Imaginary Worlds: a secondary-world history (#SFWApro)

IMAGINARY WORLDS: The Art of Fantasy by Lin Carter (wonderful cover by Gervasio Gallardo, all rights remain with current holder), a history of secondary world fantasy for the Ballantine Adult Fantasy series, didn’t blow me away as much as when I read it as a teen. But I expected that.

Back then, the literary world Carter mapped was terra incognita to me. All these amazing authors — James Branch Cabell, Clark Ashton Smith, A. Merritt, E. R. Eddison — that I’d read maybe one or two books by, and now I saw how much more stuff was out there. Ohhhh, I wanted it. I wanted it all. Now, of course, I’ve read most of them, liked many of them (as I’ve mentioned before, Eddison’s Worm Ouroboros is much overrated). The thrill of seeing what lay ahead is gone.

That aside, this is a decent but flawed history of the topic. Carter argues that secondary-world fantasy (Middle Earth, Narnia, Hyborian Age) is the core of fantasy fiction so it deserves a spotlight. While dubiously asserting that pretty much any ancient book with magic in it should count as fantasy (if people believed in them, they ain’t fantasy; I’m quite sure Milton thought Paradise Lost was dramatizing real events), he does a good job following the idea of “create your own world and make it magical” concept from William Morris through George McDonald, Dunsany, Merritt, Cabell and then into the pulps and after. And he lists the different ways of creating a separate world: another planet, another dimension, ancient history, distant future or just say “here it is” without explanation.

And I find a lot of his analysis — why it’s okay sword-and-sorcery has a limited range of styles and where Tolkien went wrong — pretty persuasive. However I could do without the endless carping about how fantasy is really, really cool even though people laugh at it, though that was pretty common in writing about the genre at the time (back in the pre-Game of Thrones, pre-LOTR films, we fans could get a little defensive). And some of Carter’s analysis is daft, such as describing Raymond Chandler as a guy with no prose style (it makes me suspect Carter has never read Chandler).

Curiously Carter doesn’t seem to believe fantasy set in what appears to be the real world is even remotely possible, which given the breadth of his own reading surprises me. True, he was writing well before the birth of urban fantasy, but by 1973 when he wrote this there’d certainly been fantasies that qualified (T.H. White, whom Carter greatly admires, did at least two, most notably the charming Mistress Masham’s Repose).  For that matter, A. Merritt’s fantasies are all contemporary, set in some isolated land tucked away from the rest of the world (he was writing early enough in the century that unknown lands were still a possibility).

The two big flaws are that Carter forgets his own ground rules, and that he talks too much about himself. Given his ground rules about what counts as a secondary world, he shouldn’t be including Islandia which is contemporary and has no magic. As he rules out fantasies set in other people’s worlds, Evangeline Walton’s books in the world of Celtic myth shouldn’t be there either.

The second flaw is much more frustrating. As with his Year’s Best Fantasy series, Carter has no compunction about turning the spotlight on himself. Which is fair enough at times — I’m not a fan of his Thongor books, but at the time it was one of the more successful Conan knockoffs — but I think readers would be better served by more detail on, say, Andre Norton’s Witch World series than discussing the Carter/DeCamp continuation of Howard’s Conan books.

Overall, I think reading the introduction to the various books in the Adult Fantasy series would be more productive than reading Imaginary Worlds. But I do think Carter’s thoughts about writing fantasy are worth discussing in a later post. So I will.

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Why we can’t have nice things. For starters, Republicans

Because they’re thrilled, absolutely thrilled that we’re bombing Syria.

•Because if they can’t get the state education budget cuts they want, they veto the entire education budget.

•They elected an authoritarian, borderline fascist president. Who despite all the talk in the campaign (and since) about him Not Being a Politician is now a bog-standard Republican only more openly racist.

•Because President Shit-Gibbon’s AG Jeff Sessions has given up on improving forensic science. Apparently sloppy science often works in the prosecution’s favor, so good science might get more people off. Which would be bad. And he’s going to get even tougher on immigrants. I’m sure he’ll make up for it by not spending any DoJ resources on things like right wing terrorism.

•Because education secretary Betsy Devos has dropped an Obama policy of not contracting with student-loan servicers who screw over borrowers.

•Because electing “godly” people (which large numbers of Republicans stopped worrying about when Trump ran) doesn’t lead to moral government. Nor does electing homophobes.

•Because in Texas the Republicans don’t want minors joining unions without parental consent.

•Because some North Carolina Republicans want to make marriage heterosexual-only again. Ditto Tennessee. And one of the NC legislators, Larry Pittman, puts Lincoln fighting the Civil War in the same class as Hitler. And has also supported a bill canceling the “never secede again” clause in the Constitution. Funny, he doesn’t seem to see any connection between Hitler’s belief in racial superiority and the Confederacy’s support of racial superiority.

•Because they’re voting to let a church have its own police force. I know they say its purely for security, but I have a bad feeling about this …

•Because they give us daily examples of white privilege. And more white privilege (and then whine about how minorities shouldn’t be let into college because, merit!). Which we’re supposed to believe represents rugged individualism.

•Because they’re not answerable to the taxpayers: Oklahoma Rep. Markwayne Mullin says he’s so rich his taxes pay his salary, so he’s really doing it for free. But I’m sure he’s carefully crunched the numbers and eliminated all the other things he gets like roads, law enforcement and the military.

•Because if they can’t repeal Obamacare, they’re willing to shut off the money.

•Because they cut funding to libraries and legal services for the poor.

•Because their media lackeys will insist on explaining, even now, that Trump is identical to Clinton. Or that he’s the Martin Luther King of healthcare.

•Because they think a woman with a dead fetus should carry it to term instead of aborting (Republicans say the bill doesn’t actually require that, but that doesn’t change that Republican Shannon Lundgren, thinking it did, was cool with it).

•Because they’re still convinced this country belongs to Christians and nobody else.

•Because of the angry white men who think they got ripped off.

•Because we get smug Catholic conservatives like Ross Douthat taking up space in the NYT to tell liberals you should all go to church and (a classic!) even atheists know God exists. Though I will admit “go to liberal churches” is an improvement over his usual paeans to right-wing reactionaries and abstinence.

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Filed under economics, Politics, Undead sexist cliches

Synchronized clocks and dream quests: this week’s books (#SFWApro)

I read a good deal more, but I’m saving it for in-depth posts

EINSTEIN’S CLOCKS, POINCARE´S MAPS: Empires of Time by Peter Galison attempts to place Einstein in a scientific and technical world where the relationship between a clock in a railway station and a pocket watch on a train was anything but abstract. As Galison details, questions of how to coordinate clocks consumed a lot of people in the late 19th century, the problem being not only mechanical but also political as someone had to decide what “standard” time the clocks would default to (one American proposal for US clocks would have dumped local time and set all time zones to one central clock). Galison also looks at why the French physicist/mathematician/engineer Poincaré came close to Einstein’s relativity breakthrough and stopped short, concluding that Poincaré was too tied to the practical to be comfortable with stripping away everything to relativity. Interesting but dry, and I’m not sure Poincaré adds anything to the narrative.

THE SIXTH GUN: Ghost Dance by Cullen Bunn and Brian Hurtt has Becky, Drake and their crew fleeing the Widow Hume with their accursed world-shaping weapons. But Becky tapping the Sixth Gun’s powers in previous stories is killing her spirit so to save it some convenient Native American shamans send her on a vision quest for answers. While I’m a fan of the series, this was a disappointing volume: comics have done this sort of pretentious, surreal spirit journey to death and the creators didn’t bring anything new to the table. The Native American magic also feels stereotypical, though maybe if I’d caught the previous volume it would have worked better.

Oh, the clock from the Metropolitan Museum of Art has nothing to do with the books but it’s so beautiful, and it fit the topic of the first book, so … Photo is by me.

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New Screen Rant column: 18 things you didn’t know about the Daleks (#SFWApro)

As my new Screen Rant column explains:

Daleks can climb stairs!

An appearance in Looney Tunes: Back in Action almost kept the Daleks from appearing in the new Doctor Who series.

There’s actually a Christmas song about Daleks.

And more quirky trivia from the nastiest of TV’s aliens. Go read right now or — “Ex-ter-min-ate!”

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A French? photographer, an Indian housewife: this week’s films (#SFWApro)

MAHANAGAR (1963) — Big City in English — is Indian director Satyajit Ray’s take on a familiar US theme, My Wife Got a Job!, but it’s better than any US film in that line that I can think of (all rights to image remain with current holder). The protagonist is a bank clerk’s wife who gets a door-to-door sales job, then almost quits at her husband’s insistence. Only when he loses his job, she has to stay on as the sole source of support, giving her a taste of independence and money of her own. The discomfort and insecurity of the male members of her family are handled much more matter-of-factly than most American films, and ultimately this is more accepting of Mom’s role than I think an American film of that period would be. Very good. “We have let earning a living make us cowards.”
FINDING VIVIAN MAIER (2013) is a documentary about the eponymous nanny  who spent her life taking photos of strangers on the street, amassing a collection of photographs that turned her into a retroactive celebrity when a guy who acquired them in an estate sale started posting them online. This is not a great documentary but it is interesting watching the guy and the various people who knew her attempt to reconstruct her mysterious past (“I’m a linguist. I know that was a fake French accent.”) and speculate about what made her the obsessively private person she was. “I really feel guilty saying these things.”

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The tide has turned. That may be a good thing (#SFWApro)

So a couple of weeks ago I was dealing with four different sources of nonfiction, income generating projects. At this point it looks like next week I’ll be down to one. I don’t feel bad about (perhaps in a few months).

The legal articles I was doing for Leaf has now wrapped up. It was fun doing it again — after several years with them back when I first moved up here I know the format and a lot of the topics well — but simply because it was for a limited time I put in a lot more effort than if it had been long-term. So that’ll free up quite a bit of time.

Two of the other income streams I was dealing with have yet to send me any work. Which is good because I had the Leaf stuff — it paid a lot better — and I don’t know how much more I could have handled. I keep wondering if one of them will start next week, enabling me to keep the money flowing. But I wouldn’t mind a week of getting back to mostly fiction, even though I’m still hustling for nonfiction gigs and magazine article ideas.

Screen Rant, of course, remains. I did my newest article this week (Dalek trivia!) but it’s not online yet. Rights to image remain with current holder.

And I did get close to 3,000 words of Southern Discomfort done, but that’s 2,000 short of what I’d planned. I should have stuck with the impulse I followed the previous week: when the nonfiction gets tough, just make myself put in the extra time to get 1,000 words each day. I’d figured I could catch up today — I did my last Leaf article (on the educational power of attorney) yesterday — but no. We had a somewhat chaotic morning with me walking the dogs (TYG was stuck handling something else) and then Plushie went and sat up in the bedroom. When I checked on him he stared at me as if he couldn’t quite figure out why he didn’t have one of his parents next to him to snuggle with (he’s not the sharpest card in the deck). So I settled in with him until he finally headed downstairs. All of which apparently left my brain too unfocused to work on fiction, so I switched to batting out some of Undead Sexist Cliches (The Book). I’m pleased I kept my nose to the grindstone, frustrated I got thrown so easily by morning events (and I had such a good night’s sleep, too!). But like I said, next week looks free and clear for catching up (fingers crossed).

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Filed under Personal, Southern Discomfort, The Dog Ate My Homework, Time management and goals, Undead sexist cliches, Writing

So Trixie ate a button … (#SFWApro)

That was Wednesday night. We were up in bed when TYG noticed she sounded like Trixie was chewing something hard. Which shouldn’t be possible in our bed. And yep, she’d been gnawing on a button on the duvet and bitten part of it (we will not be using that duvet again). She didn’t seem to be choking or in pain so after some Internet research we decided to see if she’d poop it out. And she has, or around 80 percent of it. How do I know? Squeezed the poop bag and felt something that was definitely a button.

Wednesday was also odd because when I sank into bed Tuesday night I didn’t get up until 5:30. Which for me on a weekday is oversleeping. And I never oversleep. Not that I’m complaining — I had an exceptionally bad night Monday and I eeded every minute of extra sleep.

Thursday was odd because we didn’t want to take the dogs in to doggy day care as we usually do — after all we could hardly ask them to inspect her poop for buttons. So I lost my day to work without pups to parent. I had to pass up plans for a haircut — I rarely go out when they’re home because I have to set up Plushie’s cage and that’s more bother than it’s usually worth. This weekend, perhaps.

Of course the dogs being home meant that when a contractor showed up — I’d set the time precisely because they wouldn’t be here — the pups lost their shit (“PET ME, PET ME, PETTTTT ME!!!!”). The contractor crew bore it with good grace, though.

And in the evening, when I had to do my cleaning (I normally do that on day-care day too) the pups lost their mind again. I was home — but I wasn’t sitting with them! Or doing something with them! I was doing Other Stuff! Departure From Routine! Apocalpyse! Noooo! But after I was done we all calmed down and settled on the couch again. What the heck, no matter what they need, they’re worth it.

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Filed under Personal, The Dog Ate My Homework, Time management and goals