Todd Alcott re-creates old SF pulp covers into homages to David Bowie songs. You can buy his work on etsy.com.
Since it’s the week before Easter, here’s some more Lapine words with generated meanings.
|To flip over; somersault
To listen closely, to pay attention
Seeds that can be eaten
Seeds that are not good to eat
A place to store food
Fluff, like loose fur, used by does to make a nest
A young doe, analogous to girl
Thick wooded undergrowth
To feint when fighting another rabbit
To scrabble for footing, as if on stones or a steep surface
Spider. Hlothlev-frei, cobweb.
Flies-so-fast, Lapine for a jet airplane
Silent or silence
To store or hoard
To leap through the woods, to gambol
“Pebble-stealer,” or one who is petty about things
Early morning mist
Wind. Sivroo, breeze.
A short branch
To nurse young
Little rascal, or pest
I was lucky enough to visit Notre Dame cathedral as a child. It was August, the time when Parisians traditionally took their own vacations, and the city was quieter than it normally was. I went with my mom and dad. I remember it being shadowy and cool inside, the noises muffled. It seemed impossibly high. The summer sun blazed through the stained glass windows, so bright I could barely tell what colors they were made of. My dad wandered around, snapping pictures on a 35mm reflex camera — he was a photographer. Perhaps, being a jokester, he told me to look out for the hunchback.
That version of the cathedral is gone now.
It’s a disaster, of course, the fire eating through the roof and destroying the spire. But the spire had never been part of the original design. Neither were the iconic flying buttresses. And many cathedrals have survived the loss of their roofs and spires, even their towers. Fire is the most common culprit, but windstorms as well, and sometimes the failure of the materials themselves when the weight of the structure strains them over time.
Additions too change a cathedral’s original integrity. Chapels may be added to appease some noble family. Or the building changes religions, Hagia Sophia adding minarets (and very attractive ones) when it became a mosque.
The point is, churches are of man, of humankind, and not static objects frozen in time. They change and grow as humans themselves do. Notre Dame will recover, as an individual, family, or community does. It will endure.
For a different kind of disaster that befalls a cathedral, here’s the short story “Petra” by SF author Greg Bear. He most likely had Notre Dame and its famous gargoyles in mind when he wrote it.
How much is too much digital entertainment?
The Lies of Locke Lamora
by Scott Lynch
Paperback edition, Bantam, 2007
The Lies of Locke Lamora came out in 2006, but I only got around to it in 2019. I’m coming out of a long period where I did not read current science fiction or fantasy, only old favorites. It caught my attention at Value Village, one of my favorite places in Seattle to buy used books, because of all the buzz it’s had. It’s completely warranted for the most part.
(NOTE: There are some spoilers in this review.)
Lies is a rollicking, genial fairground ride of a fantasy, less deep than it intends to be, but very good for what it does — depicting a roguish buddy adventure for which Fritz Leiber’s Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser series was the basic template. There’s a team of five in the book, but Locke Lamora and Jean Tannen are the core members, embodying, respectively, brains and brawn, but also acting and business, planning and fighting. There’s a healthy dash of Asterix and Obelix as well. Lynch’s creations are far more cerebral, however, and more self-aware. They are confidence men, running their scams out of a temple dedicated to the god of poverty and charity from a basement hideout that would put the Batcave to shame, while catering to the upscale tastes of Bruce Wayne. The book has been described as grimdark by some reviewers because of its focus on vice, but it really isn’t. It’s a lark, and the sheer glee of the author shines through as he constructs the plot along with the glee of the protagonists as they construct their scam of the century.
The story takes place in Camorr, a canal-filled city based on Venice, but with the muggy climate of a hot summer in New York City, and with that city’s crime, too. The city becomes its own character in the book, a place of seediness and mystery, yet also great wealth and ostentatious displays of it. It’s an exquisitely designed gamer’s paradise rendered as the background of a novel, giving life and color to the adventures within. The naming conventions are Italianate, some actual, like Lorenzo, others made up with an Italian feel, like Barsavi. I give the author lots of credit for doing historical research. Much in here could have come from City of Fortune: How Venice Ruled the Seas, the history of Venice I read for the 2018 Reading Challenge. There are twists, though. Instead of the Doge (Duke) of the city symbolically wedding the sea, we have female athletes who fight sharks with battle axes. It’s a lot of fun, though I could have done with less of the local color, especially the descriptions of clothing. But what made it excessive also made it very real. I felt I could walk into it at any point.
In contrast, The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, the fantasy book I had read previous to this, had a world that felt less real and more stylized, like an expressionistic movie set. In contrast to Lies the things that happen to Jemisin’s characters were both horrible and affecting, which is what the author intended, and indeed it was a different kind of book. I could go on about male vs. female ways of writing here, and which is better or worse, but I won’t.
The structure of the novel is interesting too. Instead of telling the story of Locke Lamora, a completely average human save for his skill at impersonation and thievery, in a linear way, we move back-and-forth. We begin at Locke’s genesis, where he escapes a fire in a poor neighborhood and is taken in by The Thiefmaker, the Fagin-like leader of a ring of pickpocket children that operates out of tombs in the cemetery. In roughly the first half of the story we watch Locke, Jean, the Sanza brothers and apprentice Bug set up an elaborate scam on an unsuspecting noble which is contrasted with Locke’s rough life with the pickpockets, then with Father Chains who trains him to run scams. This was fun and I was waiting for the scam to go wrong so the main plot could get started. The back-and-forth structure meant some events became confusing though. At one point the noble target is visited by a member of the Duke’s secret police who warns him of what Locke is planning for them and advises them to play along with it, as the secret police have things under control and are waiting for the right moment to catch the thief. Then in the next chapter we switch to Locke & Co. dressing as the secret police in their hideout, preparing to visit the noble, and I chuckled, foreseeing the trouble they will run into with their scam if the real secret police have warned the target. I thought this was the trigger point of the plot and looked forward to the mayhem. But no, we actually skipped back in time and everything was all right.
That said, the first half of the book was better plotted than the second half, and the last eighth of it, where things begin to fall apart in a way that didn’t fit with the story’s earlier tone.
The real plot begins when Locke is drugged on his way home from visiting his marks and taken to the Gray King, a mysterious assassin who has been killing the men of Barsavi, the current crimelord of the city. The Gray King tells Locke he must impersonate him at a meeting with Barsavi but doesn’t explain why. This is the first time ever Locke finds himself in a bind, and we move away from the scam plot which was loads of fun into a more standard and sober one. Appealing characters start to die, some in sadistic ways. Though it’s something that would normally bother me as a reader because the previous tone was so gleeful, it didn’t. Emotional consequences were not examined at length because it just wasn’t that kind of book. The tone remained breezy, and I could easily imagine the deceased characters as actors only playing their roles, popping up backstage hale and hearty after their exits were made. I can guess it’s because of the RPG influence on the author, where deceased characters are just that, characters, and can be used to game with another day. No sweat.
The story then becomes a mystery/thriller as Locke & Co. try to stop the Gray King from his nefarious plot to destroy Camorr. The tension is ratcheted up and kept me turning the pages. The intrusions to the past continued, some of which filled in the details of the characters’ previous lives, and started to feel more like intrusions, but they also leavened the cartoonish nature of the plot. (Incidentally, this method of telling a SFF story by going back-and-forth with anecdotes, myths, diary entries, etc. all started with Ursula K. LeGuin’s novel The Left Hand of Darkness, as I found out the other day. How the field cross pollinates.)
However, the two sections fit together uneasily even with this device. I had the feeling that Locke, who had been set up in all the chapters before as a cool, confidant badass, was being shoehorned into the plot and his character suffered. For example, when Locke is drugged for the first meeting with the Gray King, he thinks the wife of the noble he’s scamming has poisoned the ink of the document he handled earlier — meaning she knows the true nature of Locke’s scam. But Locke never follows up on it or thinks about it again. And when, in the end, Lock is captured and exposed as a criminal, liar and cheat, he must save Camorr by revealing a wild plot that no one is likely to believe. We might have had the grounds for some delicious examination of what happens when a habitual liar must tell the truth. Yet that irony is never explored, Locke instead getting his point across by lots of sputtering and cursing. The side characters had continued to be well done and rounded out up to that point, yet the main character took a big step back, becoming a puppet. As a reader I expected some deeper examination of him at this part, but all I got was lip service to his trauma. An older or more skilled writer might have been able to pull it off; this was the writer’s debut, and though solid, he was not 100% there yet.
Still, it’s a loving tribute to games and gaming and the creators of those games. I give it five stars.
In the mid-1970s British Author Richard Adams forever re-defined the talking animal fantasy with Watership Down. “A group of adventurers flee their doomed city… and they are rabbits” was one of the taglines. Thrust into the wider world, they encounter predators, roads, hostile or indifferent humans, and unfamiliar territory as they search for a place to call their own. When they find it, it’s threatened by the militaristic rule of General Woundwart, a rabbit “as big as a hare” who rules a nearby rabbit warren. It’s a huge doorstopper of a book, yet suitable for all ages so that it often pops up on YA and Middle Grade reading lists. It’s readable, profound, and touching. (Read my review of the sequel, Tales from Watership Down, here.)
Naming conventions for the rabbits were based on gender. Male rabbits had the names of plants or plant features: Acorn, Hazel, Blackberry; while female rabbits had Lapine (Adams’s name for the rabbit’s language) names that meant something pretty or delicate, such Nildro-Hain (Blackbird’s Song) or Hyzenthlay (Fur shining like dew). Yet, the system was not followed to the letter. Bigwig, Hazel’s second-in-command, had a Lapine name, Thlayli, that meant Fur-head, and two of the domestic female rabbits met on the journey had the non-Lapine names of Clover and Haystack. In the sequel, the system of male-plant / female-Lapine names appears again, but for this round the does’ names are less elaborate (Tilpha, Milmown) and their meanings not explained. A few of the male rabbits have Lapine names as well. Perhaps this was an effort by the author to show that each rabbit warren had different naming conventions and they changed over time, but it could also mean he was forgetful or lazy.
Any, should anyone wish to write Watership Down fanfic, here’s a list of abstracted Lapine names for male and female rabbits.
Watership Down Rabbit Names
“Break a leg! Break off an arm, too!”
Steampunk, a term coined in the mid-1980s, is a catch-all term for artistic design and subject matter that harks back to the Victorian Age, when steam-powered machinery and clockwork mechanisms began to drive the Industrial Revolution. The term was invented by SF writer K.W. Jeter in a tongue-in-cheek reference to Cyberpunk. But the term and its aesthetics did not pass into popular culture until the 1990s, when, in a one-two punch, William Gibson and Bruce Sterling, both Cyberpunk pioneers, released The Difference Engine, and the California Disneyland revamped its Tomorrowland design into a Jules Verne-inspired vision of the future that never was. The ball started rolling after that.
Need some inspiration? Here are some randomgenned Steampunk novels that have yet to be written.
The Thousand Year Calculation
Gears of Beguilement
The Zeppelin Corset
The Iron Daughter’s Tale
An Occurrence at the Iron Circus
The Hypnogogic Guest
The Electric Duchess
Our Lady of the Silver Turbines
The Iron Cloister
The Ivory Juggernaut
The Case of the Wind-Up King
The Steam-Driven League
The Steel Parasol
The Automated City
A Numerologist of Valor
Excuse Me. Terribly Sorry.
Jet Age: The Comet, the 707, and the Race to Shrink the World
by Sam Howe Verhovek
[Challenge # 25: A book in which airplanes figure prominently.]
Hubris and aviation have a long, intertwined history together. Overconfidence in a flight control system most likely caused the recent crashes of a Boeing 737 Max 8 in Ethiopia and Malaysia, and a faulty cargo door design the crash of a DC-10 in Ermenonville, France, in 1974.* Such hubris may have even caused the demise of a whole national aviation industry, as happened in the early 1960s in Great Britain.
Jet Age: The Comet, the 707, and the Race to Shrink the World is a history of the first two commercial jets that ushered in the era of modern aviation: The British DeHavilland-produced Comet, and the American Boeing 707. The Comet came out first, but suffered a series of mysterious accidents, and Seattle’s The Boeing Company and the U.S. eventually walked away with the prizes. I chose it for my airplane read, and I found it an excellent introduction to the commercial airline industry. It surprised me with many new nuggets of fact, like how Boeing, known mainly for military aircraft, entering the commercial industry after WWII for the simple reason they’d get better tax breaks from the US government. I love this stuff.
I’m an amateur student of all things aviation and space, but the book was not so dense that someone would need a background in aviation to understand it. All sorts of interesting characters and side stories are introduced throughout, so if a reader wishes to read further about Boeing, test pilots, Pan Am and Juan Trippe, or women in aviation, it’s a good jumping-off point. The reviews on Goodreads weren’t outstanding, but I give it five stars, and a strong recommendation.
* Detailed in the excellent The Flight 981 Disaster: Tragedy, Treachery, and the Pursuit of Truth, by Samme Chittum.