July 2014



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Jul. 17th, 2014


...Go Out In the Midday Sun!

Read the previous post HERE.

These issues I had with the plotting and characters in Longbourne were really very small, and most of the time reading I was in awe of not just the spare perfection of Baker’s prose, but the brilliance of her observations. Many times I found myself doing the thing I really do know better than to do, and speculating on how much Baker was writing from personal experience, because her insights seemed so fresh and so true. And perhaps it was this bad habit that made parts of the war chapters seem less assured, because I’m almost positive that Baker was never an artilleryman in the British army in 1808. ;) I have no evidence that other very true-seeming things she describes in the novel come from her personal experience either, and they likely don’t. She’s just that good.

To illustrate Baker’s enormous skill that made Longbourn such a worthwhile read, and to segue to my next review *g*, here’s part of a passage I loved for its delicious ironic perfection. James, in Spain, has just described a house ruined by invading soldiers. He thinks: “They were villainous, the French: he had heard it many times, but he saw it now, he felt it. They were corrupting. They had no respect for their superiors, for property, for anything at all. [//] Later, when they came upon another house, he saw the curtains heaped as bedding on the floor, the campfires made of splintered furniture; he smelt the latrine stench, and his opinions of the enemy were confirmed. Until he noticed that the obscenities scrawled there were in a language that he understood. This was the work of English soldiery, a troop that had gone through there before them.” [225]

I found myself thinking back on James in Spain a lot as I read Django Wexler’s The Thousand Names [ROC (Penguin) mass market paperback 2014 (original hardcover was published in 2013)]. I had no idea, before, that “flintlock military fantasy” was a genre; now I do. But more importantly, how does it relate to the FIFA Men’s World Cup (see end of post)?

Especially Patronizing and Intrusive DumbledoreCollapse )

See, we get a number of descriptions of women’s sexiness in this book, and none of men’s—no point-of-view character in the book, male or female, finds any man attractive. Is it common for men to write books in which a (often the I expect) female character is attracted to women? And is it because they are uncomfortable even pretending to think of men the way they have their male characters think of women? My theory is this: In our culture we are often given the idea that there are people and then there are women. Much media is dominated by the assumption of a heterosexual male consumer, with sexual desire rarely presented from a typically female perspective, and with women usually portrayed as sexual objects rather than subjects. Sexually objectified women litter advertising of all kinds, and most visual media such as film, television, and video games. Men are encouraged to take it as a given that women are objects, and women are encouraged to objectify themselves, trying to make themselves conform to cultural beauty norms, and therefore appeal to men. This idea permeates all aspects of our lives, and manifests in all kinds of bigotry, and leads to a lot of self-harm.

So I am not surprised by the idea that men would feel the need to describe sexual attraction with the language of objectification—even men who are attracted to women who don’t fit these social norms, or who require more than physical adherence to toxic beauty standards in order to fall in love, seem to feel compelled to make their heroes’ love interests culturally exceptionally beautiful without much need to make them unique people. You know, he’s the hero, she looks great, boom, they belong together, end of character development. Whereas women know that they themselves are people, and extrapolate that to apply to all women, and they are reinforced daily in the certainty that men are people, so, in my experience, they tend to think of men (or women) they love as people and not just as interchangeable tokens that must conform to toxic beauty standards in order to be acceptable as love interests. In my reading, even though all heroes in fiction are also beautiful, female authors tend to describe their female characters’ love interests in terms of their personality, interests, and compatibility with the heroine even more than they describe their physical appearance (and if they do describe physical appearance, it is usually in the context of how that appearance is specifically attractive to this individual woman, rather than assuming that there is a one-type-fits-all of men’s sexiness). It’s not that women are not visually aroused—do I even have to say that?—but that we are better able to recognize someone’s sexiness as only one of many aspects of them, and therefore something, but not the only thing, to consider when looking for a potential mate. While men have more trouble figuring this out because they are daily encouraged by our larger culture to see women as not people. Dear Readers, what do you think?

And, daggummit, it seems the chicken must once again be divided into three parts. More anon (including the bit about the World Cup—sorry for teasing you!).

*In fact, I think this particular one is vitally important. It is simplistic and insulting to simply give your good characters spontaneous enlightenment that fits perfectly with culturally accepted views in our world, but has no apparent origin or precedent in the world of the story, so that all the villains have views we consider backwards, because in real life good people have biases that uphold our unjust system and prejudice is not just the province of a few pure evil radicals, and because in real life there have always been social justice advocates** fighting for equality, even in periods where we’re taught in school that “everybody thought this back then,” so we can pat ourselves on the back for being perfect now. Because we are not actually perfect now, fictional characters (particularly those with societal privilege, that privileged readers will identify with) are wonderfully useful for modeling to readers the ongoing challenge we have as individuals to first recognize the problems in our society and second to solve them.

**For an obvious, but frequently overlooked, example from U.S. history, here’s Victoria Woodhull, who, in 1872, ran for president, with Frederick Douglass as vice-president, as the Equal Rights Party; no ticket has been half as exciting since.

***Regarding that last clause: yes, it is possible for an author to do that excellently. It requires one to be an expert, who knows exactly what she is doing (because she has made a balanced study of the subject and has an acute knowledge of how it is likely to affect victims/survivors), and has firm control over her audience (that is, there is nothing ambiguous in the text that could be used by evil-doers as evidence of like-mindedness in others or permissiveness in society). That author is probably not you. Heck, she’s probably not even me.

^Understanding what’s wrong with Exceptional Women/Model Minorities is Advanced Feminism. Basically, by privileging only those individuals who behave in the way you like, or only those with rare ability or in exceptional circumstance, you are saying that anyone who is just average, or, worse, below average, must just not be trying hard enough and therefore is not worthy of respect. In addition, you are reinforcing the negative stereotype by saying “You are special because you are not like all the rest of your kind who are horrible,” so you are “praising” them for their luck by insulting them with their inherent characteristics. In this case, [Spoiler!] there is the implication that these magical women get to be our heroes because they are super special snowflakes, while the regular non-magical women—the camp followers, the sacrificed urchin, Jane—are just disposable victims. Because that’s the way the two groups are split in the story: magical and major and alive, non-magical and minor and dead and/or victimized.

Jul. 12th, 2014


Mad Dogs And Englishmen...

Dear Readers! I have written fewer than 20 blog posts in 365 days! That’s… kind of terrible?

Anyway! After my controlled rant about Katherine Addison’s The Goblin Emperor*, I felt bad, for it seemed like I was being too negative, and all my reviews lately made the books sound awful, which they aren’t necessarily. OK, Tigana really is that bad, but the Prologue is actually the least-worst part of the book, and I wasn’t even annoyed about the (lack of?) bridge thing until I started writing about it. I felt that--despite praising Kristin Cashore’s Bitterblue and Heather Rose Jones’s Daughter of Mystery over the same few weeks--every time I read a book I must somehow be looking for things to criticize, and I was concerned that I was unfairly carrying a strictly personal and very lingering bad mood into my interpretation of other authors’ hard work.

So I sat down to read the next book coaching myself to just not dwell on the bad stuff, to just accept the book on its own terms. Well, the next book was Rudyard Kipling’s Kim [first published in 1901]. Heh.

I kind of loved it!Collapse )

I could have focused on everything that’s wrong in Kim, but every time I sat down to read I said to myself, “Just read it.” Not only could I focus on what I liked about the book rather than what I disliked, but it was the first time in a long time that I’d actually just enjoyed reading something. It’s not that I didn’t notice all the problems—I did—but my attitude was different, seemingly simply a matter of mind over… well, mind. I suppose there’s a lesson THERE as well. ;)

And I kept up the attitude with the next book I read, Longbourn by Jo Baker [2013; I read the Vintage (Random House) paperback edition, 2014] (and also the next book I read, which I just purely enjoyed—Holly Black’s Doll Bones, which I’ll write about another time).

Life was a trial by endurance which everybody, eventually, failed.Collapse )

And I must leave off here, but I will continue these thoughts, and review another book (and probably go off on lots of tangents about Napoleon…) in the next post!

Love, Susie

P.S. Contrary to what you may read on the internet, today’s title quote comes from a song written by Noël Coward in 1931 (in what’s now Vietnam), although a similar sentiment (though they were just regular dogs, not rabid ones) appeared in print in a Spanish newspaper in 1787 (or so I read on the internet), and presumably Coward was inspired by some existing phrase or idea. It is not, apparently, a common phrase in former British colonies; I got it from The Muppet Show. I get a lot of things from The Muppet Show, and by the way, “you’re all weirdos.” :)

*Which is now propping up the pedals of my antique piano, because it happened to be just the right size when wrapped with upholstery fabric. I feel kind of bad about that, because honestly, the book is NOT THAT BAD, although I am still amused/annoyed by the sheer bad plotting of the Intercepted-But-Not-Stopped Eight-Page Letter That Only Exists Because The Author Thought “The Cloud Horses” Was An Awesome Name For A Bar—Which It Totally Is, But Awesome Names Do Not Make A Thing Worth Putting In Your Book, Or At Least Not The Way You Did.

**The first one. I only learned there was a second one quite recently (well, since starting this blog anyway).

***I totally wrote that thinking of a particular instance in Kim and without thinking at all about the subject line quote, which, see P.S. above. :)

^I didn’t say it was free of negative stereotypes… ;P

^^ For the most part the book is not aware it’s fanfiction, though there is a motif where every time Mr. Darcy goes by Sarah describes herself literally becoming invisible, which I think is meant as a metaphor, but comes across as jarring (versus the rest of the book’s tone) surrealism.

^^^Smith, in what I read as a reference to Harriet Smith.

Apr. 15th, 2014


Genius Advice Column! Honor and Duty Edition

Dear Readers! Do you require assistance with a question of propriety, honor, duty, sacrifice, or sangria? Our resident Genius can help! Ask him your questions and he will give you his (or his friends’ and relations’) answers! Do you have a burning need to know about a topic in biology, mythology, folklore, or battling ghosts of the evil dead? Our Genius will happily tell you all the little he knows! Do you have a philosophical argument of civic, filial, social, or eschatological significance? Our Genius will tell you if it’s sound! Are you inundated with a legal, criminal, medical, or sociological morass? Do not ask the Genius. Please, you will only frighten him.

Warning: The Resident Genius’s answers are purely subjective, anecdotal, and entirely fictitious. Do not be surprised if the advice he gives is not useful, not applicable, not helpful, or not legal.

Dear Genius,
Purely hypothetically speaking, should an evil villain in a work of fiction, having intercepted and quite obviously tampered with (i.e. read) a private letter between the book’s hero and the hero’s sidekick thus learning that his evil plan is about to be exposed and he is about to be duly punished, then allow the letter to continue on its way to reach the hero?
I Think Susie Is Not Yet Over The Goblin Emperor

Dear Evil Villain,
Genii do not actually send letters, nor indeed know how to read. Your blog authoress explained the general idea to us when she asked us if we (that is my family and I) wanted to provide this advice service. She reads your questions to us and then transcribes [And slightly edits for length, ahem. –Ed.] our answers in letter form. So we asked her about this, and she informs us that letters are sacrosanct, since you modern humans have a slightly stricter sense of privacy than we Genii do. Therefore, Mr. Villain, we all in this room (Me, my sweetie, Ducto, Corso, and Disjejuno… no wait, Dis just left to get lunch, but now Bibo has brought Struo and Venato in. They’re here for the party tonight… Glutto! Wake up and warn Ferio that Venato’s here. Rido, is that really necessary? She’s your sister, Ludo, but sometimes I think… Bibo, have you started the sangria yet? I [Oops, transcribed too literally there. –Ed.]) agree that you have acted against your honor and your duty. Admitting your mistake is a good first step, but the hero would be right to be upset with you. We suggest you appeal to your Paterfamilias right away and hope that he will help smooth things over and come to an agreement with the Paterfamilias of the hero. But if he can’t help you escape punishment, then it’s your own fault and you must accept the judgment of the head of your household.
With best wishes,
Your Genii

Dear Genius,
I just read a book, which will remain unnamed. I wrote an honest review of it on my blog, but all the other reviews I’ve read haven’t mentioned the flaws that I see in it. I feel like the kid in the Andersen story, pointing out that the emperor isn’t wearing any clothes. Am I just a bad reader who totally missed the point, or are they? And there’s another thing. Do I have an obligation to be generous and not write negative reviews in order to preserve strangers’ feelings? What if I know the author has lots of self-doubt? Am I totally wrong about everything??
Gobbled Empathier

Dear Gobbled,
Wait, the emperor isn’t wearing any clothes? In public?? That does not bode well for the future of the empire. I speak from experience here. Well, not personal experience; I’m not that old. As for the rest of your questions, speaking candidly and honestly is certainly to your credit and the credit of your family’s good name, and you should never lie to anyone for any reason. Likewise, it is very much your duty to your family honor to be as generous as you have the means to be, or even more. That being said, you must ask yourself whether sometimes it is not better to refrain from speaking when you have nothing nice to say. Don’t lie, just say, “I’m afraid I don’t have anything to say.” After all, you are the messenger of your family name to the world’s opinion. Do you want that message to be one of goodness and generosity, or unkindness and judgment? Before speaking ask yourself, “Is what I’m about to say going to serve the people I speak it to, the people I’m referring to, my Paterfamilias, the rest of my household, and the City I live in as well?” If the answer is no, then perhaps you should find something else to say. [Also, you are statistically unlikely to be wrong about everything. –Ed.]
Your Genius

Dear Genius,
Is it absurd that in order to renew my driver’s license in my state I have to produce two forms of government-issued photo identification, one further proof of government-issued identification, and two proofs of residency in the state (in a state where a very significant portion of residents do not have home delivery of mail and therefore most of their records have their P.O. Box and not their home address, and, as the lady at the post office pointed out to me not long ago, “You don’t live in your P.O. Box”), all dated within the last six months? I mean, seriously, why do they think anyone would claim to live in this hellhole when they don’t actually live here? And their solution to my not having any proofs of residency? A letter from my Paterfamilias claiming me as part of his household. What happened to freedom and equality?!
I Would Honestly Prefer the Simplicity of a Police State At This Point, Actually

Dear Longing For A Police State,
We fear this is the inevitable consequence of the tragic decline in Genii in the world today. People no longer care about doing their duty and upholding their family honor and making proper sacrifices to their Lares and Penates. They disrespect their Paterifamilii and almost never think of the greater good of their nation. They fall under the influence of Lemures and only know how to do wrong. In this culture of fear and distrust, of course they cannot recognize someone with a strong Paterfamilias and well-fed Genii, and so cannot take them at their word, but must demand ever more proofs of honesty, which they distrust as they think of ways to fake them themselves. You must put sacrifices in your Lararium and your hearth on a regular basis, and keep a bowl of water and a bowl of black beans on your threshold to keep the bad influences away. Be an example to your community, and hopefully your fellow citizens will soon follow your lead. It’s the best hope for all of us.
Your Genius

[Dear Readers, please try not to send in letters that make the Genii cry. Thank you. –Ed.]

Dear Geniuses,
What do you do all day?
Curiouser and Curiouser

Dear Curiousers,
You must be descended from a great Curiouser to have led your parents to name both of you after him or her! I hope Curiouser features prominently at your household altar! To answer your question, we’ll just go around the room:
-Destroy Ghosts of the Evil Dead (That’s Venato; he’s so full of himself)
-Drink Sangria! (Good old Bibo)
-Maintaining the house takes a lot of work. (Struo)
-What did I miss? (Oh, never mind, that’s Disjejuno back again. Wow, that’s a good-looking sandwich…)
-Some days it seems like I spend half my time chasing Salto to keep him from flying into trouble. My, he’s an active child! (Rido)
-Cook feasts for all the parties we have! (Ducto)
-Eat feasts! (Glutto)
-Make the sangria that Bibo drinks! (Corso)
-And I dictate the Genius Advice Column.
Your Genii

Dear Genius,
How do you kill ghosts? Aren’t they already dead? Is it like Ghostbusters??
Morbidly Fascinated

Dear Fascinated,
I’ll let my brother-in-law answer that. “Shoot them in the squishy part,” he says. Well, there you go.
Your Genius

Dear Genius,
Why are Lemures afraid of cats?
Trying To Convince My Mom To Let Us Get A Kitty

Dear Wants A Kitty,
No one really knows. It might be their fierce glowing eyes, or their sharp claws, or their pounciness, or their eerie yowls. Personally, I think it’s the magical healing power of the purr.
Your Genius

Dear Genius,
Can you still call it sangria if you make it with white wine?
Looking For Beverage

[Never! Your drink is an abomination! Dump it down the sink and repent of your sins! –Ed.]

Well! That ends another Genius Advice Column! Do you have a question for the Genius? Please leave it in the comments! Your anonymity (if you want it) is assured!

Apr. 13th, 2014


Post-Internet World, Part Two

In which I continue to review Katherine Addison’s The Goblin Emperor [Tor, 2014] and Heather Rose Jones’s Daughter of Mystery [Bella Books, 2014].

Go to Part One

If you don’t have your health, you don’t have anythingCollapse )

Weirdly, some part of my disappointment with the book I think was that I kept seeing parallels to L&W. Some of that was the nature of the book—it’s a bit smoke-and-mirrors where readers fill in what they want to see instead of what’s actually there, a kind of novel-as-avant-garde-theater-piece—but some part of my brain begins to imagine (and this happens more and more as again and again I read books with similar themes, characters, or plot-points, or even, worst of all, turns of phrase) that I’ve been thinking so hard for so long about this darn book that I’ve sent my ideas through the ether like radio waves where they’ve been picked up by other writers. It’s not that I think L&W isn’t good or interesting, but part of me worries that it’s kind of already been done? And all by books that have come out since I’ve written those parts that they remind me of. Probably there are just trends in fantasy circles and these authors have been reading the same blog posts and new new things that I have and similarities are due only to similarities in backgrounds, interests, education, and culture. Sigh. Who knows?

Just before reading The Goblin Emperor, I read Daughter of Mystery. That one was more of an impulse purchase, based on one rave review, and coincidentally covers a lot of the same territory as The Goblin Emperor. Maybe TGE felt less original to me because I’d just read DOM, but if these are themes you like—court intrigue, questions of succession, genuinely nice and well-meaning heroes, and just a little bit of magic—then Daughter of Mystery achieves them all way better and much more satisfactorily.

Briefly, Margerit Sovitre is a genteel-poor orphan in the fictional European country of Alpennia in the (otherwise mostly realistic) 1830s or ‘40s. Her wealthy godfather, the Baron Saveze, must leave his title to his nephew, but he leaves all his wealth to Margerit (much to her shock and dismay), including his slave Barbara, a deadly swordswoman who is also just Margerit’s age. With her newfound fortune, Margerit finds herself thrust into the rarefied world of the high and mighty as her guardians (her aunts and uncle) try to push her into a brilliant marriage with one of the powerful people in her country (preferably a nobleman). But Margerit doesn’t want to marry anyone. Alpennia practices a (fictional) mystic Christianity where the saints can bring God’s miracles to anyone who asks the right way—a form of prayer that looks a lot like magic. Margerit is devout, but also a burgeoning scientist, and all she wants to do is study these divine Mysteries and learn how and why they work. Meanwhile, Barbara is enraged that the Baron did not keep his word to free her before he died, and now she must try to solve the mystery of who she really is and find her own place in the world, all while defending Margerit from the vengeful machinations of the new Baron, avoiding the treasonous traps laid in a royal court roiling with an unanswered question of succession, and falling in love where she has no right to.

Fencing, fighting, chases, escapes, revenge, true love, miracles!Collapse )

The Post-Internet World makes me feel perhaps a little entitled as a reader. Jones has a blog on which she writes about lots of things, but I couldn’t find anything on it or her website to answer the burning desire I had, which was to know why Jones chose to create the kind of magic she did for this world, and what the significance of it was for her, since it’s very unusual in Fantasy (in my limited experience) to have magic coexist so intimately with Christianity, and also to write protagonists who are quietly and earnestly devout without ulterior motives. I found it completely fascinating and wanted to know a lot more. But I don’t need to know, and the book is certainly beautifully complete as it is (although Jones apparently has plans to publish several more novels with the same characters).

Well, readers, what do you think?

Love, Susie

*[Spoilers for The Goblin Emperor]I mean, is there any great cruel salacious fatal tragedy in TGE (except Maia and Chenelo’s story) that doesn’t involve sexual activities between two men (or elves, whatever)? This is what made me so angry about Thara Celehar’s Big Confession, because I Expect More (nowadays), but also what made me put the book down in disgust because I thought “Is she really going to come at this again (from a different angle of course) with Csevet?” because from the moment Csevet said he had reason to hate and fear Tethimar I knew it would have something to do with rape or attempted rape because these things effing always do (in fiction). And then we get those two guys at the end, and it all seems to be there so that Maia can say, “I don’t have a problem with their weird unnatural love, because I am the World’s Best Male Elf Feminist Social Justice Advocate!” Almost, almost the story of Maia’s goblin aunt Shaleän ameliorated things a bit, but really not enough, except to hint that maybe there are different ways of doing things in the larger world outside the Elflands.
Tags: , ,

Post-Internet World, Part One

Dear Readers! I know posting has been somewhat erratic, but I’m trying to emulate the words of Julia Child: No Explanations, No Excuses. Anyway, Today I am reviewing two books about Court Intrigue With A Smattering Of Magic: Katherine Addison’s The Goblin Emperor [Tor, 2014] and Heather Rose Jones’s Daughter of Mystery [Bella Books, 2014] while also musing a bit on publishing in the Post-Internet World, and maybe the Collective Unconscious. Should be fun. :)

I only find new books through word-of-internet. I follow blogs of authors I find interesting and seek out information on upcoming sequels by authors whose previous books I’ve loved. I read a couple of blogs about writing and always like to read reviews. I make a note of books that sound intriguing on a piece of paper next to the computer here* until I’m ready to buy books. The time delay between hearing about a book and actually reading it means I usually forget where I learned about a book. It also means I have often read about an author, or read an author’s blog before I’ve read her book, or that I can access the author’s words about her book before I write a review, as well as the opinions of other reviewers. How strange and new this is in the history of novel-reading.

Case in point: I’ve been following Sarah Monette’s blog for years, but the first novel of hers I’ve ever read is the just-out The Goblin Emperor, written under the pen-name Katherine Addison. This means I not only already had an opinion (probably skewed and inaccurate) about Monette’s opinions, values, and writing skill, I also knew some things about the writing and publishing of this book, and read all the early reviews that Monette linked to. Plus I was aware of the story of the pseudonym, which many reviewers are not—all of the packaging of the book suggests (but doesn’t state, because that would be a lie) that this is a debut; even the copyright is under the Addison name. All of this adds up to this being the most anticipated book of the year for me, as well as rather disappointing.

The Goblin Emperor got a lot of hype (probably doesn’t hurt that some of the most compelling reviews I read were through the Tor website…), with reviews and author comments promising a lot of political machination, fun steampunk** trappings, and a genuinely nice protagonist. “The Anti-Grimdark Fantasy!” they said. Well… I went back and forth between really liking and kind of despising it. I will, because I am a writer, dear readers, try to explain.

Briefly, the plot is that eighteen-year-old half-goblin exile and youngest son of the elvish emperor, Maia Drazhar, learns that an airship crash has killed in one fell swoop the emperor and his three elder sons, leaving Maia Emperor of the elflands. Having grown up in isolation with only his abusive guardian (who is also his cousin) for company, Maia is quickly overwhelmed by the elaborate rules, intrigues, and nefarious plots that plague the elvish court. He must learn how to survive and lead when half the court believes a goblin unworthy of the throne, and the rest think they can manipulate him into ceding his power to them. When he learns that the airship crash that killed the emperor his father was not an accident, Maia has to find people he can trust before the murderer comes after him next. Some spoilers follow.

Goblin pirates, dueling empresses, priest detectives, steam-powered bridges, bomb-throwing anarchists, and a horse named Velvet; also, elfin earsCollapse )

Go to Part Two

*I am low-tech. Sitting at a computer and staring at screens too long hurts my head, besides which, my Out-Of-Sight-Out-Of-Mind-ness means if it’s not visible without electricity, then it may as well not exist.

**I hate that word, like really hate that word, but I don’t know what else to call it and have you, dear readers, understand what I’m talking about.***

***OK, so over Spring Break, I was explaining to PrairieDawn my terms “Secondary-World Fantasy” and “Primary-World Fantasy,” and she said she got confused, because she thought “Primary-World” should refer to books à la Tolkien, while “Secondary-World” should refer to what is vulgarly known as “reality.” Ha ha! … OK, I guess you had to be there… which, come to think of it, Dear Readers, most or all of you were. Ahem. MOVING ON!

^I always feel the same way about Mahler.

^^This is where it helps that I’m the kind of reader who flips through the whole book when I first get it, but the publisher could have saved the other kind of readers—the ones who never look ahead—a lot of grief by simply listing the Pronunciation Guide and List of Names in the detailed Table of Contents which was included in the front. For while the Names were neither gratuitous nor overly complicated, they were sufficiently difficult to make the book one that would be nigh-impossible to just plunge into. And I do feel I was mostly able to keep track of the major characters due to how quickly I read the book, rather than the way Addison handled them.
AND BY THE WAY, in this review, I am checking the spelling of words against The List to make sure they’re correct, but for the most part (and I finished the book last night), I’m remembering them all, and correctly… at least correctly enough to look them up! ;)
HOWEVER, what I really could have used and never got was a glossary of Elvish terms with definitions—I had enough of a sense of what nohecharei, mazei, and even (sigh) marnei meant, as terms, to follow the story, but I did not know who those people are to their society or to themselves, and names of certain places and things also were left unexplained in a way I found… well, only mildly frustrating, but that’s only because I was never that emotionally invested in the book.

^^^And it occurs to me that I have actually read some of Monette’s short fiction—the episodes she wrote for Shadow Unit. I tended to like her episodes a lot more than those of most of the other writers of that “show,” and I suspect that Monette is just better at short fiction than at long fiction, and that’s what all the problems I had with The Goblin Emperor boil down to. Maybe?

****By the way, helpful hint for people, inspired by Cala and what’s-his-face’s reaction to Maia’s scars: when someone reveals to you that they have, long ago, suffered abuse, which they have since made peace with, getting really angry at the person who abused them, telling them that had you been there you would have protected them, and/or expressing surprise that they could come to terms with the abuse or otherwise expressing an opinion that the abuse they suffered was really very extraordinarily abusive, are all probably NOT HELPFUL (although, you know, everybody’s unique, some might appreciate one or more of the above at a particular time from a particular person, etc.), and may, in fact, be traumatic in and of itself. Just FYI.

Apr. 2nd, 2014


Uneasy Lies The Head That Wears A Crown

Dear Readers,
I think it would be fun to post Wednesday book reviews that relate in some way to the preceding Monday’s Tigana post. Today I’m reviewing Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore [I have the trade paperback, Firebird (Penguin), 2013 (hardcover first edition published in 2012)].

Recently, PrairieDawn asked me when the last time was I read a book that I thought was really good and that I enjoyed from cover to cover, and I couldn’t remember one. Alas, Bitterblue is a remarkable book which was completely engrossing and consistently satisfying, but I cannot recommend it to PrairieDawn because of the subject matter.

Bitterblue concerns the title character, Queen of Monsea, and her establishment of what is essentially a Truth And Reconciliation Commission in response to the atrocities committed by the previous regime—task compounded by the fact that the previous ruler was Bitterblue’s father, who also abused her, as well as many of her ministers, whom she retained when she inherited the crown. King Leck’s abuses (which include the torture and murder of innocents, including children), while never graphic, are made explicit in the book, and there are a few brief passages that get inside his head, which are all very disturbing. Indeed, I was very leery of reading the book for this reason (why I delayed so long in getting it, despite loving Cashore’s previous novel, Fire), but after reading so many rave reviews I decided to give it a try, and I was very glad I did. Cashore handles the subject matter beautifully, but I don’t want to minimize the horror aspect of the novel—for me, the wonderful main characters and Cashore’s skill made the rest more than readable (although the aftermath of Leck’s rule is the spine of the book, most of the story is about Bitterblue’s coming of age; getting away from his influence is a big part of it, but most of it is moving toward better people, who are mostly delightful characters in their own right, and there are several adventures/themes/plotlines that have very little to do with Leck) but readers especially sensitive to these issues may want to avoid it.

I hate to say that, because I actually really loved the book, but it was an intense reading experience. I couldn’t put it down, but it is not a book to read late at night. I was so invested in Bitterblue as a character, I laughed at her triumphs and literally cried at her mistakes, and when the book ended, after nearly 600 pages, I was bereft. I will try to avoid spoilers as much as possible here, because it’s a book that’s really better if you don’t know what’s going to happen. I also want to warn readers (and this is a bit spoilery) that although Cashore’s previous novels in this world (Graceling and Fire) are essentially romance, Bitterblue does not end with a Happily Ever After, or even a Happily For Now. It has a Hopeful ending, with strong hints that all the characters we love will soon be very happy, but it’s really up to readers to decide what that happiness will look like. The book was a complete whole, but there were a number of plot threads that trailed off at the end—resolved as far as this novel’s plot, but leaving another book’s worth of possible stories to tie them up completely. Also, you don’t need, strictly speaking, to have read either of Cashore’s previous novels in order to follow this one, but the plotlines of several minor characters (a couple of them introduced in Cashore’s previous work) will be more emotionally satisfying if you have.

Bitterblue has a lot in common, thematically, with Tigana, in that both deal with the restoration of a land after a brutal conquest, and both intimately explore the role of memory in this restoration. But Bitterblue is much more thoughtful and sophisticated* than Kay’s novel, and much better written. Here’s a quote I found especially pertinent:

“‘But that’s how memory works,’ Bitterblue said quietly, ‘Things disappear without your permission, then come back again without your permission.’ And sometimes they came back incomplete and warped.” (316)

Cashore herself has had a limited number of themes to her novels—like Fire, Bitterblue is a young woman who must reconcile the sometimes terrible power she has that came from her monstrous father, with the need to do good in the world, just as Fire in her book, like Katsa, heroine of Graceling, had to learn to use a great magical power for good, while not letting her king use it for evil. And all three novels are about strong young women making a place for themselves in worlds that are not all that friendly to strong young women. Yet each of Cashore’s heroines is unique, and I wouldn’t mind reading her write on these themes forever, since she does it so very, very well.

Bitterblue also made me really admire Cashore as an author, for two reasons. First, every book she has written so far has been significantly better than the last. I’m not sure how she can improve so exponentially after this one, which was so incredibly good, but I will definitely be alert for the next book she writes (which will likely be some years, since Cashore is a relatively slow writer). I hope she publishes many more books and that I get to read them. :) Second, there was this that she said in the acknowledgments (which are exactly how authors should write acknowledgments, by the way) (spoilers for Graceling):

“I was not thinking about disability politics back then [when I wrote Graceling]. It didn’t occur to me, until it was too late, that I had disabled Po, then given him a magical cure for his disability—thus implying that he couldn’t be a whole person and also be disabled. I now understand that the magical cure trope is all too common in F/SF writing and is disrespectful to people with disabilities. My failings here are all my own.”

Thank you, Kristin Cashore. Thank you for writing this amazing book, and thank you for being awesome. And most especially, thank you for teaching us alternative uses for cats.

Moving away from the work a tiny bit, there were a couple things I was thinking about when reading (I will be a little vague here to try to avoid spoilers, but I’m putting it behind a cut for content), about republics and about torture.

Click to read my thoughts! Actually, that's kinda creepy...Collapse )

Final opinion: Bitterblue is a very powerful and wonderful book, deftly and gracefully written, devastating and beautiful. I loved Bitterblue and was deeply invested in her struggle to show the people around her, who have always known her as a vulnerable child, that she is now a grown-up, capable and responsible, and worthy of the power she wields, and to prove to herself that she can do great good in a world that has come to expect only evil. It’s a long book, at some 155,000 words (I estimate), yet while the story was complete and every loose end that needed to be tied was, I didn’t want it to end. I wanted to get Bitterblue onto more solid personal footing because I liked her so much, yet I also believed completely that she would do just fine—an excellent example of the form of the book fitting its function, since readers left Bitterblue where she was with herself, full of new hope but no certainty. It made me want to read Cashore’s previous books again, but more importantly it left me thinking deeply about the story, and thinking fondly of its heroes. I have reservations in recommending it because it was such an intense reading experience, but it is decidedly a keeper for me; Cashore’s writing is so good that I loved every minute of reading it, even when what those perfect sentences were about was horrific. And I guess that’s a rave review. :)

Love, Susie

*Based on what I’ve read of Tigana so far.
**And may I mention that one of the things I’m quite proud of with L&W is that I’ve created six different governments and none is a monarchy.

Mar. 31st, 2014


Tigana: Head Smashing

Dear Readers! This is my first post dissecting Guy Gavriel Kay’s 1990 novel Tigana! All posts about the novel will be categorized under the new tag “dissecting tigana,” so as to a) be easy to find and b) not clutter up my “books” tag. This post will cover the Prologue.

What these posts will be:
1. A little snarky and a little flippant and just a tiny bit serious, to keep moving through this book fairly quickly.
2. As I get further in and have a better picture of the whole story, I will start to intersperse the commentary posts with essays of meta-analysis of what I’ve read so far.
3. When I finish the novel, I’ll do some wrap-up essays in greater detail, which will take into account the story as a whole.
4. There will be unmarked spoilers for each chapter discussed in the post, as well as all previous chapters.
5. Spoilers marked in brackets [like so] refer to my skimming ahead in the book and may or may not be accurate.
6. I’ll include very brief summaries of the action for those who want to read these posts but not the book, but I’ll only quote things I’m directly commenting on.
7. Since Tigana is about war and contains just about every kind of bigotry, there will be a note before the cut on each post telling you what disturbing material the post includes examples and detailed discussion of.

But Susie, why are you doing this? Don’t you hate Tigana?

I can’t tell you whether I hate Tigana or not. I expect that I will hate Tigana by the time I’m done, because when I started reading the book straight through, I found that the more I read the angrier I got. And I thought I really wasn’t being fair to the author, because I really do feel that Kay has some really good topics and ideas here, and it’s just the execution that’s ham-handed, and I think I really shouldn’t accuse him of having an evil agenda until I’ve read the whole thing. Besides which, he starts at the very beginning (of chapter one) with unreliable narration, so it’s reasonable to assume that he knows more than his characters do, intentionally.

So I thought I would do better taking it a little bit at a time, and letting my reactions stay purely in-the-moment, because I fully expect my perspective to change as I read along. Also, this way I won’t get bogged down in rage that makes me want to tear the book into tiny pieces and stuff it down the garbage disposer. And yes, Dear Readers, this is why I don’t do e-books. ;)

On the upside, reading Tigana is making me feel really great about L&W. I know it’s not the best-written thing ever, and I know when I get it published (when!) a lot of people will hate it, but I look at it and think, “Oh God, that’s good!” One imagines Mr. Kay felt the same way about his book. *smiles ruefully*

All page numbers [in brackets] are from the 1999 Roc (Penguin) trade paperback (Tenth Anniversary edition with an afterword by the author).

[Content Note: Warfare]

With Smeerps Like These...Collapse )

Love, Susie

*I learned that from the map opposite page 1.
**I’m amazed that that’s a word.

***Doubling the star wouldn’t solve this problem. It might give the moons not just dark sides and bright sides but also dim sides. And it might also mess up day and night, which just wouldn’t do for a story where the alternate planet setting is just mood atmosphere anyway and the author really wants to tell a story about humans on Earth with magic.

^Another of my peeves with smeerps like these, is you don’t know the singular or plural of the word.
^^There are two moons apparently for purposes of the novel’s made-up religion, which I will be discussing in great horrible detail, probably in the posts on Chapter 2.
^^^Ah, separately. Much more on that to come, alas.

^^^^Who also quite famously defeated a much larger and more heavily-armored military force at Agincourt in 1415. Henry didn’t need a river, he made do with just a bit of mud…

Mar. 19th, 2014


The Real Jane Austen, Part Three (Final Part)

Dear Readers! This is the end of my critical review of Paula Byrne’s The Real Jane Austen (Harper 2013). Part One is HERE. Part Two is HERE.

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I know this review has been mostly negative (mostly because I tend to take notes on what bugs me and not on what I like), but there was a lot about the book that I really liked. I thought Byrne had an interesting premise, her scholarship is mostly very good I think, some of her original theories (mostly about the theater) are very well-done, and she is excellent when directly in dialogue with other biographers and critics. But the best thing Byrne achieved with this work was making Austen’s brilliance clear. Take this description of Austen’s unfinished Sanditon: “Charlotte, the novel’s clear-eyed heroine, decides that ‘Some natural delicacy of Constitution … with an unfortunate turn for Medecine [sic], especially quack Medecine,’ has indeed harmed the sisters’ physical health. […] Tea is served in different pots, since they have a large selection of ‘herb-tea.’ They eat only dry toast and sip dishes of strong green tea. The seaside always attracts people drawn to an alternative lifestyle, as well as the elderly, the sick and the transient” (323). And she also has a knack for picking out those direct quotes from Austen that show why her work is so sparkling and sharp and beloved, like this, again, from Sanditon: “As far as I can understand what nervous complaints are, I have a great idea of the efficacy of air and exercise for them, daily, regular Exercise.” I quite agree. :)

If you are interested in Jane Austen’s life it is well worth reading, with a grain of salt.

Dear Readers! This concludes my half-review/half-criticism of Paula Byrne’s The Real Jane Austen! Next time, the first chapter of Tigana by Guy Gavriel Kay, which I expect will be a lot more fun (for you, not for me).

Love, Susie

*Of the Red, for those keeping score, meaning he basically achieved the highest rank possible in the British Navy of the day.


***If only to emphasize how horrible this misconduct in the Navy is—Austen talks about the great benefits of the Navy many times in the canon, and Persuasion is practically a paean to the institution, making her especially critical of anything she thinks undermines or sullies it.
As for carpet—that is a classic example of the best of these kinds of riddles, in that those in the know get one level of enjoyment out of it, but even if you are ignorant of the hidden connotation (that King James and Robert Carr were lovers), it’s still funny and clever. Austen would not need to know both meanings to think it worth repeating, and it’s really a matter of personal preference at this point (since no commentary on the subject by Austen survives, if it ever existed at all) which meaning(s) you would like to think she knew.
And to keep flogging this mountain into a molehill, also on page 63, Byrne’s emphasis on “keener penetration” means that she misses the joke, which is that James I was not terribly discerning, but also that the authorial voice in Austen’s parody history of England is so enamored with James that she will impute better motives for all his actions than any less biased reading of history could support. I think Austen was probably well-aware of both readings and that the ambiguity was funny to her. (And not just because I totally do the same thing.)
Also, I think Byrne gets the riddle backwards (unless Austen did)? Surely it should be “My second is what my first was to James I, and you tread on my whole”?

****Although that final clause could open the door to all kinds of arguments like, for instance, that the Victorians were not prudish, using Victorian pornography as examples… Scholarship is a slippery slope, Dear Readers, and best avoided.

^See what I mean about the commas?! He built an infamous bisexual???

Mar. 18th, 2014


The Real Jane Austen, Part Two

In which I continue to review Paula Byrne’s The Real Jane Austen: A Life in Small Things. Part One is HERE.

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Dear Readers! I’m not done yet! The final installment tomorrow! :) Click HERE to go to Part Three!

Love, Susie

*Speak for yourself, John Paula!

**Her real sister.

***Fiction is the opposite of course. :)

^Which does make me wonder why people who engage in the “sale of human intellect” are not guilty, if they are bringing others misery. What is Austen’s criterion for guilt?

^^I see what you did there, Ms. Edgeworth!

^^^I really want an answer to what is so great about Edmund Bertram. I cannot fathom. Then again, I’m in the company of most modern readers, so…

^^^^As a sort of random aside, Byrne finishes that page and chapter with another quote from Mansfield Park: “The scene painter was gone, having spoilt only the floor of one room, ruined all the coachman’s sponges and made five of the under-servants idle and dissatisfied.” This is a topic which Byrne never mentions, but which I noticed in rereading Emma especially, which is Austen’s classism and treatment of servants in her works. See also in Pride and Prejudice, when Lizzie returns home after Lydia’s absconding and Jane tells her about their reactions to the news. I don’t have anything to add, except maybe watching Downton Abbey has been good for me after all, but I would like to read a little literary criticism of Austen’s canon about that. But the quote kind of undermines Austen’s thematic use of the theatricals as a Saturnalia for the naughty youths.

****Though it is worth noting that Chernow’s tendency to go into detail about differing interpretations of his subjects’ actions and bring up every way of looking at them is part of what makes his books so long, and I can see why someone wouldn’t want to write a 900-page biography.

Mar. 17th, 2014


Vorpal Sword In Hand

Human beings tell stories, to entertain, to explore, and to define themselves. We class ourselves and others by comparing the narratives of the cultures we are part of, and deciding which assumptions of another’s culture are like or unlike our own. Every other person is an alien to us, their culture a foreign planet whose ways we can never fully understand. It is the great irony, perhaps the great tragedy, of human existence that the one thing we most value of our humanity—our empathy—is something that is actually impossible for us.

No wonder telepathic connection is such a favorite theme in speculative fiction, and in our popular mythology—belief in everything from reading auras to communicating with spirit guides to the idea that twins have some near-magical psychic link speaks to this powerful yearning for connection, for truly, wholly, fully knowing some other person, inside and out. The recurring theme of True Love is part of this, but so is the urge, common to fiction and social justice alike, to comprehend what it is like to live in this world as The Other, someone who experiences the world fundamentally differently from the way you do, because of differences in sex, race, religion, class, sexual orientation, physical ability, or whatever. Stories offer us glimpses into others’ minds, offer the tiniest taste of this great ecstasy we always seek, but are always separated from.

Remarkably, stories also reassure us of the universal, that there are common components that all humans possess. We share things even with people who are most unlike us in all the world—though maybe not the same thing with everybody; if we all knew some one element of universal humanity, it would no longer be a mystery. How can it be that modern Americans can read the works of Jane Austen or William Shakespeare, or even Homer, and see the same emotions, the same psychological needs and reactions, in their characters that we see in ourselves, when the worlds of these stories are almost as psychologically far-removed from us, almost as incomprehensible to us as life in the age of dinosaurs? We can never quite picture it, even when we have pictures of it.

Things become powerful symbols of these differences between our time and theirs. The people in the Iliad are doing all that stuff without pants. People in Shakespeare’s plays and world had fleas. Living on them. Biting them and sucking their blood. All the time. OK, fleas are animals and not things, but still. Fleas. Even our dogs and cats don’t have fleas!* But how about chamber pots because there were no toilets, or the gutters in the streets filled with human excreta because there were no sewers? We can’t imagine what that world smelled like. And yet humans still felt the need to try to make themselves smell as nice as possible, and keep their clothes as clean as possible.

Jane Austen’s time seems much more familiar (though still no indoor plumbing), but even there, when we stop to think about it, we find an alien landscape: they wore so many layers of clothes because their houses had no heat; everything smelled of wood smoke, or worse, coal smoke; white clothing was luxurious because there were so many ways to get it dirty (stepping outside your house, standing near the sooty fireplace, dripping candle wax on it). But these are big differences—traveling by horse instead of car, communicating by letter instead of Twitter, reaping grain by scythe instead of a mechanical harvester—and big differences are the easiest to understand. It’s the smallest things that speak most strongly of how different a time it was.

Take the act of reading a novel. Novels were new, for one thing, and people debated a lot about whether authors should even try to depict realistic human behavior—something we take for granted today. Books were expensive and rare, so you chose carefully the few (or one) you bought each year; lending libraries (available only in larger towns) charged a fee and their selections were small. Every novel was a trilogy, even ones as short as Pride and Prejudice, with each volume published months apart, and not much choice in what to read while you were waiting for the next installment. When you first got a new book, you read it with a knife at hand to cut the pages apart because the printers and binders didn’t do it. And most likely you did not curl up by yourself in bed and read alone all day, no, you read it aloud with your family by firelight(!), and being able to read aloud well was a highly valued social skill. The object—a book—was nearly the same, but the little differences in this object and its modern equivalent speak volumes about what daily life was really like for those people versus what it’s like for us.

This is the essential idea behind The Real Jane Austen: A Life in Small Things by Paula Byrne, a biography of Dear Aunt Jane that does not follow a list of Events in her life (though it is mostly chronological), but rather explores her life through the context of the world she lived in, using twenty objects as jumping-off points (counting the ones in the Prologue and Epilogue). All page numbers refer to the First U.S. Edition (HarperCollins, 2013).

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Dear Readers! Since everything I write lately is hugely long and takes me forever, I’m dividing this review into three parts, with the rest (which is mostly what I didn’t like about the book) to follow over the next two days. Click HERE to go to Part Two!

Love, Susie

*Better living through chemistry!

**Remember the wizard Baruffio… Actually, while we’re on the subject (not Wizard Baruffio… 18th C. and earlier printing style), the ad for the auction at Steventon Parsonage in 1801 is very fun for people interested in old lettering and printing as it includes many long esses alone or in combination, as well as ligatures^ of “ct”, and the abbreviation “&c.” And of course, it’s a great object for Byrne’s purposes, listing as it does all manner of other objects that lend themselves well to the imagination—microscope, “terrestial” globe, bookcase with six doors, mattresses, tables on pillars and claws, eight-day clock [only needs winding every eight days??], and 200 books.
As for long esses, while they went out of use in printed English shortly before Jane Austen published her novels, they are still used today: in calculus where they appear as the integral symbol (standing in for the Latin summa meaning sum), and in the German letter “Scharfes S” which is a ligature of a long s and a short one (or a long s and a z, occasionally, which is called an “Eszett”). One final piece of trivia for you: long esses are only ever miniscule letters, there is no majuscule long ess. Oh yes, and they are only at the beginning or middle of words, short esses end words (so alternate names for them are medial and terminal s respectively).

^That’s a perfectly good word, but it seems like one that’s only used on crime shows nowadays, so it feels weird to write it here, as if the letters were running around the printing press garroting each other…

***The anecdote about Lord Portsmouth also introduces Byrne’s obsession with Byron, which appears so often that by the time I finished the book I was asking why she didn’t just write a biography of him, instead of inserting it into this book. It’s also part of a larger habit of namedropping, where Byrne discovers that some well-known figure of the time (often not known to me at all) was distantly related to Austen, but whom Jane probably didn’t know well if at all. This is sometimes ludicrous and often (especially regarding Byron) annoying.

^^OK, Frank Churchill is not beneficial to anyone. But had he had siblings, he might have been to them. And certainly Mr. Weston is happy that he could give Frank a more comfortable life.

Mar. 14th, 2014


The Agony and the Ecstasy

Dear Readers! I have a progress report! I am in a really bad mood because insurance is stupid*, and I have 85 million things I want to get done today, and I was already swamped, when suddenly, unexpectedly I have an extremely onerous, interminable thing added to the to-do list, and someone else asked me for help on something they need to do, which I don’t want to do, but I feel an obligation to do, since I want it to get done, and I’m just pissed off, but I hope writing this post will help, although I have not done my daily work on L&W yet. Because this is what happens. All I want to do is live in a cave (with electricity) and work on my book, but, probably because of some combination of a) it not being paid work (yet!), and b) undervaluing myself, I always feel like I have to get the other stuff done first. And this makes me very upset on days like this, when I really, really have too much to do, and it really has to get done by the end of the day (because I have oh so much more to do tomorrow!). :(

It’s especially frustrating, because earlier this week I had three and a half days of pure writing *BLISS*, I can’t even describe it to you. Sigh. But I’ll try, because that’s why I’m writing these blog posts, after all! :)

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MEANWHILE! Because it’s a Friday, here’re some pictures of the changing face of snow in springtime. (As for other blogging, I have a Plan to have three posts next week, but, well, see #s 2 above, etc. Sigh.)

Here the snow covers the table on the patio to a depth of a couple feet. This was probably our maximum snowpack, on March 1, after a 3-day blizzard.

Here is the same scene today, with, well a lot less snow. The weather has been close to 40F every day for two weeks and the snow is rapidly diminishing; the first robin started hanging around the house this week.

Speaking of feathered friends, this bird came to drink from the dripping eaves while I was taking pictures. I am not positive what she is! A finch, but that’s as far as I’ll go, since I only saw her very briefly through the camera.

Much love, Susie

P.S. Person who asked for my help went to see how much she could do without me. Now I feel really guilty, because I so, so, so want to just ignore my problem… Can’t it wait until Monday? I think it probably can…

P.P.S. Well, I was so disgusted by that last sentence, I left this post unfinished and called the insurance company (and held for only 10 minutes!) and I have to start all over from the very beginning. And I think I’m getting my taxes in order now, and oh gods do I hate having to pretend I know how to behave in a business situation. I’m going to disinfect the house and eat cake now. :( But, hey! I did it! It was worse than I expected. :P (On the plus side, I am cheered by my work! Upsetting as all this is, I can happily think instead on a certain character who believes very strongly in the value of starting over from the beginning (much to the annoyance of one of the heroes).)

*Maybe I should make a post one day about why I think insurance is an inherently immoral business, and why “health insurance” in particular is a scam. Or not, since I’ve basically just said it all, really…

**One of my earliest ideas was that the story actually take place in the near future in an underground colony in Antarctica (yes, with penguins, and more importantly giant petrels), which will seem really funny to all of you when you get the chance to read what the story is now. :) (The main characters are still the same (including Psychometric Hero’s psychometry); that’s why it’s the same story. Trust me on this.)

Mar. 8th, 2014


This Is Me Lying

Dearest Readers! I’m late! I’m late! For a very important progress report!

I actually think the experiment is going pretty well. Yes, I did not post to my blog as I meant to, but I have worked on L&W every day since I started (haven’t done today’s yet). I’ll make a list:

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So, conclusion: The plan is working for L&W. I let the blogging go in part because I’d given myself permission to, and I’m glad I did. It was the right thing to do, and I’m not going to feel guilty about not posting when I’m working instead. And lo and behold, it worked doubly well, because here I am, posting again. And next week’s schedule is more friendly, and I’m newly resolved, so I feel confident that I will be able to post more on schedule. And that feels good.

And now something fun! Maybe not that fun, just a(n extra) mini book review, emphasis on (extra) mini, because the thing I did this week to get through the horrible days when I had worked, but wasn’t blogging, was devour Holly Black’s Modern Faerie Tales trilogy: Tithe, Valiant, and Ironside. In very short, I loved them. Really loved them.

Holly Black writes horror for children. I generally am not into horror; I was reading a lot of YA back when I was still thinking about writing it**, but I got really tired of the implausibility of ‘Oh, why do I have to go to math class when all I can think about is my abusive supernatural boyfriend?’ and the like—I’m too old for that nonsense suddenly and after bouncing off several I’d picked up hoping they were innovative just because of some separate thing that really bothers me about teen fiction, I mostly put it aside, except for things I knew I would like: parodies like Team Human or thoughtful stories that aren’t set in our world. So, it was a relief to me that all the kids in the Modern Faerie Tales were either dropouts or had already graduated (I mean, if evil fairies were killing all my friends, I wouldn’t go to school either). 
I was very hesitant to read these, because of those things I hate—gross violence/horror (She killed a kitten! A kitten!!), drug abuse, teen sex angst, 16-year-olds finding their one true forever love—and these books have all of that, but I got them anyway, because I really liked Holly Black’s Curseworkers series (see above, all the stuff I hate, only in that one it’s ‘Why do I have to go to math class when all I can think about is how I’m an abusive supernatural boyfriend?’). Well, Readers, after these (which in many ways I liked a lot better than the Curseworkers) three books, I am not only a Confirmed Fan of Black’s, but I trust her implicitly as a writer. She can write on any subject I loathe and I will happily read it. (I just got her creepy doll book; we’ll see how that goes…)
It’s not to say they’re perfect. [HERE BE SPOILERS!] [Click to read spoilers!]I didn’t like how every one of the problems in the series is solved by killing someone (indeed, there was a bit too much murder for me on the whole—horror, I know, but yeah, I love Holly Black, but I still don’t like the genre), or that the two Big Bads were ladies ultimately defeated by a Good Man (well, fairy), despite the two protagonists being very strong brave girls who have many relationships with other girls/women, and the worldbuilding is sometimes flimsy (as with the Curseworkers series), and the end doesn’t stay happy under much scrutiny: Kaye wants to live in the human world as well as the fairy world because humans are nicer, but after a few centuries, isn’t she going to grow into her fairy nature and get less and less empathetic as time goes by? When all her human friends grow old and die, what will tie her to humanity? Which is also why Ethine’s “You’re all monsters!” line, while true and cool, didn’t seem plausible to me—the Seelie court is almost as evil as the Unseelie; certainly there was no material difference in the (as Kaye beautiful points out) ‘casual cruelty’ of Nicnevin and Silarial. I mean, we believe kinder fairies exist—Ethine, yes, but mostly Ravus, who is very lovely, and Roiben, who is very human in his flaws (i.e. he has strong principles and is deeply distressed to be forced to go against them)—but mostly Black doesn’t show them to us, making the ‘good ones’ seem to have come out of nowhere for no reason other than that the author wanted us to like them. [END SPOILERS! END THEM NOW!]
But I really loved all the main characters, I adored what a wonderfully diverse world it was (though I might have enjoyed some unified mythology of what fairies are and where they come from, especially given the effect of Never), and I loved how Black made all the characters flawed in sympathetic ways, and (especially) good in sympathetic ways. And Black so beautifully tied the threads of the two storylines together in the last book, and ended at just the right moment with a Happily For Now for all the (surviving) characters that was both real and satisfying (but see the spoilers above). I wanted to read more and more! But I felt she had told the right story and as much as needed to be told. I wanted to reread right away, but was afraid the flaws would jump out at me reading the second time around so close to the first time. Still, definitely keepers. 

Word tells me this post is 2741 words, and 3 1/2 pages. Considering this is single-spaced and I draft my novels double-spaced, and my daily goal for The Comedy (which I maintained for several weeks) was 2000 words, I think this project is totally doable. This post may have finally convinced me that I can do it. And keep doing it. Forever. 0_o Wow.

Love, Susie

Click to read footnotes!Collapse )

Mar. 3rd, 2014


Let's Try This Again

I am not a tortoise, I am a hare. I know this. You know this. Dear Readers, We All Know This. Well, I’ve been very thinky of late, and a bit depressed. I read over a number of old posts to this blog, and I realized several things:
1. The blog used to be funnier. With dialogue between murderous birds (that post is still sooo funny!), Genius Advice Columns, and NSFAQ, as well as True Conversations With My Family™. I also tried to be funnier, and I posted a lot more often.
2. When I started this blog, I had long finished The Splitting of the World, I had written a number of other things, I had taken the first 3rd or 5th of The 3-Volume Novel to a writers conference and gotten positive feedback from an agent. My life was falling apart, but work was good, and about to get a lot better. Before your eyes I wrote The Comedy, and It Was Good. The complete dearth of response to that book from agents was extremely dispiriting for me; I knew it was way better than TSOTW, and everyone (the few, the proud) who read it loved it. But no one professional would read it. But somehow, I dusted myself off and got up again and went once more into the breach, in large part because I so believed (and still do!) in L&W.
3. I wrote of finishing the first draft of Part One of L&W in the spring of 2010 (having hinted that I’d started it much earlier than I remembered, in the summer of 2009, just before sharing my elation (and pictures!) at having finished The Comedy. I wrote of finishing the first draft of Part Two of L&W in October of 2010 (and I know a precise date for that, since I went to another conference right after—though it wasn’t the sort of conference where I could show my work to anyone).

Where I’m going with this, of course, is that Part Two of L&W sits as it did nearly three and a half years ago, except with lots of notes in red pen, and while I have done very good work in revising Part One, Dear Readers, I wrote to you about that in 2011. As I paced the house the other night, much too late at night, moping and arguing with myself, I went through all my Excuses, and there were many, Dear Readers, oh so many. It’s not that they weren’t legitimate, or that they are worries I can magically wave away. Really, it’s because they are legitimate and can’t be simply waved away that I woke up this morning full of determination. Enough, I said to myself. Because here is the thing: I love writing, more than anything. There is nothing that makes me more deeply contented (apart from having fun with the people I love best) than playing with my creations, inventing worlds and characters, and exploring some small part of humanity and my understanding of it through my stories. My worlds consume me and fill up the largest part of my brain and no small part of my heart. I will always invent worlds and the people in them. BUT. I want them to be published. I am desperate to share my thoughts with strangers. These ideas are important to me. I write for myself, yes, but I also write for others—not directly as I do for myself, but with the idea that what I have to say is worth reading by someone, that someone somewhere will love it as I love the stories of my favorite authors.

I want the validation, the stamp of approval, the culturally sanctioned expertise that comes with professional publication. I know it’s artificial, I know it’s silly in many ways, and I know it’s in many ways out of my control, but I want it anyway, the way I want my clothes to be pretty and not just functional, the way I want the weather to be nice on my birthday—not because I need it, or deserve it, but because it would just make my life so much nicer, happier.

This year, I received my first royalty check from TSOTW, because a school class decided to read it. They interviewed me for about an hour, as part of a project they did in November to each write a short story, a NaNoWriMo for 5th and 6th Graders. Readers, I was terrified, and I was embarrassed. I looked at That Book for almost the first time since I published it and… Horribly, it wasn’t that bad. Yes, I was a bit embarrassed because I feel it’s really not of the same quality as what I’m doing now, and yet, the best part of the book, the part I always thought was best, the stories at the end… were not that far removed from what I’m writing now—they were good. And I was terrified of appearing (via Skype, thank goodness) in front of all these people, and saying the wrong thing, or worse saying nothing in my anxiety, but mostly I was embarrassed because I have nothing to show for the (oh lord) 8 years since. Not to readers. And yet… It was wonderful. The kids were so excited and kind, and they asked the most awesome questions, and somehow I managed to answer them, and they thought it was the coolest thing ever to talk to me. We’re weren’t talking about TSOTW, but more generally about writing, and I thought, I want to do this again, a lot, and talk about work I’m currently proud of. Because public speaking gets easier the more you do it, and the rewards of interacting in this way with strangers, of knowing you have something to offer them that they value, of knowing that something you’ve done has meaning that will last beyond your lifetime—because those 10- and 11-year-old kids will remember my visit for years to come, and some of them will remember it forever, and some of them, probably most of them, will certainly outlive me—that, Dear Readers, is why I want to do what I do.

But you can’t publish a thing that isn’t finished. (Well, you can, but… see above about wanting to be really proud of your work for a long time after it’s finished…) So, all my difficulties are not going to be magically swept away. I have to learn to work around them, all the time. I can’t be a fair-weather worker, because I have these other ideas clamoring in my brain, asking me over and over to write them, but I must do one thing at a time. I’m not worried I’ll forget them; the other two main bright shiny stories have been patiently waiting in line behind L&W for years too. But they can’t wait forever.

So, I Made A Plan. (Again)

Read The PlanCollapse )

Well, what d’ya think?
Love, Susie

*Which is the final chapter of the part—the structure of L&W is… original… and I think it really works with the story and is pretty cool, but it’s hard to talk about it in terms of chapters. I dearly hope, Dear Readers, that someday you will Understand What I Mean, uh, if you know what I mean. ;)

**Which reminds me! I didn’t put that in my calendars. Hmm…

***I just really love rainbows. The more bright colors I can wear at once each day, the happier I am. Oddly, most people don’t think this is very fashionable… “I’d love to wear a rainbow every day, and tell the world that everything’s OK…”

^A necessary thing, to make sure I know what I have and what I don’t have, so I can get everything I need in the rest of Chapter 4.

^^This week will be a little different, Readers, as I’m having this post on Monday (tomorrow) instead. We’ll see what I get done to appear on Wednesday. I’ll introduce each type of blog post to you when I post the first one of each.

Jan. 31st, 2014


A Picture I Took

PrairieDawn today has one of my photos on her blog, which I'm actually kind of impressed with. I'd like to say it was all intentional--the centering of the rainbow, the long shadows of the coconut palms matching the shoreline... but it wasn't. Anyway, it's still good. A rainbow over Koko Head in the late afternoon.

Jan. 27th, 2014


Wound Update

For those of you who thought perhaps I was exaggerating in my last entry, I give you photographic proof. Warning, graphic wounds follow! A mere 52 hours after The Incident, my injuries looked like this:

Jan. 25th, 2014


Using Faulty Paving Materials, Etc.

Dear Readers! It has been, like, three and a half months! But it’s still Winter (but not Still Winter, which is a distinct season around here), so it feels like no time at all has passed! I still have not figured out how to maintain a Schedule, such that I get all my work done and post regularly to the blog—probably in large part because I frequently up and leave home for months at a time and go places where work seems neither possible, nor particularly important… What dismal fairyland is this I go to? Well, I call it Real Life, because here in Paradise mundane concerns seem to fade away, replaced by an ecstatic bliss in the beauty of heaven… until those mundane concerns slide like a sharp Wüsthof across the tough skin of an onion and slice into three of your fingers at once, causing profuse bleeding and faintness, so that you lie on the floor panting like the poor birds that fly into the windows, clutching a paper towel to your hand, while the sound of blood rushing through your ears drowns out the pitiful spluttering of the duck fat burning on the stove, which you suddenly feel you ought to be concerned with somehow, and surely you would, if you could elevate your head above your heart without passing out, and then reality comes crashing back around you as you imagine what an inconvenience it would be if the fat started smoking and all the alarms went off and you couldn’t reach the phone when the alarm company called to see if you were still alive and then they sent the fire department to your rescue and by the time they arrived you’d be totally fine, and how embarrassing it would be to answer the door for them in your dirty sweats and unwashed hair and tell them, ‘No, really, everything’s fine, I just had a little cooking accident, and I really was not nearly fainting at the sight of blood because I am really not that kind of person, and maybe I should just get my blood pressure checked just in case,’ so you get to your feet and stagger to the stove and turn off the eye and then stagger back to the floor and shriek to the heavens, “Why do I live alone without trained medical professionals present at all times?!”, “Why can’t I do a simple thing I’ve done a thousand times before without nearly killing myself?!”, and “Why are there no Band-Aids?!!”*

Or maybe that’s just me.

Anywho, so today, finding it difficult to do much of anything with my hand all bandaged up, I sat moping catching up on reading my blogs that I follow, and I Had Thoughts, and I thought I ought to share them with you! On one hand, I feel like I often write about things just to complain about them, and I really ought to try to focus more on the positive, as it were, but on the other hand (without the bandages on it), that’s what blogs are for. So, here we are!

Ana Mardoll posted this deconstruction of C.S. Lewis’s Voyage of the Dawn Treader last year***, called “Intent is Magic.” In it, she talks about Lewis’s liberal use of the personalityectomy to make his points:

“But a major problem that I want to address is that when characterization is kept fluid in order to serve morality, you end up with the problem that morality is inextricably linked to personality rather than to actions. Instead of having good people wrestle with the morality of their actions, we end up with morality lessons around people whose personalities are good or bad as the situation demands. Good People do good things simply because they are Good People, and Bad People do bad things because they are Bad People, and the difference is not one of actions--for, as we've already seen, our protagonists do bad actions all the time without the narrative noticing or caring--but rather one of intentions, and of who is wearing the Bad Person hat for any given day and chapter.”

Click here to read this essay!Collapse )

I don’t know what matters most in real life, but I do know what makes for better writing.

And that’s what I was thinking about today! Oh, also, this essay cited by John Kessel (and whose title made me die of the giggles) totally reminded me of Tigana by Guy Gavriel Kay!: “In the Bugger Tunnels of Planet Eros” by Kate Bonin [TW: Bonin quotes several violent and disturbing passages from OSC’s works, some graphic, pertaining to homophobia, misogyny, and child abuse]. I have not forgotten about that, Dear Readers! And I’m totally thinking I may have the time/will/whatever to rip that sucker to shreds very soon! But then I think again that maybe I only bring things up to complain about them too often… Ah, what the hey? It might be fun! Or it might not…

Love, Susie

*All of this is totally true, except for the having no Band-Aids part. We totally had Band-Aids, but Band-Aids of what vintages I couldn’t begin to tell you. One I used actually had a little red string you used to tear open the paper package. I mean, what era of Band-Aids is that even from? The ‘80s? I have no idea. Also, we had like 85-bazillion boxes of Band-Aids, but they were all full of the giant ones for when you like cut off an appendage or something, and no finger-sized ones, because they were multi-size packages and you always use the little ones and don’t need the big ones, so you end up with piles of big ones that date to the last century and no little ones at all! Luckily, there were four (of three different types/eras) the right size, and some almost too small I could use if I have to, so I’m Band-Aided up as much as I need to be. Also, I’m totally fine, I believe. The worst wound was still oozing blood when I changed the bandage at noonish, but I don’t think I need any stitches or anything. After all, I’m typing now, and it doesn’t hurt too much anymore. But it is surprisingly hard to put on clothes with only 7 fingers, though I did achieve enough clothing this afternoon to go sledding down the driveway, so that was fun.** 

**I don’t see any reason why a person my age should not go sledding when the whim takes her. It’s why I live in a place with three seasons of Winter, after all.

***I swear I wasn’t gone that long!

^ For more on Ender’s Game and its Reprehensible Morality™, I direct you to this essay , “Creating the Innocent Killer” by John Kessel (Excerpt: “thus our condemnation of genocide reemerges as a sign of our prejudice and small-mindedness.”), as well as another essay Kessel cites, “Ender and Hitler: Sympathy for the Superman” by Elaine Radford .

^^Most of us are only fluent in the language of the oppressor; that’s the way Kyriarchy works. Believe me, it is very possible to be a woman in this society and not be consciously aware of the misogyny that pervades it, to look at a room full of people in which half are women and think, ‘This group is hugely skewed toward women!’ or that being a sexual object is empowering and a worthy goal, or that women just aren’t good at the same things men are good at. It’s even possible to call yourself a feminist and love your female friends, without understanding how hatred of femininity is harmful not just to women, but to everyone, or to think that your friends must be exceptional like you, because they are not catty or bitchy or whatever other dehumanizing metaphor you choose to use when describing the vast majority of female characters in media, to think, ‘Well most people seem to think women are like that, so I suppose most women are, and I guess I’m just lucky I never met any of them,’ or worse to divide and conquer, to guess at which women are representative of most women and tell yourself, ‘It must just be the kind of women whose only goal in life is to hold onto a man, or who diet, or who wear pink nail polish’ or whatever other arbitrary characteristic you don’t (habitually) show and therefore are exempt from.

Oct. 31st, 2013


We'll Call Him Bambi

Happy Halloween, Dear Readers!

Today I am sitting by the fire while it snows outside, as one should.  We just had two new neighbors stop by, and I took their pictures.  Not a bad way to return after three months, eh?


[Young white-tailed deer buck sniffing a plant with his eyes closed]

When you go through life, stop and smell the lupines... even when it's winter and they're dead.  This spring was the first time I'd ever seen a white-tailed deer around here--a large doe--and now they are becoming regulars.  This lovely little guy is probably about 18 months old; his companion was a little larger, but still young.  Not a week ago we had a little herd of mule deer (four does, four fawns, one medium-size buck), so the differences in the two species' appearance is striking.  In summer, white-tailed deer are a fox-red, and mule deer are *yellow*, like shockingly yellow for a mammal, more like leaf-yellow.  But in winter the mule deer are as grey as those lupine pods, with black bellies and white faces.  But these white-taileds are golden like a puma, with such starkly white bellies, it creates an optical illusion and makes them look weirdly skinny against the snow.  Their faces are greyer, with the white ring around the nose they have all year.


[Bambi looks at the camera through one eye]

Structurally, they are very different.  The ears are large, but smaller than a mule deer (I once watched a mule deer fawn stick her entire face in her sister's ear; a white-tailed couldn't manage that), the body is larger, the scent glands on the hind legs give the legs a different shape, the tail is much larger, the antlers are shaped differently.  But the most obvious difference is in the facial bones.  White-taileds have a longer, more convex nose, a much narrower forehead, and raised cheekbones (especially on the mature males) which make their eyes look sunken (compare the mule deer fawn in the userpic).  The pattern of white on the face is different, as well, with white-taileds having distinct white rings around eyes and muzzle, while mule deer have more of a white splash that blends neatly into the grey fur.  White-taileds seem much more elegant to me, in their movements, but mule deer are cuter.  It is a privilege (albeit one that exists thanks to human encroachment, habitat alteration, and climate change) to be able to see such a variety of wild animals so well, and learn what makes each species, and each individual unique.  Little Bambi here is certainly the cutest white-tailed deer I've ever seen.  I hope to see him again.  He's also a master of deer origami:

[Bambi folds himself in half to scratch his back]

:)  Until next time, Dear Readers!  Love, Susie

Jul. 30th, 2013


Oh, Deer

Dearest Readers, this has been an effing week.  I'm only here to apologize for disappearing (it was like the bad old days!) and tell you that posting is likely to be sporadic for the next 3 weeks.  To make up for it, here are some pretty pictures of charismatic megafauna!wtdoe cropped
[A white-tailed doe shedding her winter coat and looking up at the camera.]

This year was the first we'd ever had a white-tailed deer in our yard.  The commoner species around here is the mule deer, but white-taileds are increasing.  The white-tailed is very different from the mulie in appearance, and is larger in size.  This doe spent a spring day in the shade of our trees, and returned this week with THREE fawns.  I think I understand how the population is growing so fast.  I don't know how their diet differs from the mule deer's, or whether they are competing with each other.  But the mule deer the same week I took this picture looked very much the worse for wear after the winter, while this doe looked magnificently healthy (and very pregnant).fat elk cropped
[An elk cow with a canvas collar turning to retreat into the woods.]

Sorry I don't have better pictures of the elk.  They usually appear in the twilight when good pictures are hard to make.  I think elk are among the most beautiful of wild animals; there is something so elegant in their appearance, especially when they look as good as this one, and I just love the subtle gradations of color in their coats.  This magnificent cow is very, very fat for so early in the year--sign that the winter for the elk was fairly mild.  (Deer and elk can experience such different effects of the same season because their diet is completely different--the elk are hurt by a lot of snow that buries the grass, while deer suffer in dry years when the shrubs have poor growth--last year was very dry, and the winter was warm.)  She is not pregnant here; this picture was taken probably the end of last month when she already had a month-old calf at foot.  This collared cow is one of the dominant cows in a herd of about 12 that have been hanging out this summer.  The herd includes an older cow with one eye, and a perhaps two-year-old bull with an injured front foot.  Yet they all look very healthy, and the adult cows all have a calf.  The rest of the herd is three yearlings (two cows, one bull).  We'll see how they do now that it appears a puma has moved onto the hill.


[A moose calf looks at the camera as its mother walks into the woods in front of it.]

I guess we're going in size order.  ;)  Lots of people think moose are funny-looking.  They certainly don't have the classical lines of the elk, or the petite prettiness of the deer, but they are very, very graceful in motion, lifting those impossibly long legs up high in easy flowing movements, like a prancing horse.  So their necks are short and their noses are long--I think the big ears balance it out.  ;)  But very little is cuter than those little raw-cocoa-colored calves.  The black fur around eyes and nose gives the calves a very sweet expression.  Something I've learned from these two, as they napped right outside the kitchen window a couple weeks ago, is that while moose are usually silent, mama and baby communicate near-constantly in very soft cattle-like lowing sounds, and frequently touch each other with their noses.  Perhaps their poor eyesight makes them more tactile than other deer; whatever the reason, they are very dear to watch.  :)  Trivia: the dewlap hanging from an adult moose's throat (you can see the cow's very clearly in this picture) is called a bell.  Just like the instrument.  And in the winter, they grow a long mane on the top of their necks, which makes their skinny necks look a little more proportional with that huge shoulder.  You wouldn't know it by looking at these two, but moose are also among the best swimmers of the deer family, and can dive underwater to reach tender plants at the bottom of ponds too deep for them to stand in.  I love their cream-colored stockings, too.  :)

Jul. 17th, 2013


Mid-Week Bonus Post! Picture Post Edition!

Some pictures I took this very morning, and some verse, for your enjoyment.  All poems by Emily Dickinson.DSC_2381

[A portrait of a mountain garter snake on a concrete patio]

A narrow Fellow in the Grass
Occasionally rides –
You may have met Him – did you not
His notice sudden is –

The Grass divides as with a Comb –
A spotted shaft is seen –
And then it closes at your feet
And opens further on –

He likes a Boggy Acre
A Floor too cool for Corn –
Yet when a Boy, and Barefoot –
I more than once at Noon
Have passed, I thought, a Whip lash
Unbraiding in the Sun
When stooping to secure it
It wrinkled, and was gone –

Several of Nature’s People
I know, and they know me –
I feel for them a transport
Of cordiality –

But never met this Fellow
Attended, or alone
Without a tighter breathing
And Zero at the Bone –

I love this poem, even though unlike Ms. Dickinson, I have always loved snakes.  :)

[A juvenile red-naped sapsucker camouflaged upon an aspen tree]

His Bill an Auger is
His Head, a Cap and Frill
He laboreth at every Tree
A Worm, His utmost Goal.

Sapsuckers, in general, are very colorful birds, in behavior as much as in plumage.  I watched one of this one’s parents working its wells a couple evenings ago, and have often enjoyed the pair’s greeting/bedtime rituals where they mark their territory and display to each other.  Woodpeckers’ stiff robotic motions at this time are almost an exact match for pairs of toucans engaged in the same behavior, and I remember that they are, apparently, related.  But the fledglings of sapsuckers, unlike most woodpeckers around here, are this mottled grey-brown.  This morning I realized that it’s camouflage.

[A tree swallow perched on a tangle of dead aspen branches in front of a blue sky]

We shall find the Cube of the Rainbow.
Of that, there is no doubt.
But the Arc of a Lover’s conjecture
Eludes the finding out.

Ha.  You thought I was going to do “Hope is the thing with feathers.”  ;)  In the beautiful scarlet glow of a post-storm sunset, I watched one of a pair of violet-green swallows (closely related to the tree swallow here) perch on a dead branch of an aspen that is a great favorite of theirs.  His mate flew up after a while and he leapt off the branch and followed her, singing repeatedly a short inquisitive fragment of his song.  She circled around chirping softly in response, and I suppose whatever answer he got from her satisfied him, because once she’d fed the nestlings, they flew off in different directions.  After several minutes of hunting, the female swallow returned first and perched right on the exact spot the male had sat on and this time it was she who waited for his return.  ;)

Jul. 15th, 2013


White People's History

July 1st, 2nd, and 3rd were the 150th anniversary of the battle of Gettysburg in the U.S. Civil War.  Perhaps no better movie about the battle exists than the wonderful Gettysburg (1993), based on the historical novel The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara.  The battle of Gettysburg was one of the pivotal moments in American history, the first major Union victory and the turning point in the war, but the movie Gettysburg is not History, rather it is White People’s History.

The film, like the novel, gives us heroes to follow from both sides, so that we will sympathize with both sides.  But our sympathies for the South can only be maintained because the movie neglects to remind us that these men were fighting in defense of an indefensible institution.  In this way it is similar to the World War II movie A Bridge Too Far (1977), with its very sympathetic (and weirdly comic) portrayal of the Germans, whom we can enjoy as characters because that movie completely elides the simultaneous reality of the Nazi’s genocide.

Read this essay!Collapse )

In real life, the Union army at Gettysburg held the high ground in more ways than one, and Nazis and Southern white slaveholders share more than an obsession with knights and chivalry.  In real life, we don’t have a nice word for people who want to talk about the “Lost Cause” of Nazism.  And in real life, knowing the absolutely horrific nature of slavery, it is unconscionable to romanticize the slave-owning South.

I love these movies precisely because they do humanize the evil side, because I believe in what Hannah Arendt called “the banality of evil,” because I believe that if we allow ourselves to hold prejudices, if we believe the lies that let us hate irrationally, then any one of us would be capable of equal or greater evil, just as those people—who thought of themselves as Good People, who loved many and were loved by many in return, who probably did a lot of unquestionably good things in their lives—found themselves capable of some of the greatest evils humanity has ever committed.

But I wouldn’t blame an African-American for hating Gettysburg for leaving out the most important part, just as I wouldn’t blame a(nother) Jew for hating A Bridge Too Far for the same reason, or, say, a Chinese person for hating Tora Tora Tora^^^.

War does not have virtuous sides.  There is no Sauron versus the Free Peoples of Middle Earth.  The Allied nations were rife with anti-Semitism, the North was full of racists.  But when it comes to what the end results would be if either side won the war, then yes, there are Good and Evil sides—the perpetuation of slavery if the South won, millions more murders if the Nazis won, these are indeed greater evils than what resulted in truth.

Lee asks Longstreet at the very end of the movie: “Does it matter after all who wins?  Was that ever really the question?  Will Almighty God ask that in the end?”


*Nice symbolic name, there.
**See William Walker.
***Well, Traveller was an awfully fine horse.
^Like Babieca?
^^That’s a fightin’ word!
^^^How can a committed pacifist like so many war movies?

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