sovay: (Cho Hakkai: intelligence)
[personal profile] sovay
There is now a Blu-Ray of The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T (1953). And it's region-free.

Well, I'm delighted.

(I have to thank Cine Outsider for the tip-off; I had no idea until I was scrolling down as I do about every month or so and then what? I still have dreams of seeing an actual print someday. The film was shot in Technicolor. It may have been chopped to pieces by Columbia, but what's left should still look good. Besides, I have always had the sneaking suspicion that even the most faithful digital transfer cannot properly reproduce the full effect of Dr. Terwilliker's hat.)
sovay: (Morell: quizzical)
[personal profile] sovay
So I had a completely miserable night with a lot of pain and zero sleep and only managed to nap for a couple of hours in the afternoon and woke up to grey rain and some potential medical news I'm going to want a serious double-check on, but as I made my intermittent rounds of other people's Tumblrs I saw that [personal profile] selkie had just tagged me for a gifset of twenty-year-old Jeremy Brett as some kind of uncredited beautiful student in Noel Langley's Svengali (1954) and that does help, thank you.

sovay: (Haruspex: Autumn War)
[personal profile] sovay
I do not think after all that I have read Nicholas Stuart Gray's The Apple-Stone (1965); I think I have just read a lot of E. Nesbit, Mary Norton, and Edward Eager, all of whom are obviously in the DNA of a novel about five children—the English narrator and his two sisters plus their Scottish cousins who are known collectively as "the Clans"—who find a strange, ancient, sentient power that brings magic into their lives for about a week and then moves on, leaving mostly memories and just a few things changed for good.

"One touch from me animates the inanimate," boasts the Apple-Stone, the "small, bright, golden ball, about the size of a marble" that assisted in the birth of the universe and gave rise to the myth of the Golden Apples of the Sun; the children find it on the highest bough in the orchard, like a Sappho fragment come to life, and they make enlightening, foolish, dangerous, and kind use of it over the next twelve chapters until it returns to the earth to sleep and restore its power and find another apple tree to bloom from, decades or centuries hence. Most of their adventures have a comic slant, as when they animate the decrepit hearthrug to settle a bet over what kind of animal it came from and never find out because they spend the day having confused their "Lambie" with an actual escaped leopard prowling the moors, or have to play detectives for a lost glove weeping bitterly over being separated from its beloved right hand ("I'm deeply attached to it. I love it"), or create an intelligent, talkative, opera-loving sheep about twice the size of a Great Dane for reasons that make sense at the time. Sometimes the comedy turns spooky, as when they accidentally animate a feather boa and get Quetzalcoatl, who not unreasonably expects a sacrifice for incarnating when called, or an episode with a formerly model rocket triggers an international incident and science fiction, or the narrator discovers an unexpected and unwanted affinity for night flight on a witch's broom. An interlude with an effigy of a Crusader constitutes the kind of history lesson that would fit right into Kipling's Puck of Pook's Hill (1906), as some of the children have their romantic illusions punctured and some come away with an interest in astrology and medicinal plants. And the two weirdest, most numinous chapters are the reason I can't be one hundred percent sure that I didn't read this book a long, long time ago: the life and death of the Bonfire Night guy that is partly the sad, passionate ghost of Guy Fawkes and partly a pyromaniac patchwork of the five children whose castoffs and imagination gave it form (as it explains in one of its more lucid moments, "Everyone is a mixture, you know, and I'm more so than most") and the introduction of new magic when the weeping gargoyle off a nearby church turns out to be the stone-trapped form of a medieval demon named "Little Tom," a wild, ragged, not quite human child in tricksterish and forlorn search of a witch to be familiar to. Both of them gave me the same half-echo as Eleanor Farjeon's The Silver Curlew (1953), again without any of the language coming back to me. I might run it by my mother to see if she remembers bringing it home when I was small. On the other hand, it might just be that I know [personal profile] ashlyme and [personal profile] nineweaving.

The Apple-Stone is the second book I've read by Gray and The Seventh Swan (1962) almost doesn't count, since I know I read it in elementary school and all I can remember is that it upset me more than the original fairy tale, which I suspect means I should re-read it. I like this one a lot, non-magical parts included. We learn early on that the parents of the English family are the puppeteers behind the popular TV show Ben and Bet Bun and absolutely none of their children think once of bringing the Buns or the Foxies to life because they find the whole thing desperately embarrassing. (The Clans' parents are rocket scientists and the narrator envies them deeply. "We're fond of our Mum and Dad, and hope they may grow out of it in time.") The children as a group are a believable, likeable mix of traits and alliances, differentiated well beyond obvious tags like Jo's academic crazes or Nigel's artistic talent or Douglas' belligerence or Jemima's imperiousness or Jeremy's daydreaming. They fight almost constantly with one another—the Clans especially, being composed of one Campbell and one Macdonald, are engaged in the kind of dramatic ongoing feud that is half performance art and half really blowing off steam—but close ranks immediately against outsiders, even supernatural ones:

"But I must tell you straight, gentles, that I can't do much of the true Black Art," said the gargoyle. "I'm not one of the great ones. I was never aught but a very little 'un. Horrid tricks I can manage," it added, boastfully, "like makin' folks squint, or muddling their minds, or twisting their tongues so that they stammers and stutters—"

"I c-can do that without your help!" snapped Nigel, going red.

"And I'm muddleheaded enough for everyone," I said, quickly.

"No, you're not!" said Jo, fiercely. "And Nigel only stutters when he's away from his home." Then she turned on the gargoyle. "You'll do no horrid tricks, do you hear? We're not sorcerers. We brought you here to help you."

The creature was still changing during all of this . . . Its hair was long and black, and tangled. Its ears were still pointed, though not as huge and batlike as before. It gave us a scornful grin, and said, "Many sorcerers don't care to admit to it."


If you have not read this novel, you can probably tell by now if you're going to like it. The Nesbit it reminds me of most is The Enchanted Castle (1907), but it feels like itself and it feels like its own time, which is equally important. I am actively sad that the near-fine UK first edition I saw at Readercon cost sticker shock—the library copy I just finished reading is the American first edition and the illustrations really didn't work for me. (I'm sorry, Charles Keeping! Your work for Alan Garner, Mollie Hunter, and Rosemary Sutcliff was great!) Maybe sometime I'll get lucky at the Strand. In any case, the text is what matters most and that I recommend. It is good at the strangeness of things that are not human and it never risks making even the cute ones twee. It's good at children's priorities and the ways that not being an adult doesn't mean not seeing the world. I didn't quote much of a descriptive passage, but I like its language. Anyone with other favorite novels by Nicholas Stuart Gray, please let me know.

Everyone make their best dead faces

Jul. 24th, 2017 12:55 am
sovay: (Lord Peter Wimsey: passion)
[personal profile] sovay
I did not make it to the last day of Necon due to circumstances falling through, but fortunately [personal profile] handful_ofdust was flying back to Toronto from Boston, so I took the time-honored Sunday combination of very slow buses, trains, and shuttles out to Logan Airport and had a splendid time hanging out for two hours before her flight, even if I still miss being able to walk people to their gates and wave them off onto the plane. We had dinner and talked about everything from neurodiversity to Orson Krennic, Imperial Poseur; I came away richer by a binder of DVDs (through which [personal profile] spatch is happily poring as we speak: "We could watch Moana! You know you've also got Deathgasm? Ooh, Night of the Comet. Logan, that's good") and a Gemma-made necklace of amethyst, pearls, gold and amber glass beads, and a frosted-glass pendant that used to be an earring. Coming back, I foolishly thought it would be faster to cut over to the Orange Line at Downtown Crossing and that is how I spent forty-five minutes asleep in a sitting position on a bench at Sullivan Station because there were no buses and I was very tired. The air was cool and smelled like the sea. The cats came and curled up with me in the last of the sunlight when I got home. Worth it.
sovay: (PJ Harvey: crow)
[personal profile] sovay
I don't know if I saw relatives of mine this afternoon.

My grandfather's father was born in Lodz. He was the eldest of six siblings, three sisters, three brothers; the family owned a textile mill in the city and the father was a Talmudic scholar of some repute. My great-grandfather was expected to continue in his father's religious footsteps; instead, after a stint in the Imperial Russian Army (from which he must have deserted, because he sure didn't serve twenty-five years), he became what my grandfather once memorably described as a "Zolaesque freethinker" and emigrated to America in 1912. One of his brothers followed him; though we're no longer in contact with them (a little thing about declaring my mother ritually dead when she married my father), his descendants live in Florida. Another brother is buried in Israel, though I'm not sure how or when he got there—his older children were born in Lodz, his later ones in Tel Aviv. None of the sisters made it out of Poland alive. The middle one I have almost no information about, except that Lodz is listed as her place of death. (Her children survived: they too turn up later in Israel.) The eldest and the youngest died—as far as I know, with their families—in Chełmno and Auschwitz. These are the cousins who feel like closer ghosts than they should, dying in 1942 and 1945, because their descendants would have been no farther from me in blood than [personal profile] gaudior. They are loose ends, like other family stories. I don't know what there is to be known of them anymore.

Because the exhibit is closing in a week, my mother and I went to the MFA this afternoon to see Memory Unearthed: The Lodz Ghetto Photographs of Henryk Ross. If you live in the Boston area, I don't say it's a light day out, but it's worth your time. Ross was one of the few survivors of the Lodz Ghetto, a staff photographer employed by the Judenrat. He was supposed to take the nice pictures of the ghetto, to document how productively and well the Jews were getting along under Nazi supervision; he used his license to take the ones that were not so nice, dead-carts instead of bread-carts, chain-link and barbed wire, the sick and the starving, the broken walls of a synagogue. He documented the resistance of living, which sometimes looked like defiance and sometimes like collaboration: the slight, quietly smiling man who rescued the Torah scroll from the smashed-brick ruins of the synagogue, the young wife and plump child of a Jewish policeman like the ones seen—perhaps he's among them—assisting a crowd of Jewish deportees aboard the boxcars that will take them to Auschwitz. Pale Jude stars are so omnipresent in this black-and-white world that even a scarecrow wears one, as if to remind it to confine its trade to non-Aryan fields. Ross took about six thousand photographs total; in the fall of 1944, as the ghetto was being liquidated, he buried the negatives as a kind of time capsule, not expecting to survive himself to recover them. He was still alive and still taking pictures of the depopulated ghost town the ghetto had become when the Red Army liberated it in January 1945. His face cannot be seen in the photograph of him reclaiming his archive because he's the figure at the center of the grinning group, the one bending to lift a crusted box from the dug-up earth. Groundwater had rendered about half the negatives unsalvageable, but rest could be developed, warped, nicked, bubbled, and sometimes perfectly clear, their damaged emulsion showing scars and survival. He published some in his lifetime. He never arranged the complete series to his satisfaction. My mother would have seen him on television in 1961 when he testified against Eichmann. The MFA has a clip of an interview with him and his wife Stefania née Schoenberg—his collaborator and another of the ghetto's 877 Jewish survivors—eighteen years later in Israel, describing how he took his covert photographs hiding his camera inside his long coat, how just once he snuck into the railway station at Radogoszcz to record the last stages of a deportation, the freight train to the "frying pan" of Auschwitz itself. He died in 1991. It is said that he never took a picture again.

(I know there are philosophical questions about photographs of atrocity: how they should be looked at, what emotions they may have been intended to evoke, to what degree it is or is not appropriate to judge them as art. I'm not very abstract here. They were taken to remember. You look at them to make sure you do. What you feel is your own business; what you do with the knowledge of the history had damn well better concern other people.)

My great-grandfather's sisters would have been deported from the Lodz Ghetto. Their death dates even match the major waves of deportation to their respective camps. I have no idea what either of them looked like. I have seen maybe two photos each of my grandfather's parents: aunts and uncles, nothing. I'm not saying the photos don't exist. My grandfather had a sister; she may have inherited a better pictorial record. But I haven't seen it. And looking for people who look like my grandfather is no help; Henry Kissinger went through a period of looking like my grandfather and that was awkward for everybody. Any older woman might have been either one of them, any older man one of their husbands, any young people their children, any children their grandchildren. None of them might have been my family. Maybe theirs were among the images destroyed by the winter of 1944, as unrecoverable as their bodies. Maybe they were never captured on film at all. I wouldn't know. I don't know. I pored over faces and thought how beautiful so many of these people were (not beautiful because of their suffering: bone and expression, the kinds of faces that are beautiful to me), how many of them looked like both sides of my mother's family. Almost no one was identified by name. Maybe no one knows these people by name anymore. I hope that's not true.

You can look through the contents of Henryk Ross' archive yourself. They are, like most photographs, historical and modern prints both, better in person. We left the museum and had dinner at Bronwyn both because we lucked out parking two blocks from the restaurant in the middle of a street fair and because it was Eastern European food and it felt symbolic that we were here to eat it, even if I am pretty sure that a Hungarian-inflected chorizo dog is food of my people only in the sense that I personally would order it again because it tasted great. I did some badly overdue grocery shopping and caught the closing performance of the PMRP's Murders and Scandals: Poe and Doyle and spent nearly the entire cast party upstairs reading the scripts for the second through the fourth seasons of Babylon 5 (1993–98) and as much of the fifth season as doesn't suck. Autolycus fell asleep on my lap almost as soon as I sat down at my computer and I haven't been able to move from this chair for hours. I can't imagine what the world looks like in which I have so many more cousins of the degree of Gaudior, although I know that I am tired of fictional versions in which neither of us would even be here (the same goes for other atrocities, imagined worse for purposes of entertainment). Maybe in that other world, we have more family photographs. Maybe we're not in contact with them, either. Maybe I still don't have faces to go with the names. It doesn't matter if they were all strangers, though, the people from this afternoon and more than seventy years ago: they were alive. They are worth remembering. Especially now, they are worth remembering why.

sovay: (Claude Rains)
[personal profile] sovay
A Facebook friend asked: "For my film-loving friends: what are films you hope to see in the Criterion Collection someday? Not just films you love, but films that fit the aesthetic and would make sense as Criterion films." So I posted the following textbrick in reply and figured I might as well reproduce it here, now with (occasionally really old) links:

The complete Derek Jarman, Super 8 shorts and music videos included. Herzog's Fitzcarraldo (1982), because it has always confused me that you can get the documentary from Criterion but not the film itself. Anything by Ulrike Ottinger, but especially Johanna d'Arc of Mongolia (1989) and Taiga (1992), which one could and should pair. Some kind of box set of Dennis Potter, making sure not to leave out the long-banned original TV version of Brimstone and Treacle (1976). Wayne Wang and Paul Auster's Smoke (1995). Some reasonable amount of Peter Greenaway, but The Pillow Book (1996) and Prospero's Books (1991) in their proper aspect ratio should head the list. Fred Zinnemann's Act of Violence (1948), a knockout noir about memory and atrocity with far less of a reputation than it deserves. Max Ophüls' The Reckless Moment (1949), one of the most devastating—and feminist—noirs I've ever seen. John Ford's The Long Voyage Home (1940), Eugene O'Neill's favorite film realization of any of his plays. Ben Wheatley's A Field in England (2013). And while I'm dreaming of ponies, The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T (1953).

—There are other movies I'd like to see from Criterion, of course. Robin Hardy's The Wicker Man (1973), especially considering the plethora of versions that have existed over the years (and may still be buried under the M4). I don't know if they'd go for Roy Ward Baker's The October Man (1947) unless it was part of a set of British noir, but seriously, how bad would that be? If they can announce an upcoming release of Agnieszka Smoczyńska's The Lure (2015)—the day after my birthday, I appreciate it—surely they could provide me with a nice edition of Marcin Wrona's Demon (2015). I'm sort of confused they've never done anything by Dorothy Arzner. I'm really confused they haven't already done the Wachowskis' Bound (1996). And so on. Some of it is the definitive home release idea, but a lot of these movies I would just like to be able to show people more easily than 35 mm or unpredictable flybys on TCM.

Spider Cat!

Jul. 21st, 2017 04:15 pm
gale_storm: (Default)
[personal profile] gale_storm
The best cat treats have wings!
Spider Cat!
gale_storm: (Default)
[personal profile] gale_storm

'Spider Cat, Spider Cat, doing whatever wherever it wants! Making biscuits, purring loudly, oh so proudly! Zow! This is the Spider Cat!' 
 

Oh, and Spider Cat is waaaay preferable to Cat Spider!


sovay: (Lord Peter Wimsey: passion)
[personal profile] sovay
My poems "A Death of Hippolytos" and "The Other Lives," published last October in The Cascadia Subduction Zone 6.4, are now free to read online with the rest of their issue. The first was inspired by Jules Dassin's Phaedra (1962) and especially by this afterthought, the second was written for Rose Lemberg after discussing Ursula K. Le Guin's The Left Hand of Darkness (1969). [personal profile] gwynnega has poetry in the same issue.

I had heard absolutely nothing of Guillermo del Toro's The Shape of Water (2017) until this afternoon, but the trailer makes it look like something I should very definitely see in December. It looks like William Alland and Jack Arnold's Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954) retold through Jane Yolen's "The Lady and the Merman," which has haunted me since elementary school when I first read Neptune Rising: Songs and Tales of the Undersea Folk (1982). It looks sea-deep.

Speaking of oceanic things for which I may existentially blame Caitlín R. Kiernan: Delphine Cencig, "Poulpe Fiction."

In fact, I have another doctor's appointment tomorrow.
sovay: (PJ Harvey: crow)
[personal profile] sovay
Second doctor's appointment in as many days, coming up. First, links.

1. [personal profile] spatch sent me this handy-dandy list: "Times Doctor Who Was Ruined Forever." The site is snarky and some of their tags are jerkass, but the article itself is gold. "21/03/1981 – The best Doctor ever is replaced by a vet. Doctor Who dies."

2. Following my belated discovery of Jack Buchanan, I am pleased to see that the HFA will be showing Ernst Lubitsch's Monte Carlo (1930) on Friday. I wonder if I have ever actually seen Jeanette MacDonald.

3. I had no idea one of the performers of "The Grass Is Always Greener" was Lauren Bacall (and I think I had forgotten the song came from a musical by Kander and Ebb, although listening to its brassy swing, I don't know who else it could have been). Standing Room Only on WERS used to play it all the time. I like how her voice softens on the repeated line That's wonderful, but her unimpressed What's so wonderful? could pass for Elaine Stritch. This makes me desperately sad that Bacall never recorded "The Ladies Who Lunch."

4. This is a gorgeous photoset, but I would love to see the on-set photos from the shoot. Like, the backstage stuff. People just standing around on snack breaks, being Klimt paintings.

5. This was true last weekend as well, but I was at Readercon and couldn't do anything about it: [personal profile] spatch swapped in for one of the hosts of the PMRP's Murders and Scandals: Poe and Doyle at the last minute, so I'll see him this weekend on one of the nights I'm not seeing Jack Buchanan.
sovay: (Lord Peter Wimsey)
[personal profile] sovay
Van Heflin's first starring role and the feature debut of director Fred Zinnemann, MGM's Kid Glove Killer is not a lost classic of crime cinema, but it is a fun little procedural of a B-picture with some sharp dialogue and more forensic detail than I've seen in this era until John Sturges' Mystery Street (1950); its technical tickyboxes include ballistic fingerprinting, fiber analysis, spectrography, endlessly labeled slides, and the first-rate chemistry in-joke of mocking up a reaction with dry ice so that the flask looks like it's got something really fancy going on inside it. The film's heroes are a pair of underpaid scientists working for the crime lab of the Chicago-ish city of Chatsburg, which has lately suffered the shocking double loss of both its crusading DA and its sincerely incorruptible mayor, neither of natural causes unless ropes, ponds, and car bombs can be filed under acts of God; despite the necessarily painstaking nature of their work, Heflin's Gordon McKay and Marsha Hunt's Jane Mitchell find themselves expected to deliver miracles on command, conjuring a killer's name out of the stray threads and burnt matches and dog hairs that might as well be so many oracle bones as far as the impatient police, press, and public are concerned. No one outright suggests railroading the small business owner seen loitering around the mayor's house the night before the explosion—furious that the new DA's vaunted crackdown on crime didn't extend to the hoods shaking him and his wife down for protection—but there's a lot of official pressure to connect the dots to Eddie Quillan's hot-headed innocent. In the meantime a sort of love triangle is progressing between the two scientists and one ambitious lawyer, although the viewer can't invest too much in the romantic suspense since our privileged information includes the identity of the murderer. I confess I'm not sure where the kid gloves came into it.

It is rare for me not to like Heflin in a film, even when he's playing kind of a dick, and he makes an engaging proto-nerd here, a slouchy, grouchy smart-ass in a lab coat who has managed to figure out that he's in love with his educated, attractive coworker but not yet that flirting by insult only works for Oscar Levant. (His eventual apology is legitimately adorable.) Hunt as Mitchell is nicely, unequivocally competent and has little time for her colleague's negging even as it's clear from space that she'd reciprocate his interest if he were only a little less schoolyard about it, but her character feels like a conservative compromise when she insists repeatedly—despite sufficient aptitude for chemistry that she has a master's degree in it—that forensics is "no career for a woman." I do appreciate that heteronormativity is defused at least once by McKay conceding wryly that it's "not much of a career for a man, either. No prestige, no glamour, no money. People holler at you when there are no miracles." I suppose it is also sociologically interesting that the script's anxiety about science and gender runs both ways—unless it's to prove that spending nine-tenths of your life behind a microscope doesn't make you less of a man, I have no idea why McKay is apparently incapable of confronting a suspect without a fight scene. He is otherwise not very macho, which I am fine with. He can't throw a dart straight to save his life. If the human heart were located in the right elbow, though, that firing-range target would have totally had it.

The extremely spoilery original trailer suggests that Kid Glove Killer was intended as the start of a series and I'm almost surprised it didn't happen—if Thin Man stand-ins Joel and Garda Sloane could get a trilogy, I don't see why we couldn't have enjoyed more McKay and Mitchell. As it is, the one film is all we've got. It runs 72 minutes and they are worth it all for the scene in which Heflin performs a precise, self-annotated mime of catching, cleaning, preparing, and then jettisoning a trout, all with the serious concentration of the slightly sloshed. He handles plain air so confidently, you can see the glint of the butter knife he's cleaning on the tablecloth and want to hand him one of those modern-day rubber grips for the ketchup bottle with the sticky cap. I have no idea if it was part of the original script or improvised on set or what on earth, but now I want to know where I can find more Van Heflin doing mime. He and Zinnemann would later reteam to superb and less comic effect in Act of Violence (1948). I appear to have seen Hunt as the Broadway-bent eldest of Frank Borzage's Seven Sweethearts (1942), but I don't hold it against her. Ava Gardner cameos as a cute married carhop. I hope to God mineral oil salad dressing is as much a thing of the past as the constant chain-smoking in chemically sensitive laboratory conditions. [edit: WHAT THE HELL IT'S NOT.] This investigation brought to you by my scientific backers at Patreon.

Doctor Who?

Jul. 18th, 2017 08:34 pm
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[personal profile] gale_storm
Just wanted to capture my thoughts on Doctor Who being portrayed by a woman instead of a man:

The Doctor will be portrayed by a woman. Big deal, in the most sarcastic way one can say! I'm looking oddly forward to how the Tardis is voiced. A few series/seasons past, the Tardis did have a voice. A female one, in "The Doctor's Wife." So? Yeah, that's about all I have to say on the change in the Doctor's (the character's) gender as perceived by people who feel that gender/sexuality is binary only, even in fiction having characters who travel in time as well as space. In other words: so? 🙄
 
 
sovay: (Claude Rains)
[personal profile] sovay
So there is a famous scene in Sidney J. Furie's The Ipcress File (1965) in which Michael Caine's Harry Palmer impresses Sue Lloyd's attractive fellow counter-espionage agent with a home-cooked omelet prepared and plated as deftly as a fine restaurant; it impressed me, especially when he cracked the eggs one-handed (in a close-up cameo from author Len Deighton) without crumpling fragments of shell everywhere. I've still got this brace on my right hand, so [personal profile] spatch cooked me an omelet for dinner before he left for work tonight because he had made one for himself last night when he got home and it had looked beautiful and I'd have needed two working hands. With my one working hand, however, I can now crack an egg on the side of a bowl without crumpling fragments of shell everywhere two out of three times (the third time required some fishing) and I am genuinely pretty proud of this fact.
chanaleh: (breathe)
[personal profile] chanaleh
I came home one night (a Thursday) a few weeks ago and promptly had a meltdown over the fact that I constantly feel like I'm too tired to do anything useful. That is, I only have one or two half-hour scraps of baby-free time in a day (at least on weekdays), and even though there are surely small pending tasks I could fruitfully accomplish in that half-hour, all I want to do is sit down and stare at the ceiling. Same on weekends during baby naptime: I think all morning about the things I want to work on when she goes down, and then once it happens, all I do is sit and veg.

thinky )

Oh, and, technically I am taking a vacation next week, except that the occasion is a weeklong visit from my mom, so it's not exactly downtime even though it will be fun times! Hopefully some extra downtime for Etrace though, if he can chill at home while we take Aria and go run around/pay social calls.
sovay: (Lord Peter Wimsey: passion)
[personal profile] sovay
I am home from Readercon and I have fed the cats and I think Autolycus has even forgiven me for not being around the last few nights to provide a keyboard for him to walk on, since he just sprang up and left the comment "ggggggggggggggggggggggggggcfghhhhhhhhh" on Facebook. (It was surprisingly apt in context. More people have liked it than have liked the actual-words comment I'd left just above.) Hestia has rubbed her head all over my shirt in order to reclaim me as part of the household rather than a hotel that doesn't even smell like cat. I had a really good weekend.

I had five program items on Friday. The first was my reading, which I think went well; it was recorded by both Readercon and Jim Freund of Hour of the Wolf, so I'll link to either or both as they're made available. I read from my recently completed, as yet unpublished short story "The Face of the Waters" with new poetry on either side and wore glasses in public for the first time, which was less a cosmetic issue than a matter of figuring out how to negotiate eye contact with my audience without bifocals. Of the panels that followed, I don't think any of them were trainwrecks: "I Am Become Death . . . No, I Mean Literally" went off-script almost immediately, but in an abstract, ethnographic way that the audience as well as the panelists seem to have enjoyed, and "The Works of Tanith Lee" was as wide-ranging as the literature we were talking about. I feel bad about overstating the degree to which I believe Owen Davies is a parental fuck-up during "Classic YA Book Club: The Dark Is Rising by Susan Cooper," but I regret nothing about rhapsodically anti-recommending Kathleen Sky's Witchdame (1985) in "Terrible . . . but Great" because somebody turned to me abruptly in an elevator the next day and complimented me on my flailing. More seriously, someone else told me that they had scoured the dealer's room for Lee's work because of the way I talked about her on the panel and been rewarded by everything they had read so far. That was really nice to hear.

In the one non-programming group activity I managed all weekend, I joined [personal profile] rushthatspeaks, [personal profile] ashnistrike, [personal profile] skygiants, and [personal profile] kate_nepveu for dinner at Taipei Cuisine, with dessert at Yocha afterward. There was sweet corn with salty egg yolk and chili-fried shrimp with peanuts and lotus root with mushrooms and sesame chicken and a couple of dishes that didn't work out but were worth ordering just to see what they were like, although "with bones in" is not how anybody was expecting the popcorn frog. I hope I can get a coconut smoothie with lychee jelly other places than Yocha, because it's a really nice dessert. I would not be the person to write it, but I hope someone does a serious critical survey of that phase of '80's fantasy when it was all idtastic, all the time.

I do not know if I can promise a Patreon review of it, but I nonetheless recommend "Level Seven" (1966), a formerly lost episode of Out of the Unknown (1965–71) adapted by J.B. Priestley from Mordecai Roshwald's 1959 pre-and-post-apocalyptic novel of the same name; it is more streamlined and more of a parable than its source material, but pulls no more punches when it comes to the likelihood of surviving MAD. Young David Collings turns out to remind me of Peter Cushing. I think it's the cheekbones and the breakdowns.

The rest of Friday night was terrible. Between four and five in the morning, I had some kind of severe allergic reaction to an unknown trigger. It was like anaphylaxis with violent nausea: I took Benadryl as soon as I realized that my throat and mouth were prickling and swelling and I had suddenly stopped being able to breathe through my nose and for all I know it saved my life, but did not prevent the rash all over my body or the wheezing when I breathed. Sleep was not so much a thing for the rest of the night. I took Benadryl conscientiously round the clock until this evening and the symptoms gradually subsided, but it took a full twelve hours for my mouth to stop being numb. I have no known food allergies; I am hoping I have not suddenly developed any. The best medical guess right now is either one bad shrimp or some kind of slow-building reaction to a medication I started a week and a half ago. I will be calling my doctors about it on Monday. It was scary.

I had one panel on Saturday at noon and I feel slightly as though I hallucinated my way through it, but I remember talking about Phyllis Gotlieb and Yoon Ha Lee and The Robots of Death (1977), because the panel was "Life, Love, and Robots," and then I drifted briefly through the dealers' room with my mother and ran into [personal profile] aedifica for a very careful lunch (I dissected the chicken out of a chicken sandwich) and then I slept for the rest of the afternoon. I did not manage to have dinner with [personal profile] yhlee. I did not manage to have dinner at all. I did manage to spend portions of the evening hanging out with Yoon and [personal profile] choco_frosh and Rush-That-Speaks and Ashnistrike and [personal profile] nineweaving, cautiously drinking herbal tea and eating my way through the pocketful of ginger chews I stole from the green room. Instead of attending any of the con's numerous room parties, I went back upstairs and answered some e-mail and continued reading Susan Cooper's The Dark Is Rising (1973), which I had brought in hardcover to the previous day's panel. [personal profile] spatch came out after his evening show and stayed with me just in case I stopped breathing in the middle of the night. I didn't.

I got the news about Jodie Whittaker's Thirteenth Doctor right before arriving for "Disturbed by Her Song: Gender, Queerness, and Sexuality in the Works of Tanith Lee," so Rush-That-Speaks and Steve Berman and I talked about Doctor Who for the first five minutes and I maintain gender-changing, self-reinventing immortals are totally on point for a discussion of Tanith Lee anyway. It was an enormously fun panel and may have repercussions.

This was a good year for books. I came away from the convention with Michael Thomas Ford's Lily (2016), L.A. Fields' Homo Superiors (2016), John Maddox Roberts' The Seven Hills (2005), Michael Cisco's The Wretch of the Sun (2016), Yevgeny Zamyatin's The Dragon (ed. and trans. Mirra Ginsburg, 1967), and five pulp novels by Fredric Brown all courtesy of [personal profile] alexxkay: The Fabulous Clipjoint (1947), The Dead Ringer (1948), The Bloody Moonlight (1949), The Screaming Mimi (1949), and Compliments of a Fiend (1950). I could not afford the first edition of Nicholas Stuart Gray's The Apple-Stone (1965) on display at Somewhere in Time Books, but I am going to look for it in libraries because either I've read the Nesbit-like scene in which the children bring a Bonfire Night guy to life and it takes its face and voice from all of them by turns or someone once described it to me and either way it gave me the same jolt of half-recognition as Eleanor Farjeon's The Silver Curlew (1953), so I need to figure out what happened there. This was not a good year for seeing people, but I am glad to have caught the people I did, like [personal profile] lesser_celery and Gillian Daniels and briefly [personal profile] rosefox, and especially pleased that I managed to snag a conversation with Michael Cisco and Farah Rose Smith on Friday before my corporeal manifestation blew up. I did not take notes on any programming, but Kate Nepveu did.

(Can Martin Landau have played one of the first queer characters I ever saw in a movie? We can argue about the positive representation of "Call it my woman's intuition, if you will" Leonard in North by Northwest (1959), but he's not even subtext: I always read him and James Mason and Eva Marie Saint as a triangle. I found out he had died as soon as I got home; I had already seen the same about George Romero and Maryam Mirzakhani. Jeez, Sunday.)

Either to sum up or really bury the lede, I can now announce that Steve Berman of Lethe Press will be publishing a collection of my short fiction in 2018. Details are yet to be determined, but it will be my first fiction collection since Singing Innocence and Experience in 2005 and I am incredibly happy about it. I will share the details as soon as they exist.

My plans for the immediate future involve sleep.

Enlightenment apostasy

Jul. 15th, 2017 12:09 pm
dpolicar: (Default)
[personal profile] dpolicar
(A friend recently posted about feeling depressed at the extent to which people seem perfectly content to embrace beliefs about the world that fly in the face of our observations of it. This started out as a comment and got out of hand.)

Yeah, I hear that.

That said: I find it really helps me, when I'm disoriented in the way you describe, to remember that the Enlightenment is fairly recent, historically speaking.

The idea that we can arrive at accurate beliefs about the world by observing it, studying it, experimenting with it, taking careful records, making predictions and checking to see whether our predictions are accurate... that idea is just a few centuries old.

The idea that we can converge on beliefs about the world through that process...
That the same experiment can be expected to get the same result whether performed by Christians or Jews or Pagans or atheists, by conservatives or liberals, by materialists or spiritualists...
That the observable world itself can be the source of a set of shared self-reinforcing beliefs...
That reliance on that process can form the cornerstone of a community just as reliance on a set of stories about God that we inherited from our ancestors does...

...these are really new ideas, historically speaking. Our culture has not fully assimilated them, not even close. Most of us weren't raised in the community of believers in the process of observing our surroundings and reasoning about them rigorously and communicating about them reliably. We don't really have social practices that reinforce that process.

So, sure, we often reject it. We often stray from that path and return to the older practice of performing culturally endorsed beliefs about reality in order to reinforce group boundaries and affirm group loyalty without reference to a shared observational practice.

That's unsurprising. Humans have been doing that before we have records; probably since before we were recognizably human.

And the alternative is genuinely hard! And honestly, as community-centering practices go, it lacks a lot: it de-centers individuals, it doesn't directly address moral issues, it doesn't distinguish between emotionally satisfying and emotionally alienating claims, it doesn't speak to our fears about nonexistence and loneliness, etc.

The one thing it has going for it is a promise to converge on shared truths if followed assiduously.

And for a lot of us that just isn't enough, or isn't always enough. We may embrace the tangible benefits of the practice, the tools and medicines and crop yields and cherry-picked theories that reinforce our culturally endorsed beliefs, but we tend to reject the practice itself. Heck, even the thing we call "science" is riddled with those practices, like any other human institution. Those habits run deep.

So, sure, of course we continue to practice the old ways, choosing the practice of performing cultural beliefs despite contradictory observations over the practice of centering and converging on observable patterns in reality.

We will continue to do that for a long, long time. It's a natural consequence of being the sort of systems we are.

So anyway, as I say, remembering that helps me approach Enlightenment apostasy with compassion during periods where I start to fear it as the end of the world. And I find that helps.