is happy/sad a bit like wabi/sabi?

I was listening to my ipod today, while deep in the throes of completing my 2k on The Dread Novel, and came across this song (My Sister by Tindersticks):

The video is a little odd (I think it’s just some fan interpretation), but dig the lyrics:

Do you remember my sister? How many mistakes did she make with those never blinking eyes? I couldn’t work it out. I swear she could read your mind, your life, the depths of your soul at one glance. Maybe she was stripping herself away, saying:

Here I am, this is me
I am yours and everything about me, everything you see …..
If only you look hard enough

I never could.

Our life was a pillow-fight. We’d stand there on the quilt, our hands clenched ready. Her with her milky teeth, so late for her age, and a Stanley knife in her hand. She sliced the tyres on my bike and I couldn’t forgive her.

She went blind at the age of five. We’d stand at the bedroom window and she’d get me to tell her what I saw. I’d describe the houses opposite, the little patch of grass next to the path, the gate with its rotten hinges forever wedged open that Dad was always going to fix. She’d stand there quiet for a moment. I thought she was trying to develop the images in her own head. Then she’d say:

I can see little twinkly stars, like Christmas tree lights in faraway windows.
Rings of brightly coloured rocks floating around orange and mustard planets.
I can see huge tiger striped fishes chasing tiny blue and yellow dashes, all tails and fins and bubbles.

I’d look at the grey house opposite, and close the curtains.

She burned down the house when she was ten. I was away camping with the scouts. The fireman said she’d been smoking in bed – the old story, I thought. The cat and our mum died in the flames, so Dad took us to stay with our aunt in the country. He went back to London to find us a new house. We never saw him again.

On her thirteenth birthday she fell down the well in our aunt’s garden and broke her head. She’d been drinking heavily. On her recovery her sight returned, a fluke of nature everyone said. That’s when she said she’d never blink again. I would tell her when she stared at me, with her eyes wide and watery, that they reminded me of the well she fell into. She liked this, it made her laugh.

She moved in with a gym teacher when she was fifteen, all muscles he was. He lost his job when it all came out, and couldn’t get another one. Not in that kind of small town. Everybody knew everyone else’s business. My sister would hold her head high, though. She said she was in love. They were together for five years until one day he lost his temper. He hit over the back of the neck with his bullworker. She lost the use of the right side of her body. He got three years and was out in fifteen months. We saw him a while later, he was coaching a non-league football team in a Cornwall seaside town. I don’t think he recognized her. My sister had put on a lot of weight from being in a chair all the time. She’d get me to stick pins and stub out cigarettes in her right hand. She’d laugh like mad because it didn’t hurt. Her left hand was pretty good though. We’d have arm wrestling matches, I’d have to use both arms and she’d still beat me.

We buried her when she was 32. Me and my aunt, the vicar, and the man who dug the hole. She said she didn’t want to be cremated and wanted a cheap coffin so the worms could get to her quickly. She said she liked the idea of it, though I thought it was because of what happened to the cat, and our mum.

I especially love the way the music becomes almost jaunty while he says: "He hit her over the back of the head with his bullworker." This song is an almost wrist-slash worthy example of a thing I love in more milder versions in a lot of songs (and books, for that matter). It’s this incredibly taut juxtaposition of happy/sad warring within the same song. So you have these insanely depressing lyrics of a woman’s life which was just one tragedy after another layered over this moody instrumental, with hints of something really not right beneath it (saxophones wandering off into dissonant jazz scales), but this swinging sixties beat. Other songs that are less intense that feel like this to me? Brandy by Looking Glass. Chain Gang by the Pretenders. The happy/sad thing is what made Buffy great.

Anyway. Weird thoughts at the end of the day. I went to Hungary earlier this month, and there’s nothing cooler than realizing that dancing is the language that crosses all borders. You would not believe how much I danced. My knees can’t either.

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in which I engage in self-promotion

A short story of mine (hard SF, would you believe?) that I had thought would be going up in September, is actually up this week at Strange Horizons. Read it! If any of you met me at readercon, I used an excerpt from this story for my “meet the prose” quote. The thing about Dante’s first ring and demons who have hox genes. My friend Kris really loves the part about the lip-creature. Now you have to be curious, right?

http://www.strangehorizons.com/2008/20080804/well-f.shtml

In other news, RWA was a very interesting and different experience from the average SF con. I really enjoyed it– especially the fancy dresses and free books. I went to the St. Martin’s Press party and it was swanky! Also, RWA is so much better organized and more useful than SFWA it’s sort of sad and pathetic. I think I’m going to join this week.

neato stuff

Want to point out the upcoming KGB Fantastic Fiction Raffle, in case any of you haven’t heard of it. There are some really awesome prizes up there: you can win a story critique from Nancy Kress, Rick Bowes, Gardner Dozois, Shawna McCarthy and a few others. You can get Jeffrey Ford or Lucius Shepard to “Tuckerize” your name in a short story (this means they’ll name a character after you). Tom Canty has donated an original drawing (eek!). AND there’s lots of reading material, including subscriptions to some awesome magazines like Paradox and Sybil’s Garage. The raffle tickets are only $1 each, though obviously buying more will improve your chances.

Best of all, you get to support the ongoing KGB Fantastic Fiction reading, which happens the third Wednesday of every month. I’m going to be reading there in December, so of course this is a very worthy cause!

EDIT: Starts on July 14th, but you can browse the items before then.

book reviews: alaya gets weepy

Reviews! I don’t think I can call them weekly anymore, huh? But I’ve finished a lot of books of late, so here you go. Tomes brimming with romantic girl-cooties (sorry, fellas). Two of them made me cry! In this edition:

The Spymaster’s Lady by Joanna Bourne
Miss Wonderful by Loretta Chase
Privilege of the Sword by Ellen Kushner
Thomas the Rhymer by Ellen Kushner
Peeps by Scott Westerfeld
Deed of Paksennarion by Elizabeth Moon

Continue reading

post-racial

Oh my god. This photo is from the 1930s. The man depicted is a slave. In the 1930s.

From the 1930s

From a book (Slavery By Another Name by Douglas A. Blackmon) about a chapter in history I’d never heard of before: slavery after the civil war, continuing until WWII. From the description:

Under laws enacted specifically to intimidate blacks, tens of thousands of African Americans were arbitrarily arrested, hit with outrageous fines, and charged for the costs of their own arrests. With no means to pay these ostensible “debts,” prisoners were sold as forced laborers to coal mines, lumber camps, brickyards, railroads, quarries and farm plantations.

Read about the rest here.

blind men’s bluff

For those of you who have not heard, anthology editor Jonathan Strahan recently announced his final TOC for the upcoming Eclipse Two anthology, published by Night Shade Books. Now, you might have thought that given the brou-ha-ha surrounding the cover of Eclipse One, those associated with the project would now be very sensitive to gender issues and disinclined to repeat the spectacle. Well, apparently not.

The TOC is (as far as I can tell) entirely made up of white men, with one white woman. I’m with ktempest: I find this sort of thing wholly unacceptable. And no, I refuse to look at some sort of long-term trend to confirm bias when it comes to an anthology. Anthologies are books, meant to be consumed as single projects. It’s not like a magazine, with subscribers, a regular production schedule and an expectation of future issues.

I’m re-posting here what I just wrote in the comments section of the original SF Signal announcement:

Jonathan,

So, you have created an anthology of white men and one white woman. The publisher’s copy for Eclipse One reads:

“Set to become a major event on the science fiction and fantasy calendar,Eclipse: New Science Fiction and Fantasy gathers together new science fiction and fantasy stories by the best writers working today.”

This is a general interest anthology. It’s being promoted as some sort of compilation of exciting new talent. And yet, that talent is as race and gender limited as anything that would have been published 30 or 40 years ago. I bet those editors thought they were gender/color blind, too. 13 white men and 1 white woman represent the best writers working today?

Honestly, when the women dropped out, did it occur to you to cast a wider net and ask more women for stories? To open a few more slots from the open call or extend it? To recruit a few of the dramatically underrepresented pool of writers of color (especially female writers of color), very few of whom ever seem to break through to the relative mainstream of our genre?

No one is saying you should accept a story by a woman or a writer of color just because you need to fill a quota. But a solicited anthology is only as good as the writers whose stories you solicit, and judging by this TOC (no matter what unfortunate first-round dropouts you had), you need to broaden your list. Any editor of a magazine or anthology not only considers the internal quality of each story but ALSO their relationship with each other. I hear all the time that a story might get rejected not because it was bad, but because, say, Peter S. Beagle beat you to the unicorn story slot. If you have a preponderance of AI stories, you might reject one you would otherwise have accepted. This type of “not just the quality of the story, but the quality of the market” balancing is an accepted and, indeed, *expected* part of the job of the editor. When Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling put out their fairy tale anthologies, no one wanted to read six sleeping beauty re-tellings, no matter how good they might individually be.

So HOW is it any different to consider another “not just the story quality” valence when weighing the effect of the balance of an anthology? How is it “affirmative action” or “quotas” or any of those other bogeymen to look at your TOC and think, “gee, I seem to have stuffed this with a lot of white guys. My readership might not like that anymore than an anthology with 7 romantic zombie stories, so let me try to balance things a little.”

There are so many excellent women and writers of color working in the field today that I find it astonishing that (when the first round of women dropped out) you could not have solicited several other excellent stories from them to help round out your anthology in all the ways people clearly care about.

Because I’m with Stephanie: I’ve seen enough of these all-male anthologies to last my lifetime.

I’d really appreciate thoughts/comments about this. This sort of thing frustrates me so much I never quite know what to do, but interaction is always good.