SFX review…

Was sent this review by the legendary critic David Langford last week, but couldn’t show it to you until I got permission. Needless to say, as the first review (that I know about), I am chuffed.

Eastercon 2009

Eastercon was delightful, challenging and exhausting. I moderated panels for the first time and found that I really rather enjoyed it. I appeared on various others and, it turns out, being rather new to this convention malarkey, I had volunteered for more than perhaps I should have done… There’s a lot of drinking goes on at these things, and every night I was up carousing into the early hours – only to find that, bleary eyed, I had to get to the convention hotel early for yet another panel… This meant that I was unable to attend as many of the talks and panels that I would have liked. I did much enjoy watching Tim Powers being interviewed. Another highlight was a screening of a 1912 silent version of Frankenstein – accompanied by a wonderful live piano improvisation.

But what really makes a convention so enjoyable is the people. Imagine being locked into the Overlook Hotel with 800 souls whose interests intersect yours – for days! Everywhere gaggles discussing anything that you can (and that you can’t) imagine… I met a lot of fascinating people, some who I knew, others who I did not and I made some new friends. It was a particular pleasure to hang out with Gary Lloyd, and with Liam Sharp and his lovely wife, Chris. A prominent comicbook artist, Liam is branching out into books, the first of which, God Killers, is an amazing debut – vibrantly written, raw, visceral – with something of the brooding atomsphere of Beowulf and the earthiness of Robert E. Howard. What’s worse, there are some scenes in there I wish I had thought of!! ;O)

My friend Vince Docherty gave me a lovely intro at the launch of The Third God. I don’t do a lot of public speaking and so was quite nervous. I intended to speak for 4 minutes, but ended up talking for nearer 45 – the spirit of my books possessed me.

On my way home I did a radio interview for the BBC. After days of endless, unbounded conversation, it was hard to compress my chat down to such a minimal medium.

The week after, I went to London to hang out at various exhibitions, to see plays, to hook up with friends. I also had a meeting with my editor Simon Taylor. Over lunch we discussed what I might write next. We both fixed on one project and I have been working on it ever since.

IVF and global warming

IVF is a sign of our times: society encourages us to remain non-adult ever longer, but our bodies ignore this cultural infantilizing of our minds.

It strikes me that there is a parallel here with our response to something like global warming. We have created a virtual reality (the human world) and imagine that it IS reality. Meanwhile the world continues to turn, global warming approaches inexorably, and we don’t realize that there is a REAL reality and that no amount of argument or wishful thinking will keep it at bay.

language and the human face…

The April 25th issue of New Scientist has an article discussing a computer that can read from a speaker’s lips what language he/she is speaking. This reminded me of something I came across stating that people in southern Russia had a characteristic face shape that was thought to be due to the heavy bread that was their staple – the intense and persistent chewing required, bulked up certain face muscles. I would suggest that what is true for chewing could well be true for speaking – that one language will use certain facial muscles more than another. The consequence would then be that a French speaker would tend towards a particular facial configuration – a speaker of Mandarin Chinese would tend to another… so that the language you speak determines, to some extent, what your face looks like…

hand holding halberd…

Continuing my, possibly reckless, exploration into Chinese, I want to discuss the character for the singular pronoun (I, me) wǒ which is the first character shown. Now this is composed of two elements: the one on the left, the 2nd shown, is a pictograph for ‘hand’; the one on the right is a pictograph for ‘halberd’ or ‘lance’. So wǒ is written as a hand holding a halberd…

This seems to me to pose two interesting questions. The first: in what kind of time did this character originate that when anyone, male or female or child, should represent themselves in any text, that they must do so as being armed? The second: what does this indicate about how a modern, literate Chinese person might see himself/herself. Of course, most likely, they just use the character and don’t think about it at all.

I hasten to add that I’m not trying to imply anything here about some kind of inherent agressiveness, but perhaps that there may be some kind of tendency for a person to feel that he or she is a ‘warrior’. Having studied T’ai Chi for several years, I have some understanding of the spiritual values that may underlie this…

Finally, can it be entirely unrelated that  one of the core ways that China seems to perceive herself, and thus projects herself to the outside world, is through martial arts…?

school time

Today I took some time off working on this website to go and give a ‘language class’ to some 8 year olds. I read them the first paragraph from The Chosen. Unsurprisingly, they were intrigued by the ‘childgatherers’. We discussed choosing verbs and alliteration. Next I read them the first paragraph of The Third God. They wrote stories based on this, speculating on how Ykoriana might have lost her eyes and what she may have done to deserve this. What they came back with was delightful. Some saw her as a victim, others as evil and having stolen her ruby eyes from the Wise. Fairytales riffing on the themes in that first paragraph, reflecting all kinds of child-logic, yet resonating well enough. I’m not sure why I should feel surprised. A fascinating experience.

triptych hinges

the Stone Dance as a triptych

Often it has seemed to me that rather than the Stone Dance being a trilogy it would be better described as a triptych – it isn’t three works, but rather a single ‘picture’ in three parts. This feeling has found its way into the structure of the books.

Here I would like to comment on the first chapter of both The Standing Dead and The Third God. These alone do not stick to the close 3rd person perspective used elsewhere in the Stone Dance. In this respect they can be considered as the hinges on my triptych – hinges that hold together the three ‘panels’ of the books. (Pushing the analogy near breaking point: the Song to the Earth, the poem appearing at the beginning of The Chosen, could be seen to be the clasp that opens and closes the whole work.)

This is all a rather elaborate way of saying that you can read the first chapter of The Third God as an entity somewhat separate from the rest of the story – and as a link between The Standing Dead and The Third God proper, the action continues in the second chapter.

how a rabbit may have run off with the sun

I had become increasingly curious about the Chinese language, but everything I read about it contradicted everything else. So at last I took the plunge and I am now in the 2nd term of a course in Chinese. I am less interested in learning to speak it than I am in learning to read and write it – at least a little bit. Fundamentally, what I am after is an insight into China and its people: I believe that a language is the soul of the culture that speaks it. (Incidentally, for this very reason – I am also considering studying Ancient Greek, but that’s another story…)

Anyway, I don’t imagine that I’m the only one who is curious about Chinese and so I’ve been thinking that I might like to share some of my more interesting experiences and ‘discoveries’ with you.

I will write more about my initial experiences, but, for now, I just want to share with you what I’ve understood about just one character: wǎn (spoken with a falling/rising tone – the 3rd of 4) and that means night, evening or even late (words in Chinese, even ones with exactly the same sound, can have many meanings – sometimes more than 50!?!?)

Reading top to bottom (and putting up with my dodgy calligraphy), the first character is the one we’re discussing:  wǎn = night. The element on the left is shown 2nd and is a pictograph representing the sun. The other element of our character is shown 3rd and means escape.

Now here’s the fun bit – if you look at the 4th character you will see it is identical to the 3rd, except for a dot in its ‘tail’… Now this 4th character is a pictograph for rabbit.

So what we end up with is that escape is written as a rabbit that has escaped – this being indicated by the missing dot – and that, when this is combined with sun, becomes our 1st character, that for night. Now, I don’t know if this means the ‘sun has escaped’ or that the ‘rabbit has escaped with the sun’ – nevertheless, I feel it does hint at the delights hidden in written Chinese.

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