29 December 2010

Budak does it again

What's lyrical, funny, wise, witty, gorgeous, so passionate that it is deadpan, fearlessly punning, poetic even when it's prose (and I mean understandably poetic, not modernly poetic) and still my favourite place on the web? Yet again, it's The annotated budak.

I would love to see the deliciously playful, ever surprising fascinatingly illustrated Annotated Budak as at least one book. If my wish came true, millions of people would curl up with budak.

The topics are wide-ranging, and the words you meet are something else – as you could expect from a person who is often muddy.

Try some grot.

Begin with Feeding Frenzy if you haven't tasted anything there..

Here are some random quotes:

"… he seems to have since imbibed a secret diet of wildlife documentaries …"

"...it would appear the male was seeking to maximise his impact with minimal effort by showing the ardour of only his better side."
- Eve of magnificance

"Not one to decline offers of free food and beverages, my duck thought it a shame to pass up a lunchtime treat of stir-fried mopane worms with snow peas."
It might have been better buttered

"Isn't it time to put to bed the irate vanity that every sperm is sacred and every spill is waste?"
Cut and paste

22 December 2010

The waitress

Rosie loved to work. As soon as she saw anyone pick up a piece of paper or something to scribble with, she'd be right there at knee, ready to pick up and relay a message. No I've-got-better-things-to-do, rolling eyes or tapping foot, though the tail did bang. She'd wait, watching, no matter how long, anticipation being the spice in her life—a spice we, with our crude gulping tastes, not only don't appreciate, but revile–and neatly drop the note in the lap of intended, even if she had to jump up to the lap to deliver. Or if the intended were especially dull and unobservant, shove that note, preceded by a cold wet nose, into a hand.

This is an old pre-menu I've saved. It was made just for extra work, to give her the job of carrying a full menu later. She would have also liked a wine list, at least.

The tip, to her, was the joy of giving.

21 December 2010

If you read anything about how to write

Read Kuzhali Manickavel's LOLOLO from a place that doesn't have a Taco Bell.

I would quote some of it here, except for fact that I want to quote this, and that, and it adds up to all of it.

And now I'll state in public what I said to her in private, and add some more boot.

Why are you reading anything on how to write?

Why are you hanging around with people who have no taste or judgment that is worth a dead donkey, let alone taking to heart what they say about what you have to say?

You have found the Key: that, as you say, dammit, I must quote you: "I think the older and more cynical you get, the more you start to lean towards the LOLOLOLO perspective, especially when rape references are thrown in like chocolate sprinkles."

So use that key. Either ignore the chocolate sprinkle scatterers, or grind them to make your bread. But upon your unique soul! don't pay heed to their advice unless you use it for grist.

You are not a sausage manufactured in Iowa or New York. Hoo bloody ray. When you write, it is not because you "want to be a writer" but because you have something to say. You are not a pose, not posing in a stance of irony to cover your lack of talent/something worth saying. Pretend that you live in a time when all this teaching and advising and workshopping about writing, especially amongst people who haven't lived beyond the nursery of learning and advice, is unbelievable.

You don't need any of it. It has held you back. Get away from it. Wash it from your head.

I have a list I'm making of people who have taken a quarter century to recover from literary higher learning. How many years will it take a brilliant writer like you, to recover from advice?

19 December 2010

Centrepieces, centerpieces, and matchmaking

Discussing the kiwano, the delightfully irreverent Lucy who calls herself a displaced dilettante wrote,
"It said somewhere that it could be used as a centrepiece. The whole idea of centrepieces has always puzzled me; there is never room on our table for all the things we want to eat and drink, and the idea of placing a slightly hostile-looking spiky slug-like thing in the middle of the table to charm one's guests seemed very odd. One chap on a website said he brought one home but his girlfriend didn't want anything to do with it because it reminded her of a caterpillar she was frightened of as a child."
A centrepiece by any spelling
Lucy's opinion of this -piece hit me like a bat to a funny bone, bringing up old guilt that I thought safely buried. Maxine was my head of department, and I was the other person in the department of ordering books. Unfortunately, we were within earshot of the counter, and in a huge, chaotic, mostly-used-books store, people were always asking for a book on . . .

I tried not to, but I couldn't help jumping up and leading them straight to their soulmate, whether it was a tome on raising frogs for profit, or Bulgarian umbrella making, circa 1953. Matchmaking was my passion, and as I was the only one who cared, the owner of the store tolerated my lack of enthusiasm for typing orders, and Maxine—well, she was a good sport. She was quite old (probably 40) and such a nice lady, that one day in the Christmas season, I decided to buy her a present.

Racing around town in my short lunch break (a half hour was the most the owner of the store would tolerate, "for the ladies"), I despaired till, passing the farmer's market on the way back, I saw it, and fell in love at first sight. Maxine had told me of how her extended family was flying in for a feast that she'd already begun preparing, weeks earlier. So when I saw the cauliflower, I knew it was just the thing. The c'piece to beat all -pieces—a talking point for her family that they would never forget. I could hardly carry it. The thing must have had the brainpower of a Cray. It could have held the Pentagon's secrets in one flowerette of its left rigoletto.

As it was heavier than a turkey for 17, I had to stop several times on the way back to the bookstore, just to spell my spine. But when I got back, I presented it to her with all the love I felt for this dear, uncomplaining, motherly superior who had been doing my work for months, while I goofed off and sold book after book to happy seekers of the obscure.

The cauliflower sat on the floor until it was time to go home. No counter was big enough. Maxine's bus stop was a couple of blocks away, and I don't know how far she had to walk when she got off, but when we left the store, her walking one way with it in her arms, and me the other way to my bus, I felt so absolutely wonderful. The joy of giving had mixed with my artistic sense and the vicarious enjoyment of creating a table to remember as well as a feast. I think that Christmas I did what I had at others. Bake a cake and toss it to the pigeons on the roof right next to my apartment window.

Yes, I know I know I should have tossed it to the poor (with a tasteful note—something like Better luck with God loving you next year. Share safely) but I didn't know any the-poor as well as I knew those pigeons.

Sometimes, when I must need a bit of recreational guilt, I'll wake at 3 am, thinking about the cauliflower and Maxine. The only way I get rid of the guilt is to remind myself that, although Maxine was a gracious recipient, she wasn't worth a guilty thought. After all, she and her husband were swingers. Not only that, but she had told me many times, during our eight and a half minutes of afternoon break, of those orgiastic evenings that she and her husband used to spend, square dancing.

Now that I am older and wiser, Lucy's thoughts about the superfluosity of centrepieces spurred me to reprint her words above because they could prevent much suffering. However, there is a place for everything.

When the Centrepiece Does Good

When the food is simply torture
and the people at table equal to the food,
there is always

A cauliflower-free centerpiece
Is that a fountain spraying forth in the middle?

The caption reads:
Table Decorations for State or Formal Occasions.
When dinners are given in honor of a distinguished guest, or by a select society or organization, elaborate decorations for table and room are prepared … From the ceiling hangs the monogram of the guest or the organization giving the dinner.
from The Standard Book of Recipes; and Housewife's Guide—profusely illustrated, by Alice A. Johnson, Mrs. Janet McKenzie Hill, Dr. Henry Hartshorne, and other specialists, W.E. Scull, 1901, USA

As for the chap whose "girlfriend didn't want anything to do with [the kiwano] because it reminded her of a caterpillar she was frightened of as a child"– my advice to chap: Get another girlfriend or next thing you know, she'll scream at the sight of spaghetti. If only I'd had a camera when those dozen carpet snakes mated that morning just outside the bathroom window …

13 December 2010

Wodehouse, snails, and dramatic interest

Probably the greatest misconception about today's access to information is:
All today's easily accessed information from trusted sources will increase accuracy.
The opposite is the case. Especially when the mistake comes from a trusted source, the unintentional myth can grow to Fact so quickly that it is quoted everywhere as the basis for other arguments and other facts, going up the food chain as the food for theses—and unlike other adults—doesn't die, but lives on in a perpetuity paradise (like frogs being pot-ready couch-potatoes) as the basis of countless similes waged by bad writers, sloppy reasoners, and cliché collectors everywhere whenever they need to craft "common sense" copy to sell products, boxed, serviced, or electable.

So my eyes protruded when I saw this baby:
The phlegmatic snail
PG Wodehouse thought that snails were rather dull animals “lacking in sustained dramatic interest”. Others admire them.
— Peter Marren, "The weird world of the bug", BBC Wildlife Magazine, 3 September 2010
Let's drop salt on this misconception, but we don't have time to watch it wither. Onwards! to truth, in the Times of India:
The point about today's British general election is we missed it. It barely figured on India's collective radar. If anything, it was like the cow's waning 'audience-appeal' so entertainingly described by P G Wodehouse in his Blandings series on that fluffy-minded, pig-loving peer, Lord Emsworth. " It was a fine cow, as cows go, but, like so many cows, it lacked sustained dramatic interest." That was Wodehouse's The Custody of the Pumpkin, published 1924.
— Rashmee Roshan Lall, "Fine Cows and Englishmen", 6 May 2010
Indeed, in my own mixed marriage (Wodehousian/Heathen) I have often noted (to an audience deeply unappreciative of the knowledge) that Wodehouse was, perhaps more than any other author, dependent on the snail and that other mollusk, the slug—in character—in key scenes of high tension, drama, and romance.

What type of character varied, but it was never bovine. Not that cattle are dull, but the closest Wodehouse got to using one was the story about the cow creamer, which could never have been watched passing, even if one had wanted to. I could let Wodehouse's reputation stew in misconception in regard to snails, in revenge for him not appreciating the passions of cows any more than he did, the infinitely romantic, lonely and plaintive soprano song of a bull cutting through the still air on a starry evening when a cow is in heat across the creek, something he came closest to, but changed to horror in "Aunt is calling Aunt like mastodons bellowing across primeval swamps".

Snails, on the other hand, are often watched in Wodehouse's world. Snails could have populated his nightmares, his reveries, his pensive and lyrical moments. Although he could be faulted for being callous as to their individuality let alone their primacy as snails, he could never have been accused of being Grass, whose Diary of a Snail isn't about snails at all, but a cheap exploitative trick of cover sensationalism, because Snail sells.

Though no Wodehouse cover lures you with a snail, throughout his stories and novels there are many proofs that snails and slugs ruled high in his estimation as page 1 and penultimate Scene material.

Never phlegmatic
They feature in some of his most quoted lines. Here are just a few, with some technical notes concerning their roles.

para 1, sentence 2, "The Custody of the Pumpkin"
"It [the morning sunshine] fell on the baggy trousers-seat of Angus McAllister, head-gardener to the ninth Earl of Emsworth, as he bent with dour Scottish determination to pluck a slug from its reverie beneath the leaf of a lettuce."

Sustained dramatic interest:
"It was one of those still evenings you get in summer, when you can hear a snail clear its throat a mile away."
— the very first story about Jeeves, "Jeeves Takes Charge"1916 (Carry on, Jeeves, 1925)

"Jerry Fisher's face was a study in violent emotions. His eyes seemed to protrude from their sockets like a snail's. He clutched the tablecloth."
that's the entire paragraph.
— "Keeping It From Harold" (1913)

"Ukridge's eyes met mine in a wild surmise. He seemed to shrink into his mackintosh like a snail surprised while eating lettuce."
— "Ukridge's Dog College" (Strand, UK -1923), "Ukridge's Accident Syndicate" (Cosmopolitan, USA - 1923)

"His head emerged cautiously, like a snail taking a look around after a thunderstorm."
— The Code of the Woosters (1938)

Audience appeal: even slugs have it.

"He expelled a deep breath, and for a space stood staring in silence at a passing slug. [then later in the scene] His brow cleared, his eyes brightened, he lost that fishy look, and he gazed at the slug, which was still on the long, long trail with something approaching bonhomie."
— Right Ho, Jeeves (1922)
"Valerie Twistleton had paused to stare at a passing snail – coldly and forbiddingly"
—Uncle Fred in the Springtime (1939)

"She was gazing at me in a divinely pitying sort of way, much as if I had been a snail she had happened accidentally to bring her short French vamp down on, and I longed to tell her that it was all right,and that Bertram, so far from being the victim of despair, had never felt fizzier in his life."
— Right Ho, Jeeves (1922)

"His soul shrank into itself like a salted snail ..."
— Lord Emsworth and Others, Ch 1, "The Crime Wave at Blandings" (1937)

"I knew that England was littered with the shrivelled remains of curates at whom the lady bishopess had looked through her lorgnette. I had seen them wilt like salted slugs at the Episcopal breakfast table."
— "Mulliner's Buck-U-Uppo" 1926 (Meet Mr Mulliner -1927)

Psychological trauma
"His eyes were by nature a trifle prominent; and to Aline, in the overstrung condition in which her talk with George Emerson had left her, they seemed to bulge at her like a snail's."
— Something New

"George, protruding from the window like a snail, was entertained by the spectacle of the pursuit."
— A Damsel in Distress (1919)

Unhealthy Obsession
Even the people he writes about don't consider snails dull. They think of snails, and exercise themselves upon snails and other invertebrates—often to the point of ...
(Freddie to his uncle, Earl of Emsworth)"I know just how you feel about the country and the jolly old birds and trees and chasing the bally slugs off the young geraniums and all that sort of thing, but somehow it's never quite hit me the same way."
-Something New (1915)
"Both McAllister and I adopted a very strong policy with the slugs and plant lice"
—"Pig-hoo-o-o-o-ey!" 1924 (Blandings Castle and Elsewhere - 1935)

"There were three things in the world that he held in the smallest esteem - slugs, poets and caddies with hiccups."
—"Rodney Falls to Qualify" 1924 (The Heart of a Goof - 1926)
High Drama
Hear [Lord Marshmoreton] as he toils. He has a long garden-implement in his hand, and he is sending up the death-rate in slug circles with a devastating rapidity.
" Ta-ra-ra boom-de-ay
Ta-ra-ra BOOM—"
And the boom is a death-knell. As it rings softly out on the
pleasant spring air, another stout slug has made the Great Change.
— ibid.
Highest Romance, at the Point of Pronouncement:
"Love?" said Charlotte, her heart beginning to flutter.
"Love," said Aubrey. "Tell me, Miss Mulliner, have you ever thought of Love?"
He took her hand. Her head was bent, and with the toe of her dainty shoe she toyed with a passing snail.
— "Unpleasantness at Bludleigh Court" (originally collected in Mr. Mulliner Speaking -1925, and subsequently, in A Wodehouse Bestiary-1985)
And that is just a smattering of mollusk moments in the works of Wodehouse. I invite you to supply more. I hope I haven't made mistakes here myself. But if I have, please correct me.

A Conundrum of Worms
A worm gets a bit part as a tragic survivor, but worms are otherwise typecast in parts they don't deserve, especially since snails and slugs and aphids die in Wodehouse gardens, for the sake of pumpkins and flowers>

"Jane Packard turned like a stepped-on worm."
"The Heart of a Goof" (Divots -1926)

"that blighted worm Crispin Blakeney" and "I loathe the worm! I abominate the excrescence!"
"Chester Forgets Himself" (Divots - 1926)


Aunt Agatha's names for Bertie Wooster are "young blot" "an idiot nephew" and "a worm"
Not only that, but she both apportions deviosity to worms and—more shockingly, a lack of political bravery, possibly even an element of Quislingism—to flexible invertebrates, as illustrated by this line in a telegram to Bertie:
"Consider you treacherous worm and contemptible, spineless cowardly custard"
— Right Ho, Jeeves
The lack of respect for invertebrates continues, and it runs in the family.
"[Bertie] spoke with a sort of dull despair, and so manifest was his lack of ginger and the spirit that wins to success that for an instant, I confess, I felt a bit stymied. It seemed hopeless to go on trying to steam up such a human jellyfish."
— ibid.

In this next story, the author insults both worms and lawn-bowling readers who do know not a niblick from a niblet, in "The Awakening of Rollo Podmarsh" when he says:
"These subtitles are wasted on a worm, if you will pardon the expression, like yourself, who, possibly owing to a defective education, is content to spend life's springtime rolling wooden balls across a lawn."
Butterflies, however, are only lightly ticked off.
"Butterflies loafed languidly in the sunshine"
— "Chester Forgets Himself"

But passing back to snails

I challenge Mr. Marren here and now to tell us when and where Mr. Wodehouse said that he thought snails dull. I think that Mr. Marren has confused a cow with a snail, and if so, I would invite him to place himself under the foot of each, have each ramble upon his spine—and report the difference in sensation.

But, since I am not a writer writing in a Trusted Source, I might know even less than I think I know, and thus, be spreading another inaccuracy. If so, and if Wodehouse did say somewhere that snails are dull, lack audience appeal and the rest of that, may I be damned, but not as much as Mr. Wodehouse, who disappoints me so much that I hope he rots in the hell where authors suffer who have disappointed their readership with details of their private thoughts (which should never have been revealed). What an ingrate! If he really said that snails are dull, then he's like those authors who would be nothing without their editors but consider themselves geniuses. For Wodehouse without snails is like Chandler minus dames.

One can only surmise what an author really thinks

(or rather, one used to only be able to surmise. Nowadays authors tell us so much of what they think, that their stories and novels have waning audience appeal, but Wodehouse died before this trend) so I'm guessing here, but willing to bet that Wodehouse was forced to write about worms in a new respectful tone after a nightmare he had in which a worm possesses the cunning of Professor Moriarty. In "High Stakes", golfers are challenged by worm-casts.

a final note: Although I have raised eyebrows over Peter Marren's bit of Wodehouse/Snails "What he thought" celeb snippet, snails, bugs, and other invertebrates would highly approve his article in general. He isn't bored by them, nor does he think we should be. So do read "The weird world of the bug". It's fun. That he mixes up bugs with snails and others is something that they might take up with him privately.

09 December 2010

infinity plus lives again!

The infinity plus ebook imprint has just launched, with six new titles:
  • The Angels of Life and Death by Eric Brown, a new collection of short fiction
  • The collected short fiction of Keith Brooke, in five volumes (Liberty Spin, Embrace, Faking It, Segue and Memesis), with two original stories and specially written afterwords for each story
  • Covers for the first six books - by Dominic Harman and Debbie Nicholson
Each book is available in the Kindle ebook format, priced $3.44 / £2.18
(Kindle ebooks can also be read on PCs, Macs, smart phones and other devices)

Many. Look for more titles, formats, and authors to come . . .

But what is infinity plus ?
  • a science fiction, fantasy and horror showcase that ran from 1997 to 2007 and remains online as an archive
  • The site holds more than 2.1 million words of fiction, 1000 book reviews and 100 interviews.
  • There have been three infinity plus print anthologies.
  • Authors featured on the site include Stephen Baxter, Mary Gentle, Peter F Hamilton, Gwyneth Jones, Vonda N McIntyre, Michael Moorcock, Kim Stanley Robinson, Lucius Shepard, Michael Swanwick, Jack Vance, Connie Willis and Gene Wolfe (me too).

02 December 2010

The icky-icky, squishy-slimey, flying kung-fu circus

At no other circus will the ringleader announce: "A snail would be stiff competition."

Wanderin' Weeta runs a dangerous blog that could be called "Charybdis". See, for instance, Yes, I talk to birds.

So it's only to be expected that, as host this month of my favourite circus, she has collected sundry incredible acts of weirdness, beauty and fun, including a hopping entomologist.

And the supporting acts she's dragged in could bring yet more tears to your eyes.
A poet who misses the finest things in life!
Deprived royalty!
And Art? KO'd by the squishy-slimies.

Go to the Circus! And be, as she says:

Happier than Kings, at the Circus of the Spineless #57

01 December 2010

At the Crane Flies' Thanksgiving Congress

"And now let us give thanks to our Creator,
blessed be Gary Larson's name."

The thinking person's tonic

Private communication is precious, and like books with pages you can smell and leave fingerprints on, not as much appreciated for its worth as it should be. The most important quality of private communication is the light. Honesty between two people lights lives more than any public communication can. Of course, without confidentiality there can be no honesty. In the past year especially, I've been struck by the number of people who have told me privately, how unhappy they are.

One said to me,
"I keep looking at the [X.... X....es] & the [Y.... Y.....s], in their million-dollar homes, & I despair."
Now, that lightened my life. One person less to communicate with. I have no sympathy for this wasted sensibility, not to mention brain cell activity.

But these words below, from someone else entirely, stunned me because they came from someone I'll call ∞, who I admire probably more than anyone else—and who I, in my ignorance and thoughtlessness, never imagined as unhappy. is living proof that wisdom and age have no relationship. reminds me of another brilliant mind and great heart I admire greatly. They live in old ambassador, a real ambassador who I thought for several days when I saw him shuffling down the halls, shoulders bowed, head down, was a janitor with a bad back. That was before he got up and spoke. He could have possibly written the letter from , but he didn't. could be his grandson.

I'm printing part of it here, regarding the confidentiality of as sacred. And I'm printing my reply, revealing more personal stuff than I feel comfortable with—in the hopes that our private communication will help someone else. Not someone who wants to be famous or rich. They're human pollution. No, this is for the someones who are more likely to be envious of someone else's experiences exploring the mind and world, for the someones who try to be able to think more clearly. The someones who are unhappy because their own strivings to learn, to communicate, fall so short of their ideals. The someones who are barraged constantly with the "goal" that we're all supposed to have: Happiness—and thereby, lose confidence because they aren't striving for that at all.
"I feel as though I should explain fully why I've barely picked up a pen until recently. Only since this summer have I become interested in writing again - I spent much of 2008-2009 in a longish period of melancholia and self-doubt during which I lost nearly all interest and confidence in myself as a writer."
Dear ,
I must reply immediately to what you say about melancholia, and your feelings of self-doubt. I wish you'd let me know about this, for I had no idea. Indeed, if I think of a single person who I have found most inspirational, it is you. You're both incredibly thoughtful, intelligent, and talented. And you have continuously surprised me by your lack of egomaniacal and I-want-to-be-famous thoughts, especially when contrasted with your altruism and the extreme talents and capabilities you possess. You struck me from the first time I saw your writing on that bulletin board, as an exceptional human being. Part of the unwanted innards that comes with that exceptionalism is, unfortunately, self-doubt even unto self-hating, melancholy (I'm so glad you didn't call it 'depression', the mislabeling that really means in our business-oriented world: prescribe and medicate). I have been almost wanting to write about this sort of thing in public, but haven't for a number of reasons. But the fact is, there is a huge pressure put upon everyone in 'modern' society, to be 'happy'. Indeed, happiness is touted as the goal of life. Studies show that religious people are happiest. Of course they are! Not questioning anything, swallowing dogma, and being told that you are right and all you have to do is follow, is great for making someone free of doubt, especially if doubt is decreed as bad. This kind of people keep doubt-free by going out and shoving dogma down other people's throats, kind of like the way Ponzi-schemes work, or chain letters. Don't ever stop. Don't ever get out of it, and everything'll be sweet. It's soma under a different name.

But the fact that you picked science--questioning, thinking, not accepting any dogma. The fact that you are deeply interested in the world at large, in all its conflicting reality and confusing manifestations of conundrums. These facts don't add up to you being a happy, dull, boring and useless, or--as many religious people are, downright destructive--person.

You are creative and questioning in your bones. You deeply feel. You have an ability and wish to get in other people's shoes, even when they hurt. You want to contribute something of yourself that is useful, not only to the world theoretically, but to people in real flesh. These abilities and characteristics and ways of life that add up to YOU are not going to give you a happy life, but they could give you a very fulfilling life. You will always, if you stay true to who you are, have times that come upon you that are black as the pit below deepest Pitsville. You won't think that there is any way out, but there is, and you will find yourself out of there again, and somehow invigorated and creative again. Sometimes you need to find that others think of you quite differently than you view yourself. Even when you want to hide away, you are being thought of, though you probably don't know it.

We live in an extremely tough time for a person who really thinks, who isn't just just a reactor. You are way too intelligent and creative and thoughtful to find the public sphere electronically speaking, supportive and helpful to you as a person. You could find that it makes you feel insecure, that it makes you feel like a failure. That you think you are irrelevant. That is because the public sphere of talk is peopled by extroverts who find thoughtfulness a detraction. They couldn't think if they wanted to, most of them. And the ones that do, don't. So if this has anything to do with your feelings, I hope this gives some perspective.

As to [the venue you submitted a manuscript to {well argued, witty, unique, and formatted to perfection of course--I know because I read it]}, after their invitation to you personally to submit, to which they never replied], damn. One of the worst aspects of life today is the casual rudeness. You put a lot of thought and viscera into something, only to be discounted, not even considered. Just not communicated with at all, even after initial enthusiasm. This can lead to severe depression. I say this from a great deal of personal experience, as everything else I've said here is, too. The only thing to do is to chalk it up to people who are less than you, and move on.

I hope I can give you some confidence that you surely deserve. You weren't specific with anything and I'm not asking you to be, as I don't want to pry. But I can tell you that I have suffered from what you are talking about, for longer than you've been alive. I go up and down with it, yet I would rather be this way than be a happy ignorant bible basher or some idiot that believes John Boehner when he says, "America has the best health care in the world". I'd rather have angst. … Remember always that melancholia is a thinking person's tonic. It tastes bad, but it works.

30 November 2010

The spineless, the law, and the gutless

Recommended, back to back:

A story about medlars, now online

Maybe this blog has finally bletted. After some years, the medlars especially are at last getting the kind of delicious interest they've always secretly craved. And from such quality stock!

People like Catherine Moran, that temptress at Shropshire Prune (Don't just post an announcement on your new blog saying that you will soon post. I'm looking forward to what you say!) Then there's Stephen Read of the Reads, Nurserymen since 1841. Even his twitter page is full of such good stuff, now busy with thoughts of quince and medlar.

And who started all this? I'm not sure, but it might have been Nick Mann at Habitat Aid, the purpose of which is something I feel so strongly about that I fear I can be a bore. Nick isn't. As he says, "Help save native habitats and promote biodiversity in the UK" and then shows how beautiful diversity is. Even if you're like me and can't buy any imported plants (I'd be inviting aliens, an illegal and reviled act that I wrote about recently in my story "Gnawer of the Moon Seeks Summit of Paradise"), you can support the efforts of Habitat Aid and its charity partners, in other ways. As a knife fiend, I want to own that Japanese Hori Hori knife so much, I can feel my fingers close on the handle. Or just steal pleasure from Habitat Aid's many beautiful photographs. I especially like the scene of the harvest mouse eating berries. So many would cry, "Warfarin!"

To thank everyone, I've just reprinted a story for your pleasure, not to mention the pleasure of medlars in both hemispheres.

Valley of the Sugars of Salt

NOTE: I'm assuming all of you have already enjoyed Alys Fowler's article titled simply Medlars in Saturday's Guardian. I urge people who haven't had the pleasure, to dig in, even though I disagree with the Marmite analogy. In our modern world of fruit grown for as much colour and as little taste as possible, so as to be inoffensive, the only people likely to meet medlars are adults who are also either already bletted or fighting dentist and cosmetician, to stop their noble rot. In this mutual state of maturity, the adult can find the alcoholic fruit as sensually pleasurable as a drink that every child knows for sure, is stinky poison. But who do you know who has first met Marmite as an adult, and not rolled the lip? I think one has to be born with a Marmite-clogged spoon near the mouth.

29 November 2010

It's upside down, so like history in a blog, the last is first

Click on these to see the details in all their glory.

Another less mysterious view is on a site I'm experimenting with:
"My Shot" in National Geographic. I love the philosophy about photography that National Geographic states in its invitation to submit photographs:
"I encourage you to submit photographs that are real. The world is already full of visual artifice, and we aren't running Your Shot to add to it. We want to see the world through your eyes, not the tools of Photoshop. Please do not digitally enhance or alter your photographs (beyond the basics needed to achieve realistic color balance and sharpness). If you have digitally added or removed anything, please don't submit the shot."
Great idea, but I don't know if My Shot is just Time Waster. I have found that the priority that National Geographic places on loading the video ads first, takes up so much time that the page says "Done" with no content loading at all, except ads. Maybe it's just my satellite connection, but a pox on these unblockable ads that are costly, too, and the priority that they take. If you try this site and find that this happens to you, my apologies for wasting your time. If you successfully see my experiment of 7 pictures in my "gallery" there, and they bore you, then er, uh, oops.

28 November 2010

Trawling Andromeda Spaceways. High recs

In issue #46 and the current issue #48, the editors have emphasised the horror in the mix, but in both issues, there is also much, much, else.

I'm first bringing up Issue #46 from the depths of the Back Issue Sea. #46 was unfortunately released along with #47, and so it sunk deeper than a wobbegong carpet shark, and seems to be as camouflaged because it has really only been noticed by readers looking for horror. The otherwise has been treated by them with the disdain prawn trawlers give to spider crabs.

In Issue #46
First, I'm recommending yet again " 'The Laughing Girl of Bora Fanong' a Tale of Colonial Venus" by John Dixon and Adam Browne. It's a much bigger and brighter fish (lit by lamplights, and bleary-eyed and probably tar-lunged from second-hand pipe smoke) than the description of it, "dark SF". I would say of the editor Mark Farrugia who was more caring about the contents of this issue than many a mother crocodile, her young, "He has chosen bloody well, but labelled poorly." (A secret about consumption: I had the pleasure of consuming this story first raw, in manuscript form — and that it was a pleasure, is a rare pleasure indeed.)

Issue #46, in pdf and/or hard copy.

Also, I wouldn't do it for myself, mind you. But on behalf of a story that is not horror (unless I have no sense of horror) I must mention that the story with my byline, "How Galligaskins Sloughed the Scourge", does not fit in the horror genre either (unless you flee from gingerbread) but does fit like a sardine into a tin, into the Tambourian genre (and for those post-docs and international conference-goers, needing an answer to the Call for Papers, the subgenre of Tambourian Medlarania; and going even deeper, the subbasement genre of Tambourian Medlarania Poetasterosity ).

Onward, to Issue #48
The only reason I didn't write earlier about two stories in particular in this issue is that I wanted to make a splash about them, so I was waiting for a splashy page to appear on the ASIM site with the whole Table of Contents, and the links to purchase. That hasn't happened, so I won't wait any longer.

Issue #48, in pdf and/or hard copy.

Two very fine authors have stories here that I highly recommend. In fact, I urged both of them to submit the very stories I recommend, and though I never twist arms, I am delighted that editor Juliet Bathory had such good taste. She chose them both. (This was no shoe-in. She didn't choose another one by another friend because she already had one about a chicken.)

Anyway, I highly recommend
  • "Radioactive Gumshoe Blues" by Jamie Shanks
  • "To Stand and Stare" by Jayaprakash Satyamurthy (also known and published as Jayaprakash Sathyamurthy, just to keep us on our toes.)
Jamie Shanks is one of my all-time favourite still-breathing authors. He was quite popular amongst readers when we were both elbowing each other in issues of Elsevier Science's HMS Beagle: BioMedNet. See some stories and humor by him in the HMS Beagle archive. He could make Chandler crack a giggle, and steal a line. In not too long from now, I'll announce something else by Jamie Shanks. He has a ripper of a detective-romper-science-fiction novel in late stages of birth, and the scars of my boots up his insides from birth-induction midwifery. A fine publisher is pacing, ready to take that baby as soon as it screams.

As for JP, I think he's been too unknown. I recently published an excellent horror story , Come Tomorrow, in my Virtuous Medlar Circle. Here's another by him that is in quite another vein. "So I posted a request for the name and author of a book about a schoolboy-wizard who carved replicas of King Arthur and his Knights out of potatoes rather than do his homework and was eventually banished to Hades ." JP posted it on his blog in a fit of impatience. I know. Silly him. Only one rejection. This Is Not The Story No One Wrote.

And now a funny story about this issue. Editor Juliet Bathory worked so hard on it and was so careful, that she was especially worried about the quality of the cover, getting the colours of the cover to match that of the superb artwork, getting the author list placed nicely, and a terrifying thing that haunted her: spelling Jayaprakash Satyamurthy right. The author just below him in the list, Jamie Shanks, somehow became James Shanks.

27 November 2010

Medlars in spring, and their companions

Many spiders make their home in the medlar trees. The work of the web-builders is showiest on dewy winter mornings, but here one is now.

The little flower spiders of the Thomisidae family, on the other hand, are ambush hunters who protect the medlar as they use it for their lure and lair. They are constant companions to the medlar flowers, each spider taking up a flower as its base.

Well, rot my boots! I'm not an entomologist's shed eyelash, but I let my caution down enough to not say "I think", but ignorantly state. Whoever said 'ignorant is bliss'? An idiot. I can only shuffle with embarrassment here and say that I was just feeling so superior last week, when I read in the August edition of History Today, "One can imagine the titillating movements of the whore 'Moll Medlar' (named after a suggestively-shaped pear, best eaten when rotten) as she flirts with Wat ..."

Suggestively-shaped pear! I wrote in high dudgeon to another medlar-lover, "as in a human's head being interchangeable with a durian."

The moral is to say "I don't know" more than I do, and ask for answers. Even that can produce errors. If Lucie Skeaping who wrote that otherwise scholarly, fascinating and fun article, "All Singing, All Dancing — Sexually explicit jigs were a major part of the attraction of the Elizabethan, Jacobean and Restoration", had consulted the Cambridge World History of Food, she'd be wrong'd. But who would think so, with so many experts and such a price? As things dance, Lucie Skeaping loves and is an advocate for and a performer of, another love of mine, "forgotten music", which is so complementary to medlars that I'm surprised she doesn't smell half-rotten from eating them, in the best of ways.

Sometimes the best things in life ARE free. Budak's blog, and budak's help
Thanks to the incomparable Budak (see, for instance, Budak's post,"Crap Spider") who kindly corrected my disgraceful mistaking of identities within hours, I can tell you now that these little spiders below are not flower spiders, nor are they Tom, Dick, or Henrietta Thomisid. This is a picture of a real flower spider.

I'm a flower spider (Diaea sp)

No rice pudding

See a whole smörgåsbord of spiders of different families in what I found when I opened up a mother wasp's stocked nursery, in Fresher than that from the "Fresh Food People"

But now back to this post, and
As Budak says, the spiders below are Salticids, and could I venture to say that they might be either the Opisthoncus parcedentatus or a close cousin?

Medlar flower and Jumping Spider

Later, a smooth white pillow of an egg sack filled with many verrrry small, celery-green eggs fills many a medlar's calyx. And later still, minute spiderlings emerge, and traverse their globes.
(And now, Budak, from what I shakily understand, both families make the same type of egg sacks with a top and bottom sheet that enclose light green eggs). I've seen the sacks and eggs in the calyxes with me own confused eyes, so who do you think made them, and do you think these families both live amongst the medlars?

And back to safe ground. Here in this little village, other otherwise-forgotten apple types live amongst the medlars.

Fenouillet Gris

The apples to come—were before our time, celebrated as dessert apples of great excellence. The Fenouillet Gris is an apple meant for an eater who has a nose and teeth. Small and flattened, aromatic russet, hard, crisp, not too sweet, and redolent of aniseed. The skin is my favourite part—delicious as only a russet skin can be, and not red as in other descriptions of this 1600s apple, but a colour that could be named Bruegel.

24 November 2010

A Day in the Life of a Red Ant Guard

Red bulldog ants construct
particulated houses.

Soldiers poise at city lip,
hairs taughtened to
the waves -
slop feet slapping.

Tsunami-near I come
deliberately as
gumleaves blowing.

Guards outflow.
Jaws clamp,
stings pierce —
a lightning strike at
eyeless, brainless legs.

Air burns
to dancing yell
and fire-scent.

Jammed between skin and socks,
the dead defenders won.

My footfalls die away
and houses hum below.
Up from the tunnels,
new red guards flow.

And the sky did not fall today.


This poem was first published in the July 20, 2001 · Issue 107 of The HMS Beagle: BioMedNet Magazine, now RIP. The Beagle then was the best science magazine I've ever seen and a credit to Elsevier, interfering with genuine work for many readers, most of whom wouldn't know a Myrmecia gulosa from a Nerello Mascalese. The decision to eliminate the poetry, fiction ("scientists don't read fiction") and humour, and to turn the Beagle into a generic trade mag showed a level of survival intelligence, be it hard-wired or learned, that would need gods to to save the species. No gods appeared, but you can enjoy picking through the Beagle Archives.

19 November 2010

Is that a Lucifer Cantos in your pocket?

Yes it is.

I've already written a paean to pocket-size books as companions, so this isn't a repeat. It is, however, a burp of repletion, for this little beauty bound by Erzebet Yellowboy at Papavera Press, The Lucifer Cantos by Hal Duncan is warm from nestling in my breast pocket after much fondling of pages. And your copy can nestle in your breast pocket, along with, I can attest, extra room for a tear of sympathy for whomever, and a dessicated boutonnière. Or you could wear this book at your hip. Hell, it's so small and convenient, you could pack it in your boot. It's smaller than a swig-flask, and will give you much more pleasure.

I hope Duncan never decides he is a poet, or one morning even he could wake up and write about a window, the fixture that afflicts all professional poets at some time in their career. One infamous poet wrote about a w. and curtains moving in the b., and it was published in a joblot that was one of his books. And it came to pass that a desperate academic circled it and stuck his round set of teeth into the thing, and sucked. And he made of it a thesis or maybe a dissertation rich with "There is intense understated, underlying sexual innuendo that has a not so 0…" and so forth, and this thesis or maybe it was dissertation got a great rise amongst the review board, and even more when it was published, from the poet.

And so, ever after that, the poet, when invited to teach his poetry, taught that poem, just as he had learnt its true and elevated meaning from an expert.

But back to Hal Duncan's poetry. It's angry, loving, frustrated, flowing and beautiful as honest passion. I don't know what he does when he feels dull, but he bloody well doesn't write.

Even the way his poetry looks matters. You can't get this from a power-hungry artificially illuminated 'reader', or from any screen. His poetry belongs in a book, in a hand.

I want to quote parts of it here, but I won't. Rather, buy the gorgeous little book (it's a small run, so don't leave it forever)
see more links to Hal's poetry and novels and essays and philosophical expeditions on his Notes from the Geek Show. One recent brilliant essay that I could even understand is Would a Robot Love You? Jeeves? Meet Joe.

But back to Lucifer, which leads to a true story.
In South Africa, matches are called 'fierhookjes' (fire sticks).
So this South African Afrikaner visits the Netherlands, and finds he's out of matches. He walks into a bar and asks, in of course, Afrikaans, for fierhookjes. The bar explodes in laughter. "You mean," says the bartender, "Lucifers."
er, back to the subject.

One of the interesting aspects of this particular book is that it proved to me that there might be a commonality amongst the one who has many names.

Do all devils think in related fonts?*
It hit me when I opened the pages of The Lucifer Cantos that he uses the same font as one I know who goes by the aka of Brett Hartshorn, who also has a penchant for the lyrical line, not to mention passion.

Maybe that's why so many hot-type printers on this surface of earth burnt down, practically all at once. I can't wait to get to Hell to feel their books. Those indentations, that cataclysmic sound of the Printed Word. I just hope they let me keep my pockets.

*The font is sort of crabbed and quite small, so I guess they have a hard time using their hands for the grand flowing gesture on the page. I guess it beats using their feet, though I've never seen any ancient Lucifer Cantos on clay tablets. Possibly Hal has, and can reveal if they're a series of tight little v's. But, ooh, I've just looked, and that's Sumerian to a two-toed dance. History is mystery. And meet your ancestors.

Symphony in blues

What's not having friends for?

Private communication, primitive communication.
Your oyster!
If you're here, congratulations on not having friends either, or if so, managing to tear yourself up for a moment from that pitcher-plant lake of public lurve.

Of course, you're still looking at a screen instead of cricking your neck at the heavens or tickling a tardigrade—but maybe your screen is supposed to be showing Work.
So, try to only make suitable workish sounds when you read:
Facebook meme: Ready for pasting into your notes

And now this exhortation comes to you completely Friend-free!
It has no Friend-prints, nor little bird droppings. It's just a recommendation from me to all you millions of fellow medlar-lovers to see this beautiful work of art by Tineke Stoffels, who sees herself as I do me, as a "citizen of the world".
White Plate with Medlars by Tineke Stoffels

17 November 2010

The strength of a mushroom, in any tongue

Mushrooms are awful in the old sense. The current trend in unwillingness to compromise, and these mushrooms, remind me of an old haiku of mine that was laid in The Heron's Nest
again negotiations fail
the clay path broken
by a mushroom

And if you like haiku, you might like to read more.

How do you say kookaburra in Russian?
These of mine have been posted on a site in both English and Russian, though I don't know how the translations read in Russian. Like with most poetry that is reprinted, no one asked permission, something that cheesed off Wendy Cope so much, she recently complained in The Guardian.

Even in a haiku, translations vary enormously, each translation a creation. If, for instance, two fabulous writers each of whom plumb depths very differently and idiosyncratically, Vera Nazarian and Ekaterina Sedia, each dug their thumbs into the same poem, story, novel—and translated, I'd love to read both of their creations, though I can only read the English version, and they can translate both ways—English to Russian, Russian to English.

People who can think in more than one language are very odd. They are wealthy beyond imagination, beyond designer handbags and tourist trips to space—but they aren't burdened by the envy normally directed at the rich.

15 November 2010

The glorious Golden Glory Pea

Gompholobium latifolium — Golden Glory Pea

This is the largest of the native pea flowers, and there's a riot of beautiful pea flowers blooming now, many of them bearing names that fit them as well as this one does. Much loved at all times of the day is Egg and Bacon.

See also:

Do octopuses see cephalopodic arms in surfaces?

I'd call this Work, and certainly Art

But that's just because my eyes behold it. The spiders who leave silk on it, and the tiny dasyurids who leave droppings smaller than that of mice, don't think of art at all. It is a vertical surface that leads to something as far as the dasyurids are concerned, and to the spiders, it's another terrain. To people who don't appreciate Art, it is a detail of the side of a galvanised steel garbage bin.

14 November 2010

Suu Kyi "free"? Is this a press release from the generals?

"Myanmar democracy activist Suu Kyi is free"
This is the headline to the story in the Los Angeles Times, written by, I guess, some ignorant office drone in L.A. who should live in this kind of freedom. At the end of the actual story, the Times states: "The writer is unidentified to protect those who work with him."

A linked story, also in the Times, is Suu Kyi outlasted her oppressors.
Gosh! That must mean that those who just gave Suu Kyi "freedom" did lose the election.

This Amnesty International headline and story is by Jim Roberts, Myanmar Country Specialist for Amnesty International USA: Aung San Suu Kyi Finally Free!

Aung San Suu Kyi: Burma leader's first night of freedom - BBC News

Burmese democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi freed in Rangoon as crowds celebrate –Washington Post

What's a democracy leader who can't participate in a democracy in a country that calls democracy "treason"?

An informative post by Dáithaí C: Suu Kyi will be free only when Burma is free

Recommended: NAMFREL – National Citizens' Movement for Free Elections
Their most recent post: Burma election not free and fair; unrest looms

Related post:

13 November 2010

"Pokky Man" too gristly to be mash

Mashups are so nice and friendly
for those whose teeth are lost or bendly.

A little mashed fudge bt eggplant goes a long way
The problem with themed anthologies is that in the midst of, say, mashed fudge bt eggplant, one can find something that one would really like, be it endless power without responsibility or a story that you can't consume with drink unless you don't mind choking on your own laughter.

But one is hardly likely to order mashed fudge bt eggplant if one has had enough already of what Tansy Rayner Roberts calls "Relentless Adaptations and Seamonsters and Vampires and a Latte Please". (Her blog piece follows the drollerically passionate story by Roberts, "Relentless Adaptations" that had me bashing a chair arm going Yes Yes Y.... " Listen to the story here or read it in another anthology that you might not pick up because it is themed: Sprawl edited by Alisa Krasnostein. In fact, Sprawl sprawls in fascinating ways, as rivetting as a smashed bottle of milk or an elephant drunk on maroola fruits. Another story in the book,"Sweep" by Simon Brown, should also appear in future horror collections. As deceptively simple as a haiku, and like a needle in I'm sure everyone's spine of guilt. I have a story in this antho too, but that is by the by.)

So if you, like me, feel nauseated by even the thought of

take a deep breath, and order. When you have it before you, trust me as you poke through the mash with pole or finger. Eventually you will come to
"Pokky Man – A Film by Vernor Hertzwig"
—a story so gristly, it leaps the plate. Also, it must have been so much fun to write (and so bloody inspired!) that its own author didn't recognise its worth, and maybe doesn't still. But then as I once heard two editors agree, "authors are the worst judges of their own work". So I'll speak his name here once to get it over with (Marc Laidlaw) and leave him to his ignorance.

"The truth immediately strikes every reader with conviction."
Captain Gulliver

In our hyperbolic age, the calm reportage in "Pokky Man" is icily refreshing. The "story" is really just a written transcript of a documentary, itself composed of clips. "Pokky Man" reminds me strongly of two classic masterpieces of fly-on-the-wall documentary, Cane Toads–An Unnatural History and Rats in the Ranks. Narrator-free, all of them, and "Pokky Man" has the additional dryness of being music-free, so there is nothing interpretative (some would say manipulative) going on here. Interpretation can, therefore, run riot, as in this reaction to the head rat in Rats...

"While many have said this documentary was Larry Hand's undoing, I think he emerges as the hero; not because he eventually wins the mayoral election, but because it is he who is the most honest about his intentions."

"Pokky Man" as a mashup fails for the same reason that it is great, classic satire. No one knows precisely who inspired Aristophanes to have a character say, "If well paid, these men also teach one how to gain law-suits, whether they be just or not." Maybe Ari time-travelled to now, or laughed over the same truth with Swift; or travelled to the end of our time, for cockroaches won't be the only survivors.

When Hemlock Pyne, Pokky Master, says
"I am moving away from the Arena, friends, because when this happens, the blast can spread far outside the –WHOA!"
—what immediately popped into my mind was something I thought only some Australians might think. But my household, it seems, was not alone. Widely quoted was the "sick" comment on Air America: "I'm still cheering the fact that some stingray whacked that Aussie pain in the ass Steve Irwin." And if you google " 'Steve Irwin' obnoxious", quite a lot appears, as does " 'Steve Irwin' hero". A Sea Shepherd ship was named after him. Stingrays were murdered and will be hated forever on behalf of Irwin's memory. But then, as a blogger wrote, "There are a significant number of 'Steve Irwin' types in South Africa." Not that all this matching to real-life-or-other-fictional-character matters as regards "Pokky Man" any more than that Shakespeare didn't know from Jets and Sharks.

What matters is that Hemlock Pyne, Crystal Burl, his girlfriend; Vernor Hertzwig, filmmaker; Dr. Jasper Chrysolite, and the rest, all talk and otherwise in their own way, with no cuts or retakes. "Pokky Man" is told completely straight, and as such, is as funny as this quote about the Chapman brothers' art.
Arguably their most ambitious work was 'Hell' (1999), an immense tabletop tableau, peopled with over 30,000 remodelled, 2-inch-high figures, many in Nazi uniform and performing egregious acts of cruelty. The work combined historical, religious and mythic narratives to present an apocalyptic snapshot of the twentieth-century. Tragically this work was destroyed in the MOMART fire in 2004
White Cube Gallery
The real stuff—a little scrap from "Pokky Man"
Vernor Hertzwig, filmmaker
The childish, even cartoonish aspects of the story, were far from appealing to me, especially as spending time on a hundred or so hours of Pokkypet footage would mean delaying my then-unfunded cinematic paean to those dedicated paleoanthropologists who study human coprolites or fossil feces. But there was an element of treachery and tragedy that lured me to look more carefully at the life and last days of Hemlock Pyne, as well as the amount of money Digito was offering.
"Pokky Man – A Film by Vernor Hertzwig" will, I trust, be included in some great anthologies. (It would have gone well with Thurber when the New Yorker was up to that quality.)

In the meantime, buy Classics Mutilated and congratulate yourself for finding it.


I just remembered that, not that he has ever run a restaurant or judged cuisine, but God hates mash.
You might want to read my report, The Wages of Food-Play