifying fire and tended fires on towers as part of their worship." - http://www.mythencyclopedia.com/Pa-Pr...
"The Wager Lost by Winning" (the 3rd of 4 tales here) (almost) begins w/:
"Leaning on his staff, the traveler in black stood in the shade of a chestnut-tree and contemplated them as they filed by. Directly he clapped eyes on them, the banners had told him whence they hailed; no city but Teq employed those three special hues in its flag—gold, and silver, and the red of new-spilled blood. They symbolized the moral of a proverb which the traveler knew well, and held barbarous, to the effect that all treasure must be bought by expending life.
"In accordance with that precept, the Lords of Teq, before they inherited their father's estates, must kill all challengers, and did so by any means to hand, whether cleanly by the sword or subtly by drugs and venom. Consequently some persons had come to rule in Teq who were less than fit—great only in their commitment to greed.
""That," said the traveler to the leaves on the chestnut-tree, "is a highly disturbing spectacle!"" - pp 121-122
If the Traveler in Black is Entropy, he's a moral judge form of entropy so I suppose having him be a religious/mythological figure is more apropos. One of the most entertaining aspects of this bk is the 'poetic justice' he metes out by giving the people he encounters 'what they ask for' in a form w/ highly undesirable results for them.
""This I pledge on my life!" the merchant fumed. "If my daughter carries on the way she's going, I shall never want to speak to her again—nor shall I let her in my house!"
""As you wish, so be it," said the traveler. From that moment forward the merchant uttered never a word; dumb, he stood by to watch the fine procession in which the girl went to claim her bridegroom, and before she returned home apoplexy killed him, so that the house was no longer his." - p 131
""I must have been!" Viola moaned. "Would that hasty wish of mine come undone!"
""The second time a person calls upon me," said the traveler, "I may point out the consequences if I choose. Do you truly wish to find yourself once again on the green at Wantwich—alone?"
"There was an awful silence, which she eventually broke with a sob.
""However," the traveler resumed, when he judged she had suffered long enough to imprint the moral permanently on her memory" - p 164
One way I cd 'justify' rereading "Imprint" was by looking for differences between the earlier version & the one printed here. In this version, an epigraph from Ovid begins it:
"Ante mare et terras et quod tegit omnia caelum unus erat tota naturae vultus in orbe, quen dixere Chaos: rudis indigestaque moles.
—Ovid: Metamorphoses, I 5" - p 7
Wch Google Translate (slightly edited by yrs truly here) transforms to: "Before the sea and the lands of all things of heaven, [there] was one which cover[ed] the whole face of Nature in the world, whom the men have spoken of [as] Chaos, rude and undeveloped mass."
Another bit not in the original is this part:
"Manuus hesitated. "Who," he resumed at length, "imposed—?"
"And his tongue locked in his mouth, while the traveler looked on him with an expression blending cynicism and sympathy. When at last the enchanter was able to speak again, he muttered, "Your pardon. It was of the nature of a test. I had seen it stated that . . ."
""That there are certain questions which one literally and physically is forbidden to ask?" The traveler chuckled. "Why, then, your test has confirmed the fact. I, even I, could not answer the question I suspect you were intending to frame.["]" - p 26
What I'm reminded of here is the notion of YHWH as the unspeakable name of 'God'. "Yahweh is called the Divine Name and the Tetragrammaton, or four-letter word, because it has four letters in Hebrew. Most Jewish people won’t even say Yahweh. Instead, they say HASHEM—a Hebrew word that means “The Name”, or they say Adonai—the Hebrew word for Lord. Yahweh is also called the Ineffable Name, or the unspeakable Name, but God’s Name is not unspeakable." ( http://www.hisnameisyahweh.org/hisnam... ) Until I decided to look up "the unspeakable name of god" online I didn't realize that there's a Christinane controversy over Yahweh's being actually sayable (apparently contrary to the Jewish position).
When I've given any thought to it at all, wch isn't often, I've imagined the Jewish position as meaning that anything truly profound is, by definition, beyond human understanding. Imagine the full 189, 824 letter word for the chemical Titin as an attempt to logically describe the chemical in detail (you can witness 2 relevant works of mine online here: https://vimeo.com/86542569 & here: https://archive.org/details/Piano_Ill... ). Now imagine trying to describe the universe using the same method & inserting ____ (blanks) for everything encountered that you don't have a word for. The description wd hypothetically be infinite, the amt of _____s wd be infinite, the amt of words wd be finite. One might call that an unsayable name.
W/o getting further into theological points that're ultimately just wanker bullshit to me, what I imagine in Brunner's scenario, & as an alternative to theological takes, is something being 'unaskable' by virtue of its utter existence outside of the state of mind in wch questions are asked. People awaking from dreams or coming down from expanded consciousness trips routinely find their memories of the experiences 'indescribable'. It may be that these people have too limited an ability TO describe &/OR that the experience is, in actuality, Indescribable - IE: outside of the parameters of what description is capable of b/c of the limits of description. If something is indescribable there's the possibility that no words exist to describe it &/OR that words, by their very nature, are in adequate. Cd the same thing that's postulated here for description also be possibly 'true' of questions?
I'm always thankful to writers who expose me to words I don't already know. "Geas" was the main one here: "geas [..] Pronunciation: /geSH [..] (In Irish folklore) an obligation or prohibition magically imposed on a person." ( http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/us/... ) The Traveler in Black's rooting in various mythologies reminds me of Brunner's 1968 Bedlam Planet wch is prefaced by this Author's Note: "In writing this novel I have made extensive use of the Larousse Encyclopedia of Mythology" (the interested reader can see my review of that here: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/1... )
Brunner creates some fictional etymology too: ""And do not lament excessively for Ys. For cities, as for men, there comes a Time . . . Besides, there is a prophecy: a prince shall seek a name for his new capital, and he'll be told of Ys, and out of envy for its greatness he will say, 'I name my city Parys, equal to Ys.'"" (p 117) Wch I counter w/ this quote from the Online Etymology Dictionary:
"Paris [,] capital of France, from Gallo-Latin Lutetia Parisorum (in Late Latin also Parisii), name of a fortified town of the Gaulish tribe of the Parisii, who had a capital there; literally "Parisian swamps" (compare Old Irish loth "dirt," Welsh lludedic "muddy, slimy").
"The tribal name is of unknown origin, but traditionally derived from a Celtic par "boat" (perhaps related to Greek baris; see barge (n.)), hence the ship on the city's coat of arms." - http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?t...
Of course, Brunner's version of Paris's etymology is one way of setting the story in a mythical past. Another tactic for the same purpose is to occasionally use slightly archaic language: "Garch's trusted counselors were three, as aforesaid." (p 193)
All 4 of the stories begin w/ a conjunction of planets: "Accordingly, on the day after the conjunction of four significant planets in that vicinity, he set forth" (p 9) "this season followed the conjunction of four significant planets hereabout" (p 71) "or perhaps if they were learned in curious arts and aware of the significance of the conjunction of the four planets presently ornamenting the southern sky in a highly ornamented pattern." (p 122) "leaving the shop lit only—through a skylight—by the far-off gleam of four crucial conjunct planets wheeling downward from the zenithal line." (p 183) A conjunction of planets representing a sort of form-out-of-chaos, perhaps? What I think of is the March 9, 1982 Party for People from the Future during a conjunction of the planets - organized by the Krononautic Organism (a project founded by the fertile imagination of Richard Ellsberry in BalTimOre).
In the 2nd part, "Break the Door of Hell", there's this: "Women, too, passed: high-wimpled dames attended by maids and dandling curious unnamable pets; harlots in diaphanous cloaks through which it was not quite possible if they were diseased" (p 80) wch reminds me of this in Jacob Aranza's 1983 Backward Masking Unmasked - Backward Satanic Messages of Rock and Roll Exposed:
"Allen Parsons Project also has an album entitled Eve. The album's front cover reveals two ladies' faces behind veils. If you take a close look you can see that both ladies have sores and warts on their faces.
"One state's venereal disease investigator looked at the warts and sores on the faces in the picture and concluded that the ladies in the picture were suffering from secondary syphilis.
"How many young people listening to Eve realize that the theme of the album is VD?" - p 65
I'll bet Allen Parsons wd be surprised that that's the theme of his record (esp since he spells his name "Alan")!
Not all of the Elementals left over from the time of chaos & defeated by the Traveler are harmful to the more orderly world of the humans: "At one side of this green was a pond of sweet water which the traveler in black had consigned to the charge of the being Horimos, for whom he had conceived a peculiar affection on discovering that this one alone among all the elementals was too lazy to be harmful, desiring mainly to be left in peace." (p 132)
Did you ever wonder about the Beatles song "Maxwell's Silver Hammer"?: "authorizing the mansion's master smith to forge the silver hammer-head." (p 195) "that mirror was cracked across, and the traveler knew with what hammer the blow would have been struck: silver-headed, hafted with a portion of his anatomy that some man—albeit briefly—would have lived to regret the loss of." (209)
According to Wikipedia, "Linda McCartney reports that Paul had become interested in avant-garde theatre and had immersed himself in the writings of Alfred Jarry. This influence is reflected in the story and tone of the song, and also explains how Paul came across Jarry's word “pataphysical”, which occurs in the lyrics." Furthermore, "In 1994, McCartney said that the song merely epitomises the downfalls of life, being "my analogy for when something goes wrong out of the blue, as it so often does, as I was beginning to find out at that time in my life. I wanted something symbolic of that, so to me it was some fictitious character called Maxwell with a silver hammer. I don't know why it was silver, it just sounded better than Maxwell's hammer." ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maxwell&... )
Now, I love Jarry's work, so this unexpected reference to it delights me. When I started researching the silver hammer for this review, I expected to find some common mythological reference, not Jarry. However, the only hammer I know of in myth is Thor's & I don't recall it being silver. U still think Brunner took the image from myth but it may just be a variant on familiar imagery.
All in all, for people interested in mythology, Brunner's spin-off will probably be a delight. ...more
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May 09, 2014
May 21, 2014
May 28, 1994
Roy V. Young's Captains Outrageous
Or, For Doom the Bell Tolls
by tENTATIVELY, a cONVENIENCE - February 8, 2013
There were several reasons w review of
Roy V. Young's Captains Outrageous
Or, For Doom the Bell Tolls
by tENTATIVELY, a cONVENIENCE - February 8, 2013
There were several reasons why I chose to read this. I'd recently noticed that there're bks whose titles & plots are rewrites of other more famous bks & I decided to read some of these to explore this genre. I've already read & reviewed 2 of them: Bruce Hale's The Malted Falcon ( http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/34... ) & Anne Capeci's The Maltese Dog ( http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/50... ). I thought Captains Outrageous might be in the same genre insofar as the full title references both Rudyard Kipling's Captains Courageous & Ernest Hemingway's For Whom the Bell Tolls. Since I'd read both of these when I was young, I wanted to see what Young's apparently humorous fantasy remake of them might be. Furthermore, I'd just read & reviewed Rudyard Kipling & John Brunner's The Science Fiction Stories of Rudyard Kipling so the time seemed right for revisiting Kipling a bit more. I've been reading these bks w/ the title references in order of the age that the writing is aimed at. Captains Outrageous might be aimed at adolescents or young adults.
The resemblance of Captains Outrageous to its namesakes, unlike w/ the Hale & Capeci bks, is minimal. As in the Kipling, there's a spoiled wealthy young male thrust into difficult circumstances & maturing as a result. This is standard fare for a coming-of-age plot. The resemblance to the Hemingway is even more tenuous: fighters on a mission. In other words, a hero's journey. The resemblance to Alexandre Dumas' The Three Musketeers is, perhaps, a little more obvious. The phrase "captains courageous" is even used once on p 67 but, all in all, the plot of Captains Outrageous veers closest to that of Tolkein's The Lord of the Rings trilogy - perhaps the most famous fantasy story.
Mainly, Young just likes to make puns - something that I can thoroughly appreciate insofar as I'm a homonymphonemiac - a neologism I coined that means a person-who-compulsively-makes-puns.
In an editor's note on the inside back cover it's stated that "Woven almost invisibly into the text of this book are literally dozens of puns. You may enjoy looking for them. Examples: rock and roll groups, individuals, and movements; himself, plus two friends; his editor and his literary agent; national television personages; Georgia Tech nostalgia; and combinations formed from partial last names of famous science fiction writers. One brief passage also includes most of the best-known books of Arthur C. Clarke and Isaac Asimov." I didn't 'go out of my way' to seek these puns but quite a few of them did pop up at me:
"Snick! Cropple! Pap!", p 41, is an example of a pun that serves no apparent plot-&-content-compelling-purpose, it's just a pun for its own sake. "Krizz! Rispee!" For those not familiar w/ the ad, what we have here is a pun off a Rice Krispies cereal commercial.
In some or most instances, the puns are a bit more well-integrated into the story:
""You know," the red-beard noted, "that door is nor properly hung."
""Neither, by all reports," Trebor irresistibly injected, "was Bosamp."
"The barbarian squinched, wishing he'd thought of it first, then continued. "The hinges are on the outside - bad thinking! Not only that, but they've used nail diamonds to attach them, rather than screws as any craftsman knows they should. I'll bet we can pry the door hinges right off!" He looked expectantly at the loremaster. "I'm sure it moved."
""I doubt it," Trebor mused, "but I also doubt the spell, whatever it is, extends to the nails and hinges themselves - a flaw in its design. They are, after all, made of iron and should be immune to sorcerous mutation. It is - dare I say it? - ironic."
""I'm just going to have to steel myself to your remarks," Dword retaliated." (p46)
""Poor Wendy," Sir Dudley sighed mournfully. "None of this would have happened if that roc hadn't eaten him. Stuck on top of his tower, between a roc and a hard place, as it were."" (p 117)
""Do the Gods suffer from amentia?"" (p 288) "Amentia" = mental retardation - but it can also be yet another pun: amen + dementia. Nice. The Bell is called "The Belle Dame Sans Merci" (p 290), the beautiful woman w/o mercy (in my, no doubt, bad translation) - a pun off of "bell" & "belle". "[A] call to harms" (p 296), a call to arms; "Terror infirma" (p 296), Terra firma.
In a sense, this plethora of puns & their references shows us where Young's cultural knowledge lies. Perhaps not everything he refers to is done as an homage but I suspect that most of it is: "Help me, Dalibosch!" (p 51) Salvador Dali + Hieronymous Bosch - 2 great painters of grotesque imagination.
""'Tis a long way to swim, is it not, Salmon Dave?" Fishie number one said.
""Most terribly far, Shad N. Jeremy!" replied Fishie number two." (p 140)
Sam and Dave & Chad and Jeremy - 2 musical acts many younger readers mightn't recall. ""Try some of this - hoooo! It's Crosby Stills' Young Mash, an elixir of singular properties."" (p 161) Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young - yet another musical act. It seems that Young's taste might lay in the realm of simple harmonies: "Best to keep to the simple stuff" (p 161). "[V]oracious Rugayrokstaar of the dreadlocks" (p 254): Reggae Rockstar.
Captains Outrageous is a sword & sorcery bk & a well known s&s story is that of Conan the Barbarian written by Robert Howard: "It looked so easy in The Illustrated Adventures of Sir Robert the Howard!" (p 216)
Young evokes a larger place outside the immediate narrative by making reference to things implied to be part of the greater environ of the story: "Trebor jumped up like a Fusistanian horned gnorlox in heat" (p 120), "The wizard chomped and smacked like a Korian lovedog" (p 126), "Dword's eyes bulged wider than a Gormousian banker's at the sight of a bare coin" (p 162), "letting the scintillas flail across him like the disciplining whack of a Korian lovemaster" (p 171), "Guards seated like a Gormousian bloater in a swelterbelter" (p 209), "It's worse than being a Korian bird-eunuch waist-deep in feathered pudenda!" (p 230).
I'm often interested in how bk covers relate to the contents. Often, in mass-market paperbacks especially, the cover is a lurid come-on only halfway related to the story. One imagines that the artist who makes the cover art doesn't necessarily read the bk, they're presumably given a synopsis to work from. In this case, the wizard is shown on the cover holding the Mallet of Doom about to strike the Bell at the Top of the World. Only the mallet is made of wood & isn't "a magnificently crafted, platinum-leafed Hammer of surpassing, exotic beauty." (p 260) The wizard is shown as a fully lizard-like creature. In the story, he's a human undergoing a transformation not as complete as what the cover shows.
& this brings us to further money-making strategies of some fantasy & SF bks: the setting-up of the reader for the sequel(s). I don't know whether there's a sequel (or a prequel) to Captains Outrageous but the possibility of a complete transformation of the wizard sure leads that way. I wdn't mind. Funny, tho, my own tastes lean toward bks written purely for the sake of themselves - bks that don't have an eye on sequels & prequels to come or not to come depending on the success of the 'pilot' novel. Much of what I consider to be the 'trashier' fantasy & SF is so business-driven that the transparency of it takes away from whatever literary qualities the work might otherwise have.
All in all, this was geeky good fun. ...more
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Feb 07, 2013
Feb 08, 2013
Mass Market Paperback
Mar 01, 1991
At 1st this seemed like just what I needed after I endured the colossal boredom of Gertrude Stein's "The Making of Americans": 2 people trapped in the At 1st this seemed like just what I needed after I endured the colossal boredom of Gertrude Stein's "The Making of Americans": 2 people trapped in the horrors of ordinary suburban life discover a wooded place w/ stream where clocktime is slowed. They go there & are happy for a while w/o spending so much time that they miss going to their jobs. I wd've given this 4 stars but then it degenerated a little into a variation on a sword & sorcery hack job romance. Still, I liked it. I've never read anything by LeGuin that didn't have some strength of idea. ...more
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May 29, 2009
May 24, 2009
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