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Subject:GGK and Children of Earth and Sky
Time:09:51 pm
I was in Law School at the University of Toronto when The Summer Tree came out; I remember being amused by one of the central characters who is persuaded to come along by a promise of notes for his Evidence class (with Schiff, though Kay leaves the teacher's name out; but Kay went to U of T and would have deliberately chosen that course because of that teacher).

It made a big splash, and over the next couple of years the series was completed. It was a big piece of heroic fantasy which pulled out every stop it could - dark lord, elves, dwarves, Arthur, demigods; it showcased Kay's strength for pivotal scenes and introduced his tendency to deploy them for a somewhat manipulative effect.

Of all of the neo-Tolkienian authors of the 1980s and 90s Kay seems to me the only one who really picks up on Tolkien's theme of gradual loss over deep time and of reconciliation after a long fall: perhaps not surprisingly, given his involvement in the publication of The Silmarillion. The Fionavar Tapestry put at the centre of the story the possibilities of reconciliation and forgiveness over a very long time.

It also got classic High Fantasy out of Kay's system. Tigana was an entirely new departure, as non-Tolkienian as, say, Mirrlees or Eddison: a calque on Renaissance Italy, and with themes of group identity, revenge, freedom, and the trade offs that may need to be made in asserting "freedom".

As with A Song For Arbonne, however, the calque on history is not close. The Peninsula of the Palm has the air of Renaissance Italy, but its history is nothing like Italy's; and the equivalent of the Cathar crusade in Arbonne fails, as a result of the personal arc of the central characters. (Nor did the male/female god/goddess warlike/peaceful split parallel our history: if any historical figure from medieval France resembles the northerners, it's Bertran de Born.)

With the exception of Ysabel, which is a pendant to the Fionavar story with some additional European deep background, his subsequent books have been about individual interactions in the shadow of great events. Sometimes the core characters are central (Alfred the Great, El Cid) and sometimes they are peripheral.

The Lions of Al-Rassan is Kay's first book in the Jaddite / Sarantine parallel world. (Although the calqued-onto-history method is similar to that of his prior two books, they take place in different worlds. References to Fionavar, which is the base of all parallel worlds including our own do get into every book. And it's interesting to note that, given the latter point, it's certain that none of the Jaddites, Asharites, or Kindath are correct, as the gods are known in Fionavar and match none of their beliefs.) And it is the first to hew closely to our history.

It parallels the story of El Cid and the Reconquista in Iberia, but uses the freedom of alternative history to provide minor divergences, and, as in all of his works along these lines, his real focus is on the personal lives of his central characters, and with the ways in which minor chance occurrences or decisions can shape later great events.

If Tigana is about identity and liberty, and the costs they incur, Lions is about the tensions between tolerance and allegiance, and how personal loves and friendships cut across them.

Lions' characters are central agents. By contrast, the Sarantine Mosaic gives us a picture of a slightly modified Justinian and Theodora through the eyes of a peripheral figure, the mosaicist Crispin (and a history which diverges more from our own). By the time of Children of Earth and Sky Crispin's name has been forgotten and his mosaics - those which survive at all - vary between having been destroyed (Sarantium), being in the process of falling apart (the chapel in Trakesia) and being still significant (that world's equivalent to Ravenna). It helps to have read the duology before the latter book.

With a significant degree of variation, Kay explores the interaction between individual lives and personal intent (at one pole) and large-scale events with an impact on society (at the other) and the elements of chance and unexpected consequences which connect the two together.

Kay has been criticized for the use of "manipulative" narrative tricks to engage the reader emotionally. I see the tricks, but I don't think of them as major flaws so much as shorthand, the activity of an occasionally intrusive narrator in a literary world where intrusive narration is less popular than it used to be. (Another aspect of this is the way in which the perspective of the narrator can briefly shift to an historical one, referring to the state of a place, or a person's reputation, centuries after the end of the story.)

Children of Earth and Sky is classically Kay: four characters (a spy, an artist, a pirate and a Janissary) pass through and in various ways influence events following the fall of Sarantium to the Asharites (that world's analogue of the fall of Constantinople). Like Crispin in The Sarantine Mosaic, they are peripheral: their various actions just miss having an immediate major impact until the one whom one would think least likely - the artist - changes the course of events for the next couple of generations decisively. (The El Cid and Albert the Great

One obvious parallel is Dunnet's The Year of the Ram, set mainly in Trebizond in a similar time frame. Kay is not in a position to provide as close-grained an image of the life of the time and place as Dunnet is: he has to deal with the limitations as well as the advantages of a made-up world. But Dunnet can't alter the succession of events, and Niccolo remains a onlooker to a course of events he (by definition) can't really affect.
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Subject:Necessity
Time:05:44 pm
Review with SpoilersCollapse )
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Subject:The Nightmare Stacks
Time:09:16 pm
The Nightmare Stacks is, I think, best approached as a generalization of the previous Laundry Files novels. Although the novel is about Alex, it's not about his reactions in the same way that the early novels were about Bob's reactions (usually for humorous effects). This is about the role of the Laundry as a whole in a world shifting towards Nightmare.

Cut for Spoilers...Collapse )
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Subject:In the category of "read the book before you summarize it"
Time:09:20 pm
The following is the CBC's capsule summary of Tigana from its list of 100 great Canadian novels from last July (they had a list of nonfiction this year, about which the less said the better):

Peninsula of the Palm is a cursed country. Warrior sorcerers have taken control of most of it, destroying as much culture and infrastructure as they can in the process. Nowhere is it worse than it is in in Tigana -- a place so dire that people can't even speak its name. But after years of living in darkness, citizens begin a movement to reclaim their beloved country. Guy Gavriel Kay's rich tale of fantasy and revenge is a reflection on what it means to lose one's culture and identity -- a theme sure to strike home with any reader.


Nearly every sentence of that paragraph is wrong in some way (beginning with omitting the "The" which ought to be the first word) - if not directly, then by implication.

ETA: Having glanced at the blurb on the back of the current paperback, it is clear from structural similarities that this results from the blurb being plagiarised^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H rewritten by someone who had not read the book. Bad, bad C.B.C.
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Subject:The Erasure and Recreation of Tradition
Time:11:12 am
In the mid-1970's while living in France I learned the words and music to a traditional song, "Les Filles des Forges" (which had been covered by the band Tri Yann). The lyrics were a mild joke at the expense of the priest in the song, but with no obvious connection to any deeper tradition.

However, it turns out that the lyrics had been heavily reworked. A footnote in Eugen Weber's Peasants into Frenchmen led me to the original version, collected by Adolphe Orain in the late 19th Century:

Ce sont les filles des forges (bis)
Des forges de Paimpont,
Falaridon, falaridaine,
Des forges de Paimpont,
Falaridain', falaridon.

Qui furent à confesse (bis)
Au curé de Beignon.
Falaridon, falaridaine,
Au curé de Beignon,
Falaridain', falaridon.

En entrant dans l'église (bis)
Ont demandé pardon,
Falaridon, falaridaine,
Ont demandé pardon,
Falaridain', falaridon.

Qu'avez-vous fait, les filles (bis)
Pour demander pardon ?
Falaridon, falaridaine,
Pour demander pardon,
Falaridain', falaridon.

J'avons couru les danses (bis)
En habit de garçons,
Falaridon, falaridaine,
En habit de garçons,
Falaridain, falaridon.

Vous aviez des culottes (bis)
Dessous vos blancs jupons,
Falaridon, falaridaine,
Dessous vos blancs jupons,
Falaridain, falaridon.

J'avions ben des culottes (bis)
Mais point de cotillons,
Falaridon, falaridaine,
Mais point de cotillons,
Falaridain' falaridon.

Allez-vous-en, les filles (bis)
Pour vous point de pardon,
Falaridon, falaridaine,
Pour vous point de pardon,
Falaridain', falaridon.

Il faut aller à Rome (bis)
Chercher l'absolution,
Falaridon. falaridaine.
Chercher l'absolution,
Falaridain', falaridon.

Si je l'avons à Rome
Je l'aurons ben à Beignon,
Falaridon, Falaridaine,
J' l'aurons ben à Beignon,
Falaridain', falaridon.



There are two things to note about this completely different story: first, the lyrics distinguish between the correct French of the curé and the patois of the girls (which has been lost in the recent version); secondly, the topic is the festal custom (highly disapproved of by the church, though not to the point of requiring a papal indulgence for absolution) of dancing in the clothes of the opposite sex; in this specific case, according to Orain, on the Feast of St-Eloi, the first of December.

This and other similar feasts were in decline in rural France throughout the latter part of the 19th Century, and were largely extinct by the beginning of the 20th.
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Subject:Janet Kagan's Work
Time:10:34 pm
For a while, I've been keeping my eye out for Janet Kagan's Mirabile, out of print for some time.

I was surprised when, as a result of a pro-forma check of my wish list, I found that it was available and had just been reissued in e-book form only by Baen. It's not visible anywhere on the Baen upcoming releases page, but they have reissued Mirabile, Hellspark, and a collection of short stories as e-book only. I presume that they acquired the rights or were chosen by the estate to reissue them.
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Subject:World War II and SFnal Memory
Time:02:02 pm
When I was growing up in the 1960s, it was World War I that had all the literary heft: Owen, Sassoon, Graves, Jones, Remarque, Céline, Ford.[1] By contrast, the Second World War seemed to have generated much in the way of history but little in the way of literature, aside from F.T. Prince's "Soldiers Bathing": Isherwood's Goodbye To Berlin was pre-war; Smith's Last Train From Berlin and Shirer's Berlin Diary are both more at the journalism end of the memoir scale than the literary one. If we half-discount Michener's Tales of the South Pacific (1947), at the popular novel end of its spectrum, the major exception was Waugh's Sword of Honour trilogy (1952-1961); Durrell's The Alexandria Quartet was set during the war but was not principally concerned with it. During the 1960s this was joined by the third "season" of Dance to the Music of Time (1964-1968) and Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse Five (1969). Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow, arguably the most important literary work dealing with WWII, came out in 1973, nearly thirty years after the war ended: by contrast, In Parenthesis, the last of the major literary works on the Great War, came out just under twenty years after its end.

There is a sense in which "Little Gidding" is a Second World War poem; the same can be said of The Pisan Cantos. In neither case, however, is the core subject matter the war, even though they incorporate experiences directly tied to the war. Auden grapples with facets of it, and its precursor and successor events, in short poems -- "In Memory of W. B. Yeats", "September 1, 1939", "The Shield of Achilles". The war as a whole may have seemed too large, too terrible, for a writer to attempt to deal with it, as such, until considerable time had passed.

Speaking from the present, though, the stream of written works on the war became a flood long ago. At the documentary level, it's become almost a joke: the typical history section in a bookstore is weighed down by WWII books. Novels set during the war -- military, spy, fictional memoirs -- are a dime a dozen, and this has spilled into speculative fiction as well.

There may be an argument to be made that speculative fiction, partly because its conterfactuals allowed it to get some sort of parallax on what was seen as a unique event, and partly becuase it could handle the absurd, was the natural choice for handling the war. The Pynchon and the Vonnegut are both, inarguably, speculative fiction.

These days, we have a good sheaf of speculative fiction regarding WWII to look at. If we use award-related examples (only) as an index, 1970 has a Hugo nomination for Slaughterhouse Five, Gravity's Rainbow was nominated for the Nebula in 1973, and then a gap of nearly thirty years passes, followed by Cryptonomicon (Hugo nomination) in 2000, Blackout / All Clear (Hugo winner) in 2011. Atkinson's Life After Life (2013: multiple awards) and A God in Ruins (2015, Locus long list) are focussed on the war.

Also, although there is ample evidence that The Lord of the Rings is not a product of WWII (but rather of the Great War), there is an argument to be made that the set of LOTR-successors with dark lords being defeated by the forces of good are refracting the experience of the fight against Nazism into a medium which could replicate the white (or at least light) against black narrative of that war in another context. (One has only to look at Eddison to see the earlier "standard" heroic model, derived from Homer, of two matched sets of heroes fighting each other.)

There's even a significant subgenre of purely alternate history WWIIs. The Man in the High Castle (1963) and The Iron Dream (1972) (neither of which deal directly with the war as such) are the obvious examples, followed by the beginning of Stirling's Draka series (Marching Through Georgia, 1988) and Turtledove's reworking (1994-1996): Life Beyond Life is merely the most recent of them. (For that matter, The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August takes place largely over the span of WWII, though its primary focus is elsewhere.)

But Turtledove, Stirling, Stephenson, Willis, North, and Atkinson are all too young to remember the war. Has it gone from being too major a thing to encapsulate in writing to become a permanent constellation in the cultural firmament as it passes out of living memory?

[1] This was topped off and encapsulated by Fussell's The Great War and Modern Memory in 1975.
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Subject:Safely You Deliver: "Salva me ex ore leonis: et a cornibus unicornium humilitatem meam."
Time:10:21 am
Safely You Deliver is Graydon Saunders' third book about the Commonweal. Unlike his previous two books, this is very much not an entry point: it follows, and has largely the same characters as A Succession of Bad Days. Comments below also assume familiarity with the prior book, although they contain no real spoilers.

Although we do encounter Reems again, briefly, this is no more a military book, or one about warfare, than its immediate predecessor. Formally, it has two main structural threads: the continuing education and, um, graduation, of the main characters in the sorcery school (which Halt continues to insist is not a school, thereby irritating at least one bureaucrat); and the adoption (on both sides) of a unicorn into their social group (Although not their working link). The unicorn, aside from being very much his own person (human-level sentient) stands in as well as a representative of life from outside the Commonweal which can nevertheless be, with work, accommodated within the Commonweal. As such, the thread of his growth intertwines with that of the students' growth.

One way to read this novel, the most obvious one, is the end of a bildungsroman, the passage from late youth to full adulthood, where the issues being dealt with are those of social incorporation into the broader adult society and the achievement of a degree of mastery sufficient to be self-supporting within society. Of course, "adulthood" and "self-supporting" have different shades of meaning when they involve making a metaphysical transition and becoming full Independents: this is a fantasy novel, not purely a novel of manners. "Social incorporation" also has a certain edge when the normal effects of becoming an Independent are to become less social -- and the progress of the central characters not only requires that they transform that model for themselves, but assist in providing a more general emerging social web for other Independents, a kind of extended family.

From another angle, thematically, it's about the maintenance of civilisation generally -- partly maintenance against threats but still more ensuring that sufficient resources are available to maintain it, and that those resources are used appropriately. What the students choose to do and what the emerging (to us) needs of the Second Commonweal are dance in counterpoint through the novels, with the risks associated with both recognized and skirted. The knife-edge on which the Second Commonweal stands becomes more apparent: it lacks the population base of the First Commonweal and is in a race against time to catch up to the productive capabilities required to maintain civilisation, while having to balance off the need to commit heavily in resources to basic survival at the agriculture and transport level. There are concrete external threats -- Reems -- as well as indicators that there may be more at work, not known or understood yet.

Conflict of the sort you would expect in a military fantasy is not only avoided but subverted: not only is such conflict as occurs more readily assimilable to weeding, but the in-work analysis after the event makes it clear that although it fixes an immediate threat it not only is unable to address the more general problems but may actually make them worse. (Oddly, Graydon is one of two Toronto authors whom I know who have recently expressed a concern to emphasize a "fighting-isn't-decisive in general" model in fantastic works: the other has made this a central theme in an under-contract-but-yet-to-be-published series which will not start coming out for a while.)

According to his progress reports, Graydon is moving more slowly on the next one (tentatively "Under One Banner") than he did on this, so it may be a while until the next installment.
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Subject:A Sleep of Prisoners
Time:01:54 pm
In 1966, the newly formed Peterborough Theatre Guild bought the ruins of St. Luke's Anglican Church, which had burned down in 1959. (The parish had decided to rebuild on a different site somewhat to the south.) As its first production it put on Christopher Fry's A Sleep of Prisoners, directed by Fern Rahmel ("Miss Rahmel" to those of us who went to PCVS), using the not-fully-reconstructed body of the church (it followed up by doing a full reconstruction: during my days in Peterborough, beginning in 1970, it was recognizably based in a building which had been a church, but it was by no means "a ruined church"). A connection who was at the first performance remembers that one could still smell the smokiness of the burned timbers.

Trent University's archives have a copy of a script for ASOP from Rahmel's papers with director's notes. I have a copy a the first edition from Rahmel's library with light notes which indicate that it was also a director's copy.

Flash forward fifty years. Last year a member of my parish (St. Mary Magdalene's, Toronto) who is also a professional actor and director (Alistair Martin Smith) floated the idea of directing a play there, with the inevitable Murder in the Cathedral as a suggestion. Now I like the Eliot play and consider it an important piece of work -- but it is regularly covered in parish dramas, so I suggested A Sleep of Prisoners instead.

He took this suggestion up. Feeling responsible, I got myself pulled in as one of the actors...

It is likely to be a mildly interesting production. My view of the play is that it shows different perspectives shed on an essentially static set of figures chosen by Fry as types -- a man of action but little reflection; a man of reflection with little aptitude for action or "normal" interactions (he's not obviously Autism spectrum but he could be played that way); a practical figure whose authority comes from his position (Corporal among Privates); and an older man who has inherent authority as a result of experience and temperament. Martin Smith's view is less static, and his presentation also departs from the model given in the script's stage directions.

Fry is an interesting figure. He never appears on "great writers" lists, but he has a substantial body of work with a consistently high level of accomplishment. He's visibly influenced by Eliot's later work (dramatic and non-dramatic) but is in no way a Modernist in approach.

Like Eliot, Sayers, and Williams he wrote "religious verse drama", if by that one means dramas with events in church history or biblical narratives as topics: The Boy with a Cart, A Sleep of Prisoners, The Firstborn, Thor, with Angels, arguably Curtmantle and One Thing More; The Tower is on the history of Tewkesbury Abbey and was commissioned by them but does not seem to be in print or accessible. However, his focus is on human rather than divine action (he was a Quaker by conversion, C. of E. by birth) and many of them seem to me to be in intention explorations of scenes in a common English history where religion is one thread. (One exception is Thor, With Angels, which was written for the Canterbury Festival on commission, in succession with Eliot Murder in the Cathedral, Williams (Thomas Cranmer of Canterbury), and Sayers (The Zeal of Thy House): its focus is on conversion: both individual and the group conversion of Kent by Augustine. It also manages to diverge from history by bringing Merlin onstage.) By contrast, Eliot, Sayers, and Williams all came from one part or another of the High Church spectrum and their works play off sacramental themes.

His most popular plays, like The Lady's Not For Burning, were comedies, not explicitly religious; Fry himself said that he saw little difference between the two sets of plays other than their settings.

He has no successors: the next generation of English dramatists were the Angry Young Men. When they came along he went on to screenwriting (partly big blockbusters like Ben-Hur).

The performances will be on the 11th and 12th of March at 8:00 pm at the Church of St. Mary Magdalene, Toronto.
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Subject:Bheer
Time:01:08 pm
It is slightly over a year since I posted about the LCBO and Brewers Retail.

In that intervening time, the landscape has changed somewhat in a number of ways:

  • The Government of Ontario has started a limited programme of selling beer in grocery stores. This is is available mainly to larger chain retailers (no running down to the corner to the dépanneur in this province), but is planned to cover 450 stores eventually (equal to the number of BR stores). What was originally a bizarre hard cap on quantities sold has been replaced by profit-sharing above a certain limit.


  • Molson has bought out Mill Street Brewery in Toronto, one of Ontario's larger independent brewers. They claim that it will operate at arm's length and maintain quality, but at the very least they are likely to focus on growth with the line of beers they have rather than experimenting much or extending their range. (They weren't very edgy in the first place: their Tankhouse Ale is a reliable full-bodied ale, but their Organic Lager is tasteless; their most interesting beer is probably their coffee porter, which is not for everyone.)


  • The secret agreement between the LCBO and BR has been replaced by an explicit and public "master framework agreement" which puts far more control on Brewers Retail, and ensures greater representation of craft brewers in all venues.


  • On that front, some LCBO locations are being outfitted with in-store boutiques to highlight craft brewers. These include tasting areas which draw from casks. I've seen one of these, at the Summerhill LCBO, but it wasn't functional at the time.


  • Another really good brewpub has opened in downtown Toronto: the Folly, on College Street near Dovercourt. It tends towards farmhouse-style beers with a sour edge, and also has a large Scotch list and good food.


  • Two new good IPAs from local brewers are now available in cans: GLB's Lake Effect IPA (which is not entirely new, but used to be available only occasionally in large bottles) and Collective Arts' Ransack the Universe, available up to now mainly on tap.


Boycotting Brewers Retail is not as compelling as it used to be, although it's still true that buying there will send profits out of the country which would otherwise remain in Ontario (or at least Canada, if you buy at a grocery store).

Next up: the Government is now moving towards liberalizing wine sales...
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Subject:Two Novels
Time:09:03 am
Two books were released on the same day a couple of weeks ago, which I picked up and have now read: Charlie Jane Anders' All the Birds in the Sky and Robert Jackson Bennett's City of Blades.

This was a really good start to the year, in terms of book quality: these are as different as chalk and cheese, but both are in their own ways very good indeed.

The Anders is a more-or-less this-world mashup of SF and fantasy in the relatively near future, with climate change beginning to have a significant impact on the US and incorporating a secret history of magic users who have been among us secretly. It's also a bildungsroman dealing with a boy and a girl who both have dire childhoods, are friends in high school, and meet again as adults.

It's the sort of SF where all the science is handwaving: a two-second time machine, an interdimensional gateway, a way of cancelling gravity. This is deliberate: there is a meditated element of the absurd drifting around the edges of the story. It's not meant to suggest to the reader that the future might actually be like this (quite apart from the pure fantasy elements). It's a story driven by and deriving its appeal from the human motivations and reactions of the protagonists. It also feels quite "finished" and complete in itself, not the beginning of a series, even if the protagonists end in a "world was all before them" mode.

By contrast, the Bennett is a secondary world fantasy, following his excellent City of Stairs, with detailed political and historical backgrounds. For all that it's very much another world, the issues it makes the reader think about are very much our issues (or at least some of them) : colonialism (the "colonial" power in the books used to be colonized (and badly treated) by the now colonized), martial triumphalism, war crimes, civilian control of the military, and low-level (guerrilla) warfare, plus some interpersonal and family dynamics with real heft.

Bennett has been improving as he moves along. I found American Elsewhere well written, but felt that it had baked in structural problems. City of Stairs was brilliant, and I felt that it deserved a place among the Hugo nominations last year (at least): as it was, it placed 11th and would have missed the shortlist even without the Puppies. This book builds on its predecessor and displays Bennett's strengths to their fullest.

It concludes with the immediate arc having reached a full and final conclusion, but leaves other broader arcs open-ended (the ultimate Saypuri handling of their role as masters of the world being one: both books so far have ended with impending political changes in the capital). There will be, I understand, a third book, City of Miracles, with Sigrud as a central character (who is, for once, not a Saypuri).

I've seen it objected that working out who is responsible is too easy, that the reader is ahead of the narrator he/she is following. I think this is to misunderstand the specific type of this book: this is not a detective story with a brilliant sleuth whom the reader can, if so willing, try to second-guess, but a journey of discovery or a military mission with a very blunt, straight-ahead (regardless of torpedoes) viewpoint character. (If it has any parallels with the detective story, it is with the hard-boiled type where the guilty character is fairly obvious but where the proof of this is achieved through the P. I. getting beaten up several times along the way.)
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Subject:2015 SFF Novels Read
Time:10:36 am
These are SFF books from 2015 which I read in the past year (i.e. those which could be nominated for Hugos), unranked, but with a few comments on each.

Foxglove Summer (Ben Aaronovitch)- I wrote about this when it came out. It's a good installment in a solid urban fantasy series.

The Dread Wyrm (Christian Cameron) - I posted about the whole cycle of books earlier this year. This installment opens up the scope of the work considerably, while maintaining the high standards and the specific strengths of the first two volumes.

The Vorrh (Brian Catling) - Certainly the most beautifully written of the Hugo-eligible books I have read, and a fantasy which strikes out in a direction which is very much its own. (This was published in 2012 in the UK by Honest Publishing, but is eligible because its first US publication, by Vintage, was in 2015.)

The Clockwork Crown (Beth Cato) - The second volume of a well-received duology, right on the boundary between YA and adult in tone and content. A nice light read in a steampunk world which has limited depth but enough charm to carry the narrative.

Crooked (Austin Grossman) - A clever and enjoyable crossing of a Lovecraftian universe with a Secret History version of Richard Nixon's life (bits of it are reminiscent of Stross's "A Colder War", although it is not nearly so dark).

Veiled (Benedict Jacka) - Like, seemingly, all the other UF series I read this is developing a strong overarching plot arc as opposed to a model of full episodic closure in each volume. Verus is getting more squeezed and less able to back away and stand free of things. I found this enjoyable and will happily pick up Burned when it comes out (currently scheduled for April).

Ancillary Mercy (Ann Leckie) - This wraps up the series quite nicely, and includes space battles plus really alien aliens. If you read the first two novels, it's probably enough to say that it maintains the level of quality and brings off a satisfying conclusion; if you haven't, this is certainly not the place to start.

If we go by popularity for all three of the parts of this trilogy on sites like LibraryThing (not to mention all those awards for Ancillary Justice), Leckie shows signs of being one of the really major new talents of the 2010s in terms of reception as well as quality.

A Red-Rose Chain (Seanan McGuire) - Another solid entry in this series. I enjoy reading them; they hover right on the edge of mind-candy. Characterization is good, plot twists are effective; though (as with several other writers in this general field) the plot device of solving the crime / problem by getting beaten up, venerable as it is, begins to get a bit old.

Uprooted (Naomi Novik) - This has received a ton of positive comment, and I thought it a good read, and excellent for its first two-thirds, but I was disappointed by the resolution, which felt a little too facile , bordering on ex machina. It is what it sets out to be, an effective telling of a fairy tale, but it pays the price for it by sticking to types for the main characters (every one of them with the possible exception of the narrator can be summed up in a couple of sentences) which is appropriate for a fairy tale but weakens it as a novel. Furthermore, the relationship between the main characters, taken as a realistic rather than a fairy-tale one, borders on abusive but this is (in a fairy-tale way) pushed to one side ... which leaves one with the choice between abandoning reading this as a novel rather than a fairy-tale, or treating the first-person narrator as deeply unreliable (which brings its own problems).

The Shepherd's Crown (Terry Pratchett) - Understandably weaker than most other Discworld books, given Pratchett's death before it could be finished, but it is still an effective and attractive story, closing off two important arcs in the Discworld narrative.

A Succession of Bad Days (Graydon Saunders) - Reviewed in full here.

A Darker Shade of Magic (Victoria Schwab) - I thought that this should have captured my attention much more than it did. I didn't get anywhere near the Eight Deadly Words, but I put it down to pick up something more appealing from my TBR list and have not yet picked it back up again.

Seveneves (Neal Stephenson) - This is basically a pair of very different stories connected by an intervening timeline. I liked it well enough while recognizing the considerable problems that existed with the genetics and related biological sciences handwaving. It seems to me that the core of the work is not "what would we do if the moon blew up?", but rather, "what would a world shared between variant human species look like"? (I say species because although they seem to be interfertile Stephenson has rigged his backstory so that the closest parallel to his seven-plus-two types of human is not modern "races", whose divergences are literally only skin deep -- other distinctions cut across "race" lines and there is more diversity within any modern "race" than between any two of them -- but rather the Africa of a million years ago where there seem to have been many variant hominin species.) To get there, he needs a very elaborate setup -- requiring not only heavy (and unrealistic) use of genetic engineering but the provision of a set of environments where subgroups could grow in relative isolation -- so that he can then examine cooperation and conflict between these radiating groups with the background of a common "epic". It is more a return to SF roots than anything else I've read recently: engineer's fiction.

The Annihilation Score (Charles Stross) - This book continues the movement (beginning with "Equoid" and The Rhesus Chart) away from a spy-pastiche towards an urban fantasy alignment for the Laundry stories. From unicorns and vampires we have now moved on to superheroes. Well, that and policing, as the flip side of the same coin. This also makes explicit the overall arc regarding CASE NIGHTMARE GREEN: general thaumaturgical power is rising in the population, with the superhero phenomenon an effect of that general increase. Stross throws into the mix a change of narrators -- this episode is seen through the eyes of Mo, Bob's wife -- and that allows us both to see things from an angle we haven't seen them from before and to check Bob's reliability as a narrator. I like the direction in which Stross is taking the series, although it is becoming more and more suited to an audience which is also wild about Peter Watts (Watts considers Stross a more depressing author than he is himself).

The Just City and The Philosopher Kings (Jo Walton) - Two-thirds of a trilogy (the third, Necessity is due out next June). Very definitely among the best works from last year in my reading list. I provided an extended review of the first here.

The second is at least as good as its predecessor. It is, however, very much a distinct work, not a continuation of the same one in another volume. There is a gap of about twenty years between them; the themes are related but not identical; the shape is different. Where The Just City was about the Republic, about matters of consent and free will, and about what it means to be human, The Philosopher Kings is about the difference between excellence and honour (aristocracy and timarchy), about personal discovery and growth (both physical -- the core of the book is a sea voyage -- and mental), and Justice as well as what may go beyond justice in judgement. Some old scores are paid off; some scores are very deliberately abandoned; and if the first book ended with an abortive debate and the misuse of power, this one ends in a considered and careful scene of judgement. Determining what it means to be human, though, remains a core theme, showing up in a very different way from the previous book.

The Sword of the South (David Weber) - Sort of what you might expect from a new series from Weber set in the Bahzellverse if you knew that he'd been sitting on the story for decades. The good news: it avoids much of the over-padding and infodumps which many of his books have shown. The bad news: in place of the infodumps there is a lot of foreshadowing coupled with Wencit's refusing to discuss things openly. (I have my suspicions that some of the foreshadowing is in fact misdirection; if it turns out to be, I'll think better of it.) Weber is not, in general, a subtle writer, but he does have enjoyable characters, good action, and some interesting worldbuilding. He has promised, cross his heart, that this series will not get away from him and will be confined to five volumes: we'll see.

The Affinities (Robert Charles Wilson) - This felt very typical of the author -- strengths from following people's lives at the everyday level, which is a constant through big-concept and smaller-concept books of his. The book posits a jump forward and a systematizing of the study of the psychology of social interactions, from a ground-level view: the narrator becomes a member of an Affinity, and the early history around the affinity model is told through his eyes. It has windows onto two main periods: the beginning, when the Affinites are new, fairly unknown, and the narrator is just joining, and a secondary point where they are not only generating pushback from society at large but are in conflict with one another. There's a twist at the end -- the book isn't going where you (probably) think it's going. This is nicely written -- good prose, engaging characters, interesting themes -- but it's not as big or shiny as, say Axis or even Darwinia: solid, enjoyable, but not at his best.
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Subject:Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen
Time:11:43 am
Chapters/Indigo had this a week and a half early. What follows is in intention spoiler-free.

This feels a bit like a coda to the Vorkosigan saga proper. The only people it doesn't present (by the end) in a "settled-down" state (except maybe glancingly) are Mark and Kareen.

It has something of the relationship to pastoral that space opera has to epic. There's a lot of general attention to"nature" (an alien nature, but nature) to the degree that one of the central characters becomes so focussed on it that formal studies in biology result. The main focus of the novel is on conversations, much as the pastoral form tended heavily towards dialogues (well, singing-contests). And like Daphnis and Chloe it has a couple of recognition scenes where children discover (things about) their parents.

I don't actually think that this is deliberate on Bujold's part; I think it more a matter of convergence than of design, but the parallels still say something about the novel.

Like every single one of Bujold's novels, this includes a romantic subplot, and like many of them, it is built around it. In this case, it is not entwined with any major plots of other sorts. (Actually, there is one tiny subplot which traces its way through the book, until a not-quite dea ex machina in the person of Kareen provides a resolution in the third last chapter, which can be said to run in parallel with rather than feeding into the main plot, and another tiny subplot which ends up being tied into the resolution of the second subplot. But both of these are, from the point of view of the book and of the principal characters, peripheral.)

Unlike some of her more recent Barrayarverse novels, this is clearly one that Bujold herself wanted to write -- the themes pick up other strands from her earlier work, especially the perspectives on maturity which underpin Curse of Chalion, Paladin of Souls and (to some degree) Memory, the concerns with family which drive Mirror Dance, and the interest in romance as a structural model which inspired the Sharing Knife books. It also reads as a valediction to the whole universe, tying up a couple of loose ends and leaving the reader with a perspective on both Cordelia and Miles along an axis of domesticity.

Readers who want action will probably be disappointed -- the biggest crisis, physically, is an accident over in a few minutes which generates a number of injuries but no deaths. There are no antagonists. But it is well-crafted and readable: to its audience (which is very much not first time-readers: it depends on the readers having knowledge of Cordelia's and Miles' pasts for effect), it delivers a worthwhile, possibly valedictory, meditation on aspects of the series as a whole.

Personally, I would be more interested in seeing more Chalionverse stories: I find it irritating that Penric's Demon seems to be available only from sources which I do not use (Amazon Kindle, iTunes, and Nook), although I understand that an edition from Subterranean Press may be in the works.
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Subject:Not Angels, but Anglicans
Time:02:16 pm
So the primates of the Anglican Communion have imposed some minor sanctions on the ECUSA (essentially booting it off some committees -- stronger sanctions were voted on but failed 15 to 20) for allowing a redefinition of marriage to include same-sex couples. No steps were taken regarding other churches within the Anglican Communion which, at least de facto, allow for same-sex blessings.

The oddity of this may be summarized by saying that the groups pushing for sanctions do not recognize marriage as a sacrament -- they are overwhelmingly Evangelical and Protestant, and, now that Rowan Williams has gone, there may be no primate firmly enough in the Anglo-Catholic camp to worry about the special status of marriage, derived from its sacramentality, per se, which is the only concern specifically addressed by this particular line in the sand.

There's a whole sheaf of issues which swirl around the question of the sacramentality of marriage in the Church, and there are a number of ways of framing them.

One is to point out that the solemnization of marriage was not (until after the Reformation) a function of the clergy (this changed with the Anglican Canon Law and in the Roman decree Tametsi both of which were put in place to put social control on the problem of forced or "unauthorized" marriages (i.e. elopements). This has led to the proposal in some quarters (to which I am sympathetic) that the Church should get out of the business of conducting marriages altogether, leaving that to the state (following the Civil Law model) and merely bless unions once created. (See, for example, Mtr. Maggie Helwig's submission to the Commission on the Marriage Canon (PDF warning).) This recognizes that in this day when most marriages are by licence (and where the licence is a superior control to that provided by the traditional banns) the rationale for a clerical involvement in the marriage itself (as opposed to a blessing or recognition of the union) is long past.

This neatly sidesteps the immediate practical problem regarding having to make a decision regarding how to treat civil same-sex unions from a sacramental position. It remains open to somebody concerned about this to treat a same-sex blessing as a sacramental with a similar external form to the sacrament of marriage, just as a blessing of a "traditional" marriage by the church would be another sacramental (the marriage, the sacrament itself, having been performed outside the church). It means that discussion about marriage as a sacrament become a side-issue to the broader social justice issues.

There are two problems with this. The first is that it is unlikely to be adopted: Mtr. Helwig's submission was not picked up by the final report of the commission, and the sentimental / social attachment to marriage in a church setting is too strong to get it easily accepted. The second is that taking as a ground to stand on the historical fact that requiring solemnizations of marriage "by" the Church is a late development ignores the fact that the Church was heavily involved in the regulation of marriage after the ceremony (not only in its handling of annulments but in e.g. the regulation of allowed periods during which sexual activity was curtailed such as Lent). (See Haw, The State of Matrimony for a treatment of the rules regarding marriage and annulment in the late mediaeval and early modern English Church.) The "clericalization" of marriage is not directly tied to the church's concern with marriage. Even if we push the period of focus back to the late Roman period, and shortly after, when the actual rules governing marriage were those of the old Roman Law (or Germanic customary law in some cases: see Julia M.H. Smith, Europe After Rome, for some discussion of this) the theological analysis of marriage was built up on a different basis.

It is sometimes said that marriage was a civil institution which the church recognized and (eventually) treated as a sacrament. This is not really true. In none of the relevant contexts for the Church in the first four centuries could marriage have been considered purely "civil". Jewish marriage customs and rules followed the Jewish Law, which was emphatically religious; the Roman marriage was equally grounded in (pagan) religion, as it treats the family as a cultus of which the paterfamilias is a domestic priest (see La Cité Antique by Fustel de Coulanges). However, it is certainly true that the institution of marriage as Paul found it (critically Paul, as his writings on marriage are the primary basis on which a sacramental understanding has been built) was one having an existence external to and independent of the Church. And the Dominical words regarding marriage (which the East has taken as one of the counsels of perfection and the traditional West as binding legislation) make no claims about the institutional nature, or the specific implications of the vows themselves.

This is where things begin to become interesting, long before we get to the issue of the sacramentality of same-sex unions. What Paul extracts from the institution of marriage as he encounters it, and what was common to "marriage" in its various forms from Jewish through Hellenistic to Roman, through the Germanic period and that of Christendom until the last half century of so is the idea that an essential inequality in the relationship whereby the husband is dominant but loving ("the head") and the wife is submissive and loving is a sacramental mirror of the relationship between Christ and the Church, and more generally between the human and the divine. The sacramental theology of marriage has been built on this particular feature.

However, just as the previously unquestioned assumption that a primary purpose of matrimony was "for the procreation of children, to be brought up in the fear and nurture of the Lord, and to the praise of his holy Name" began to be questioned in the early 20th Century (note the Lambeth declaration on contraceptives as early as 1930) and has now run head on into issues of overpopulation as a violation of the stewardship of the earth, so the assumptions of the inherent inequality of women within the estate marriage have been under attack for well over a century (the first Married Woman's Property Act, which deep-sixed the concept of coverture, was passed by the Imperial Parliament in 1882), and it would be fair to say that in much of the West (or at least the urban West -- there are definitely holdouts such as the Southern Baptists) the majority view of marriage is that it is a relationship between equals. (It would not be overdoing it to say, though, that this is still an ongoing war, given the virulence of the dismissive and/or abusive language directed at women in many fora who act as equals in general social contexts, let alone marriage.)

You can see the traces of this changing in the early parts of Busman's Honeymoon where Peter and Harriet are arguing over using the 1662 or the 1928/1929 marriage vows (which removed the word "obey"). It is on that changed underlying understanding of marriage that same-sex unions are based, socially and in law.

Does the "matter" of the sacrament, the one that Paul knew, continue to exist with such a changed understanding? Or is it the case that an inherently "better" (on other grounds) state as a norm has succeeded it (one which can at most claim to be a sacramental, with a special status as a successor to one of the seven sacraments? Because the Dominical commendation of marriage is not the basis of the way in which its sacramentality has been understood, and it is not an exclusive statement.

Yet this is effectively the particular line in the sand that the Primates' meeting drew. It will please nobody: the conservative block do not regard it as nearly enough: they want a thoroughgoing purge of the liberals, along with an equally thoroughgoing protestantization of the Anglican Communion -- many of the really conservative ACs have already left for Rome or points East and are not a significant force outside Forward in Faith in the UK, and they are probably the only conservative group for which a defence of marriage as a sacrament is likely to be the primary issue (in principle, ACs on the left can share the same concern while generally supporting LGBTQIA-friendly endeavours in just about every other way. The progressive block is outraged at this level of sanction and given the history of social change (in England in particular) on this matter and there will still be the question of what to do when the three-year sanction of the ECUSA is finished.
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Subject:An Observation
Time:11:41 am
I was browsing through some old posts of my own and, aside from noting some irritating typos I really should go back and fix, I noticed that in a post I had made earlyish last year on SF popularity I had identified a set (the intersection of the LT top five nominations and the Bakka bestsellers list) which had, later on, turned out to be a pretty good predictor (4/5 -- missing only the Cixin Liu book which, naturally turned out to be the winner) of the novels which would have been on the Hugo Awards nomination list in the absence of the Puppies' slating.

This actually makes some sense, when you come to think of it, because the process of saying "these are my top five books of 2014", although not constrained to books published in 2014 (as the Hugos were) is very similar for Hugo nominations and submissions to the LT list.

This year's list has about half the number of participants as last year's, but it's already interesting in terms of what it suggests are popular choices. The SF novels on the LT list which (a) have more than one member adding them and (b) are eligible for Hugos for MidAmericon II are:


  • Uprooted (Novik) - 10 members

  • Ancillary Mercy (Leckie) - 7 members

  • Seveneves (Stephenson) - 3 members

  • Sorceror to the Crown (Cho) - 2 members

  • The Shepherd's Crown (Pratchett) - 2 members

  • The Just City (Walton) - 2 members

  • Aurora (Robinson) - 2 members



Unsurprisingly, the list also corresponds to the general set of books which I've seen regularly noticed positively in SFF fora.

It's also still in progress – yesterday there were two sponsors for The Library at Mount Char, but one of them has shifted their support overnight and it's down to one vote.

All three Ancillary books are in the top 100. Interestingly, The Three-Body Problem is in slot 111 (with one sponsor), but was not on last year's list at all. The other Hugo winners on the list with more than one sponsor are Among Others, Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, and Doomsday Book (there are many more with only one sponsor).

This could still change -- more members are likely to post their favourites to the LT list -- but it's certainly an easier way of handicapping the "core" (non-puppy) Hugo nominations than going through the extensive analysis that Chaos Horizon goes through.

ETA: The Bakka bestseller list for last year is now out, and the intersection is a bit smaller than the set given above.

It is:

  • Uprooted (Novik)

  • Ancillary Mercy (Leckie)

  • The Shepherd's Crown (Pratchett)

  • The Just City (Walton)

  • Foxglove Summer (Aaronovitch) - only one sponsor, but on the Bakka list

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Subject:Et mane videbitis gloriam eius
Time:09:00 am
On the Morning of Christ's Nativity
Compos'd 1629

I

This is the Month, and this the happy morn
Wherein the Son of Heav'ns eternal King,
Of wedded Maid, and Virgin Mother born,
Our great redemption from above did bring;
For so the holy sages once did sing,
That he our deadly forfeit should release,
And with his Father work us a perpetual peace.

II

That glorious Form, that Light unsufferable,
And that far-beaming blaze of Majesty,
Wherwith he wont at Heav'ns high Councel-Table,
To sit the midst of Trinal Unity,
He laid aside; and here with us to be,
Forsook the Courts of everlasting Day,
And chose with us a darksom House of mortal Clay.

III

Say Heav'nly Muse, shall not thy sacred vein
Afford a present to the Infant God?
Hast thou no vers, no hymn, or solemn strein,
To welcom him to this his new abode,
Now while the Heav'n by the Suns team untrod,
Hath took no print of the approching light,
And all the spangled host keep watch in squadrons bright?

IV

See how from far upon the Eastern rode
The Star-led Wisards haste with odours sweet:
O run, prevent them with thy humble ode,
And lay it lowly at his blessed feet;
Have thou the honour first, thy Lord to greet,
And joyn thy voice unto the Angel Quire,
From out his secret Altar toucht with hallow'd fire.

The Hymn

I

It was the Winter wilde,
While the Heav'n-born-childe,
All meanly wrapt in the rude manger lies;
Nature in aw to him
Had doff't her gawdy trim,
With her great Master so to sympathize:
It was no season then for her
To wanton with the Sun her lusty Paramour.

II

Onely with speeches fair
She woo's the gentle Air
To hide her guilty front with innocent Snow,
And on her naked shame,
Pollute with sinfull blame,
The Saintly Vail of Maiden white to throw,
Confounded, that her Makers eyes
Should look so neer upon her foul deformities.

III

But he her fears to cease,
Sent down the meek-eyd Peace,
She crown'd with Olive green, came softly sliding
Down through the turning sphear,
His ready Harbinger,
With Turtle wing the amorous clouds dividing,
And waving wide her mirtle wand,
She strikes a universall Peace through Sea and Land.

IV

No War, or Battails sound
Was heard the World around:
The idle spear and shield were high up hung;
The hooked Chariot stood
Unstain'd with hostile blood,
The Trumpet spake not to the armed throng,
And Kings sate still with awfull eye,
As if they surely knew their sovran Lord was by.

V

But peacefull was the night
Wherin the Prince of light
His raign of peace upon the earth began:
The Windes, with wonder whist,
Smoothly the waters kist,
Whispering new joyes to the milde Ocean,
Who now hath quite forgot to rave,
While Birds of Calm sit brooding on the charmed wave.

VI

The Stars with deep amaze
Stand fixt in stedfast gaze,
Bending one way their pretious influence,
And will not take their flight,
For all the morning light,
Or Lucifer that often warn'd them thence;
But in their glimmering Orbs did glow,
Untill their Lord himself bespake, and bid them go.

VII

And though the shady gloom
Had given day her room,
The Sun himself with-held his wonted speed,
And hid his head for shame,
As his inferiour flame,
The new-enlightn'd world no more should need;
He saw a greater Sun appear
Then his bright Throne, or burning Axletree could bear.

VIII

The Shepherds on the Lawn,
Or ere the point of dawn,
Sate simply chatting in a rustick row;
Full little thought they than,
That the mighty Pan
Was kindly com to live with them below;
Perhaps their loves, or els their sheep,
Was all that did their silly thoughts so busie keep.

IX

When such musick sweet
Their hearts and ears did greet,
As never was by mortall finger strook,
Divinely-warbled voice
Answering the stringed noise,
As all their souls in blisfull rapture took:
The Air such pleasure loth to lose,
With thousand echo's still prolongs each heav'nly close.

X

Nature that heard such sound
Beneath the hollow round
Of Cynthia's seat, the Airy region thrilling,
Now was almost won
To think her part was don,
And that her raign had here its last fulfilling;
She knew such harmony alone
Could hold all Heav'n and Earth in happier union.

XI

At last surrounds their sight
A Globe of circular light,
That with long beams the shame-fac't night array'd,
The helmed Cherubim
And sworded Seraphim
Are seen in glittering ranks with wings displaid,
Harping in loud and solemn quire,
With unexpressive notes to Heav'ns new-born Heir.

XII

Such Musick (as 'tis said)
Before was never made,
But when of old the sons of morning sung,
While the Creator Great
His constellations set,
And the well-balanc't world on hinges hung,
And cast the dark foundations deep,
And bid the weltring waves their oozy channel keep.

XIII

Ring out ye Crystall sphears,
Once bless our human ears,
(If ye have power to touch our senses so)
And let your silver chime
Move in melodious time;
And let the Base of Heav'ns deep Organ blow,
And with your ninefold harmony
Make up full consort to th' Angelike symphony.

XIV

For if such holy Song
Enwrap our fancy long,
Time will run back, and fetch the age of gold,
And speckl'd vanity
Will sicken soon and die,
And leprous sin will melt from earthly mould,
And Hell itself will pass away,
And leave her dolorous mansions to the peering day.

XV

Yea Truth, and Justice then
Will down return to men,
Th' enameld Arras of the Rainbow wearing,
And Mercy set between,
Thron'd in Celestiall sheen,
With radiant feet the tissued clouds down stearing,
And Heav'n as at som festivall,
Will open wide the Gates of her high Palace Hall.

XVI

But wisest Fate sayes no,
This must not yet be so,
The Babe lies yet in smiling Infancy,
That on the bitter cross
Must redeem our loss;
So both himself and us to glorifie:
Yet first to those ychain'd in sleep,
The wakefull trump of doom must thunder through the deep,

XVII

With such a horrid clang
As on mount Sinai rang
While the red fire, and smouldring clouds out brake:
The aged Earth agast
With terrour of that blast,
Shall from the surface to the center shake,
When at the worlds last session,
The dreadfull Judge in middle Air shall spread his throne.

XVIII

And then at last our bliss
Full and perfect is,
But now begins; for from this happy day
Th' old Dragon under ground,
In straiter limits bound,
Not half so far casts his usurped sway,
And wrath to see his Kingdom fail,
Swindges the scaly Horrour of his foulded tail.

XIX

The Oracles are dumm,
No voice or hideous humm
Runs through the arched roof in words deceiving.
Apollo from his shrine
Can no more divine,
With hollow shreik the steep of Delphos leaving.
No nightly trance, or breathed spell,
Inspire's the pale-ey'd Priest from the prophetic cell.

XX

The lonely mountains o're,
And the resounding shore,
A voice of weeping heard, and loud lament;
From haunted spring and dale
Edg'd with poplar pale,
The parting Genius is with sighing sent,
With flowre-inwov'n tresses torn
The Nimphs in twilight shade of tangled thickets mourn.

XXI

In consecrated Earth,
And on the holy Hearth,
The Lars, and Lemures moan with midnight plaint,
In Urns, and Altars round,
A drear, and dying sound
Affrights the Flamins at their service quaint;
And the chill Marble seems to sweat,
While each peculiar power forgoes his wonted seat.

XXII

Peor, and Baalim,
Forsake their Temples dim,
With that twise-batter'd god of Palestine,
And mooned Ashtaroth,
Heav'ns Queen and Mother both,
Now sits not girt with Tapers holy shine,
The Libyc Hammon shrinks his horn,
In vain the Tyrian Maids their wounded Thamuz mourn.

XXIII

And sullen Moloch fled,
Hath left in shadows dred.
His burning Idol all of blackest hue,
In vain with Cymbals ring,
They call the grisly king,
In dismall dance about the furnace blue;
The brutish gods of Nile as fast,
Isis and Orus, and the Dog Anubis hast.

XXIV

Nor is Osiris seen
In Memphian Grove, or Green,
Trampling the unshowr'd Grasse with lowings loud:
Nor can he be at rest
Within his sacred chest,
Naught but profoundest Hell can be his shroud:
In vain with Timbrel'd Anthems dark
The sable-stoled Sorcerers bear his worshipt Ark.

XXV

He feels from Juda's land
The dredded Infants hand,
The rayes of Bethlehem blind his dusky eyn;
Nor all the gods beside,
Longer dare abide,
Nor Typhon huge ending in snaky twine:
Our Babe, to shew his Godhead true,
Can in his swadling bands controul the damned crew.

XXVI

So when the Sun in bed,
Curtain'd with cloudy red,
Pillows his chin upon an Orient wave.
The flocking shadows pale
Troop to th' infernall jail,
Each fetter'd Ghost slips to his severall grave,
And the yellow-skirted Fayes
Fly after the Night-steeds, leaving their Moon-lov'd maze.

XXVII

But see the Virgin blest,
Hath laid her Babe to rest.
Time is our tedious Song should here have ending,
Heav'ns youngest-teemed Star
Hath fixt her polisht Car,
Her sleeping Lord with Handmaid Lamp attending.
And all about the Courtly Stable,
Bright-harnest Angels sit in order serviceable.

- John Milton
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Subject:TTC stupidity
Time:10:38 am
The TTC has now enabled Presto, an RFID-based smart card, on all of its streetcar routes.

Actually, that's not quite right. It has enabled it on all of its streetcars. On some routes, like King (504) they use buses to supplement the streetcars during the morning and evening rush hours. These buses are not so enabled.

So far, this is only somewhat irritating. What moves it up to full-blown stupidity is scenarios like the one I saw this morning. I was waiting for the King car with a friend who was ready with a Presto card, when a bus came along with a streetcar immediately behind. My friend held back from the bus, because it could not take the Presto card... only to have the streetcar sail blithely past the bus, which was stopped for loading.

Now that the two types of transit have different access characteristics, a streetcar should wait to see if there are any Presto-using customers who will not board the bus.
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Subject:The Traitor Son Cycle
Time:09:23 pm
I just finished the third, and most recent, volume (of a projected five) of Miles Cameron's Traitor Son Cycle: The Red Knight, The Fell Sword, and The Dread Wyrm.

Cameron has come to fantasy from historical fiction, shifting a first name as he did so (his real first name is Christian, and he chose the pseudonym Miles for his fantasy work with an eye to the Latin meaning of the word). Cameron is an ex-naval Intelligence officer, a mediaeval (and ancient) re-enactor, and an armourer, and all three backgrounds shape his work, which falls firmly into the military fantasy category.

By military fantasy I mean that subset of fantasy of which Cook's Black Company novels are the primary exemplars. A lot of works straddle the border between it and epic fantasy: after all, LOTR has a significant heroic / military component: the cores of two of the six books are battles (but it fails to be military fantasy because its viewpoints are never, or never for very long, from the milites within the book[1]). Plenty of works draw elements from both heroic fantasy and military fantasy sources. Thus Erikson's Malazan Book of the Fallen has significant parts which are pure classic military fantasy alternating with very different components - much of Deadhouse Gates is a straight military narrative in the March of Dogs, but it is paired with the Felisin elements which are anything but military. On the whole, though, the thread that holds it together is the Bridgeburners and the Bonehunters and Fiddler in particular, which pulls it into the military fantasy camp. Moon's Paksennarion books start out as military fantasy and shift into more general heroic fantasy as Paks moves from soldier to paladin.

The Traitor Son Cycle starts out as thoroughly military fantasy - mercenary company, difficult siege, perspective from the points of view of the soldiers (among others) - all the markers you might expect. However, as it moves on the angle widen and although it remains very much about battles, marches, logistics, and the odd formal challenge - plus arcane combat - it begins go take on some of the lineaments of a more extended heroic fantasy: the foe visible by the end of the third volume is beyond standard human military response, although it's not exactly a Dark Lord, either.

The prose is flexible and professional, the characters diverse[2] and interesting. Cameron makes heavy use of multiple points of view in this work, and sometimes one has to wait for a while for disparate threads to vote together - but they do, and they have a payoff.

If you like this general sort of thing this will be the sort of thing you will like. I don't mean that lukewarmly, as I myself like it very much. But while not grimdark it is gritty and realistic (and especially realistic about conditions in mediaeval times and in wartime) and I have friends to whom I would not recommend this because it is not to their taste.

[1] In a deeper sense, LOTR is very much military fantasy because parts of it are rooted in Tolkien's military experience during the Great War.

[2]Cameron provides not only powerful women in "traditional" fantasy roles - religious, queens, noblewomen - but also in serving military roles. He pays as much attention to the underclasses as to the nobles. He has strong characters drawn from different races and cultures.
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Subject:Modern Textual Criticism
Time:01:24 pm
A few days ago, I became aware of Jerome McGann's A Critique of Modern Textual Criticism, which I had previously been unaware of. I used to be interested in the field, and in fact did a graduate course in the theory of mediaeval textual criticism with a teacher with whom McGann had been discussing these issues at the time (Lee Paterson, credited at the beginning of the book). I gather that it has had some considerable impact.

Regardless of the fact that the only two reviews on LibraryThing are dismissive (neither of which seems to have been written by someone with prior knowledge of post-18th century bibliography - one is at least written by someone with an exposure to classical stemmatics - and who are not aware of the context into which it fits) it is a well-written and cogent piece of work. The problem it addresses - how one conceives of the task of the editor as conditioned by how one views authorial composition - is refracted through various scholarly disagreements on editions of specific texts. At the time, considerable debate centred around the Kane and Donaldson Piers Plowman (referenced by McGann, despite the fact that it's not in the period he is mainly dealing with) and the Hans Gabler Ulysses (not referenced, but very relevant, and about which McGann has written elsewhere). The question of whether one is trying to recover a text reflecting "authorial intention" or something different, conditioned by either/both of a socially mediated agreement regarding a standard text (some versions become iconic, as with Auden's September 1 1939), or by a model of composition as collaborative, will not go away with modern texts. In addition, the issues are closely related to the perspective shifts associated with the New Historicism and other forms of theory which stress the social context of and contraints on the author at a different level.

I have seen it suggested that all of this is becoming less relevant now that we have entered a world in which composition, in the old sense, is dead, having been replaced by reformatting an author's electronic text so that at no time is there a process of transcription.

If anything, this is diametrically wrong. Consider the following, not entirely atypical, life of a novel by a modern author (with each stage preserved in complete texts for the future critic):


  1. The first complete version is generated by the author after partial drafts have been circulated to beta readers. It now being trivial to generate and share copies, the author shares it with some critical friends, who respond in more or less detail. (This would have been much rarer and clumsier when it involved handing around and retyping a paper MS.) Following the input of these friends, the author then prepares


  2. A new version revised both in detail and in structural ways, which is then sent to the publishing house (possibly by way of an agent, if the book has not been written pursuant to an existing contract). If the work has been written under a contract, the editor may have already have had input into the book.


  3. The publishing house uses the author's MS and adds editorial queries and emendations, using Word's revision-tracking capabilities. The author makes some substantive changes and some minor changes as a result of the editorial feedback. At some point a copyeditor corrects the spelling and punctuation to match house style, with no minor allowances for places where the author wants specific effects. The resulting manuscript is frequently shorter than the author's initial submission.


  4. At some point the corrected Word document is poured into an XML markup which can be used to generate both an e-book and typesetter's markup. This becomes the text of the first printing.


  5. During the life of the first edition minor errata are reported. These are integrated into subsequent printings (new plates being easy to generate as long as they do not change pagination) and into the e-book edition. (In the old days, these would have been tipped in to later printings, and then integrated into later editions - if the publisher were conscientious about them.)


  6. After several years the publisher decides to reissue the book in a new trade edition. To encourage the public to buy the new edition, the author, who has has time to rethink done things and is more generally experienced, does a moderate revision to the text creating a slightly longer work from which a few episodes have been deleted, to which a few have been added, and with noticeable, though not overwhelming, stylistic changes.



Under the model of original authorial intention, instance (1) would be seen as the best substantive text. (The parallel here is with the treatment of the different endings to Great Expectations , where the second ending is a result of feedback from a friend after publication.) This would also correspond, roughly, to Gabler's preferencing of the Rosenbach MS as a substantive source over the printed versions of Ulysses.

The Greg model of copy-text would suggest the adoption of (2) as a classic copy-text, i.e. as the source for punctuation and indifferent variants. It is also a good candidate for representing the author's final intention on a view which accepts a moderate social/collaborative model of composition but would draw a line before editorial input.

The substantively edited copy in (3) corresponds to the text taken as copy-text in McGann's approach. It recognizes the collaborative cooperation between author and editor as a positive part of the process, but there are two issues which need to have an eye kept on them: first, the typical blanket imposition of house style has no particular authority, even when the author has passed them, but can be hard to distinguish from punctuation adjustments which reflect actual thought; secondly, some (but by no means all) editorial changes are driven by pure publishing concerns (e.g. meeting general length guidelines driven by market/cost concerns as opposed to simply "tightening up" a text for better effect) and are likely to represent something the author agreed to reluctantly rather than embraced. It is also the version which most readers will see as "standard".

The text in (4) should be textually the same as (3), but formatting and layout (which may be important) will be different (consider the typeface issues in Heydt's The Interior Life). Some forms of transformation of the author's text is probably necessary, but in some cases the author's express preference may be different from what was actually achieved.

Emendations in (5) will typically be included in any edition as preferred readings, unless they emend readings which themselves are secondary. If the text in (3) were to be taken as copy-text, though, this text has an even better claim to authority.

With (6) we are into the territory occupied by the New York Edition of Henry James, the A, B, and C texts of (the first seven passus of) Piers Plowman, and the current view of Q2 and F Hamlet. (It is also the case of Stross' world-walker series.) Especially in the case where (1) or (2) is taken as the copy-text, does one integrate changes to create an eclectic text which never existed? Does one publish in parallel? Does it merely turn on the volume of changes (given that even the addition or suppression of a minor scene might transform the interpretation of a work)?

If (2) is published with the author's cooperation during the author's lifetime, as with Feist's riftwar books, it becomes a variant of (3), but raising the same kinds of questions as (5) does.

There are no easy answers here, and certainly the modern composition and submission process has not simplified the work of a later textual editor significantly.
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Subject:Paris
Time:10:44 am
In the nightmare of the dark
All the dogs of Europe bark,
And the living nations wait,
Each sequestered in its hate;

Intellectual disgrace
Stares from every human face,
And the seas of pity lie
Locked and frozen in each eye.

Follow, poet, follow right
To the bottom of the night,
With your unconstraining voice
Still persuade us to rejoice;

With the farming of a verse
Make a vineyard of the curse,
Sing of human unsuccess
In a rapture of distress;

In the deserts of the heart
Let the healing fountain start,
In the prison of his days
Teach the free man how to praise.

- W. H. Auden
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