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The Eaves of Heaven

I read this memoir by Andrew Pham and was pretty impressed. It is mostly about living in Vietnam under the French, Japanese, and American occupations, with the Communist takeover an ironic epilogue. He grew up during the French rule; his life was nomadic, trying to keep ahead of various oppressors. Despite the efforts of those three countries, the Resistance in Vietnam strengthened rather than weakened as time went on.

The book is non-ideological, more interested in how politics affected his family and friends, and how he found love and raised a family despite everything going on around him. I identify a little with how he felt the irony of making decisions that seemed like good ideas at the time but turned out badly for him. And I noticed how different people made different decisions and yet ended up in the same jails.

The Killing Moon

This is the second novel by N.K. Jemisin I've read, or fourth if you consider that the first volume was a trilogy bound together. It starts off slow and fantasy blah until at some undefinable the plot kicked off, the uniqueness of the magic settled in, and then I set aside time to really plow in a finish it. The idea that the good guys are part of a religion whose priests absorb your soul was interesting; its usually the bad guys who are empowered by spiritual vampirism. But this religion has pretty strict rules in theory limiting their priests to relieving those who are dying anyway, taking just enough to knock you out, or sapping just enough from one person to give it to another as a healing magic. But of course the bad guys don't care about the rules, and sometimes the good guys decide someone is so corrupt they come in the night and the corrupted don't wake up.

According to her commentary in the back, she based all this on a combination of Egyptian mythology and Jungian collective unconsciousness, and there are some nice touches like the world actually being the moon of a Saturn-like planet.


The Book and the Sword

Louis Cha is an icon of Chinese martial arts novels, and this novel apparently his masterpiece since it has been translated. The primary tension in my mind was the conflict between literary adventure logic, which would lead to the heroes winning, and historical knowledge that the Qing Dynasty would not be overthrown until the twentieth century. As it turns out, history triumphs over the heroes, who lose despite their superior martial arts due to treachery by the Qing Emperor (referred to as the Manchu Emperor in the older style). The heroes only escape because a virtuous princess commits suicide as a warning to them. The author glosses over how the heroes belong to a famously secret martial arts society and how those societies usually supported themselves with criminal behavior.

The book referred to is actually the Koran, the theft and recovery of which brings the Han martial artists and the Islamic warriors together to resist oppression by the Manchu. I'm not quite sure which of the many, many swords is referred to in the title. The plot is so complex with so many characters that even with sparse Chinese literary style the novel is just over 500 pages long.


Her Smoke Rose Up Forever

I just finished reading this collection of short stories by James Tiptree aka Alice Sheldon. I can only admire her brilliance while not being surprised by her suicide. Her stories are as beautifully written as they are fatalistic. I think sometimes she crosses the line in complexity of prose; I think the harder the concepts you are throwing at the reader the simpler your prose needs to be. This is why literary writers have the luxury of such purple prose; they are trying to make banal reality interesting, but since a toilet is really just a toilet they can wax poetic without worrying we won't understand. If a SF writer says a train "snaked along" for we know it really is a giant snake used as a train, or maybe a garter snake used by ant people.

So if you want really challenging SF in a stylistic and philosophical sense, "Her Smoke Rose Up Forever" is a good place to look.

Moral burnout

Yesterday I was in a brief argument concerning adultery. Someone expressed her extreme dislike for a man who had saved millions of people's lives by means of his scientific breakthrough because he was also a cheating bastard. I feel rather blah about learning of the private moral failings of public figures. He isn't the first Nobel Prize winner to cheat on his wife, my hometown has a street named after a civil rights activist who cheated on his wife, and if you see three politicians on stage, chances are three of them are cheats. I've seen studies suggesting the range of cheating spouses could be anywhere from one in three to two in three. An adultery website in the US has thirty million members. When I was in college it took me two years to realize that if I asked a woman out and she said she had a boyfriend back home it didn't mean no, it meant I would have to make myself scarce if he came to visit.

I still get indigent about Catholic priests, but I don't see Catholic parents going on strike until the Church cleans up its act. A third of violent crime on college campuses is committed by jocks, who are one percent of the population, but women still date them, men still envy them, and people still expect me to give a damn if the Hawkeyes beat the Buckeyes.

Civilization is still that thin veneer.

Aug. 10th, 2015

Job hunting and writing submissions have been discouraging these last couple of months. Editors' rejection letters are more encouraging than the last year I did a round of submissions, but most potential employers just ignore my emails.

I gained ten pounds and then lost 4; the risks of getting in shape mostly by weight lifting. I've been doing mostly leg work outs, as much leg exercise as the rest of my body together. At least I'm getting results in the mirror.

My research for an alternative history novel has lead me to reading about Native American religion, which fits nicely in many ways with Taoism. Indians who became Christians write a lot like Transcendentalists, who had read a lot of Chinese philosophy.

100,000 Kingdoms

I finally got around to reading "The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms" by N.K. Jemisin. Aside from some dark fantasy sex with a bad boy god, it was a really interesting, well written novel. Lots of plot twists and most of the characters were damaged rather than evil. I wish I was the sort of person who wrote longer reviews, but most of the time I don't know for sure what I think about a novel until I have someone to disagree with. ;)

Jul. 31st, 2015

I finished my MA dissertation. I think I will take up Zen meditation to keep my nerves from overwhelming me as I wait for the results.

I feel like my various pulled muscles are finally healed up. It always seems like if I lift enough weights to make progress, I'm at risk of yanking something out of place. I don't remember having these problems when I was lifting in my twenties.

I've been reading up on Native American history for my alternative history novel. When a Christianized Native American writes, it comes across as Transcendentalist. Both are a mix of Christianity with a more naturalistic spirituality, Native American for the former obviously, and Buddhism/Taoism for the latter.

Jul. 20th, 2015

I over came a writing block the other day. I've been writing an alternative history, but when I researched the characters and started writing them, well, history made a lot of sense. I can see why history turned out the way it did. But I figured a way out.

I've been going to the gym, of course. I was losing weight on a 3 days of lifting, one day of swimming plan, but now there's too many swimmers so I'm on a four lifting days schedule and my weight is hovering around the same range. But I am getting stronger.

I've been watching "West Wing" again. Sometimes it is strangely prophetic and other times I find myself thinking "those were the days." If they thought Republicans were crazy then...

Jul. 17th, 2015

Now that we've seen all the "Foyle's War" on Netflix, my mother has lost all interest in what we watch on TV in the evenings. It's a great show, more like a series of movies, really taking it's time to build up the murders instead of marching characters on and off screen to explain what horrible people they are, but going into withdraw is a little much.

Yesterday I took the plunge and sent my entire novel manuscript to DAW. That precludes sending the complete manuscript to anyone else, but what the hell. A choice has to be made and I have a lot on my plate.

For the fun part of writing, I've had some two thousand word days, writing in both my alternative history novel and my Chinese experiences novel.

I've been getting to the gym four days a week, 70-90 minutes a pop. It requires a careful division of muscle groups to go that often, but I manage.



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