Oct 31 2010

The Valente discussion is taking place


It’s here.

See, the problem with a discussion taking place in the comment section of a post is that those of you who use RSS feeders (or follow on Facebook) won’t know that the discussion is taking place, or that more and more gets added to it.

So, seriously, you should go here and read the comments.

And if you like, join in…

Oct 28 2010

The Habitation of the Blessed: Dirge for Prester John, Vol. 1, by Catherynne M. Valente; and further discussion


kinde version of a cover!

The art of literature, vocal or written, is to adjust the language so that it embodies what it indicates. — A. N. Whitehead

I had originally hoped to have finished reading Catherynne M. Valente’s Habitation of the Blessed: a Dirge for Prester John, Volume 1 by today, so that I could write a review that addressed the whole of it, coming to some grand, deep conclusion — so that I could write, in fact, both intelligently and beautifully about this intelligent and beautiful book.

However, I find that Thursday has arrived, and I have not yet reached the end of the book — and that is, I believe, a very good thing in this case.

I could have rushed it, of course I could have — like most readers who love reading, I can read very quickly indeed.

But earlier, over in the comments, Sabine made this point :  It’s one of those books, like Gormenghast, that forces me to read slowly and savor the prose. But I also have to stop reading after a chapter or so, just to cool down my brain.

If you try to read Habitation of the Blessed quickly, you’re making a big mistake.

A couple of times over the past few days, I did start to hurry, hoping to finish by today.    But each time some wiser part of myself stepped forward, grabbed me by the elbows, and shook me hard.   Stop, it said.  Go back.  Read it again.  Look what you missed! I soon stopped trying to rush.

Because if you read a story very quickly,  what you get from the story is this: the events.

That’s it.  The stuff that happened.  That’s all.

For some writers, that’s all they have; and for some stories, that’s enough.   So in reading them fast, you lose nothing — and even gain, perhaps, in the giddy glee of sheer speed.

But Valente has more for you.    She’ll give you what happened, but also the scent of it; and the cracking of blue light above; and the sorrow and joy of layered centuries; and delight, and the taste of especially good coffee; and the pain of remembered betrayal by someone who you didn’t know yet.

Life is not just events; it’s resonances and echoes, and knife-edged immediacy.

It takes more than plain prose to give these things to the reader.

I am a very bad historian, the monk Hiob says.  But I am a very good miserable old man.  I sit at the end of the world, close enough to see my shriveled old legs hang over the bony ridge of it.  I came so far for gold and light and a story the size of the sky.

I am a Pentexoran, Hagia the Blemmyae says.  I am a loyal and darling child of luck.  I submit to it, like a dog.  But it terrifies me, sometimes, how near we come, every moment, to living some other life beyond imagining.

I ate the sail one night and dreamed of honey, the starving traveler John says. The stars overhead hissed at me like cats.

I am not like you, Imtithal the Panoti says. I was made of other things than street-dust and spices, other things than cities can forge in their endless and wending hearts.

These are the four characters Valente gives us, to usher us into and through the Habitation of the Blessed: two men of the world we know; two women of the world of wild wonder.    They’ve led me halfway through the book thus far.

I’m rested now; my brain has cooled down a bit.  I’m ready for more.

Let’s go on.

Oct 28 2010

ACK! I sent you to the wrong Amazon Page!!


I thought that Valente and El-Mohtar’s poem was in the 2008 Rhysling Anthology, but it was in the 2009 Rhysling Anthology! Oh, no!

I hope you didn’t buy it yet… no, wait — the 2008 anthology is also excellent! But if that’s not the one you wanted, and you ordered, I’m sorry! But you should definitely get the 2009. Seriously.

I’ve corrected the link in the previous post… and I’ll have the Habitation of the Blessed discussion-starter post up later today.

Oct 27 2010

Catherynne M. Valente and Amal El-Mohtar reading “Damascus Divides the Lovers by Zero”


No, don’t just jump ahead and click on the video! Read this first:

As I mentioned in the comments the other day, the first time I’d encountered Catherynne M. Valente’s work was at a poetry reading at Readercon, 2009.

I try to catch at least part of the poetry “slan” (as Readercon calls it) every time I go to Readercon. I always hear something I enjoy. But this time I was totally blown away, and brought to tears, by “Damascus Divides the Lovers by Zero.”

Later, in the dealer’s room, I bought a copy of the 2008 Rhysling Anthology 2009 Rhysling Anthology, which had the poem in it, hoping I could get the poem autographed…

Later still, I discovered myself seated right beside Valente at our joint autographing session!

I did get her autograph, but El-Mohtar, alas, had left the convention. But I also bought from Valente a copy of Palimpsest.

Then other day, while looking up the exact spelling of Amal El-Mohtar’s name on the internet, I came across a YouTube video of that very reading.

I watched it, but I noticed something: the video failed to recapture my experience.

I fear that the problem is that the person who made the recording had not as good a seat as I had, and the words are not always clearly audible. It makes a difference.

Solution: Keep the text beside you as you watch the video!

So, I found the text online here: Lone Star Stories: Damascus Divides the Lovers by Zero by Amal El-Mohtar and Catherynne M. Valente. I suggest that you open in it a separate window, make that window half your screen, and put the video on the other half; then you can watch and read along… (Alternatively, print out the text.)

Last point: as I recall from the introduction they gave the reading, Valente and El-Mohtar had each independently written poems about Damascus (by intent or accident, I can’t recall which), and when they compared them, found that they paralleled each other, and fit together beautifully; and so they wove them into one poem for two voices.


Okay… now run the video.

The poem:

Lone Star Stories: Damascus Divides the Lovers by Zero by Amal El-Mohtar and Catherynne M. Valente.

Oct 26 2010

You should also read the comments…


Because — hello! Stuff gets said there.

Like this, in response to the fact that Catherynne Valente’s latest book is out in Kindle before it was out in hardcopy:

As for Habitation of the Blessed, I’d like to suggest that we read it this week, and beginning on Thursday, discuss it right here. By “we” I mean anyone interested, and by “right here” I mean that I’ll create a post on that date called “Habitation of the Blessed and further discussion” and start it off with my take on the book; then in the comments anyone and everyone can post, and we can do as much back-and-forth as any of us can stand.

It’s not necessary to have completed reading the book in order to say something — just your current impression. And you can say as little or as much as you choose. But ideally, we need to do it all before the official hardcopy release of the book on November 1st.

You can get the Kindle version here: Habitation of the Blessed: a Dirge for Prester John – Kindle version.

And the hardcopy version is actually available from Amazon now here:Habitation of the Blessed – paperback.

I’d like to try to get a sense of how interested people are in doing this… or even how interested people are in just seeing this done by me and whoever else.

So, post a comment here. Just a “Yes!” would suffice. You could use the “Like” on Facebook, but I don’t know how accurate a count I’ll get from that. A comment here is more certain to be seen.

What say?

So? What say, then?

Oct 24 2010

And while you’re thinking about that…


Check out this YouTube video of fellow Genrette Delia Sherman and her awesome wife Ellen Kushner, as they discuss fairytale, fantasy, and gender.

However… this is apparently a scene from a documentary called “Mythic Journeys”, which (from the publicity material pushed on you when you check out the website) seems to lean toward the woo-woo at an acute angle. When Depak Chopra shows up, my Skeptometer ™ starts red-lining.

Ellen and Delia, on the other hand, are very wise women, and well worth heeding.

Oct 24 2010

Comment turned to post. Plus: other news


my favorite seashell

In reply to my “Kindle Greed” post, David said:

Glad to see someone else is experiencing the Robert Charles Wilson love! It was Spin that put me onto him too. And, like you, I then had to tear through his catalog.

To which I replied:

I’ve been trying to turn on all my pals to Robert Charles Wilson — I hope I actually have time to read Bios and Axis. Just the other day I finished the audiobook version of Julian Comstock, which I thoroughly loved.

Usually stories in which the protagonist is a writer turn out shaky at best. But Wilson has such a graceful hand with the point-of-view, letting Adam Hazzard use his very best 19th century styled prose to describe the events both carefully and eloquently — and at the same time allowing the reader to see straight through to everything that Adam is missing! This careful observativeness combined with obliviousness, still including all the information that we need to see what’s really going on — what a tour de force!

Plus: got all misty-eyed at more than a few passages.

Also: laughed right out loud sometimes.

Geez, what more can you ask of a story?

Well, yeah, sense of wonder… but in this book poignant longing for lost glory stood in its stead.   Worked for me.

(Oh, and I must say — the audiobook narrator, Scott Brick, did a stunning job. Adam Hazzard’s voice in my mind is now the voice of Scott Brick. Hazzard’s sometimes over-eloquent prose was delivered with such gentle sincerity that I could not help but love him and his innocent striving for what he viewed as excellence as a writer.)

In other news: I started reading The Habitation of the Blessed: A Dirge for Prester John, Volume One and I’ve already fallen in love with Catherynne M. Valente’s amazing prose — again. I’ll say more when I’m done, but so far, prospects are good!

Oct 21 2010

Training room


First, I would take my lunch break at the second desk in the Accounting Room, placing an “Out to Lunch” sign on my own desk. People respected it, and I’d use my time to write on my laptop whilst munching.

Then, they put someone else at that desk; so I’d slide down my desk away from my work computer, and used my laptop to write, with both an “Out to Lunch” sign and a “Back At” clock-hands sign on my desk. And people respected that.

Then, they stopped respecting it, and I’d get hit with work-related requests, as long as I was visible.

Solution: Stop being visible!

There was a big ol’ semi-permanent tent out back, used for big meetings and special events, empty the rest of the time. Excellent!

Then, they took out all the chairs and tables. Plus: all the smokers decided it was a great place to stoke up on nicotine. Rats.

Then, I tried to sit in my car and write, but there’s not much in the way of elbow room…

But now they’ve created a special training room, for use when running Continuing Ed classes, and not used in between.

Lots of room, completely out of sight, and dim lighting so I’m not distracted. Primo!

famous math mug, full of home-made miso soup!

Oct 20 2010

Kindle greed


Ooh, yeah. Books for less then 10 bucks each? What’s not to like?

Recent purchases:

Where Good Ideas Come From by Steven Johnson — okay, that one was more than 10 bucks…

Bios and Axis both by Robert Charles Wilson, whose work I have been loving recently. After I read his Spin I went on a rampage reading everything I could find of his. But I’d missed these two, and now I’ve got ’em!

This is My Letter to the World: The Omikuji Project and The Habitation of the Blessed: A Dirge for Prester John, Volume One both by Catherynne M. Valente. What I’ve read so far by Ms. Valente (Palimpsest and The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making, two books which are very different from each other), makes me want to read much more — plus, as you know, I’m a follower of her blog.

And as it turns out, due to a publishing glitch, the Kindle version of Prester John is out weeks before the print version. Ms.Valente points out that someone could read and review it before the physical book is even available… Can I possibly manage it?

Oct 19 2010

Before it gets too cold


Better take advantage of that last bit of sunshine before it’s too cold to go swimming!

(vid by Sabine!)

In other news:

1. Car’s about to die. Can I afford to replace it? Jury’s still out.

2. Zombie fingers! Ewww! Still tingly at the tips, and slightly numb. Oddly, the bits that are numb are exactly the bits that come into contact with a pen or pencil held at writing position. Somewhat clumsy playing the guitar, as well.

3. Working extra hours at the DayJob, due in part to it now taking somewhat longer to do what I used to be able to do more quickly than was actually sensible.

4. Going to the gym. Lots. Because.

5. Secret project! What can I tell you about it? Nothing! No, wait, I just told you something. Well, okay, but only that.

ACK! Must run off to the DayJob, I’m late!