Who I Am [Reading Challenge 2017]

Who I Am

by Peter Townsend
Harper Collins Publishers, Kindle edition, 2012

[For extra credit: A biography or autobiography about someone still alive.]

I had planned to finish up my 2017 Reading Challenge with Moon Shot: The Inside Story of America’s Race to the Moon, by Alan Shepard and Deke Slayton, but it was stolen, along with the lunch bag it was in, a foldable spork, and some reading glasses, from my workplace. I was more than a little PO’d because I was just getting into it, and I truly cannot see what any of the homeless people, the probable thieves, would want with a book about the American space program. Not only that, the eyeglasses case was one shaped like a video game controller and hard to replace.

So, for a last minute substitute, I pulled in Who I Am the autobiography of Who guitarist Pete Townsend, one of the more erudite and philosophical personalities of the 1960s. This was actually a Kindle edition I purchased because I had tried twice to read a library copy of the book, and failed. Something about the immense pain on his face on the cover pic made me afraid to open it, and I was not sure of what I would find.

I’d actually been interested in the Who and their music for a couple of years now. The group’s Tommy rock opera was one of my earliest exposures to rock music at the age of 5, the album being an obsession of my older brother’s. My favorite songs were Pinball Wizard and Go to the Mirror. The metaphysical aspects, though, went over my head until I could read well enough to understand the lyric sheet, and in retrospect it was a influence on some of my own early fiction. Townsend’s book, happily, goes into great detail about Tommy’s genesis, recording, and legacy. In fact all of the material dealing with the 1960s is great, to me at least, because I’m always interested in artists and their influences. Also of interest was Townsend’s journey as a recording studio pioneer, especially of the small in-home studios many rock stars of his age began to employ. In today’s era of cheap, sophisticated, digital tools, it’s hard to remember how much sheer experimentation and invention it took to achieve unique sounds.

The other members of the Who, and the group itself, did not receive as much attention; those interested in a bio of the early Who will have to look elsewhere, such as Tony Fletcher’s Moon: The Life and Death of a Rock Legend. (I’d read that bio before this one, so didn’t feel shortshrifted at what Townsend left out.)

Though the early sections of the book were interesting, the middle was largely a slog. It became too diary-like in a “I did this, then I did that” way and although as erudite and well-written as the previous chapters, it lacked a story arc, for want of a better term, such as going from addiction to sobriety, or discomfort with celebrity to acceptance of it. In the final third, with Townsend investing more in his sobriety and realizing some truths about his past, things get interesting again, leading up to the infamous incident where he was busted and fined for visiting a child pornography site, and it’s not what you think. He also had some interesting insights about digital media devaluing itself — when everything is freely available, all the time, anywhere, it becomes harder than ever to find the good amidst the bad, or even determine what makes a piece of media good at all.

In sum: I’m glad I read this, and as a person I’d rather hang out with Townsend than many of the other rock stars I’ve read bios of.

 

The King of the Fields [Reading Challenge 2017]

isaac bashevis singer, "The King of the Fields"

The King of the Fields

by Isaac Bashevis Singer
Broadway Paperbacks, New York, 2010

[Challenge # 5:  A translation.]

This is my next-to-last Challenge read for the year, and I want to reiterate, it’s been fun. Many of the books I’ve read are from the stash I collected over the years, and each has an interesting story behind its acquisition. Rarely are they purchased in a bookstore because they look interesting. Well, the Genghis Khan one was, but that one also carries a story of a trip up to the Washington state city of Bellingham and its popular bookstore, Village Books, during the time I was finalizing a divorce from an abusive husband, and lunch after the bookstore visit in a fish and chips restaurant based out of a renovated double decker London bus. My other Challenge books have similar stories. Some came from thrift stores, some yard sales or little free libraries. King of the Fields came from a free pile in front of a rental house, this anonymous person having decided to ditch their belongings rather than move them to a new abode. Since I’ve enjoyed Isaac Bashevis Singer’s short stories in the past, I grabbed the book, and it nicely fulfilled the translation challenge because it was originally published in Yiddish, as all his fiction was.

This short novel is set in the early Middle Ages, amongst a tribe living by hunting and fishing in the forest who are forced to become “civilized” when a band of drunk, rowdy outcast lords take over their land and do as conquerors do. Though not apparent at first, it was set in Poland, in the foothills of the Carpathian mountains towards the southeast corner of the country. This was of interest to me, as some ancestors of mine came from that area.  The clash of cultures becomes less than noble as pillage, murder, guerilla warfare, and the like occurs. Nevertheless, it was very readable despite the author’s pessimistic view of human nature. I certainly admired the brevity and humor of Singer’s tone, its matter-of-factness.

What I didn’t like was its treatment of women, which I hadn’t remembered from the short stories of his that I’d read. Kosaka, the main character, is presented as an Everyman and something of a schlemiel, yet despite his unexceptional nature he gains the devotion of not one but two women, a mother-daughter pair who adhere to virgin-whore dynamics. The hot-blooded mother, Kora, is the only character in the book who accomplishes anything useful as a leader, yet she is lambasted as a liar and harlot at the end of the book, while her daughter, Yagonda, after being kidnapped and raped by Kosaka at age 11 winds up giving him total devotion as well, with the added plus of being an Iron Age manic pixie dream girl. She remains small, thin, dark, and is always running off to the forest to be at one with nature; her love is presented as “purer” than Kora’s, because she is unsullied by civilization. The other female characters were screeching harpies, superstitious gossipers, or faithless turncoats; not that the male ones were much better, most of them prone to being drunken louts, but the feeling I got from the author was that if the women only had some self-discipline, the men would follow suit.

There’s was also some rape I wasn’t comfortable with, not because of its explicitness, but because it was offered by the author so casually, without considering it from the woman’s point of view. I wanted to like the book more than I actually did.

I expected the story to lead somewhere, to a conclusion good or bad, but it just… ended. In a cheat to the reader. Won’t reveal all of it, but it was along the lines of “Life’s a bitch, and then you die.” Oh Isaac, Isaac, you could have done better!

 

 

Published in Cadaverous Magazine

 

 


My nanofic story “Garden Time” can be read in this issue of Cadaverous Magazine. At six words it will take you all of one second to read it.

(Nanofic is what I call a story under 10 words, as opposed to microfic, which is under 50, and flash fiction, under 500)

Worldbuilding Wednesday 12/27/17: Angels

Be careful who you trust; the devil was once an angel.
Old proverb

I viewed my fellow man not as a fallen angel, but as a risen ape.
Desmond Morris

We cannot pass our guardian angel’s bounds; resigned or sullen, he will hear our sighs.
Saint Augustine

Angels have a long history in Western culture. The word itself came from the Green angelos, a translation of the Hebrew mal’ahk, meaning messenger. As such they acted as intermediaries between gods and man. The ancient Sumerians were the first to depict them with wings; the halos were an idea copied from Roman non-angel art. In the Bible, they are manlike enough to wrestle and awe onlookers with their might and power. But other particulars were not recorded. Later theologians posited them as beings made of light, or genderless, or being “without desire.” If any of you are like me, you know them from Christmas cards, fine art, and Catholic churches: girly-looking blonde-haired men in nightgowns.

Modern depictions show a more sinister and sexual side. Storm Constantine’s novels about the Grigori, fallen angels who bred with human women, depict them as amoral, brutal beings prone to anal rape. In the movie 2010 Legion, angels act as God’s army to destroy the mortal world and cleanse it. The Twilight knockoff YA novel Hush, Hush depicts a hunky male angel falling in love with a teenage girl and stalking, humiliating, and abusing her. These depictions are a far cry from the dimply guardian angel of Facebook gifs.

Hebrew tradition lists about two dozen different kinds of angels and a like number of individual beings. From these, it wasn’t too hard to random gen my own.

Imaginary Angels

Betelach

Tinerzriel

Amphalra

Uxrah

Irulael

Marach

Zamyel

Phaaneth

Eluseel

Chanbhayel

Taphone

Yseth

Zeunmaral

Chabiel

Urys

Seltramineth

Perusiel

Elfmral

Lukach

Telekanzel

Peranus

Tanon

Aragiah

Gazeth

Dhilah

Ranach

Linanon

Ankheth

Patrimal

Alraeth

Uidellus

Yungael

Saldut

Saanah

Baranael

Elfrial

Lyraniuel

Saphach

Tzeniel

Karial

Shumal

Karlbaranach

Gediael

Hardfariah

Thimyael

Minyel

Jorkaha

Chabut

Denah

Symbolas

Sataut

Myrus

Nemzaryel

Lukudraeth

Geribuel

Tassosut

Chantsael

Anulturuseth

Asmaael

Abeth

Marsuel

Dhilut

Selenasma

Geribus

Kentiah

Sapharaiz

Yaschmel

Torazel

Thysial

Shispersiel

Ectraphone

Anthmal

Hallabha

Gyruel

Bhaateth

Ketiah

Shaujmid

Aresius

Ehleth

Pilger

Nebyel

Villuel

Chardeth

Marsah

Saddeth

Sybhaatuel

Zaasfael

Yvach

The Secret History of the Mongol Queens [Reading Challenge 2017]

The Secret History of the Mongol Queens: How the Daughters of Genghis Khan Rescued his Empire

by Jack Weatherford
Broadway Paperbacks, New York, 2010

[Challenge # 9: A book about a person you know little about.]

Winding up my book challenges for 2017. Am looking forward to next years’ reading. Who knows where it will lead me?

On to the Challenge. I hadn’t read any Asian history before this book (or anything about Genghis Khan, really) so I came in totally blind, and it took me a while to get into because I had no reference points. But I was glad I did, because, what an inspiration! It read like an outline for some fantasy series yet to be written.

The author had written a previous history of Genghis Khan and I am guessing this book was to serve as a companion to that one rather than an afterthought. Though the author focuses on the roles of women in this one — wives, daughters, daughters-in-law, mothers — among the ruling  Mongolians, I felt it gave me a good, basic grasp of Mongolian history, which was something I might not have tackled in a more conventional text. At the end of it, I was eager to read more.

The only thing I can fault the book for was that the maps were inadequate for a newcomer to Asian history like myself. I would have preferred a macro view, that called out into smaller views as the chapters progressed.

 

 

 

Krampus

Krampus

The little children couldn’t wait for Krampus to arrive spreading joy and fear.

 

Worldbuilding Wednesday 12/20/17: Beers

dwarf drinking beer

Who doesn’t like a strong draft of beer?

Beer brewing is one of the most ancient of arts. Evidence exists for it in writing dating far back to 5000 BCE in Egypt and Mesopotamia. It went into eclipse during the days of the Roman Empire with its taste for wine; but came back in strong during the Medieval era, where it diversified and began to be sold in specialty taverns, the forerunners of today’s pubs and hop shops.

Chuck's Hop Shop

When you’re in Seattle,
visit Chuck.

Those very shops offer a dazzling variety to choose from in large urban areas. A perusal of the offerings of my favorite, the titular Chuck’s Hop Shop in Seattle, came up with these evocative names:

Ill Tempered Gnome Winter Ale

Melon Session Pale

Brewdocky

Fat Monk

Ivan the Terrible Imperial Stout

From similar parameters, it wasn’t too hard to random gen my own, with all the colorfulness weary adventurers deserve after a hard day of sacking and looting or overthrowing the dark lord.

Beers

Virgin’s Hammer

Mossborne Cream

Stormdraft

Knebflan

Saltguts

Flambech

King’s Nectar

Birdbone’s Salty Whistle

Shortwhack Sweet

Horndinger

Shingobble

Scullysmack Orange

Dogberry Delicious

Tunksalt Bitter

Tierson’s Grim Catdraft

Buckshort

Shillnoddy

Gorgon’s Tit

Goodwive’s Cross

Chestnut Envy

Savorskin White

Sunbury Zest

Gillygobble Nine

Savorfern

Wormguts

Aldinger Pale

Gladlouse Ginger Stout

Hamwhistle

Penslim Amber

Prophet’s Moon

Shunknack Sour

Grindyshalling

Poorlbech

Rundyline Round Red

The Plague Doctor’s #9 Brew

Yardbird Yellow

Eyespeak

Eye will always speak the truth to you.

 

 

Worldbuilding Wednesday 12/13/17: Star Names II

Distinctive stars have distinctive names. Polaris, for example, is also known as the Pole Star, and at various places in its past Angel Stern, Cynosura, the Lodestar, and The Star of Arcady. Arcturus was known as Guardian of the Bear to the ancient Greeks. Constellation descriptions in old astronomical catalogs give descriptions such as “Regulus, the heart of the lion” and science fiction writers often reference stars created in their works by location, color, and brightness, e.g. “A yellow G2 star slightly smaller than Sol.”

Here’s some random gen names for your own work.

 

Star Names and Descriptions

Torsnilam, a dim star in the constellation of the Peacock

Delphwad, the Physician’s Wrist

Churalrai, the Star of Betrayal

Taungiethi, the Star of Malice

Quesraph, a brilliant white star in the constellation of the Badger

Torrara, a dim yellow star in the constellation of the Viper, also called The Corpse Star

Schiralpha, the Bloodlust Star. Its reddish color foretold battles and strife.

Olchab, a blue-white star in the constellation of the Goblin

Hamtut, the barbels of the Catfish

Thysaris, the star of Inner Transformation

Tasgenubi, the Goldsmith’s Friend

Translurops, the Star of Good Swordsmanship

Oudgenubi, the Winter Star

Yungedi, the Star of Glory

Mulrak and Mornax, the Dawn Stars

Pellanan, a bright orange star in the constellation of the Badger

Dhamgenubi, the Bright Heart of the Toad

Jalectra, a bright star in the constellation of the Boar, also known as the Giver of Forbearance

Grantaka, the Centipede Crown

Yeshchard, Heart of the Ibis

Khangeuse, a bright reddish-orange star also known as the Goblin’s Liver in the constellation of the same name.

Kivkha, the Hippogriff’s eye

Kyhaut, Eye of the Phoenix

Dengete, the Vulture’s beak

Shauntaka, the Tanner’s thumb

Qugieba, the Sage’s star

Umwaad, the Maiden’s head

Kallinan, the Warrior’s finger

Tamhaut the Unlucky. To see it at dawn invited misfortune.

Tiny Funerals

Coffinmakers showcased their wares with miniature creations like these.