Impendices?

Just tossing out an idea—

I have reached the stage of life where I have more books in mind than time to write them before I die, even if I drastically improve my productivity (which needs to happen in any case). In particular, there are masses of backstory material behind my principal series (The Eye of the Maker and Where Angels Die, in particular) that could with advantage be worked up into prequels and stand-alones, but probably never will be.

When old J.R.R.T. came up with backstory like that, and it wouldn’t fit comfortably in the front story without bloating and dyspepsia, he had a handy way of dealing with it:

A new character has come on the scene (I am sure I did not invent him, I did not even want him, though I like him, but there he came walking into the woods of Ithilien): Faramir, the brother of Boromir – and he is holding up the ‘catastrophe’ by a lot of stuff about the history of Gondor and Rohan (with some very sound reflections no doubt on martial glory and true glory): but if he goes on much more a lot of him will have to be removed to the appendices – where already some fascinating material on the hobbit Tobacco industry and the Languages of the West have gone.

Letters, no. 66

In the nature of things, I have no appendices to banish such stuff to; but the rules of the game do not require me to let that stop me. Stanislaw Lem once wrote (and published!) a whole volume of introductions to books that had never been written: not perhaps his best work, but an amusing game for some of his readers to take part in. My brain, that cornucopia of questionable ideas, has suggested to me that I could write appendices to books that have never been written, and stick them up here: partly in case my 3.6 Loyal Readers might be entertained, but chiefly for my own reference, so they would be gathered in some reliably searchable spot. It further suggested that since these pieces would come before the books and not be added after them, they should properly be called not Appendices but Impendices.

I have, as it happens, written and posted a couple of things of this kind already: ‘The Worm of the Ages’ and ‘Droll’s Audition’ (both collected in The Worm of the Ages). There is also a lot of stuff on the History of This and the Languages of That, though nothing so far on the Tobacco Industry of the Other, which could go under the ‘Impendix’ heading, if it seemed advisable to air such things on this blog.

What do you all think?

Thanks for the therms!

On behalf of all the Frozen North, I would like to thank my 3.6 Loyal Readers most humbly for their generous outpouring of heat. Degrees have been arriving from as far away as Australia.

[Read more…]

Demon weather

I reverently believe that the Maker who made us all makes everything in New England but the weather. I don’t know who makes that, but I think it must be raw apprentices in the weather-clerk’s factory who experiment and learn how, in New England, for board and clothes, and then are promoted to make weather for countries that require a good article, and will take their custom elsewhere if they don’t get it.

—Mark Twain, ‘Speech on the Weather’

And what happens to the apprentices who flunk out of the New England weather factory? They get sent to Alberta, that’s what.

Where Angels Die is fiction, mostly, and rather fantastical fiction at that, but there are one or two points on which it draws from life with stark and unvarnished realism. One of these is what I have called the ‘demon weather’. When the demons attack a warm, temperate or subtropical country like Anai, the first sign of their appearance is that the weather goes sour. Winter lasts for eight or nine months of the year, the sun is blotted out by a perpetual overcast, and when it should by nature be spring or autumn, it stays just cold enough to snow, and just warm enough to let some of the snow thaw now and then so it can refreeze as iron-hard ice, just to keep the locals busy and entertained. Much like this:

Beautiful spring in sunny Alberta

This, ladies and gentlemen, is exactly the kind of weather we have been having here in the Frozen North through the whole of April so far. Once or twice I have seen the sun, but the clouds moved in quickly to censor it again. At the moment we are having one of our miniature thaws. I call it a thaw, because some of the snow on the ground melts, but not any of the ice. Meanwhile it keeps right on snowing, in a lazy and desultory way. At night the temperature dips solidly below freezing (it touched zero degrees Fahrenheit a day or two ago), and the snow-melt turns to slick black ice. When morning comes, the ice is cleverly concealed beneath a fresh dusting of snow, and the cycle repeats.

I have been gobbling Vitamin D supplements, but even so, this weather – and this much of it – is, I frankly admit, wearing me down. It is hard to get up the gumption to write, or to do anything else but the bare minimum of daily chores.

I therefore call upon you, my 3.6 Loyal Readers, for help. If any of you are living in warm and sunny climes, where the demons never reach and the weather-factory turns out a decent article suitable for export, see if you can find it in your hearts to send us a degree. Fahrenheit or Celsius makes no difference; send whatever you can spare. Five extra degrees will make each day’s snowfall run off before nightfall, putting a stop to the glaciation underneath. Ten degrees will stop the nightly freeze-out. Fifteen degrees (if so many generous souls respond to this impassioned plea) will banish the demons and apprentice weather-clerks back where they came from, to Hades or Hartford or wherever they rightly belong, and bring thousands of suffering Canadian children their first true experience of spring. Flowers will bloom, grass will grow, and the Earth itself will turn more happily on its axis. Do it for the Children, for the Planet, or for the rich and noble tax deduction.

Please give generously; or else keep your distance until June.

A joyous Easter to all

I have never been in the habit of playing practical jokes, not even on the first of April, since that was my late father’s birthday and his sense of humour did not extend to such things. (He would have been 91 today, and I still miss him sorely.) This year, April 1 is a doubly solemn day. So I offer my good wishes to all for a happy and joyous Easter; even to those who do not celebrate the day (and I hope they will pardon me for it).

Christ is risen, and it’s not a joke.

14 minutes of fame

In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes.

—Andy Warhol

It seems the renowned Mr. Warhol was off by one minute. At least in the case of Scott Foster, a Chicago-area accountant who plays goal in a men’s recreational hockey league.

At every game in the National Hockey League, the home team is required to supply an emergency goaltender. Since every team has two goalies to begin with, a starter and a backup, the emergency goalie’s job normally consists of sitting in the press box and munching on free food supplied by the catering staff.

This season, Foster was one of the emergency goalies on the list of the Chicago Blackhawks, sitting in at about a dozen of their home games. Last night, in a game against the Winnipeg Jets, lightning struck. [Read more…]

When last seen

Just to let the 3.6 Loyal Readers know, I am still alive and (more or less) functioning. For some months past, I have had a number of illnesses that nagged at me and prevented me from doing much in the way of useful work, and it finally became clear that I would have to shut down and give my full attention to getting well.

I seem to have kicked the worst of the major depression that afflicted me earlier in the year (despite the happiness due to cows and ice cream), thanks to a concentrated bout of cognitive behavioral therapy. My G.P., at any rate, says I look noticeably happier; though I still get the mopes too easily. There have been assorted physical maladies as well, too tedious to report, and none life-threatening or requiring surgery. This weekend I have spent largely horizontal, trying to talk a severe back pain into going away so that I could rest. (The Beloved Other could hardly sleep at all last night because I had to keep getting up, taking medication, moving about, etc., etc. I feel considerably worse for her than for myself.) Of course the medication required has been industriously burning a hole in my belly, which gives me the curious feeling of having one continuous ache going right through my body from front to back: as if a Hong Kong architect were trying to carve a dragon hole in my torso.

I have made tentative arrangements for a sort of miniature writing retreat after my recovery, when I hope to get some real work done. In the meantime, I offer my sad and humble apologies to you all.

Happiness and cows

Yesterday, the Beloved Other and I went up to Banff for the day. We swam in the hot springs, had a picnic lunch at Lake Minnewanka, and on the way home, we stopped at Mackay’s ice cream parlour in Cochrane, which I heartily recommend to anyone. Their ice cream is as sound as their business philosophy, as expressed by this sign on their premises.

[Read more…]

Sumer is icumen in

I posted this years ago on the old blog, but as the solstice approaches, I have been thinking of it and thought I would trot it out again.

The Hilliard Ensemble sings the earliest known example of six-part polyphonic song, one of the major hits of the 13th century – the first of exactly two periods in which the world was knocked off its pins by English music. I think it still stands up well.

 

Sumer is icumen in,
Lhude sing cuccu!
Groweþ sed and bloweþ med
And springþ þe wde nu,
Sing cuccu!
Awe bleteþ after lomb,
Lhouþ after calue cu.
Bulluc sterteþ, bucke uerteþ,
Murie sing cuccu!
Cuccu, cuccu, wel þu singes cuccu;
Ne swik þu nauer nu.

Pes:
Sing cuccu nu. Sing cuccu.
Sing cuccu. Sing cuccu nu!

 

In Modern English:

Summer has arrived,
Loudly sing, Cuckoo!
The seed grows and the meadow blooms
And the wood springs anew,
Sing, Cuckoo!
The ewe bleats after the lamb
The cow lows after the calf.
The bullock stirs, the stag leaps,
Merrily sing, Cuckoo!
Cuckoo, cuckoo, well you sing, cuckoo;
Don’t ever you stop now.

Pes:
Sing cuckoo now. Sing, Cuckoo.
Sing Cuckoo. Sing cuckoo now!

(There is some controversy over the translation of uerteth. An alternative, favoured by the scatologically inclined, is that the stag is farting. This is an amusing idea, I suppose, but neatly destroys the parallelism of action in the line, and I find myself compelled to disfavour it.)

Fake evocation

A sombrero fell out of the sky and landed on the main street of town in front of the mayor, his cousin, and a person out of work. The day was scrubbed clean by the desert air. The sky was blue. It was the blue of human eyes, waiting for something to happen. There was no reason for a sombrero to fall out of the sky. No airplane or helicopter was passing overhead and it was not a religious holiday.

—Richard Brautigan, Sombrero Fallout

This is a good way of hooking a reader: we want to know where that sombrero came from. But it does contain a wasted sentence, thrown in, apparently, in a failed attempt to provide ‘atmosphere’:

It was the blue of human eyes, waiting for something to happen.

That line is simply a cheat. One technique that bad writers use fairly often, and even good writers may fall back on despite themselves, is fake evocation – communicating mood by phony description. Instead of describing a thing and allowing it to suggest a mood to the reader, they flatly state what the mood is supposed to be and pretend that the thing described evokes it. It’s lazy, it’s a swindle against the reader, and it deserves no praise.

In the instant case, it appears to me that Mr. Brautigan (or, rather, the character who is writing the story-within-a-story that begins with this passage) wanted to shoehorn an expectant mood into the passage, so he looked for a place where he could plausibly insert the phrase ‘waiting for something to happen’. He did this by attaching it to a bit of physical description that, by itself, would do absolutely nothing to evoke such a mood, and then relying upon artistic licence to make readers (and critics) let him get away with it.

Incidentally, to say that eyes are sky-blue is descriptive, because sky-blue is a fairly definite colour. To say that the sky was eye-blue is just silly, because blue eyes are not all alike.

For what it’s worth, I’ve written about this at somewhat greater length in ‘Teaching Pegasus to crawl’.

(Reposted, with edits, from a comment thread on The Passive Voice.)

Sequel

As a sequel to my last post, I have received a charming and delightful email from a person who informs me that I am a ‘miserable fool’, that I am suffering from spiritual pride and need to turn to the Lord, and that the only way to do that is to do exactly as he, the writer of the email, commands. But it is I, you see, not he, who suffers from pride.

As a further balm to the wounded spirit, he offers this gem:

As for fiction, you haven’t enough broad and intense experience to ever convey the kind of depth and originality to the fantasy field (or any other) that makes for greatness or popularity.

I shall not reply to him in person; I have dealt with this character before; his eyes, ears, and mind are closed to everything and everyone, as far as I can tell, and the only thing he pays attention to is the din inside his own head. But I reply to him at large and in public, in the words of C. S. Lewis from The Pilgrim’s Regress:

But how can you help me after removing the only thing that I want to be helped to? What is the use of telling a hungry man that you will grant him his desires, provided there is no question of eating?

I put it to the 3.6 Loyal Readers – just in case I should be missing a jewel in a dunghill; I do not want to dismiss advice without a hearing. Is this man right, and I should give up writing fiction?