I read a lot of science fiction and fantasy. The mainstream literary world has a tendency to ghettoize genre fiction, classifying it as fundamentally slight in comparison to "serious" fiction. As someone who reads "mainstream" fiction as well as "genre" fiction, I'm in a position to recognize that there are at least as many artfully written books in SF as there are outside of it. Being aware of this form of literary bigotry in others allows me to recognize it in myself when it comes to other genres. Like romance. I have caught myself slipping into a dismissive tone when the subject of romance fiction comes up. In an effort to cure myself of this malady, I asked my sister-in-law Rachel to suggest a few good romances for me to read. She gave me a stack of four books as a sample and I read this one first since it was due back to the library first.
Minerva Dobbs is an actuary with a weight problem: she thinks she's fat. We meet her in a bar as she is being dumped by her current boyfriend, David. It's immediately clear to the reader that David is a jerk and she's better off without him. Still, rejection is painful and Min seeks solace with her two girlfriends, the sweet traditional blonde Bonnie and the independent fiery redhead Liza. On the "get back on the horse" theory, her friends cast around the bar for Min's next conquest and their eyes alight on Calvin Morrisey. Cal is your basic god among men. He's a fabulous babe. Min is intimidated, but after some alcoholic persuasion she moves across the room towards the hunk where she overhears part of the male side of this drama. It seems that Cal has just made a bet that he can bed Min. What she doesn't hear is that it's her ex, David, inciting the bet and that Cal doesn't want to take it but instead bets that he can take her to dinner. The other confusion is that Min thinks the bet is for $10 (which the dinner bet is), but the bedding bet (or non-bet depending who you ask) is for $10,000. Min retreats, Cal advances, she decides to play him a bit (she needs a date for her sister's wedding at the end of the month) so they go to dinner and have a dreadful time. And things move on from there.
So there's big cliches here, but Crusie puts in some interesting twists. I liked that Min knows there's a bet since it completely changes the usual bet storyline. What makes the book a hoot to read are the interestingly neurotic characters (and their interestingly psychotic exes and parents). The book is close to 80% dialogue and it's fun snappy dialogue. I suspect it's not a spoiler to say that Cal and Min end up together, and while I pretty much assumed this would be the case from the beginning, there are enough ups and downs to make it somewhat ambiguous.
There's lots of thematic subplots. The psychological theory of relationships is contrasted with the fairy tale theory. Issues about female body image and food. Chosen families vs. birth families.
This is the first romance I've read since junior high when everyone was passing around Judy Blume's Forever in a copy that fell open to the naughty bits. As an SF reader I'm almost blind to the conventions of the SF genre, but I know they're there even when I don't notice them. One of the things in this book that jumped out at me as odd was the wildly shifting point of view. We are privy to the thoughts of all the main focus characters in a way that I don't generally see in the books I read. I thought it was odd how calculating the characters were. They were frequently thinking several moves ahead in how their actions would affect what the other characters would do in a way that seemed alien to me. The other thing that struck me was that I don't think I have ever read a book with as much description of clothing and decor.
I had fun reading the book. It's very funny and the characters are people I wouldn't mind knowing.
This is the ninth fantasy novel by Robin Hobb (ignoring for now all the earlier books under her other pseudonym, Megan Lindholm). Her first three were about FitzChivalry Farseer, the bastard son of a prince of the royal family of the Six Duchies. Her second trilogy was set far down the coast in a community of traders whose ships, made from a strange substance called wizard wood, come to life. Those books examined the complex social net of the traders and the complex lifecycle of their world's dragons.
In her latest trilogy, Hobb returns to the Six Duchies and the character of Fitz. She also brings to the fore the one character who was present in all six previous books (though in disguised form in the Live Ship Traders), the Fool. The Fool is a member of a race different from the rest of the human denizens of Hobb's world. He is capable of prescience, but not only can he see the future, he can engineer changes in the future by exerting influence over certain other individuals who can serve as catalysts to sweeping alterations in the course of history. Fitz is such a catalyst.
One of the distinctive features of Hobb's world is that there is more than one kind of magic (though you could argue that they are all aspects of the same ill-understood underlying phenomenon). In particular there is what is called the Wit which allows its adepts to sense and communicate with other living creatures at an animal level. There is also something called Skill which is a more intellectual power. Neither is particularly widespread, and some people are capable of exercising both powers (Fitz, of course, is one of these.)
In the hands of a lesser writer, the dynamic duo of the Fool and Fitz could be a recipe for stories where the plot moves along by auctorial fiat. Hobb has instead built characters and cultures with a realistic level of complexity and conflict. Plans go awry. People refuse to be manipulated.
It's hard to talk about Fool's Fate without putting in a raft of spoilers for it and all the prior books. I enjoyed it as a page-turner adventure. I got impatient with some of the annoying habits and bull-headedness of the characters, but that's really how it should be and just shows that the characters are realistic. Overall, the book had a feel of trying to intentionally wrap up all the loose ends in the Fitz/Fool story arc. At times it seemed like Hobb was burning backstory like cord wood. Indeed, she says on her web page that she thinks this is her last book about Fitz and the Fool. But she also points out that she thought she was done with Fitz after the first trilogy.
When your idea of "morning" is 12:00 noon, this is all that's left of the donuts.
We've been subscribers to Book-It! Repertory Theatre for years now. We love their mission of translating books to stage as books (with as much of the language of the book intact as possible). Their current production of Alan Paton's 1948 novel is one of their best. We had never read the book, which is about pre-Apartheid South Africa. It tells the story of a collision between two families, one black, one white.
The adaptation and performances are mesmerizing and touching. It's one of those entertainments that will bounce around in your head for a long time after the final curtain and change the way you look at the world.
The show just opened and continues at the Center House Theatre in Seattle Center Thursday through Sunday until April 10th. Ticket info behind the link above.
The movie named for a horse and marketed for a movie star. Viggo Mortensen stars as Frank Hopkins, a cowboy and US Army courier in the 1890s. While the movie claims to be based on a true story, more reliable sources indicate that while Frank Hopkins was a real person, there's a good chance his skills leaned more towards the telling of tall tales than long-distance horse racing. But we're talking about a movie here.
Hopkins is challenged out of a mid-life complacency into travelling to Saudi Arabia to compete in a (fictional) 3,000 mile race across the Arabian desert. He faces ridicule for the parentage of his wild Mustang from the owners and riders of the thoroughbred competitors. He makes friends with the Sheik (played disarmingly by the great Omar Sharif) and his daughter (the striking Zuleikha Robinson). Competes with the aggressive Lady Anne Davenport (Louise Lombard) and the evil Prince Bin Al Reeh (Saïd Taghmaoui). The plot is pure Saturday movie serial. The execution does justice to the genre with lots of characters to cheer and boo, and seldom a question of which is the appropriate response.
I suspect that had Mr. Mortensen not just come off the biggest movie event of all time with his starring role in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, the movie might be a bit different. The character of Frank Hopkins is most interesting when he's interacting with his horse, Hidalgo, but it feels like the perspective of the film got dragged towards its popular star and away from its title character. Still, Mortensen is good enough to stand the scrutiny, and the horse is good enough to steal the occasional scene.
Second in Baz Luhrmann's "red curtain" trilogy (after Strictly Ballroom and before Moulin Rouge!). He does the "update the Bard" thing with Romeo and Juliet changing the setting to Verona Beach and the swords to guns.
In the documentary features on the DVD, Luhrmann states his intent of reproducing the kind of popular entertainment Shakespeare was aiming for that would put butts of all persuasions in seats. The movie feels like that, but the language is a great distancer to modern audiences. I would have needed the play in front of me to figure out what the heck they were talking about a lot of the time. Actually, that's not true; Luhrmann's far too good a visual storyteller to let you get too lost even without subtitles for the Elizabethan English (it occurs to me that you could make this into an extremely funny movie by providing (un)suitable subtitles ;-)
While it might not have been successful as a broadly popular blockbuster, it is a lot of fun to watch these actors strut and sail through the hyper-stylized sets and settings Luhrmann and his team dreamed up.
Leonardo DiCaprio is the perfect mix of innocence and passion as Romeo. Claire Danes manages to combine girlish obsession with an open-eyed intelligence that brings Juliet to life. John Leguizamo's Tybalt is over the top but manages to avoid crossing the line into parody. Harold Perrineau Jr. plays the doomed Mercutio with verve. Also notable are Miriam Margolyes as Juliet's Nurse, and Pete Postlethwaite as a tattooed Father Laurence.
The DVD is chock full of extras including an early video version of some of the scenes put together to convince the studio that Luhrmann's vision would work on screen.
Our friend Kate is a member of Seattle's Early Music Guild, a thriving organization dedicated to preserving the music of the Medieval, Renaissance and Baroque periods. They have a concert series every year with world-class performers of these styles. Kate was kind enough to share her guest tickets with us for last night's performance.
The Netherlands Bach Society (Dutch site) is in the midst of their first tour of the US. They specialize in performance of Bach and his contemporaries on period instruments in period style. They are joined on this tour by Marion Verbruggen, arguably the world's greatest living recorder player.
The program included works by Johann Schelle, Johann Kuhnau, Dietrich Buxtehude, Johann Bach, and, of course, Johann Sebastian Bach.
But the highlight was J. S. Bach's Brandenburg Concerto no. 4. Their performance of this piece was the most beautiful thing I have ever heard. I still can't believe it. The rest of the concert was marvelous, but that Brandenburg... wow.
If you ever get the opportunity to see this ensemble, pay whatever they're asking and go.
A beaver has started the work to clean away this fallen tree.
My first entry for Photo Friday.
|I had to post this one because the boy at the movie theatre got on my case for taking a picture in their lobby. He claimed that the studios get all bent about people taking pictures of their promotional materials. Huh? They don't want their advertising to be seen more widely? Whatever. So here you have it, stolen neon.|
I went to most of the panels at Potlatch on day two (2/28). Here's what they were. Read on through the cut for absurd amounts of detail about them. If I had the time I'd make it shorter, but I'd rather get it posted than spend months polishing it into jewel-like brevity.
For those not clued-in to the lingo, "singularity" here means a fundamental change in the nature of humanity or society. This panel spent a fair amount of time trying to figure out what that really means. A definitive example would be the point at which computing power becomes sufficient to fully model or simulate the human brain such that a person's "mind" could be reimplemented in hardware.
The problem came in trying to come up with an example in real life. It was generally agreed that while things like the advent of agriculture or the industrial revolution did remake society, they did not result in the kind of wholesale change that SF has proposed. The nearest thing proposed was the ascendence of Homo Sapiens over the Neanderthals (or whoever it was who came before us), but since we don't know too much about how that happened, it's hard to tell whether it really qualifies.
Really, I think the concensus that was emerging was that SFnal singularities are not a real-life scenario. It was pointed out that the events in Brunner's The Shockwave Rider take much of their verisimilitude from the fact that he depicts a future where people have not changed very much at all and the world has changed only incrementally except for a few key areas where more sweeping changes occurred.
Unfortunately, accepting the "singularities don't exist" thesis would have invalidated the panel's subject so discussion continued in a more speculative mode.
Someone wondered what would happen if some subset of humanity made a jump to another level. Something like what happens in Nancy Kress's Beggars books where the necessity of sleep is genetically engineered out of some people. One of the panelists suggested that the next-wave people might not look back on those of us left behind with much compassion. The room was optimistic enough to think this unlikely (and in Kress's books, the sleepless pretty quickly begin work towards uplifting the sleepers to their own level).
This was the most dynamic panel of the day. I took copious notes even down to trying to record who said what when I could tell. Rather than spend a week trying to synthesize them, I'm presenting them here only lightly edited. My apologies if I misattributed or misheard anyone's comments. Let me know and I'll update this account.
The word "Community" appeared about a thousand times so I took to writing just "C". I think I'll leave that alone here.
I put my comments in square brackets since no one heard them but me ;-)
How physical space is organized affects how people interact.
As we plan communities "are we desiging the places and the technology for community in such a way that it helps it or hinders it."
Community has saved my life. Use communitites as support both day to day and in crisis. Three kinds of C built, gay C, SF C, Music C. C is human, not structure. Travelled a lot growing up and think of self as a citizen of the world. Seen C used for political movements instead of family. Trying to bring the human viewpoint to this panel.
Interest in architecture and urban planning. "I know C when I see it." Precipice from Shockwave Rider vision of a village where C is part of the design assembled after a disaster as C project. Not just a single individual's vision. SR changed me because Ghirardeli Valencia Taliesin Port Marion(?) combination. Ledd to book A Pattern Language
Looking ahead, possibilities of this kind of disaster can lead to opportunites to build more environmentally. Move away from "centripital scattering". What happens when you take a bunch of kids from suburbia and put them in a spaceship? They can't relate to the tight social net of the old village model.
Had experience of living in an intentional community (Puget Ridge), one-time president of a cohousing organization.
Build places that are intended to be lived in as if they were a village. Just as one person's erotica is another's pornography, one person's cozy village can be another's hell on earth.
Cohousing is planned with mix of private and common space. Meals for whole C about 3 times a week (somewhat required). People take turns cooking and cleaning. Eco villages with clusters of groups. Or filling in a block.
Who and what are gatekeepers of a C. What allows people to join? What prevents people from joining? Gatekeepers prevent tragedy of the commons if they do their job well. Sometimes whole community is gatekeeper. With cohousing, economics of owner occupancy sets a bar. Mix of people there already. Process of how existing group interacts. Can you have community without a formal process?
C started as need-web: those who provide the services you need, food, construction, entertainment, family ties. As tech has broken the need to address these needs in your locality, social and entertainment functions have been pried off the physical realm. Clothes from china, veggies from south america, may never see your neighbors. "gated communities".
Great Good Place by Ray Oldenburg
Disappearance of coffeeshops, beauty parlors. Third Place. In England, the local pub. For me Fandom is my Local. For a lot of people that is just gone from their lives.
[Nobody mentioned the book (which I haven't read) about this, Bowling Alone by Robert Putnam.]
Any group will form C if forced like in Jail or Military. Think of internet C as being interactive. Don't know neighbors and don't necessarily want to. Holly Park in Seattle closest thing to public housing, people formed a kind of southern porch-sitting community. City trying to engineer a repeat of that that by introducing mom & pop stores etc. T doesn't think it will work because it had to evolve. (Holly Park got mowed down by "urban renewal"... Physical structure influenced ability to make it a community. Had green belt. Mostly ranch duplexes, not tenements.
[Funny that Tamara who was suggesting that she was the voice for humans being the vital ingredient brought this back to the panel premise that setting plays a large part.]
Someone pointed out that military training builds a C feeling. Ulrika says that this is a result of the training, they have sufficient commonality to be able to interact easily with anyone from the group.
Someone else says that the architecture of Military communities fosters this as well.
Bronx stoop evening conversation too.
Things being tangential to a path allow levels of interaction from meeting eyes to stop and linger to sit and talk for hours.
Puget Ridge had none of the doors directly facing each other. [I'm assuming this was intended to make the decision of whether to interact a voluntary one rather than forcing it by lining things up?]
Someone brought up Kitty Genovese, the woman whose assault many people witnessed and yet no one reported to police. Too many people heard it so everyone assumed that someone else took care of it. If it had been 20, maybe nobody moves. 2 people, both move. It's a "who's in charge?" issue. Training can overcome this.
The action of people in that kind of situation tells you whether you have a C or not. If people take responsibility for others then it's probably C. If they don't, then maybe not.
Sense of ownership/intentionality Commitment leads to Community. (the "plugin society" in Shockwave Rider didn't have that)
Brunner's Precipice is populated by Heinlein characters with multiple jobs can't stand to not be working for the group.
Investment in situation. College is a good example. Prep school where all students were part of the construction process and responsibility for all actions of community. Like Amish barn raising as in Witness where Harrison Ford's character realizes he's more part of the C from participating.
Now specialization/money-based relationship doesn't have the richness of interaction to support C.
Convention committees as example of C.
Note that Brunner missed the possibility of social space within the computer world.
Virtual Cs are different. Social contact is as much a need as food and air. Online Cs quickly spawn physical gatherings very often. Reproduces the evolution of fandom.
Some people who talk well, some who type well.
Online chat is complete social leveller for handicapped.
On the internet nobody can tell you're a dog.
They can only tell if you're a bitch.
Lived in a group of 8 houses in green belt overlooking urban blight. Needed to be a C and was. One person worried about speed on road and just built a speed bump and resulting conflict tore C apart.
We don't know how to build C these days. Endemic isolation is almost a mental illness.
Have to find ways to get along in the space stations or the global community. Fandom has some of the best communicators on the planet. Know people who have no friends. People who don't know how to even connect with one other person.
C built on single interest and can die when that interest dies. On the other hand, the give and take within a larger group gives you churn which is good for the larger C.
Church was a way that it used to happen.
[I thought that "used to" was interesting. And wrong.]
You have to be the thing. Example of woman who invited neighbors over for pancake breakfast. Model it for others. In Fandom can learn how to socialize and can learn how to build C. Active group of participants who model C.
Someone gave example from fandom where they saw impulse towards showing love to others and were hence drawn into the C.
Concept of social capital. Gift economy forces the connections that make a group into a C. Egoboo as motivation towards participation.
And yet Worldcons have started becoming more like spectator events.
There's also the problem of your life choices putting you into a situation where your neighbors form a community that you want nothing to do with. (They're all republicans, say)
(means you're in the dark.)
Eileen Gunn wanted to talk about digital publishing, specifically how her site Infinite Matrix could more effectively push fringe short fiction by established writers.
(I wanted to holler out that she should change the name to Last Dangerous Visions, but I restrained myself)
I have total sympathy for this, but Eileen wanted to make the site massively popular and self-sustaining without her having to do any work. Probably not going to happen.
There was an emphasis on the ascendence of the blog format and suggestions that fiction serialized in a blog-like format with an RSS feed might be a win.
The big question that no one had a real answer to was how to make online fiction pay.
By this point in the day my laptop batteries were running low and my personal batteries weren't too far behind. This was a wide-ranging discussion of the book of honor, John Brunner's The Shockwave Rider.
I'm sad to say I can't really remember very much of the discussion. The panelists came well-prepared with examples from the book. Someone talked at length about the hits and misses in the predictions made in the book (predictions that presumably are derived from the Tofflers' Future Shock)
Comments were made about the sameness of Brunner novels. Surprise was expressed at the revelation that the government was being run by organized crime (and someone pointed out that the surprise of this revelation can be attributed to the fact that Brunner had written about that possibility in a previous book and probably felt he didn't need to hash out all the buildup again)
Some incredulity was expressed towards the idea that the voting at the end of the book would have any very profound effects. This was explored in much more detail in the Deception vs. Transparency panel.
The concensus seemed to be that it wasn't a very good book except that it had lots of cool ideas and provided a good jumping off point for wide-ranging discussion. What more could a bunch of fen ask for? (besides a better-told story, I mean)
This one was really interesting and I wish I'd had enough juice left to take detailed notes because I can hardly remember it now :-(
I'm hoping somebody else took notes and will post them somewhere.
A commenter left a link to http://www.lostglovegallery.com/ with lots of pictures of lost gloves and a stated mission of reuniting them with their owners. Soon to be accepting submissions, evidently. Most are in Germany, a few in France.
Friday night at Potlatch, publisher Ron Drummond announced plans for a new edition of John Crowley's beloved novel.
Little, Big was originally published in 1981. Evidently Crowley was unhappy with the original book design. It was good as far as it went, but he had envisioned more of a 1920s Art Nouveau thing.
Incunabula Press did a limited edition run of Crowley's Antiquities that he was happy with (no surprise since it's a gorgeous book (one copy of which sits on my shelf *gloat*)).
So Incunabula will be producing a limited edition printing of Little, Big completely re-typeset and re-designed. And with illustrations by artist Peter Milton.
Milton does engravings/etchings that could have been inspired by Crowley's work if it weren't for the fact that Milton created them before having read any of Crowley's books (actually during the same time period during which Crowley was writing them, which is kind of creepy). The book will be illustrated with copies of 13 Milton etchings as well as a bunch of expanded details from those same works. The Davidson Gallery here in Seattle has some examples of Milton's work.
The new edition will be published on a subscription basis so that production costs are covered up-front. There will be a regular trade hardcover edition of 1500 copies selling for $75, a group of 600 numbered copies at $200, and finally a set of 26 lettered editions for $800. To sweeten the deal on the $800 edition, they will be printed with a four-page blank spread to be filled in by John Crowley with a personalized inscription along with your chosen passage from the book written out in longhand. Here's a sample of Crowley's writing so you can see why this is cool.
There is a web page for the project at http://www.littlebig25.com/. Scroll down to see content (it seems obvious, but it took me a while to figure out that there was content below the fold on the opening page).
Must find more pennies.
I picked this off the shelf since it was the book of honor at Potlatch 13.
It's one of those books where it takes a few chapters before you have any idea what's going on. Eventually you get the idea that our hero, Nick Haflinger, is in the process of being interrogated by something like hypnotic regression. So the chapters alternate between things as they happened and expository lumps where he is conversing directly with his interrogator. Mixed in with these are shorter bits that seem meant to give the reader a better idea of what kind of future the book is set in. This approach is especially apt since the book is loosely based on the predictions made by Alvin and Heidi Toffler in their 1970 book Future Shock (Shockwave Rider was published in 1975). I haven't read the Tofflers' book so I can't say how much Brunner took from their work.
I was hoping to have gotten this review written before going to Potlatch, but I didn't manage. Now after having listened in on a handful of panels discussing topics surrounding the book, it's hard to recall what I thought of it before.
Haflinger is a computer prodigy. He is trained by a secret government agency, but he becomes disillusioned with their mission and becomes a fugitive. He successfully evades them for years but eventually they catch up with him and he has to run. Through a series of coincidences he ends up in the town of Precipice, a sort of utopian commune formed in the wake of a huge earthquake in California. From that point the plot twists and turns until a not particularly satisfying climax.
The section set in Precipice reminds me strongly of the section of Atlas Shrugged where there is a utopian enclave with a similar feel.
It was fun to read mostly for all the prediction stuff which all holds up well enough. Some stuff came true, some hasn't yet, some didn't and won't, lots of stuff that happened wasn't predicted. The fun part is in seeing what fits into the categories.
There was one little editorial blunder that threw me for a loop. It's not important at all, but since it keeps running around in my head I'll put it down here. The girl in the book, Kate, has a pet cougar, Bagheera, who's been partially uplifted (genetically engineered to be sentient). At one point Kate and Nick are headed to Kate's house and they know that Bagheera won't be there. Kate says "it'll feel strange to go in and not have Bagheera come to rub against my ankles." Ankles are what house cats rub around. I'd think a full-grown cougar would be rubbing a bit higher up, like hips. Knees at least.
It's an uplifting sports movie (sure are a lot of those) about a race horse and his human collaborators set during the Great Depression. Red Pollard (played by Tobey Maguire) is a young man abandoned by his parents. Tom Smith (played by the awesome Chris Cooper) is a down-on-his-luck horse trainer. Charles Howard (Jeff Bridges) is an automobile millionaire tortured by the death of his young son. All these damaged people are joined by a horse with similar defects, both physical and psychological. Together they win races. Cue the inspirational music.
The performances are all as good as you'd expect from these actors (very good, indeed). The production design is impressive. The cinematography is lovely. The documentary-style interludes narrated by historian David McCullough resonate interestingly with current events (even if they don't fit into the film very well). William H. Macy is a hoot as the excitable radio announcer.
So why don't I like the movie very much? Mostly it's because I felt manipulated for practically the entire film. I don't know much about the psychological language of film, but somehow the folks making this movie caused me to react in a way that felt completely disconnected from my conscious perceptions. I'd be rolling my eyes at the swelling music and the sepia-toned imagery at the same time that tears were running down my face. Maybe it wasn't overt manipulation. Maybe the emotional reaction was to a genuinely touching subject while the eye rolling was a reaction to some ham-handed directing. Either way, that facet of the film was bad.
Extras on the DVD were pretty typical with the exception of a gallery of pictures taken by Bridges during the production with a cool panoramic camera I didn't catch the name of.