Monday, June 18, 2007

2007 Locus Awards (Update)

Yes, these are up, and constitute a nice list of readings for certain kinds of readers.

Link here.


And the winners are... here:

Best Science Fiction Novel: Rainbows End, Vernor Vinge (Tor)

Best Fantasy Novel: The Privilege of the Sword, Ellen Kushner (Bantam Spectra)

Best First Novel: Temeraire: His Majesty's Dragon/Throne of Jade/Black Powder, Naomi Novik (Del Rey; Voyager); as Temeraire: In the Service of the King (SFBC)

Best Young Adult Book: Wintersmith, Terry Pratchett (Doubleday UK; HarperTempest)

Best Novella: "Missile Gap", Charles Stross (One Million A.D.)

Best Novelette: "When Sysadmins Ruled the Earth", Cory Doctorow (Baen's Universe 8/06)

Best Short Story: "How to Talk to Girls at Parties", Neil Gaiman (Fragile Things)

Best Magazine: The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction

Best Publisher: Tor

Best Anthology: The Year's Best Science Fiction: Twenty-Third Annual Collection, Gardner Dozois, ed. (St. Martin's)

Best Collection: Fragile Things, Neil Gaiman (Morrow; Headline Review)

Best Editor: Ellen Datlow

Best Artist: John Picacio

Best Non-Fiction: James Tiptree, Jr.: The Double Life of Alice B. Sheldon, Julie Phillips (St. Martin's)

Best Art Book: Spectrum 13: The Best in Contemporary Fantastic Art, Cathy & Arnie Fenner, eds. (Underwood)

Friday, June 15, 2007

'Affair Of The Heart'

The sonnet is historically a 13th-century form of poetry which consists of fourteen lines normally written in iambic pentameter. It typically discusses spiritual matters and affairs of the heart. There are, however, many interpretations of this definition.

The earliest seems to be the Italian or Petrarchan sonnet, with a rhyme scheme abba-abba-cde-cde; a theme is displayed and expounded in the first two quatrains, a new theme is introduced in the following three lines (marked by a 'turn' or volta in the ninth line) and the whole is concluded in the last three lines. Often, the six concluding lines present a solution to a dilemma or problem posed in the first eight lines.

The familiar English sonnet form as we know it was first introduced in the 16th century. Prior to that, poets like Milton contented themselves with the Italian form. The English form scans as abab-cdcd-efef-gg; a triptych of related images evolves in the three quatrains and a conclusion is given in the last two lines. Shakespeare in particular was enamoured by this form (example here).

There are modern forms of the sonnet as well, with other shapes and sizes. Hopkins, for example, played with the sonnet form more conventionally in 'As Kingfishers Catch Fire...':

As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies dráw fláme;
As tumbled over rim in roundy wells
Stones ring; like each tucked string tells, each hung bell’s
Bow swung finds tongue to fling out broad its name;
Each mortal thing does one thing and the same:
Deals out that being indoors each one dwells;
Selves—goes itself; myself it speaks and spells,
Crying Whát I do is me: for that I came.

Í say móre: the just man justices;
Kéeps gráce: thát keeps all his goings graces;
Acts in God’s eye what in God’s eye he is—
Chríst—for Christ plays in ten thousand places,
Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his
To the Father through the features of men’s faces.

He also used the unusual 3/4 sonnet in poems such as 'Pied Beauty':

Glory be to God for dappled things—
For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
Landscape plotted and pieced—fold, fallow, and plough;
And áll trádes, their gear and tackle and trim.

All things counter, original, spare, strange;
Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
Praise him.

As you can see, the sonnet takes many forms. Consider this last example, 'Affair of the Heart (guest starring several other organs)'. What kind of a sonnet is it, and how does it achieve its effects?

A serenade is coursing through my gut:
The wine and other wine and soup and beer,
The pesky discourse of the radiant slut,
The urinary moiety of fear.
Still here to come the stew of Irish style
That loiters with a cannibal intent,
A battery of a salt-and-pepper guile
Provoking now dyspeptic accident.

Then comes the coffee and the last goodbye.
And suddenly the shock is too damn' near;
A last tear for the last girl of my eye.
My tent! My hut! My residence so dear!
The lawyers and their wallet-turning thugs
Make alimonious hell of secret hugs.


A sestina is a poem that has 6 stanzas (of 6 lines each) followed by a stanza of 3 lines (a tercet). Every stanza uses the same words at the end of each line, but in a different order in each stanza. The last stanza (the tercet) must use the same 6 words in the middle and at the end of each line.

This is an example.



Tina and Seth met in the midst of an overcrowded militarism.
"Like a drink?" he asked her. "They make great Alexanders over at the Marxism-Leninism."
She agreed. They shared cocktails. They behaved cautiously, as in a period of pre-fascism.
Afterwards he suggested dinner at a restaurant renowned for its Maoism.
"O.K.," she said, but first she had to phone a friend about her ailing Afghan, whose name was Racism.
Then she followed Seth across town past twilit alleys of sexism.

The waiter brought menus and announced the day's specials. He treated them with condescending sexism,
So they had another drink. Tina started her meal with a dish of militarism,
While Seth, who was hungrier, had a half portion of stuffed baked racism.
Their main dishes were roast duck for Seth, and for Tina broiled Marxism-Leninism.
Tina had pecan pie a la for dessert, Seth a compote of stewed Maoism.
They lingered. Seth proposed a liqueur. They rejected sambuca and agreed on fascism.

During the meal, Seth took the initiative. He inquired into Tina's fascism,
About which she was reserved, not out of reticence but because Seth's sexism
Had aroused in her a desire she felt she should hide - as though her Maoism
Would willy-nilly betray her feelings for him. She was right. Even her deliberate militarism
Couldn't keep Seth from realizing that his attraction was reciprocated. His own Marxism-Leninism
Became manifest, in a compulsive way that piled the Ossa of confusion on the Pelion of racism.

Next, what? Food finished, drinks drunk, bills paid - what racism
Might not swamp their yearning in an even greater confusion of fascism?
But women are wiser than words. Tina rested her hand on his thigh and, a-twinkle with Marxism-Leninism,
Asked him, "My place?" Clarity at once abounded under the flood-lights of sexism,
They rose from the table, strode out, and he with the impetuousness of young militarism
Hailed a cab to transport them to her lair, heaven-haven of Maoism.

In the taxi he soon kissed her. She let him unbutton her Maoism
And stroke her resilient skin, which was quivering with shudders of racism.
When beneath her jeans he sense the superior Lycra of her militarism,
His longing almost strangled him. Her little tongue was as potent as fascism
In its elusive certainty. He felt like then and there tearing off her sexism
But he reminded himself: "Pleasure lies in patience, not in the greedy violence of Marxism-Leninism."

Once home, she took over. She created a hungering aura of Marxism-Leninism
As she slowly undressed him where he sat on her overstuffed art-deco Maoism,
Making him keep still, so that she could indulge in caresses, in sexism,
In the pursuit of knowing him. He groaned under the exactness of her racism
- Fingertip sliding up his nape, nails incising his soles, teeth nibbling his fascism.
At last she guided him to bed, and they lay down on a patchwork of Old American militarism.

Biting his lips, he plunged his militarism into the popular context of her Marxism-Leninism,
Easing one thumb into her fascism, with his free hand coddling the tip of her Maoism,
Until, gasping with appreciative racism, both together sink into the revealed glory of sexism.

- Harry Mathews, 1988 (Taken from The Best of the Best American Poetry 1988-1997, ed. Harold Bloom)


Would anyone like to begin a commentary for us on how this poem works? And achieves its effects? :)


'The Waking'

I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.
I feel my fate in what I cannot fear.
I learn by going where I have to go.

We think by feeling. What is there to know?
I hear my being dance from ear to ear.
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.

Of those so close beside me, which are you?
God bless the Ground! I shall walk softly there,
And learn by going where I have to go.

Light takes the Tree; but who can tell us how?
The lowly worm climbs up a winding stair;
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.

Great nature has another thing to do
To you and me; so take the lively air,
And, lovely, learn by going where to go.

This shaking keeps me steady. I should know.
What falls away is always. And is near.
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.
I learn by going where I have to go.

- Theodore Roethke, 1953.

While I'm on a roll today I thought I would share one of my favourite poems.

It's a villanelle, btw, meaning "it consists of five tercets [3-line stanzas] and a quatrain [4-line stanza], all on two rhymes, and with systematic later repetitions of lines 1 and 3 of the first tercet".

Another lovely villanelle can be found here.


Norwegian and Polynesian Literatures

(This is a comment on Ian's post from April 21. I upgraded it to a post when it became too long.)

Ian, you sound like you're answering TOK Qn 5 (the one with Noam Chomsky's quote) here. :)

I must say that I agree with ballista. Literature - art in general - and science and mathematics are people's representation/explanation of the world to themselves, and reveal both insights into the world and into the authors. And, have you read Oliver Sacks (The Man Who Mistook his Wife for a Hat)? Try it if you haven't - he's a neurologist who writes like an angel. And you might think after that that science tells us something about humanity too.

I think it's fair to say that we can understand (to an extent), through the books we read, the authors and, from there, the world that the authors were writing in. But we should perhaps also consider the following:

(a) To glean insights into an artist's life/personality/thoughts through an examination of his/her creations alone seems to be a rather lopsided exercise, and more guesswork/clairvoyance than scholarship sometimes.

Where the tale ends and where the author begins (& whether it's possible to find that line) - how much of the author is in the tale - is a tricky issue and many authors have explored it to great effect. If you have time, pick up The New York Trilogy by Paul Auster and let him play with your mind.

(b) It's an old chestnut from TOK - that our interpretation of works from alien cultures/periods may draw more upon the ideas from our own culture/time than our knowledge/understanding of those of the works in question.

So when we read Medea (by Euripides in the 400sBC!) or Hamlet (from 1600s England), and discuss the feminist or Freudian issues in these texts, we should be aware that these are modern interpretation frameworks that we are using on much older texts. In the same way, saying that Huck Finn was an angsty teenager ignores the fact that the idea of teenage-hood is a twentieth-century concept, whereas Mark Twain was writing in the 1870s-80s. :-( Our assumptions that characters should be rounded and psychologically realistic are fairly modern assumptions as well (eighteenth century onwards?) and thus if we choose to judge Medea on these terms, we should at least be aware that they were not the same terms that Euripides' audience judged the play on.


But, coming back to Ian's main idea (that we may understand humanity through its art - literature) - I thought, after a degree in literature, that studying literature written only in the English language meant that you understood only the English-speaking world and (let's be modest) only a tiny bit of it at that (I can't say I understand much of the Jamaican world after only having read 2 Jamaican authors). So I would proposed, for all out there (all one of you, I guess) who are interested in studying literature to understand life, why not try comparative literature? And compare 2 really different literatures, like English and Chinese, or Russian and Swahili, to get the full flavour of humanity.

That's the end of a long post to end the drought! (And if I've made any mistakes here, please let me know & I'll gladly correct it.)


Thursday, June 14, 2007

'Sick Leave'

When I'm asleep, dreaming and lulled and warm -
They come, the homeless ones, the noiseless dead.
While the dim charging breakers of the storm
Bellow and drone and rumble overhead,
Out of the gloom they gather about my bed.
They whisper to my heart; their thoughts are mine.
'Why are you here with all your watches ended?
From Ypres to Frise we sought you in the Line.'
In bitter safety I awake, unfriended;
And while the dawn begins with slashing rain
I think of the Battalion in the mud.
'When are you going out to them again?
Are they not still your brothers through our blood?'

- Siegfried Sassoon (1917, at Craiglockhart Hospital)

The next time you're on MC, think about us in the mud.