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July 5, 2006

Readercon 17
Posted by Patrick at 01:01 PM *

This weekend, in Burlington, Massachusetts, just outside Boston. Behind the jump: the Nielsen Haydens’ schedule of events.

[Program descriptions in italics are by the Readercon committee, not us.]

Friday 3:00 PM: Panel
The Willing Suspension of Dissed Beliefs
Ellen Asher, R. Scott Bakker, James Morrow (moderator), Patrick Nielsen Hayden, Ann Tonsor Zeddies
There are some novels that can seduce us with their worldviews despite our intellectual opposition to the deep authorial philosophies that inform them. One can argue that the secular humanist reading Gene Wolfe or the free-market conservative reading China Mieville becomes, for the duration of the novel, a Catholic or socialist in at least some small recess of their brain. What exactly is going on here between text and reader?

Friday 4:00 PM: Panel
The Return of the Prime Minister: Alternate Political Systems in Fantasy
Kelly Link, Victoria McManus, Teresa Nielsen Hayden (moderator), Vandana Singh, Catherynne M. Valente
At Readercon 3, we asked “Why is Fantasy Hung Up on Monarchy?” in a panel called “The Senator From Elfland’s Daughter.” In the sixteen subsequent years, how much progress has been made in exploring fantasy worlds other than those ruled by a king or queen, and hence a wider variety of social orders?

Friday 6:00 PM: Panel
The War of the Worldviews
F. Brett Cox (moderator), Rosemary Kirstein, Barry N. Malzberg, China Mieville, James Morrow, Teresa Nielsen Hayden
Campbellian SF made the assumption that the rational, scientific worldview would come to dominate the irrational, religious one, a tacit prediction that turned out even less well than those of flying cars and personal nuclear powerplants. It’s quite possible that we can never arrive at the glowing science-fictional future that we all grew up dreaming of without fighting and winning a sort of Cold Civil War between the forces of reason and superstition. What works of speculative fiction have dealt with this?

Saturday 11:00 AM: Kaffeeklatsch
Patrick Nielsen Hayden, Teresa Nielsen Hayden

Sunday 12:00 Noon: Panel
Social Class and Speculative Fiction
Andrea Hairston, Ellen Kushner (moderator), Shariann Lewitt, James D. Macdonald, China Mieville, Patrick Nielsen Hayden
Any completely satisfactory imaginary world will include some sort of class structure (not necessarily rigid or hierarchal), or an explanation for its absence. Are all novels without social class utopian by definition?

Sunday 1:00 PM: Talk / Discussion (60 min.)
Presenting The Viable Paradise Writer’s Workshop
Debra Doyle, James D. Macdonald, Patrick Nielsen Hayden, Teresa Nielsen Hayden
Viable Paradise is a unique one-week residential workshop in writing and selling commercial science fiction and fantasy, held each autumn on Martha’s Vineyard. Most of the current instructional staff are here to talk about it. [ed. note: Only if “50%” is “most.”]

Sunday 2:00 PM: Panel
Sense of Wonder in the New Hard SF
Jeffrey A. Carver, Daniel P. Dern (moderator), Geoffrey A. Landis, Teresa Nielsen Hayden, Ian Randal Strock
“Sense of wonder,” it seems to us, is what happens in our brains when a writer shows us something we hadn’t conceived of that strikes us as remarkable. Much of the SOW in classic hard sf was evoked in stories of space flight, where it seemed to come relatively easy and naturally. The SOW we get from the nanotech and man / machine interactions in Michael Swanwick’s Stations of the Tide, the genetic and cybernetic enhancements in Bruce Sterling’s Shaper / Mechanist stories, or the biology in Octavia Butler’s Xenogenesis trilogy seems both harder earned and very different in flavor. Is SOW still central to the subgenre?

Comments on Readercon 17:
#1 ::: Cynthia Wood ::: (view all by) ::: July 05, 2006, 01:28 PM:

I have a pair of friends who are regulars at Readercon. Some year I will blackmail them into putting me up for a few days so I can attend. First my children have to get old enough to either come along or survive without me though.

#2 ::: jeff Allen ::: (view all by) ::: July 05, 2006, 01:33 PM:

Attention: link-y text-y problem in the above post!

#3 ::: Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: July 05, 2006, 01:56 PM:

I have to question the premise of the descriptions of a couple of those panels.

First, the idea that, say, Catholicism is going to be so abhorrent to secular humanist me that I have to make a physical effort of will to read Gene Wolfe.

Second, the idea that science and rationality, on the one hand, and faith, on the other hand, are inevitably in conflict.

#4 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: July 05, 2006, 02:15 PM:

Mitch, I suspect that Patrick is near bursting with the urge to bring up that second point on the panel.

#5 ::: Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: July 05, 2006, 02:49 PM:

I expect having either Nielsen Hayden on either of those panels will result in fireworks.

The description of that second panel:

Campbellian SF made the assumption that the rational, scientific worldview would come to dominate the irrational, religious one, a tacit prediction that turned out even less well than those of flying cars and personal nuclear powerplants. It’s quite possible that we can never arrive at the glowing science-fictional future that we all grew up dreaming of without fighting and winning a sort of Cold Civil War between the forces of reason and superstition. What works of speculative fiction have dealt with this?

I'd say the answer to that last question is, definitively, "The Gernsback Continuum," but I don't think that's the answer the author of that blurb is looking for.

I just finished a short-story in which the villain is an evangelical minister. Later, I had the hero make a serious statement about his own beliefs in God. The story is just a slight bit of fluff--but, still, I don't want to be accused of attacking all religion and religious people.

As to the description of the first panel:

There are some novels that can seduce us with their worldviews despite our intellectual opposition to the deep authorial philosophies that inform them. One can argue that the secular humanist reading Gene Wolfe or the free-market conservative reading China Mieville becomes, for the duration of the novel, a Catholic or socialist in at least some small recess of their brain. What exactly is going on here between text and reader?

I haven't read any China Mieville. I've read some Wolfe, and enjoyed it a great deal; my reaction to reading that description is: "Wolfe's a religious Catholic? And it's all over all his fiction? Huh?" Oh, I have no doubt that it is true if the author of that blurb says so--but if it is, Wolfe has done such a good job skiffying it up that I didn't notice it.

In general, I have some core beliefs that, if violated, will cause me to throw a book across the room angrily. I won't read a book where the author seems to be advocating bigotry, or belitting or excoriating some group that I consider myself to be a member of (like, for instance, liberals--I don't consider myself a liberal anymore, but I do have liberal cooties. If somebody hates liberals, they probably hate me.)

Other than that, I can read just about anything if the story is good enough, and if it seems to me that the author is writing with a good heart. Case in point: I'm told that Vernor Vinge is a hard-core libertarian. His fiction certainly seems to come from that viewpoint. I consider libertarianism to be silly--and I use the word silly only because the Libertarian Party is so ineffectual; if they became effective they'd be downright dangerous. However, Vinge's books are goodhearted, and so I'll go along with his libertarian universe for the ride. And it doesn't take much effort, either, no moreso than any of the other stfnal ideas in his books (bobbles, Slow Zones, the Singularity, etc.).

#6 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: July 05, 2006, 02:52 PM:

Local supply notes:

1. Closest supermarket--Roche Brothers, Cambridge Street/3A south of the hotel, about a half a mile, open until 10 PM, reopens at ?? AM in the morning.

Directions -- turn right (east) on Mall Road out of the hotel parking lot. Turn right (south) onto Cambridge Street/3A at the next light. Go under 128. Go through the traffic light when it is green at the intersection with 128 ramps on the other side of 128. Go through the next traffic light when it's green. The traffic light after there, there is a car dealer on the right and a large strip mall on the left. Get in the de facto left lane and when it's possible to turn left with the light green (no separate left turn signal and a lot of northbound traffic...). The Roche Brothers is at the eastern end of the strip mall, next to the shoe store which is straight ahead. The supermarket has a hot food bar serving full meals and has a sushi chef, and an in-store bakery. It's significantly pricier for fruit and such than e.g. the Market Basket (see below) or the Shaw's (see below)


2. Second closest: Shaw's, it's about a mile north or so. Open until 11 PM, opens at 7 AM I think.

Go right from the hotel parking lot and go left (north) at the traffic light on 3A. Stay on 3A past several lights, past Burlington Center, past Building 19, turn right at the major intersection at the bottom of the hill downslope from Building 19 and then turn left into the Shaw's parking lot.

Next to the Shaw's is Busa Liquors, which has free wine tastings Friday nights between 4 PM and 7 PM.

Shaw's has a prepared food counter and in-store pizzaria I think, the prepared meals though are mostly not hot ones, there are some things I think that can be cooked hot--pizza, fried chicken etc, stir fry maybe, etc. It has an in-store bakery. The fruit and vegetables tend to be less expense that Roche Bros, but more expensive than Market Basket.

3. Trader Joe's, hours sometime AM to 9 PM M-Sa, closes at 7 ? 9 ? PM on Sundays

The fastest way is get onto 128 headed east from the hotel (south onto 3A and then immediately up the ramp onto 128i), get off at the next exit (3 North/Middlesex Turnpike) onto the Middlesext Turnpike exit, go left (south) from the exit on the Middlesex pike, go under 128, go through several traffic lights, past the power substation on the right, and it's on the left, past a gas station on the left, adjacent to a Bed, Bath, and Beyond, off a center turn lane -before- where there is a fork in the road with a gas station and Friend Lumber to the left of the fork, and a mallish area on the left.

4. Market Basket, hours 6 or 7 AM to 9 PM M-Sa, closes at 7 PM on Sundays

Follow the direction to the Trader Joe's but keep going straight and turn left at the light for the big parking lot with the pseudo-mall. Market Basket is at the near end of the complext.

The store has no in-store bakery, and hot foods are limited to in-store barbecued/rotisseried chicken and pork and such. Fruit and vegetables and potables are less expensive there than the other stroes, sometime by 50% or more.

5. Stop & Shop, Woburn Closes Saturday at midnight and reopens Sunday morning, closed Sunday night at 9 PM and reopens Monday morning. Open the rest of the time.. if you want to get something at 3 AM Saturday morning or feel like reading the latest Harry Potter novel all night, go to the Stop & Shop.

Get onto 3A south, go under 128, go up the entry ramp onto 128 east. Get off at the route 38 exit, about two miles (two minutes)--go past the Winn Street exit. Follow the traffic circle going left under 128, go 3/4s of the way around it, and go north on 38. At the traffic light, which is the first left north of the traffic circle, take a left left and head into the large parking lot, the Stop & Shop is at the far end on the north side of 128. There is a liquor store at the north end of the strip mall.

To get back to the hotel, either got back to 38 and go the additional quarter of the traffic circle to turn right and get back on 128, or go onto the road that's runs parallel to 128 just north of 128 out of the Stop and Shop parking lot and stay on it for the mile until it intersects perpendicularly with Winn Street. Turn left when the light allows and the turn right to go up the entrance ramp to 128, and drive to the next exit, and go across 3A back onto Mall Road and left at the next light back to the hotel.

The Stop & Shop has an instore bakery, in store food bar, in-store pizzeria, etc.

Closest liquor stores

1. Busa's next to the Shaw's,

2. a package store on the Middlesex Turnpike just should of 128 on the eastern side of the road

3. package store at the north end of the strip mall the Stop & Shop is in.


Closest bookstore-- Barnes & Noble, on the west side of Middlesex Turnpike just north of 128, it's two story B&N with the SF section in the back corner of the rear of the store on on second floor.

Nearest movie theaters:

1. AMC or whatever the name is, up the hill from the Barnes & Noble.

2. Showcase Cinemas in Woburn, on the southwestern corner of 128 & 38, go a quarter of the way around the traffic circle and then turn right onto a street going past a hotel and take the next right into the cineplex parking lot. There's a big sign south of 128 but the trees next to it got even bigger than the sign is...

#7 ::: Eric Van ::: (view all by) ::: July 05, 2006, 03:12 PM:

Nothing in the War of the Worldviews blurb begins to say that faith is inevitably in conflict with science and rationality. If the panel goes in that direction it will be veering completely off-topic. What the blurb says is that there is an irrational, religious worldview and that it is currently an impediment to rational progress (and that this was not foreseen by Golden Age sf). If only that weren't hugely and distressingly true. (Last time I looked, the Dalai Lama and the Reform Rabbinate were not exactly drowning out the fundamentalist right.)

Mitch, your second take on the first blurb is much closer to what the panel is supposed to be about than your initial complaint. The Catholic worldview is more obvious in some Wolfe novels than others (and always more so on a second reading). It's perhaps strongest in _The Book of the Short Sun_, which is also my favorite Wolfe novel. The panel simnply observes that (in this example) even someone who finds Christian theology abhorrent is beguiled, seduced, by a work of fiction that seems to have that theology as a central premise. It seems to us to be a phenomenon worth discussing. As a counter-example, I don't think it's possible to love Ayn Rand if you have as low regard for her philosophy as some Wolfe lovers do for Christian theology. So Gene is doing something Ayn is probably incapable of. We're curious as to what that is (and whether it's possible to emerge from Wolfe without changing, if even only subconsciously, one's attitudes towards his worldview).

#8 ::: adamsj ::: (view all by) ::: July 05, 2006, 03:45 PM:

The book that comes to mind is In The Ocean Of Night, as I take it that Benford named Alexandria after the library.

Surely that's at least been considered in criticism of Benford's work--I can't be the only one whose understanding starts there.

#9 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: July 05, 2006, 03:56 PM:

A Kaffeeklatsch? You wouldn't be planning to have one at L.A.con, would you?

#10 ::: Adrian ::: (view all by) ::: July 05, 2006, 04:07 PM:

Paula,
The Roche Brothers opens at 7am. I thought all supermarkets in the Boston area opened at 7am or later. Are you sure about the Woburn one being open all night?

#11 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: July 05, 2006, 04:11 PM:

Serge, I dunno, it depends whether they schedule us for one.

On the larger thread: Avram, normally so cogent, is in this case not reading my mind accurately. I'm not entirely certain what I want to say on that first panel, but I'm pretty sure it has to do with the correspondence--and sometimes lack of correspondence--of ideology (and/or religion) to sensibility. As to the War of the Worldviews panel, what Eric Van said.

#12 ::: Alex Cohen ::: (view all by) ::: July 05, 2006, 04:55 PM:

When I read the first draft of the program, those were the three panels I most wanted to see, even before I knew the NHs were on them. Of course, they're all on Friday and I can't make it on Friday. Sigh.

#13 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: July 05, 2006, 05:22 PM:

Adrian--it's up to th3 cities and towns if they allow 24 hour operation of supermarkets. The Stop & Shop in Bedford I think is or used to be open the same hours that the Woburn one is, and yes, unless the Woburn store had changed its hours in the past several days, if you want to go food shopping at 3 AM except Sunday and Monday, it's open.

The in-store food bars do close at 9 PM, and package up stuff such as the unsold in-store-fried-chicken and put it out in the racks for self-service as prepackaged cooked food (Shaw';s says that the prepared meals are from food that was cooked by wasn't in the food bar case).

Back before Star Markets became past of Shaw's, there used to be 24 hour Star Markets.

The supermarket which had been in the Prudential Center in Boston, which closed when the Shaw's opened across the street from the Marriott, had had similar 24 hours most days operation. The Shaw's closes at 11 PM or midnight, though.

I have no little idea where the closest supermarket is over at the Westin in South Boston, where Boskone will be in February 2007.

#14 ::: Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: July 05, 2006, 05:32 PM:

Wish I could be at Readercon.

Eric Van/PNH - OK, I see your point about religious superstition vs. rationalism. I do think that the blurb can be legitimately read both ways.

#15 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: July 05, 2006, 05:36 PM:

What the blurb says is that there is an irrational, religious worldview and that it is currently an impediment to rational progress (and that this was not foreseen by Golden Age sf).

I can remember three Golden Age stories off the top of my head that did foresee it ("Trends", "If This Goes On...", and "The Long Tomorrow"), which, given my poor memory, probably means that you're selling the Golden Age a bit short.

#16 ::: Dan Blum ::: (view all by) ::: July 05, 2006, 06:08 PM:

On the subject of food supplies, I think it worth noting that the traffic on Middlesex Turnpike (where the Trader Joe's and Market Basket are) tends to be pretty bad on weekends - if it were me, I'd avoid that area. Roche Brothers is definitely the best bet if they're open, as they are much closer than any of the other stores (within easy walking distance from the hotel, at least by my standards).

#17 ::: adamsj ::: (view all by) ::: July 05, 2006, 06:23 PM:

Tim,

Don't forget Gather, Darkness.

#18 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: July 05, 2006, 06:50 PM:

There are a couple of back ways to get to the Market Basket and Trader Joe's. Since Trader Joe's is on Middlesex Turnpike, the back way one either still has to go on the Middlesex Turnpike, or walk a couple hundred feet to avoid it, going the back way...

I don't know the names of the streets, but the mallish area that the Market Basket is on, has a back entrance, off a street that runs southwest from a street that's south of 128 and parallel to it between route 3A/Cambridge Street and the Middlesex Turnipke, and the Middlesex Turnpike. Maps work... and the traffic really isn't -that- bad, it's just that there is that series of lights on the Middlesex Turnpike, the traffic going on/off 128 and US 3 north of 128, and mall traffic. But it's really that bad, it's not like being inside 128 on route 60 at going to work/coming home times, or on I-93, or I-95 through New York City, or Manhattan traffic, or LA traffic....

And that Shaw's isn't all that much further away, it's a mile or so.

Oh, I forgot China Merchandise, which is an Asian grocery store, it's about half a mile north on 3A on the right in a strip mall, across the stree from what I assume is where Burlington High School plays its football games. It's some hundreds of feet south of the center of Burlington.

#19 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: July 05, 2006, 07:27 PM:

Thanks, Patrick. If Gardner Dozois has a Kaffeeklatsch, I'll have to ask him about dinosaurs and sodomy. Unless of course that has come up with him once too many at a con, thus turning him into a frothing fury.

#20 ::: Jon Meltzer ::: (view all by) ::: July 05, 2006, 07:41 PM:

Now that we have the grocery directions -

is there public transit to the hotel area, such as a shuttle bus from the Anderson train stop or an express bus to the mall from downtown?

#21 ::: Christopher Davis ::: (view all by) ::: July 05, 2006, 08:02 PM:

Jon:

The MBTA #350 bus runs to the mall and hotel from Alewife (Red Line). It isn't an express bus but is a zoned-fare bus. I don't remember the exact details of the fare, since on the few times I take it I just use my Combo pass.

I think there's also an express bus on weekday rush hours.

#22 ::: Christopher Davis ::: (view all by) ::: July 05, 2006, 08:08 PM:

Paula: well, the Fish Pier will be close, if you want fish. :-)

I tried using Google Maps to find supermarkets near the Westin Waterfront. Doesn't look too promising. I suspect the Stop and Shop in Southie is the best bet (without a car, the 7 bus will get you there or the SL2/3 will get you close).

#23 ::: Dan Blum ::: (view all by) ::: July 05, 2006, 09:06 PM:

The 352 is an express from downtown to Burlington - it looks as if the Route 128 stop is right at the 3A exit, in other words within a hundred feet of the hotel. The 354 also runs from downtown to Burlington, and stops fairly near the hotel (which is a block north and a block and a half east of the route's Burlington endpoint).

The only local bus service from Anderson appears to be MetroNorth Shuttle. This has a stop not too far from the hotel (Lahey Clinic), but it only runs during weekday commuting hours.

#24 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: July 05, 2006, 09:13 PM:

CHip--but one has to gut and cook the fish oneself...

--------------------

The express bus to Burlington is from City Hall Plaza in Boston and makes stops on the Middlesex Turnpike after it gets off 128 [95] when passengers press the strips that sounds an alert to the bus driver. It doesn't go on Mall Road.

The route number is 352 I think. There are maps and schedules at www.mbta.com I think it is, but they're really horrid and hard to get to PDFs.... that bus stop running at around 6:00, after that it's take 354 which crawls its way through Woburn en route to Burlington (the express to Burlington makes stops around the block that has Boston City Hall and some federal buildings, and then heads onto I-93 north, goes onto 128, and gets off onto Cambridge Street going north. The 350 bus has some variant routing that goes along Mall Road on some parts o the day. It also runs on weekends.

#25 ::: Adrian ::: (view all by) ::: July 05, 2006, 10:18 PM:

Middlesex Turnpike may be crowded during some weekdays, but it has been remarkably deserted since late June. Mall Road has also been close to empty.

I usually take the #350 bus, which connects to the Red Line after going through Arlington. (It stops in front of the Roche Brothers, mentioned upthread.) More important, it runs on Sunday. The #351 express bus runs weekdays plus Saturdays, and goes directly to Alewife. I recommend the Trip Planner on the MBTA website. You tell it when and where you're going, and it tells you what connections will work. It used to be a mess, but now it almost always works.
http://trip.mbta.com/cgi-bin/itin_page_dhtml.pl

#26 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: July 05, 2006, 11:43 PM:

More directions, mass transit style:

1. Boston is ithe transit hub for the area. Amtrak has a stop at 128 that's essentially useless for suburban transit, there is -not- circumferential mass transit. Instead, one has to go all the way into Boston. Back Bay Station I think might have a Green Line trolley system station colocated (or Orange Line, maybe? I don't know). South Station, which is the terminus of Amtrak rail lines coming into Boston from south and west and also where the commercial bus lines have a passenger terminal, there is a Red Line subway station, and subway cartrains from there go all the way to Alewife, don't expect it to take less than at least a half hour transit time, at -least-.

Park Street Under (as opposed to Park Street Double Under in A Subway Named Mobius is a Red Line stop with a Green Line station ontop of it, and the next stop headed toward North Station and Lechmere on the Green Line, is Government Center, which is at City Hall Plaza, which the express bus outbound to Burlington in the afternoon and early evening makes its passenger pickups driving around. It's usually not more than five or ten minutes if being slow, to get from Park Street to Government Center... alternatively, it's walkable, from Park Street, or even South Station, to one of the bus stops. The bus takes about 40 minutes or so. The bus from Alewife takes about the same amount of time, plus transit time to Alewife from South Station.

2. From Logan Internation Airport, take the Blue Line into Government Center to either get the bus, or change to the Green Line, and then change to the Red Line at Park Street (the Blue Line and the Red Line do not intersect) to take the Red Line to Alewife, and take the bus to Burlington.

Returning, take a bus to Alewife, or find someone heading Boston-ward who drove....

While Lowell is closer to Burlington than Boston is, and Lowell had commercial bus service, unless someone is a masochist or really likes doing things the involved complicated go-south-to-head-north fashion, don't try to get to/from Burlington via Lowell on mass transmit! Yes, it is POSSIBLE, but involved increased time, increase expense, and circumlocutions. On weekdays work hours, there are buses that go from Lowell and make at least one stop in Burlingon--yes, at least one, not necessarily anymore than that, and the last one leaves at 6 PM, and they one has to get -another- bus to get further into Burlington. Or, there's take the train in past 128, and then try to get some other mode that will get out to Burlington.. it might be possible to get to the Woburn transit center from Lowell directly, which transit center is out in "you really should be DRIVING land," two or three miles north of 128, off an exit off I-93 that had a new Raytheon building, a Target, various office parks buildings, and was built for the eastern equivalent of Los Angelenos... mass transit? WALK? You HAVE to be joking!... the train goes fruther north from there, to Haverhill or some such.... there used to be a stop as "Misawum" on 128, but various idiot politicians changed that.... Woburn and Burlington are next to one another, but the transit focus is on going radialy in/out to/from Boston and Cambridge...

#27 ::: Christopher Davis ::: (view all by) ::: July 06, 2006, 12:16 AM:

Some notes on Paula's comment:

Back Bay has an Orange Line station colocated and a Green Line station (Copley) a short distance away.

From Logan, the SL1 Silver Li(n)e[1] bus goes straight to South Station. The Blue Line may be faster if the Ted Williams Tunnel is congested, but in general the fastest way to get to the Red Line from the airport is now the SL1. (Bus from terminals to South Station, change to Red Line; compare to shuttle bus to Airport Blue Line station, Blue Line to Government Center, Green Line to Park Street, change to Red Line.)

[1] It's not a "Line". It's a bus, and gets called the Silver Lie. Actually, it's two completely separate bus routes. One is the Silver Line Washington Street, which replaced the old Orange Line elevated seen in the opening credits of St. Elsewhere. The other is the Silver Line Waterfront, which runs through an expensive tunnel from South Station past the new convention center (and Boskone hotel), then either through the Ted Williams Tunnel (I-90) to the airport or down into South Boston.

#28 ::: Michael Weholt ::: (view all by) ::: July 06, 2006, 06:15 AM:

As a counter-example, I don't think it's possible to love Ayn Rand if you have as low regard for her philosophy as some Wolfe lovers do for Christian theology.

Well, I'm an atheist who doesn't have low regard for Christian theology, and Gene Wolfe is one of my favorites of all writers, certainly my favorite sf writer of all, so I don't know that I could speak without bias to that question, but if forced to respond... I'd say the reason the above proposition is true is because Wolfe's writing is rich and full of life, but with Rand's writing, you couldn't make it lively and rich if you added a pound of butter and a heaping helping of blue-green algae to every page.

#29 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: July 06, 2006, 08:39 AM:

The phrase "Christian theology" is, I believe, the weakness in some of the argument in re Wolfe. There is, demonstrably, no longer a single such system of beliefs (one could argue various dates and events at which this ceased to be, but that's a side issue). To offer a single example, Fred Clark over on Slacktivist has, by way of a finely detailed analysis of the Left Behind books, provided an exposition of Pre-Millennial Dispensationism, a hypothesis (or perhaps hypotheology) that offers itself as theology. A large number of people who identify with the divinity of Jesus and the message of the Gospels* give PMD, and the diagram it rode in on, no more credence than the Moon as Moldy Havarti Hypothesis.

"Christian theology" is not a monobloc. I would, without any denigration meant, offer that "Roman Catholic theology" and even "Southern Baptist theology" aren't either. People who do not hold monobloc beliefs are likely to present them in ways that will disturb the true believers, and the believers' fiction -- whether the belief is theological, political, or whattheheckever, very often leaves outsiders at least a bit puzzled.

*All of which are subject to variation among people who profess belief, but again, that's a different issue.

#30 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: July 06, 2006, 08:59 AM:

I'm still boggled by the idea that Wolfe's Catholicism is so obvious that atheists are supposed to dislike his fiction. That's as insulting to Wolfe as it is to atheists.

#31 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: July 06, 2006, 09:20 AM:

"Christian theology" is not a monobloc.

That, Mike, reminds me of a discussion I had in 1990(?) with a co-worker who was a regular reader of Asimov's. If I remember correctly, we were both amused by a recent editorial that started with a letter from a reader expressing a wish for more stories with a Christian slant. The editor's response was "Sure, but which kind of Christian slant?" and went on to list the various flavors of Christianity, some of which do not recognize the legitimacy of the others.

#32 ::: Peter Erwin ::: (view all by) ::: July 06, 2006, 10:52 AM:

I haven't read any China Mieville. I've read some Wolfe, and enjoyed it a great deal; my reaction to reading that description is: "Wolfe's a religious Catholic? And it's all over all his fiction? Huh?" Oh, I have no doubt that it is true if the author of that blurb says so--but if it is, Wolfe has done such a good job skiffying it up that I didn't notice it.

I've read one or two essays by Wolfe that made me slightly uneasy, not because of religious content but because there was a reactionary whiff of "things were better in the past when everyone knew their place" -- that, and a peculiar sense that he knows what the past was like, dammit, and no modern historians are going to convince him otherwise. See this appreciation of Tolkien, for example.

But I've never gotten such vibes from any of his fiction; my feeling is that Art is far more important than Ideology when he's writing fiction.

#33 ::: Jon Meltzer ::: (view all by) ::: July 06, 2006, 11:36 AM:

I don't think anyone's called Park "Park Street Under" since Lovecraft days. (But watch out for shoggoths.)

#34 ::: Jon Meltzer ::: (view all by) ::: July 06, 2006, 11:38 AM:

From Logan one can also get on the Silver ("but, it's a bus!!") Line at the airport terminals, which connects with the Red Line at South Station.

#35 ::: Jon Meltzer ::: (view all by) ::: July 06, 2006, 11:41 AM:

Missed earlier Silver comment, sorry.

#36 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 06, 2006, 11:58 AM:

I dislike both Wolfe and Miéville, having read samples of both, for different reasons. None of those reasons had anything to do with their theology or ideology, unless you count Miéville's attitude that the world is just a depressing place, and the only appropriate emotion to feel is despair, and if you don't feel utter despair you're just not thinking.

My experience with Miéville's work is limited to Perdido Street Station, so apply appropriate saltgrains. But that book is completely free of sympathetic characters (well, except maybe the bugheaded woman, and something really terrible happens to her, of course), which tends to kill any enjoyment I have of a novel. They're all lowdown dirty scumbags, and reading it I kind of hoped bad things would happen to them.

Is this what they call "British Miserablism"? Brian Aldiss is the same way.

I've read more Wolfe. The New Sun tetralogy and Peace and a bunch of short stories. The New Sun wasn't totally boring, though I think it's kind of an ODTAA; Peace left me wondering why I read it, why it was published (I figured that one out) and why he bothered to write it. I kept waiting for something to happen, and nothing did. Ever. There are no significant events of any kind in that book. It's just an old man, waiting for death, reminiscing about his completely uninteresting life. A mainstream literary novel, and not a very good one, shelved with the SF to fool dumbasses like me into buying it.

Please note: nothing in either of these cases points to the ideology or theology of either writer. In fact, Miéville's novel is a socialist anti-utopia; I approve, but I hate reading anti-utopias, so there you have it.

#37 ::: Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: July 06, 2006, 12:53 PM:

Peter Erwin - I've read one or two essays by Wolfe that made me slightly uneasy, not because of religious content but because there was a reactionary whiff of "things were better in the past when everyone knew their place"

I read that essay the way you do.

I've often wondered why I don't care for high fantasy--Tolkien and just about anything else with a medieval setting just plain leaves me cold. Even science fiction set on medieval worlds is a chore to get through.

I think perhaps one of the reasons is because, like Isaac Asimov, I know that, in an class-based society, me and my fellow Jews are at the bottom, living in ghettoes, and occasionally lynched for sport.

#38 ::: Alex Cohen ::: (view all by) ::: July 06, 2006, 01:01 PM:

There are no significant events of any kind in that book. It's just an old man, waiting for death, reminiscing about his completely uninteresting life.

This is one of the reasons I like Wolfe. There are I think something like five grisly deaths in Peace but you need to pay attention to catch them. Peace is a canonical unreliable narrator book - very much indeed happens in it. And I think, but am not sure, that the narrator has murdered all of those people.

On the larger question of Rand v Wolfe: first, Wolfe writes explicitly fantastic stories, and we as genre readers are quite comfortable in adopting a set of rules for second worlds as part of the given of the story. Rand's stories weren't set in second worlds, they were set in ours, and she hits us over the head with the fact that THIS IS HOW OUR WORLD REALLY WORKS. And so it constantly breaks the reader out of the story when that comes into conflict with, you know, reality.

I have had a similar reaction as Peter to Wolfe's non-fiction essays, though, and even once in a while in his fiction do political (but not theological) arguments come through that get my hackles up. E.g., the argument for gun ownership in Operation: ARES or the third "Long Sun" book. Partly disappointing because it is boilerplate American conservative talking points, and I expect more from Wolfe.)

#39 ::: Doug ::: (view all by) ::: July 06, 2006, 01:03 PM:

In re: Return of the prime minister, it seems to me that fantasy hasn't even begun to exhaust the possibilities that monarchy offers. Even just looking at late medieval or early modern Europe, there were many variations on the theme of monarchy. For instance, a larger share of the population of Poland could vote for king than could vote for Parliament in Great Britain. The Holy Roman Emperor was also elected, as was (at various times) the Hungarian king. Then you have your prince-bishops, as Wuerzburg, Salzburg, Bamberg and more. Plus your states ruled by the heads of sovereign military orders -- Malta or the Teutonic Knights. Also your sovereign in one place (say, Prussia) who is vassal of a rival in another place (say, to the King of Poland for his holdings in Pomorze). Plus your unified spiritual and temporal rulers, as Byzantium or early Ottoman caliphs. (If I knew more history, this would probably be a very long list indeed...)

I think that monarchy is more feature than bug for many (though clearly not all) readers' expectations. Given that, though, why do we get warmed-over England so often? Do other fictionalized settings not sell as well? Do authors not write them?

#40 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: July 06, 2006, 01:11 PM:

"It is good to be the King."
- Mel Brooks

#41 ::: cmk ::: (view all by) ::: July 06, 2006, 01:11 PM:

There is one very real sense in which the Dark Ages were the brightest of times, and it is this: that they were times of defined and definite duties and freedoms.

That is classic right-wing Catholicism (take it from one who's been there).

I've re-read LOTR more times than I can remember, and I'm not sure I haven't read Wolfe--but I was unable to get through that essay and it certainly would not send me looking for any fiction by the author (considerations of style as much as content put me off).

#42 ::: Doug ::: (view all by) ::: July 06, 2006, 01:21 PM:

There is one very real sense in which the Dark Ages were the brightest of times, and it is this: that they were times of defined and definite duties and freedoms.

Har, har, Investiture Conflict, har, har.

#43 ::: Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: July 06, 2006, 01:26 PM:

OK, I feel the need to amend my previous post about high fantasy and Jews, because I'm feeling the ghost of PNH breathing down my neck, getting ready to launch a terse remark that will reduce me to a dust that is of extreme fineness, because it consists of my component molecules.

My point is that I think that reading medieval fantasy--which usually acknowledges and even celebrates the feudal class and caste system--requires a muscle that allows the reader to put himself in the place of someone at the top of the hierarchy. The reader imagines him or herself as a knight, prince, princess, lady, king or queen. Whereas I can't get around imagining myself as a Jew in a ghetto; it is deeply ingrained in me.

I know that modern Western Democratic Republics in general, and America in particular, are the only places in history where Jews can be free and equal citizens, subject to only a trace of anti-Semitism.

Note that I'm not saying all manner of crazy things. I'm not saying that if you like high fantasy, you're an anti-Semite, or anti-American, or any nutty thing like that. Indeed, I have never had an unpleasant encounter with high fantasy fans or writers, and I count some of them as my favorite people in the world.

High fantasy is wish-fulfillment literature. Which is fine, but it's just not my preferred flavor of wish-fulfillment. I'm currently enjoying the Sharpe movies on BBC-America--Richard Sharpe is an army officer in a society as class-rigid as a medieval fantasy; he's an officer in Regency England, specifically in Wellington's army in Spain, fighting against Napoleon. Sharpe succeeds despite his class, not because of it, and that's a big part of the fun of the stories; Sharpe is constantly running up against snobbish gentleman-officers whom Sharpe eventually puts in their place.

Wolfe writes:

There is one very real sense in which the Dark Ages were the brightest of times, and it is this: that they were times of defined and definite duties and freedoms. The king might rule badly, but everyone agreed as to what good rule was. Not only every earl and baron but every carl and churl knew what an ideal king would say and do. The peasant might behave badly; but the peasant did not expect praise for it, even his own praise. These assertions can be quibbled over endlessly, of course; there are always exceptional persons and exceptional circumstances. Nevertheless they represent a broad truth about Christianized barbarian society as a whole, and arguments that focus on exceptions provide a picture that is fundamentally false, even when the instances on which they are based are real and honestly presented. At a time when few others knew this, and very few others understood its implications, J. R. R. Tolkien both knew and understood, and was able to express that understanding in art, and in time in great art.

I see no reason to support this assertion. Quite the contrary; The Golden Age of Feudalism was invented after the fact, by Renaissance writers and, later, Romantics, and, still later, people like Tolkien and Wolfe, who were romanticizing the past. The real Dark Ages was an era when monarchs and nobles ruled with relatively little check on their authority. Mark Twain had the right of it. The Dark Ages was rule by Tony Soprano.

Wolfe himself writes:

And in the end, poor Sam rises in the estimation of the Shire because of his association with Frodo, and rich Frodo sacrifices himself for the good of all the Sams.

Note that Wolfe does not say that Sam rises in the estimation of the Shire because of Sam's own good works. After all, Sam did everything Frodo did, and went everywhere Frodo did, except Sam had to carry all the crap, too, the Elvish bread and, I dunno, clothes and laptop computer or whatever (it's been many years since I read LOTR). Still, Sam isn't considered a hero in the Shire because of his good works, he's considered a hero because Frodo--one of the Cool Kids--was willing to let Sam sit at his lunch table.

This is why I've always preferred Trek to Star Wars. In SW, Luke Skywalker is the hero because he's a prince in hiding, he has the right blood. On the other hand, Captain Kirk is a hero because he works hard, is smart, and virtuous. (Well, also because chicks dig him--even green-skinned chicks.) Kirk is just a farmboy from Iowa who made good. McCoy is (as he's constantly reminding us) just a country doctor. There is a nobleman on the bridge of the Enterprise--Mr. Spock, son of a respected Vulcan ambassador--but he works for the Iowa farmboy. People in the Trek universe get ahead because of who they are, not who their ancestors were.

#44 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 06, 2006, 01:34 PM:

Well, Mitch, do you prefer fiction where Jews are on top (or running everything from behind the scenes), and can kill anyone they want to with impunity? 'Cuz I know some of that exists...wait, no, we defined fiction a while back, and those are presented as fact by their authors...that makes them lies, not fiction.

The best fantasy heroes, in my opinion, come from the bottom of the social order. I don't understand why a Jewish writer hasn't written one where the hero keeps having to sneak out of the ghetto to investigate something, or where he has to save his friend from lynching, or where the community is accused of kidnapping a Christian child, and the Blood Libel means the situation is getting increasingly explosive, but the fact is the child ran away from an abusive home/was taken by the Elves (and the Jewish hero finds a way to get him back). Kabbalistic magic, guilty acceptance of assistance from the Asherah, stuff like that.

I think that'd be cool. Not being Jewish myself (much less a Kabbalist, which is the bigger hurdle), it would take me a whole lot of research to write such fiction, but I'd sure read it!

#45 ::: Peter Erwin ::: (view all by) ::: July 06, 2006, 01:35 PM:

cmk:
I've re-read LOTR more times than I can remember, and I'm not sure I haven't read Wolfe--but I was unable to get through that essay and it certainly would not send me looking for any fiction by the author (considerations of style as much as content put me off).

I feel I should point out that I was genuinely rather shocked when I read that essay, because it didn't reflect his fictional writing in any obvious fashion. I've read a number of Gene Wolfe books (the Book of the New Sun series, Soldier in the Mist, the first half of the Book of the Long Sun series), found them strange and resonant and quietly beautiful, and never picked up any sense of reactionary preaching from them.

That essay doesn't reflect the way he writes fiction, at least in my experience, and I'd urge you to give his fiction a chance; it's some of the best work this field has produced.

(Just noticed Alex Cohen's comment on the third Long Sun book, so I should note that I haven't gotten to that one yet...)

#46 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 06, 2006, 01:39 PM:

Well, Christopher, when you take a long time to write something you should see if the person you're addressing has responded to your points before you made them.

I still think I raise some valid points myself in my previous post though. Maybe I WILL look into that (under a pseudonym, of course; Jewish-oriented fiction written by a guy named Christopher would automatically be suspect).

#47 ::: Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: July 06, 2006, 02:12 PM:

Xopher: Well, Mitch, do you prefer fiction where Jews are on top (or running everything from behind the scenes), and can kill anyone they want to with impunity? 'Cuz I know some of that exists...wait, no, we defined fiction a while back, and those are presented as fact by their authors...that makes them lies, not fiction.

Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Took me a minute to get that. Some days I'm smarter than on other days.

To answer your question seriously (or as though it were serious): I can easily imagine a high fantasy where the dominant religion is Judaism, either explicitly or thinly veiled. And I don't think I'd enjoy that either, because I still would have difficulty imagining myself as one of the aristocrats.

The best fantasy heroes, in my opinion, come from the bottom of the social order.

Can you give me some examples? I might well enjoy 'em.

I don't understand why a Jewish writer hasn't written one where the hero keeps having to sneak out of the ghetto to investigate something, or where he has to save his friend from lynching, or where the community is accused of kidnapping a Christian child, and the Blood Libel means the situation is getting increasingly explosive, but the fact is the child ran away from an abusive home/was taken by the Elves (and the Jewish hero finds a way to get him back). Kabbalistic magic, guilty acceptance of assistance from the Asherah, stuff like that.

Hmmm... funny you should mention that. I'm right now writing a fantasy story, sort of Brust meets Sharpe meets noir meets NYPD Blue. My hero is, like Sharpe, from the bottom stratum of society, sneered at both because of his birth and because he makes no attempt to even act like a gentleman. Why not make him a Jew?

#48 ::: Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: July 06, 2006, 02:13 PM:

Meets Lovecraft. I forgot that part.

#49 ::: miriam beetle ::: (view all by) ::: July 06, 2006, 02:30 PM:

xopher,

I don't understand why a Jewish writer hasn't written one where the hero keeps having to sneak out of the ghetto to investigate something, or where he has to save his friend from lynching, or where the community is accused of kidnapping a Christian child,......

i have read a book like that, a murder mystery set in something like 1500 spain, where all the heroes are crypto-jews with the odd crypto-muslim. it wasn't fantasy though. i could see a fantasy book on the subject being really cool.

....i also have no memory of the title or author, sorry.

on a related note, i just read ivanhoe for the first time. not only does it contain suprisingly mild anti-semitism for a book of its time (the time when it was written, let alone the time where it was set), it seems quite anti-church. is that just because the church in question is the catholic church?

(i "read" it on audiobook. it was a pretty animated reading, with the only real drawback being that the reader decided a medieval anglo-jewish accent is arabic crossed with zero mostel.)

#50 ::: Dan Blum ::: (view all by) ::: July 06, 2006, 02:31 PM:
The best fantasy heroes, in my opinion, come from the bottom of the social order. I don't understand why a Jewish writer hasn't written one where the hero keeps having to sneak out of the ghetto to investigate something, or where he has to save his friend from lynching, or where the community is accused of kidnapping a Christian child, and the Blood Libel means the situation is getting increasingly explosive, but the fact is the child ran away from an abusive home/was taken by the Elves (and the Jewish hero finds a way to get him back). Kabbalistic magic, guilty acceptance of assistance from the Asherah, stuff like that.
Have you read Guy Gavriel Kay's The Lions of Al-Rassan?
#51 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: July 06, 2006, 02:33 PM:

Mitch: Can I read it when you're done?

#52 ::: rhandir ::: (view all by) ::: July 06, 2006, 03:09 PM:

Xopher said: The best fantasy heroes, in my opinion, come from the bottom of the social order.
Mitch Wagner asked
Can you give me some examples? I might well enjoy 'em.

Barbara Hambly does a nice line of such heroes;
Biker/airbrush arteest Rudy from Time of the Dark, Nora Blackstein, maid and liberal Irish widow of a Jewish servicman (c. 1924) in Bride of the Rat God. Also note the nerdy, diminutive, computer programmer Joanna in The Silent Tower*. There are others, more ambiguously from nifty, yet lower classes (early hollywood cameraman, mercenary leader, retired nun, mideaval history grad student, tribal warrior, fat effeminate emperor-type, hallucination-prone elderly witch, disgruntled merchant's daughter, etc.) which doesn't include anything from her historical mystery series or historical fiction.

In many of her stories it is pretty standard for wizardly types to be persecuted, viewed with suspicion, alleged to eat babies, etc etc. Not too much of a stretch in some of the stories to read the Jewish medieaval experience there. (e.g.the wizardly ghetto in Tower.)

Unfortunately it seems the market is unfavorable for sequels of any of these. I don't suppose anyone here could do something about that, could they?
-r.

*which really needs a cosmetic update to include the term beowulf cluster and some more explicit bashcode. Some of the technical concepts in Tower are still common currency for the Slashdot crowd, but the hardware's changed - it really was a rather foresighted book. Though I shudder to think of Antryg speaking l33t.

#53 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 06, 2006, 03:33 PM:

Mitch, lots of good examples above. I was thinking of "A Thief in Korianth" and its ilk. I want to read your story, too.

Dan, no I haven't, or heard of it, but I'll look it the hell up!

miriam beetle, thanks for that too. I'll look for it.

#54 ::: CaseyL ::: (view all by) ::: July 06, 2006, 03:39 PM:

A Judgment of Dragons, by Phyllis Gottlieb, is hard(-ish) SF rather than fantasy (future, spaceships, and sapient cats instead of past, sorcery and, um, enchanted cats) but certain parts of it take place in a 19th C. Polish ghetto, and the various characters' Jewishness is central to the story.

#55 ::: Janet Brennan Croft ::: (view all by) ::: July 06, 2006, 03:44 PM:

I just don't see that Wolfe's second paragraph, in which he advocates courtesy and consideration to those less strong than oneself, respect for others, obedience to "legitimate" authority, and resistance to mere strength, necessarily follow from his first paragraph, in praise of a heirarchical society. These characteristics are not associated only with a heirarchical society. All these things can and do and should take place in an egalitarian society as well, and even better. One shows courtesy and consideration to others who might be weaker in one area than you are, or temporarily weaker, and expects the same in return; one respects the gifts of others, not their position or wealth; for a given value of "legitimate," one may willingly decide to obey an authority in a given situation; mere strength is always to be resisted. In fact I think his second paragraph would follow more logically from a first argument praising an egalitarian society! There is no determining if an authority is truly legitimate in a heirarchical society -- it either is or isn't above you -- it's only the egalitarian society member that gets to make the distinction based on real criteria of respect and trust.

Mitch Wagner, I really liked your comments on Star Trek. But I think Wolfe is off, and has led you off, on why Sam is respected in the Shire. He is a leader during the revolt that throws off the occupying thugs of Saruman, and this leadership (and his gardening talents in the service of re-greening the Shire) cause the citizens to elect him Mayor seven times in a row -- not his association with Frodo per se. His association with Frodo developed his leadership abilities, and may have made him more visible, but it was his own skills that won him the respect of his fellow hobbits.

#56 ::: Christopher Davis ::: (view all by) ::: July 06, 2006, 03:46 PM:

Xopher: Jewish-oriented fiction written by a guy named Christopher would automatically be suspect

You should mention that to the folks from my alma mater's Hillel organization, who continue to send me fundraising requests so that other students can have "the same Jewish student experience you had". Er.

(Seriously.)

#57 ::: Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: July 06, 2006, 03:48 PM:

Good suggestions all. Thanks. And I'll be happy to let you read the work-in-progress--you can have it pretty soon, as a work-in-progress, or you can wait until it's done. Which might not be for a while.

rhandir - I love Bride of the Rat God, but it's not an example of what I was discussing above, simply because it's not set in any kind of feudal society. It's set in silent-movie era Hollywood.

#58 ::: Christopher Davis ::: (view all by) ::: July 06, 2006, 03:50 PM:

Also, WRT the discussion of Jewish ghettos in fantasy: I think there was a Turtledove story with a werewolf getting chased into the ghetto. Ah, my Ghugle prayer answers: "Not All Wolves", in Departures.

#59 ::: Laurence ::: (view all by) ::: July 06, 2006, 04:01 PM:

why Sam is respected in the Shire

Frodo doesn't really get any respect at all, does he? He's seen as eccentric (like his uncle.) I think there's even a line about how the hobbits don't recognize what Frodo did to save them.

#60 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: July 06, 2006, 04:03 PM:

Janet Brennan Croft, it didn't hurt that Sam married into a well-respected and fairly well-off Shire family.

#61 ::: Michelle K ::: (view all by) ::: July 06, 2006, 04:38 PM:

I don't understand why a Jewish writer hasn't written one where the hero keeps having to sneak out of the ghetto to investigate something, or where he has to save his friend from lynching...

Caldecott winner: Golem by David Wisniewski.

Someone else mentioned Guy Gavriel Kay. I'm certain that aside from folklore, I've read a couple of other stories along those lines, but can't think of what they are off the top of my head.

#62 ::: Lisa Goldstein ::: (view all by) ::: July 06, 2006, 05:00 PM:

I don't understand why a Jewish writer hasn't written one where the hero keeps having to sneak out of the ghetto to investigate something, or where he has to save his friend from lynching, or where the community is accused of kidnapping a Christian child, and the Blood Libel means the situation is getting increasingly explosive, but the fact is the child ran away from an abusive home/was taken by the Elves (and the Jewish hero finds a way to get him back). Kabbalistic magic, guilty acceptance of assistance from the Asherah, stuff like that.

Blatant self-promotion ahead: My novel The Alchemist's Door is kinda like that. No elves, though.

#63 ::: Janet Brennan Croft ::: (view all by) ::: July 06, 2006, 05:28 PM:

Linkmeister sez: Janet Brennan Croft, it didn't hurt that Sam married into a well-respected and fairly well-off Shire family.

They were well off, but still farmers, not gentry like the Baggins family.

And Laurence, you're right, Sam does say he feels bad for Frodo because he doesn't get the respect he deserves for his sacrifice.

#64 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 06, 2006, 05:36 PM:

No elves, though.

When she wrote her new book, Lisa Goldstein did say,
"It's sorta like that, with the Jews, in a way."
But she then went on, and was forced to admit
That elements of elvishness she did omit.

"No elves, no elves, no elves, no elves!
There are no elves in the book I have writ!"

#65 ::: rhandir ::: (view all by) ::: July 06, 2006, 05:41 PM:

Mitch Wagner,
yeah, I know, not a feudal society. mea culpa. Sorry. I am such a fanboy that I couldn't resist inserting it.
-r.

#66 ::: oliviacw ::: (view all by) ::: July 06, 2006, 06:23 PM:

Heroes from the bottom of the social order - Elizabeth Moon has done some. In the fantasy vein, the series of Sheep Farmer's Daughter, Divided Allegiance, and Oath of Gold, along with companion book The Legacy of Gird, is a good read.

Interesting, her SF series tend to feature outsiders or outcasts as protagonists, but they always have well-to-do backgrounds.

#67 ::: Harry Connolly ::: (view all by) ::: July 06, 2006, 06:35 PM:

Mitch Wagner, try looking at The Skewed Throne by Joshua Palmatier

#68 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: July 06, 2006, 07:54 PM:

There is no determining if an authority is truly legitimate in a heirarchical society -- it either is or isn't above you

That's exactly the way hierarchical societies determine whether the authority is legitimate--if it's above you, you do what it says.

#69 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: July 06, 2006, 08:55 PM:

"Having the power of high, middle, and low fantasy . . ."

Hmm, not quite.

"One will come after unto like another one, and the one -- the new one, not the old one -- shall, being one that comesths after yon another one, shall be called tanist, an hword hof hour people meaning 'succedant' or 'not nearly drunk enough yet,' and beingth that when she finally makes her way through the Forest of Subordinate Clauses an bluidy well gets here, shall y-comme from down ye wind and with it, whistling, we shall clepe she to our hearts with houppelandes of steel as Tanist Lee."

A bit prolix -- though we do prolix in The Realm of Colourful Misprisions -- and the terminal joke arrives DOA.

"It is good to be the splooshy thud."

That's the one.

#70 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: July 06, 2006, 10:52 PM:

I don't think anyone's called Park "Park Street Under" since Lovecraft days.

Lovecraft died in 1937; A. J. Deutsch's "A Subway Named Moebius (where I first encountered the term "Park Street Under") was published in 1950. Possibly nobody \born/ after HPL so calls it, but I wouldn't bet even on that; native Bostonians can be very conservative about names. (I suppose that's true of natives anywhere renaming seems imposed; how many native New Yorkers do you know who call it "Avenue of the Americas"?)

#71 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 06, 2006, 11:12 PM:

*pouting*

I made horrible filkness and no one, not even Goldstein herself, threw ANYTHING at me.

*pout*

#72 ::: Andrew ::: (view all by) ::: July 07, 2006, 12:00 AM:

Merry Xmas, Xopher.

#73 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: July 07, 2006, 01:17 AM:

And Brian J. Cudahy's Change at Park Street Under: The Story of Boston's Subways was first published in 1972. Excellent book, though out of print (and inevitably not up to date). Cudahy is also the author of Under the Sidewalks of New York which is probably the best historical work on the NYC subway system (as distinct from storytelling books, like Jim Dwyer's, which is also great).

And I am not in the habit of throwing anything at the people around here, not that there haven't been such impulses, had an otherwise unneeded pie been to hand. Sometimes I throw verse at the wall, and occasionally it sticks, and I suppose the possibility of an Unofficial Making Light Snowball Conflict, at Boskone or WFC or Minicon, could not be ruled out.

#74 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: July 07, 2006, 01:38 AM:

...Wolfe's writing is rich and full of life, but with Rand's writing, you couldn't make it lively and rich if you added a pound of butter and a heaping helping of blue-green algae to every page.

I made at least two completely futile attempts to read something by Ayn Rand in college, when I was a lot less picky about what fiction than I am today, reading. I think that the above is a major part of why I found it unreadable.

#75 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: July 07, 2006, 01:43 AM:

Is this what they call "British Miserablism"? Brian Aldiss is the same way.

I burned out on that stuff around 1970 when I was in high school reading the Doubleday SF that showed up in the local library in the small city I grew up in... Cryptozoic, The Drowning World, The Crystal World, "The Heresies of the Huge God," etc. etc. etc., all downer stuff with the world ending/the universe ending/humanity doing extinct... ugh. Unpleasant stuff to someone who wanted to design starship engines and see the universe lightyears and lightyears away.

#76 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: July 07, 2006, 02:07 AM:

CHip:

I am a native Bostonian, my original birth certificate is filed in the records area of the bottom floor of Boston City Hall.


http://www.cambridgerotary.org/FellowshipNewsArchive.cfm?cn=41

ROTARY THIS WEEK - WEDNESDAY - JUNE 4, 2003
We will join with the Boston Rotary Club for a joint meeting at the Park Plaza Hotel at 12 NOON...Expensive parking garages and parking lots are in the area. Advice - Travel to the Park Plaza from Cambridge is easy. Take the Red Line to Park Street Under and change onto the Green Line. Get off the Green Line at Arlington Street and walk 1 block up Arlington to the hotel.

http://www.answers.com/topic/park-street-under

Park Street Under is also the original name for the Red Line subway platform at Park Street, which is literally under the streetcar lines that became the Green Line.

#77 ::: xeger ::: (view all by) ::: July 07, 2006, 02:11 AM:

Mitch Wagner asserts:
rhandir - I love Bride of the Rat God, but it's not an example of what I was discussing above, simply because it's not set in any kind of feudal society. It's set in silent-movie era Hollywood.

I'm absolutely boggled at the idea that Hollywood isn't any kind of feudal society. It's a profoundly byzantine and feudal environment. Dynasties, barons, damsels (and not so damsels) in varying sorts of distress. People out to make a name for themselves, and become a part of the nobility...

#78 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: July 07, 2006, 02:12 AM:

I left out the package store in the shopping area that the Roche Bros is in, I think that it is the nearest liquor store to the Marriott Hotel that Readercon is in (I hadn't really aware of it, but noticed it when walking past it eight hours or so ago).

#79 ::: Alter S. Reiss ::: (view all by) ::: July 07, 2006, 02:30 AM:

Mitch writes:

I know that modern Western Democratic Republics in general, and America in particular, are the only places in history where Jews can be free and equal citizens, subject to only a trace of anti-Semitism.

There wasn't really a concept of "free and equal citizens" there, but it's hard to argue that the Davidic, Israelite, or Hasmonean kings were victims of anti-Semitism.

Pre-Christianity, there were plenty places where Jews were treated the same as anybody else -- many of the cities of the Levant, Egypt, and Asia Minor had massive and prosperous Jewish populations not subject to any particular restrictions. Alexandria, for instance, had Jewish legions. There were Jewish Roman citizens, and aside from restrictions on conversions, before the political situation in Judea heated up, there wasn't much anti-Semitism in Roman law or practice.

Karaite Jews were recruited to be the personal bodyguards of the pagan dukes of Lithuania, Jewish communities in China and India never suffered much in the way of targeted oppression, and so on.

It's true that under Christianity (outside of the context of modern liberal states)the best Jews could hope for was something along the lines of "despised, but mostly ignored", and that under Islamic rule, the best Jews could hope for was along the lines of "recognized as second class citizens, but only a bit oppressed". But the pre-modern world was bigger than Christendom and the Dar al Islam.

It's true that much of what's called "High Fantasy" is set in some version of parts of Christendom, thinly disguised or otherwise. And, as such, problems of identification and so on. It's just the overly broad statement that I quoted that I'm disagreeing with.

#80 ::: Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: July 07, 2006, 03:10 AM:

Alter Reiss - OK, you're right. My hyperbole got carried away. Still, if you substitute "in the last 2,000 years" for "recorded history," I think I can stand by my earlier post, and still have plenty of hyperbole too.

#81 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: July 07, 2006, 05:52 AM:

My only problem with the idea that the "Dark Ages" amounted to "rule by Tony Soprano" is that this is even more true of most of classical antiquity. For a lot of people in Europe, feudalism represented social progress.

It's certainly true that a lot of fantasy romanticizes the Middle Ages. However, the very term "Dark Ages" is an artifact of the romanticization of the slave empire that was Rome.

#82 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: July 07, 2006, 05:56 AM:

Cryptozoic, The Drowning World, The Crystal World, "The Heresies of the Huge God," etc. etc. etc., all downer stuff with the world ending/the universe ending/humanity doing extinct... ugh. Unpleasant stuff to someone who wanted to design starship engines and see the universe lightyears and lightyears away.

Weren't most of those books by Ballard, not Aldiss, Paula? But I know what you mean. As for Ballard, I remember when Spielberg's adaptation of his Empire of the Sun came out in the Eighties. I was living in Toronto, my wife was working at the Judith Merrill Collection (then called the Spaced-out Library).Someone had arranged for Ballard to come and have a chat there. It was interesting, but one comment I remember was Ballard saying that the urge to explore was something left over from the prehistoric days. Or words to that effect.

#83 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: July 07, 2006, 07:11 AM:

And the god-king absolute monarchies typified by the French "Ancien Regime" were a step backward, and not feudal at all.

Actual feudal systems of government are characterized by:


  1. differing legal rights and responsibilities by social class

  2. defined social classes with defined transitions between them (an income of 20 pounds per annum makes you a knight, sorts of thing)

  3. bottom-up political structures; if the top is tier 1, and the bottom is tier 4, the guy in tier 1 has no access or direct connection to anyone in tier 3, never mind tier 4

  4. definition of social hierarchy by public oaths before witnesses; generally this involved (at least in legal theory) the voluntary submission of one equal to another.

Pretty much no one writes fantasy in a feudal setting. It's a pity.

(Geoff Chaucer is of course an exception, but then again he lived in one.)

#84 ::: Alter S. Reiss ::: (view all by) ::: July 07, 2006, 07:45 AM:

Mitch:

It's still not a true statement, but it's a lot less false. It might even be sufficiently less false that I wouldn't argue with it. I mean, it's true that there are counter-examples I can point to, but they only were for tiny percentages of the Jewish people at any time; that a few hundred Jews in Kaifeng weren't subjected to any form of antisemitism is interesting, but doesn't really define the treatment of Jews in the fifteenth century, for instance.

(You might want to cut at least a few hundred years off that number, though.)

#85 ::: Annie G. ::: (view all by) ::: July 07, 2006, 11:24 AM:

i have read a book like that, a murder mystery set in something like 1500 spain, where all the heroes are crypto-jews with the odd crypto-muslim. it wasn't fantasy though. i could see a fantasy book on the subject being really cool.

miriam beetle, I read a book that almost matched that description, but it was set in Georgian/Regency England...A Conspiracy of Paper by David Liss, and it was phenomenal.

I'll also second the recommendation Guy Gavriel Kay; he's one author I've seen who really does take different monarchical structures and transpose them to fantastical worlds. I like to play a game of figuring out which historical period he's mimicking, and which countries. He wrote one duology that is obviously set in a mirror image of Byzantium, but I can't remember the title.

I actually work in Burlington, but have nothing to add to Paula's excellent descriptions of stores, public transit (or lack thereof-- I have to drive to work every day and it's killing me), etc. Except to add that the Burlington Mall has lots of good stores, but the Waldenbooks in it is pitiful; stay away.

#86 ::: Mary Aileen Buss ::: (view all by) ::: July 07, 2006, 11:57 AM:

He wrote one duology that is obviously set in a mirror image of Byzantium, but I can't remember the title.

The Sarantine Mosaic. The individual titles are, um, [checks shelves] Sailing to Sarantium and Lord of Emperors.

--Mary Aileen

#87 ::: SG ::: (view all by) ::: July 07, 2006, 01:05 PM:

Speaking of food in Burlington - the restaurants tend to fill up in the evenings, but the Naked Fish in Billerica is a Cuban-flavored seafood place that is usually almost empty around dinner. It's a little spendy, but very tasty.

I think this is a business lunch restaurant that doesn't get mall traffic because it's north along a road that makes people think "it can't possibly be this way!"

#88 ::: Lisa Goldstein ::: (view all by) ::: July 07, 2006, 01:10 PM:

Xopher -- Is it too late to throw anything? I just caught up this morning. (One kosher pickle, headed your way.)

#89 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 07, 2006, 01:11 PM:

*wipes pickle juice off side of head*

Thanks! I feel much better now.

#90 ::: Lisa Goldstein ::: (view all by) ::: July 07, 2006, 01:17 PM:

And, coming late to the discussion of LOTR -- what exactly does Frodo do to make a living? He lived on Bilbo's dragon treasure for a while, but he says that was gone (can't remember whether this was at the beginning or end of LOTR -- anyway he goes on with the same standard of living at the end). And what did Bilbo do before the dragon treasure?

#91 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: July 07, 2006, 01:22 PM:

Xopher: [...] Miéville's attitude that the world is just a depressing place, and the only appropriate emotion to feel is despair, and if you don't feel utter despair you're just not thinking.

Wow, where are you getting this?

I've read all four of Miéville's published novels, and a collection of his short stories, and some non-fiction essays, and what comes through in most of them is not depression, but anger. Miéville thinks the world is a depressing place, and he's furious about it.

Also, he thinks the world is a complex and interesting place, and that comes through in his bizarre inventiveness. And there's humor too, and hope; I don't want people thinking his work is all sadness and anger.

#92 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: July 07, 2006, 01:23 PM:

Lisa G, I think the Bagginses were wealthy landowners.

#93 ::: Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: July 07, 2006, 01:28 PM:

Lisa Goldstein: what exactly does Frodo do to make a living?

He sells stuff on eBay.

#94 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: July 07, 2006, 01:37 PM:

RE, Hobbits with No Visible Means of Support:

I asked the same questions when reading Bleak House. And other Dickens' work. All these rich, kindly benefactor types . . . I like to think they were all getting money from selling opium.

#95 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 07, 2006, 01:37 PM:

Avram, I only read Perdido Street Station, as I said. There's damn little humor (except the "look at the stupid people not noticing that they're about to get killed" kind, which leaves me cold) and no hope at all in that book. If you find hope there, great. Point it out to me. I saw none.

I'm not saying he's a bad writer; far from my opinion, far from the case. I'm saying he's a depressing writer. For me. I'll never go to another Lanford Wilson play, either.

#96 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 07, 2006, 01:39 PM:

Stefan, remember that a person's "income" in that time was what came in from interest on old money and rents on property they owned, and so on. None of it was wages; above a certain class, actually working at anything we'd recognize as a job was just "not done."

#97 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: July 07, 2006, 01:48 PM:

Avram suggests that the Bagginses were wealthy landowners. I wonder if the Shire wound up with an equivalent of Marx. Karl, not Groucho.

#98 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: July 07, 2006, 02:06 PM:

I liked Perdido; it didn't seem particularly dark or light to me, just an engaging horror-tinged adventure story in highly imaginative (if a bit Viriconium-ish) dress. The exception was the gratuitously unhappy ending, which left me feeling a bit cheated (just as gratuitously happy endings do).

But I like Aldiss and Ballard a lot, so calibrate accordingly.

(Aside: North Dallas Forty is my canonical example of the g.u.e.; it turns from romp to tragedy on a dime in what seems like a desperate bid for significance. The film version's ambiguously happy ending is much better.)

#99 ::: Mark DF ::: (view all by) ::: July 07, 2006, 02:25 PM:

I have to say I was rather startled to read the Wolfe essay. I don't know Mr. Wolfe at all, but I can't imagine he is unintelligent. Yet, it seems to me that he is obliviously taking Tolkien’s romanticized Middle Age society as a true reflection of reality. How else to explain a statement like: “The king might rule badly, but everyone agreed as to what good rule was.” Um. Really.

Having said that, I loved “The Knight”---precisely for its romance. But I have no desire to jump in a time machine because of it.

#100 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: July 07, 2006, 02:26 PM:

Y'know, it's more than a bit odd that people are talking about Miéville's Bas Lag stories being depressing, when there's a discussion of Lord of the Rings going on. Talk about depressing!

#101 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: July 07, 2006, 02:38 PM:

working at anything we'd recognize as a job was just "not done."

Oh, I know. But the question of where the money comes from is so off the table in the books that it is fun to speculate.

I love the bit in Bleak House where a wealthy industrialist visits the Deadlocks to ask if his son can marry one of their servants. The nobles are not terribly keen on the idea; one of the things that alarms them is the suggestion that the poor girl will first be given an (gasp!) education.

#102 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: July 07, 2006, 02:50 PM:

The Naked Fish I think aims at the business market, including people in the adjacent hotel on expense account or per diem. Most of the travelers and business people aren't around during the weekend.... further up the road is a 99 Restaurant, just before the intersection of the Middleset Turnpike and Lexington Street.

As further evidence of the difference clienteles, there is another 99 Restaurant a half a mile or so away, over on 3A/Boston Road which is parallel to the Middlesex Turnpike--go north on Lexington, at the stop sign on the right a few blocks past the school on the left, turn right onto I think the streetname is School Lane, at the end of School Lane beart left, turn right at the bottom of the slope where the traffic light is, go a few hundred feet south on Route 3A, turn left just before the Dunkin' Donuts {apparenlty there are SEVEN of them in town or some such, said someone at a zoning board meeting where most people oppose Home Depot taking overhat is mostly Billerica Mall in the center of town) (the donut shop is on the right) into the 99 Restaurant parking lot, which is just north of the northern driveway into Towne Plaza which is a relatively large strip mall.

The two restaurants are the same chain, probably the same menu, five minutes or less away from one another except during heavy traffic, but there is more than enough traffic for both to them to be and stay open, serving what are effectively different market segments--the Middlesex Turnpike one gets the Middlesex Turnpike business and after work crowds, the Boston Road one gets the 3A traffic and people who live around it.

Total population in town is nearly 40,000, I don;t know what the employment is, and then there are tens of thousands of people who drive -through- the town every day going to from parts south to/from parts north....

In the endless Burlington retail district, in strip mall territory north of the Shaw's on Route 3A Cambridge Street (it turned into Boston Road when crossing into Billerica...) there's the Fish House Restaurant, next to I think a Blockbuster, which is just north of the Dunkin Donut's at the corner of Winn Street and Cambridge Street. (recall "navigate by Dunkin' Donuts. There are lots of them because it gives fixes to coffee addicts, 24 X 7.... it's probably pretty much of a tie which one is closest to the Readercon Hotel, that Dunkin Donuts, or the one that's in the strip mall that has it rear wall at the northeast corner of Middlesex Turnpike and Mall Road.

If one is -cheap-, there is free coffee at the Market Basket in the strip mall that the 99 Restaurant is just north of in Billerica, but driving 4.5 miles for a "free" cup of coffee is silly... (Market Baskets with in-store bakeries tend to have free coffee for customers, those that doen't have in-store bakeries, tend to not have the free coffee. For that matter, Trader Joe's has carafes of coffee for customers to take small sample cups of, and it's merely a mile or two away.. still silly though.

#103 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: July 07, 2006, 02:52 PM:

PS, I'm not at Readercon yet because I was about to leave the house when a recruiter for a contract services company with a possible contract job called me up, necessitating me to boot the computer back up, download the email and send out my current resume, and since I was therefore online, be Seduced by the Comm yet again... ]

#104 ::: Mark DF ::: (view all by) ::: July 07, 2006, 03:16 PM:

I found Perdido Station horribly depressing at the end, but what a ride. I rarely interpret my emotional reactions as expected or "cheated". I tend to let the author have his/her effect on me and see where I end up. The only time I feel cheated is with contrived or bad plotting. Depress the hell of me, as long as it makes sense! Having said that, I made the mistake of reading The Scar immediately afterward and was so exhausted I can't think of reading any more Mieville for a while.

And is it me, or does Bas-Lag feel like Boston? Kinda sprawling architectural mish-mash, pocket neighborhoods that treat outsiders as aliens, and it takes forever to go short distances. And every once and a while someone (usually a local pol) sucks your brains and gives you nightmares.

#105 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 07, 2006, 04:13 PM:

Y'know, it's more than a bit odd that people are talking about Miéville's Bas Lag stories being depressing, when there's a discussion of Lord of the Rings going on. Talk about depressing!

Not at all! LOTR is sad, which is not at all the same thing. Frodo loses everything, but it was worth it. Good triumphs, with a cost. As opposed to PSS, where even the "good guys" aren't all that good, and the misery of their existence is barely preserved, with (pace Avram) no hope for actually improving anything, ever.

And gratuitously unhappy endings really piss me off.

#106 ::: Lisa Goldstein ::: (view all by) ::: July 07, 2006, 04:25 PM:

Serge: Avram suggests that the Bagginses were wealthy landowners. I wonder if the Shire wound up with an equivalent of Marx. Karl, not Groucho.

Ursula Le Guin says in one of her essays that every so often Sam's behavior made her want to start a Hobbit Socialist Party.

Mitch Wagner: He sells stuff on eBay. "One ring, fits anyone ..."

And here's a quote from Tolkien that will confuse the matter completely -- "My political opinions lean more and more to Anarchy (philosophically understood, meaning abolition of control not whiskered men with bombs) -- or to 'unconstitutional' Monarchy." -- Letters, 1943

#107 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: July 07, 2006, 04:35 PM:

Lisa, did you read today's San Francisco? There's an article where a Berkeley rabbi wants to use the local BART tracks and power lines as the perimeter of what he calls an eruv. That immediately reminded me of Dark Cities Underground.

#108 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: July 07, 2006, 04:39 PM:

You should talk to my wife, Xopher. She hates unhappy endings and yet 1983's The Dead Zone is one of our favorite movies. Yes, Johnny dies, but his sacrifice serves some purpose.

#109 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 07, 2006, 04:59 PM:

Exactly, Serge! Sometimes it's not at all depressing when someone dies. (Btw, the book did it better...in the movie the bad guy kills himself, whereas in the book his political career is over, but he lives.)

#110 ::: Larry Brennan ::: (view all by) ::: July 07, 2006, 05:09 PM:

Serge - As a kid from Brooklyn, I can assure you that using power lines and elevated subways as parts of an eruv has plenty of precedent.

#111 ::: clew ::: (view all by) ::: July 07, 2006, 05:26 PM:

I second the recommendation of David Liss. Underclass protagonists are fairly common in Regency mysteries - there's a current fencing Fallen Woman, but I can't remember the title.

Hambly's most relevant works aren't fantasy, but the mysteries with a black protagonist in antebellum New Orleans. I can't remember those titles either...

#112 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: July 07, 2006, 05:41 PM:

Xopher -- But Middle Earth has seen its best days, long past, and is slowly losing its magic.

As for Bas Lag, well, The Scar is my favorite of Miéville's novels, and it's the hopeful one, the one with a new nation being (literally) built, where the Remade can be full, free citizens. And Iron Council is all about hope and transforming the world.

In my eyes, the main difference between Middle Earth and Bas Lag isn't one of hope versus depression, but one of sordidness. And this is partly because of authorial depth-of-focus. Tolkein was a 20th century man looking back at the medieval era (or beyond), while Miéville is looking back at the 19th century.

And it's also partly because Miéville has read Tolkien, but Tolkien never read Miéville.

#113 ::: Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: July 07, 2006, 06:49 PM:

TNH has an interesting theory about who's the hero of Lord of the Rings. She says Tolkien started out thinking it would be Frodo, but by the time he finished, he realized it should be Sam.

#114 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: July 07, 2006, 07:33 PM:

Xopher...I once read an interview with Terri Windling in Locus, some time within the last three years, where she said something along the lines that she had seen enough of the dark side of humanity in her teen years to want to encounter more of it in fiction.

#115 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: July 07, 2006, 08:52 PM:

I rarely interpret my emotional reactions as expected or "cheated".

Maybe "cheated" is the wrong word, but I felt that Miéville set up the eucatastrophe in a fairly standard way, and then just withheld it. That was probably meant to be subversive, but it came across as merely petulant.

It was nowhere near a big enough problem to ruin the book for me, though, and I'm looking forward to reading the next two.

#116 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: July 07, 2006, 09:25 PM:

Feudal or pre-feudal fantasies with underclass protagonists:

Samuel R. Delany, Neveryóna
Barry Hughart, Bridge of Birds
Fletcher Pratt, The Well Of The Unicorn
Geoff Ryman, The Warrior Who Carried Life

And then there's that Gor novel where Tarl Cabot does some slave time...

NPIMH: Alex Chilton, "Underclass"

#117 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 07, 2006, 09:28 PM:

Avram, is The Scar set after PSS, or before? I wasn't aware that PSS was even part of a series. (Sue me; I have enough trouble keeping up with authors whose work I do enjoy.)

Serge, that's funny, I've seen enough of the dark side of humanity NOT to want to see it in fiction. If I want to be depressed, all I have to do is look at the world (and my life or lack thereof). I read fiction to get away from it all. Yes, characters have problems, or there's no story; but I'd like them to be different than the problems we have today. The problems in PSS were all depressingly familiar (aside from the main plot element, of course).

#118 ::: Lisa Spangenberg ::: (view all by) ::: July 07, 2006, 09:30 PM:

Mitch wrote:

TNH has an interesting theory about who's the hero of Lord of the Rings. She says Tolkien started out thinking it would be Frodo, but by the time he finished, he realized it should be Sam.

She would be right, according to Tolkien. I'd have to search to find where he said it, but umm . . . there's a reference in the Tolkien Encyclopedia coming out this fall.

#119 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: July 07, 2006, 09:56 PM:

Xopher, Perdidio Street Station, The Scar, "Jack" (a short story in the Looking for Jake collection), and Iron Council are all set in the same world, and take place in that order. They don't have much in the way of characters in common, so you don't have to read them in that order.

#120 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: July 07, 2006, 09:59 PM:

Oops. Somehow a word got dropped, Xopher. I had meant to write that Windling had seen enough of humanity's darkness that she did NOT want to run into more of it in fiction.

#121 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: July 07, 2006, 10:11 PM:

In brief: good convention so far. My four o'clock panel was good, but the six o'clock was brilliant.

Off to swap sentences --

#122 ::: Dan Blum ::: (view all by) ::: July 07, 2006, 10:19 PM:
In the endless Burlington retail district, in strip mall territory north of the Shaw's on Route 3A Cambridge Street (it turned into Boston Road when crossing into Billerica...) there's the Fish House Restaurant, next to I think a Blockbuster, which is just north of the Dunkin Donut's at the corner of Winn Street and Cambridge Street.
Indeed, but if it were me, I would go to the neighboring strip mall (to the north), which contains the New Jang Su Korean barbecue restaurant (unless one is craving fried fish, of course).
#123 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: July 07, 2006, 10:45 PM:

Yes, characters have problems, or there's no story; but I'd like them to be different than the problems we have today.

Obviously I don't speak for Terri, but I think her point was that way too much of the children's fiction (and entertainment in general) that she grew up with dodged characters' problems, or presented them in ways that had nothing to do with the reality around the readers. I'm not talking about escapist stories, but the family-sitcom mentality of the Sixties and Seventies, in which everybody lived in an all-white suburb (later, an all-white suburb with A Black Family) and the "problems" and "solutions" would have struck Fred Flintstone as less than believable.

There's certainly such a thing as the cheap downer ending. During the later years of the ABC Movie of the Week (which sometimes did excellent stories) there was a run of "bad guys win" endings, which were surprising the first couple of times, but soon became a cliché -- and indeed were only surprising because they came at the ends of otherwise totally formulaic stories.

Since Ballard was brought in earlier, I will note that his "global disaster" books should be seen in the context of British disaster novels, of which John Wyndham's were among the better examples, and never mind about the worst examples. Also, Ballard grew up in a global disaster in which survival was a direct and personal issue. Though one must always be careful about such comments, it's hard not to think that he found adventure tales about the survivors succesfully fighting to re-establish the former world, with all its socioeconomic systems intact, to barely rise to the level of escapism.

One has to earn happy endings (in a curious heaping of metaphor, "buy" and "sell" have also been used -- anyway, we can probably agree that it's a transaction between writer and reader), offering an understanding that worthwhile things have costs, and that some people's rewards or punishments have little to do with what they did to "deserve" them. The unhappy ending is a similar transaction. People do get through Nineteen Eighty-Four without understanding what happens to Winston Smith, but it's because they're not paying attention, generally because they're expecting the sort of pulp dystopia where Our Hero, having placidly taken his expository lumps from The System, suddenly extracts his thumb from whatever orifice it was stuck in and Rises Against the Machine. Attention to details is not required in such cases.

The unsatisfactory downbeat ending usually fails to offer any substantive explanation of why things went so badly, before or during the events on view. When I was slushreading, there were plenty of wooden-nickel dystopias that hadn't emerged from human fear and weakness, but were just there for someone to rebel against, and the rebellion, such as it was, failed because that was the sole point the writer had to make; that bad societies are, well, poo icky. Once in awhile a rejection would be answered with a letter about the importance of downbeat endings, with occasional citations -- Orwell, Sophocles, that guy that wrote that fantasy paperback where, like, the dragon ate everybody and then threw up and the last guy he ate was still grinning. Whoo-ee. It's pretty hard to instill a story with meaning if you can't extract it from what you read.

Yes, I'd like to be at Readercon. Why d'you ask?

#124 ::: Dr Paisley ::: (view all by) ::: July 07, 2006, 10:55 PM:

Note that Wolfe does not say that Sam rises in the estimation of the Shire because of Sam's own good works. After all, Sam did everything Frodo did, and went everywhere Frodo did, except Sam had to carry all the crap, too, the Elvish bread and, I dunno, clothes and laptop computer or whatever (it's been many years since I read LOTR).

And backwards, in high heels.

Oh, wait, different trilogy. Sorry.

#125 ::: Bruce Arthurs ::: (view all by) ::: July 07, 2006, 11:08 PM:

I believe the mystery series mentioned uptopic, with a medieval Jewish protagonist in Spain, is:

Caroline Roe, Chronicles of Isaac of Girona:
Mysteries set in medieval Spain, centering on a blind Jewish physician and his family:
Cure for a Charlatan (1999)
An Antidote for Avarice (1999)
Remedy for Treason (1998)
Solace for a Sinner (2000)
A Potion for a Widow (2001)
A Draught for a Dead Man (2002)
A Poultice for a Healer (2003)
Consolation for an Exile (2005)

#126 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: July 07, 2006, 11:54 PM:

Mike wrote: One has to earn happy endings...

That's why I find it funny when people put down Frank Capra's movies. Think about It's A Wonderful Life. It's Xmas Eve. George is facing financial ruin. Prison. He's contemplating suicide. You find he grew up always having to ignore his own wishes. And he has to literally stop existing before he reaches that happy ending.

#127 ::: DM (aka David) ::: (view all by) ::: July 08, 2006, 04:01 AM:

First, my reading of LOTR is that Sam and Gollum are the central characters, and the two opposite alternatives that Frodo could become, and that the human heroes like Aragorn, Theoden, Faramir, Eomer, and Eowyn are simply examples of the best of our race -- which is to say not typical. If there is to be a discussion of class in LOTR, Tolkien is challenging the entire class system. Sam, the servant and gardener, is the hero of the book, no matter the public (Hobbit) perception, and it is he that leads after the fact and well after -- and it is the quote/unquote lower class who understands the importance of all that is green and fair (all that is important) in our world. There is nothing that better exemplifies this than Saruman vs. the Hobbits.

Second, my reading of Gene Wolfe is different. Gene Wolfe writes from an intellect that I cannot even imagine. The poster who said that nothing happens in Peace did not read the same book I read. This discussion of Catholicism is odd. Yes, I know about Wolfe's religious grounding, but I can attest that a fervent atheist finds his work the most interesting, the most engaging, and the most satisfying speculative fiction available. If I could change one thing about Gene Wolfe, it would be to make him a generation younger so that I would know that there was another generation's worth of material coming. (Gene, keep writing, keep writing, keep writing.)

Finally, I'm so curious about Scott Bakker's presentation. I liked his three books very much -- okay, I admit he needs a better editor and I hope the rest of his career is handled by TOR -- and yet I suspect that he wasn't that well received, especially given the way the SF/Fantasy press has treated him thus far.

#128 ::: Jo Walton ::: (view all by) ::: July 08, 2006, 09:55 AM:

Clew, and anyone else interested -- The Fallen Woman Regency noir novels are the excellent Point of Honour and Petty Treason by Madeleine Robins. Don't be put off by the boring covers, they're a ton of fun and I don't understand why they're not bestsellers.

The Hambly mysteries mentioned, with the ex-slave detective protagonist, are the Benjamin January books which start with A Free Man of Color.

And yes, I wish I was in Readercon too.

#129 ::: Michael Weholt ::: (view all by) ::: July 08, 2006, 10:01 AM:

Serge: That's why I find it funny when people put down Frank Capra's movies. Think about It's A Wonderful Life....

I wouldn't dispute that the happy ending there is earned. My only problem with it is that it is earned repeatedly, Christmas after Christmas, year after year, on and on, endlessly.

I can't watch it anymore. Which is not the fault of the film, of course. Even a sturdy, good old U.S. American one dollar bill will eventually fade and crumble if it's earned over and over again, into all but infinity.

#130 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: July 08, 2006, 10:37 AM:

Yeah, Nichael, they did go overboard with their Xmas showings of It's A Wonderful Life. But they stopped a few years ago. Instead, now they keep inflicting A Christmas Story upon us and I can't stand that one anymore, in spite of its having the wonderful Darren McGavin in it.

#131 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: July 08, 2006, 10:48 AM:

David: If there is to be a discussion of class in LOTR, Tolkien is challenging the entire class system.

Well, not challenging, no. Tolkien was firmly in favor of the class system, but he felt that being in the lower classes was good for one's spirit. "Touching your cap to the Squire may be damn bad for the Squire, but it's damn good for you," he once wrote, I think in one of his letters.

#132 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: July 08, 2006, 10:53 AM:

This whole discussion of classes is starting to remind me of the scene in Monty Python and the Holy Grail where King Arthur meets a bunch of medieval communard peasants.

#133 ::: rhandir ::: (view all by) ::: July 08, 2006, 11:16 AM:

Jo Walton
wrote:...Don't be put off by the boring covers, they're a ton of fun and I don't understand why they're not bestsellers.

I've been wanting to ask for a long, long time:
what do you all consider to be a ton of fun* but mysteriously not bestsellers? You know, books by that got scrod by fate and the timeperiod they fell into. (Or by villainous conspiracies of the evil distributor syndicate, or a glut of bad vampire novels, or pretty much any reason other than "because it socked")

-r.
*I'm not talking about the terribly serious auteur project type books, but the fun ones. My reason for asking was sparked by the recent LA times piece on the mathematically random nature of hits in Hollywood.

#134 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 08, 2006, 11:53 AM:

Michael, I think I used to have a button that said "Jump, George, Jump!" I'm pretty sure it was my email sig at Xmastime once or twice.

#135 ::: JennR ::: (view all by) ::: July 08, 2006, 12:25 PM:

Jo says: The Fallen Woman Regency noir novels are the excellent Point of Honour and Petty Treason by Madeleine Robins. Don't be put off by the boring covers, they're a ton of fun and I don't understand why they're not bestsellers.

Probably because bookstores had no idea where to put them so they'd attract the right audience. They don't "go" in the fluffy Regency novels, don't "go" in the brick-o-fantasy section, they're not "literary" enough for the fiction section. Where they really belong is in historical mysteries, but as they're not labeled or described as such, when you go looking for 'Regency mysteries' you find things like "beau brummel, gentleman detective".

Re LoTR heroes: Frodo's not the only hero. I'm not sure why anyone would think he was. It's a quest epic, and one of the things I've found about quest epics is that there is usually more than one 'hero'. The Tolkein class I was in discussed this for a week or so, and we reached a conclusion that Frodo was the psychological hero and Sam was the physical hero; and neither one of them was the actual hero of the quest. (That would be Strider, who rose from unknown-warrior-with-assumed-name to king-with-beautiful-wife.)

#136 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: July 08, 2006, 01:28 PM:

RE: multiple heros in LOTR: I'll put in a plug for Galadriel and Faramir, each of whom had the opportunity to take the Ring and recognized that would be wrong both for themselves and for Middle Earth in general.

#137 ::: Lisa Goldstein ::: (view all by) ::: July 08, 2006, 01:46 PM:

Linkmeister: RE: multiple heros in LOTR: I'll put in a plug for Galadriel and Faramir, each of whom had the opportunity to take the Ring and recognized that would be wrong both for themselves and for Middle Earth in general.

Which is why the treatment of Faramir in the movie sucked (though I liked the movies in general).

Serge: No, I didn't see it. Any link?

#138 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: July 08, 2006, 01:53 PM:

Here's the link, Lisa.

#139 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: July 08, 2006, 02:02 PM:

It's perfectly possible to read The Lord of the Rings as asserting the personal futility of heroism.

Aragorn becomes king, all right, and condemns the woman he loves to death and the loss of all else she loves. He also gets to be responsible for everything over half a continent, a job formerly undertaken by an angel.

Frodo achieves the quest of the ring, profits nothing from it, and passes into the West as someone too injured to live longer in the middle world.

Sam fulfills his obligations of service, and his long life and many honors are in the end ashes to him, so that he passes over the sea seeking what he has lost.

Galadriel, well, "I will diminish, and pass into the West" sums it up pretty neatly; she wanted the rule of realms and freedom of action and she got the long defeat and a diversity of grief, including the extirpation of her descent.

Elrond does the right thing, rather than the Elu Thingol's wrong things, and gets himself an immense and bitter loss to go with the others.

Theoden dies. Eowyn gets mangled and gives up her desire for independent great deeds.

Boromir and Denethor fail, and fall; Faramir drives himself to the point of death, surviving only because of Aragorn's intercession.

Lots of other people benefit greatly from all this, but there's a solid thread there that the heroes themselves do not.

#140 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: July 08, 2006, 02:02 PM:

Lisa, absolutely. Faramir was one of the more interesting characters in the second volume, and he got short shrift in the film. Just because he was scorned by his father didn't mean Jackson had to follow suit.

#141 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: July 08, 2006, 02:04 PM:

Lisa: the movie is Still Under Copyright In Most of the Developed World, so a clip link would be unlikely (though possible, things being what they are in the Developed Online World).

The short version, which is no substitute for the genuine article, is that Arthur is trying to explain that he is King of the Britons to a group of mucky-'anded sons o'toil who consider themselves a neosyndicalist commune.

From memory:

"I didn't vote for you."
"You don't vote for kings."
"Then how'd you come to power, then?"
High Medieval Actorly Voice on Loan from the RSC: "The Lady of the Lake, her arm clothed in white samite, gave me this sword, Excalibur, that all shall know [etc.]"
"You can't go transferrin' absolute power just 'cause some watery tart throws a sword at yer."

There follows an angry pummeling by the King of the Britons, causing the pummelee to shout, "Come see the violence inherent in the system! Look, I'm bein' repressed!"

And as Arthur departs in disgust and bewilderment:

"Must be a king."
"How d'yer know?"
"'E 'asn't got sh*t all over 'im."

#142 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: July 08, 2006, 02:05 PM:

Graydon... Put that way, you make me wonder what LoTR would have been like if directed by Richard Lester. If you don't know why I say that, I suggest that you watch Robin and Marian.

#143 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 08, 2006, 04:13 PM:

Graydon, given Tolkien's life experiences...he was writing what he knew.

#144 ::: Peter Erwin ::: (view all by) ::: July 08, 2006, 04:15 PM:

"Strange women lying in ponds distributing swords is no basis for a system of government! Supreme executive power derives from a mandate from the masses, not from some farcical aquatic ceremony!"

(I suppose the peasants' arnarcho-syndicalist commune in Holy Grail would qualify as an example of an alternate political system of government in a fantasy story...)

#145 ::: Jack Ruttan ::: (view all by) ::: July 08, 2006, 04:18 PM:

Re Tolkien:, or at least the Lord of the Rings as described by Graydon. Aren't all stories, if you follow them to the end, tragedies?

#146 ::: Larry Brennan ::: (view all by) ::: July 08, 2006, 04:33 PM:

Jack Ruttan: Aren't all stories, if you follow them to the end, tragedies?

Only if the characters learn something.

#147 ::: Peter Erwin ::: (view all by) ::: July 08, 2006, 05:01 PM:

Graydon wrote:
Actual feudal systems of government are characterized by:

differing legal rights and responsibilities by social class

defined social classes with defined transitions between them (an income of 20 pounds per annum makes you a knight, sorts of thing)

[Except that few feudal systems would actually define social class or status in terms of money!]

bottom-up political structures; if the top is tier 1, and the bottom is tier 4, the guy in tier 1 has no access or direct connection to anyone in tier 3, never mind tier 4

definition of social hierarchy by public oaths before witnesses; generally this involved (at least in legal theory) the voluntary submission of one equal to another.

A couple of additions/comments:

One of the unique characteristics of classical feudalism was the idea that the hierarchy was bound together by reciprocal obligations and duties. If you're a landed knight, your peasants owe you obedience and loyalty (and taxes and labor as well); in return, you owe them protection (from bandits, wolves, rapacious neighboring knights, etc.) and justice (e.g., you are the local judge, and are supposed to settle their disputes, punish the guilty, and so forth).

Similarly, you owe your feudal superior (say, the local baron) loyalty and military service, and in return he owes you protection (from rapacious neighboring barons) and justice. And so it goes on up to the king.

Another key characteristic was the fact this was all supposed to be based on personal relationships. A knight owed loyalty and duty to the particular person of his baron, not to some "office" or "state" of the barony.

Finally, in the most classical type of classic feudalism -- military feudalism -- the relations above the level of the peasantry were based on grants of land (e.g., baron to knight, or king to baron) in exchange for military service: "You may rule over this plot of land, in exchange for providing yourself and X soldiers to serve in my army, for no more than Y days each year."

#148 ::: Tim May ::: (view all by) ::: July 08, 2006, 05:01 PM:

"If I went 'round saying I was an emperor just because some moistened bint had lobbed a scimitar at me, they'd put me away!"

***

I found the fate of Lin in Perdido Street Station gratuitously cruel; Miéville gives his reasons here in the course of a seminar Crooked Timber held on Iron Council, but I'm not convinced. But otherwise, I don't recall finding the book particularly depressing, and while the characters are flawed, I didn't have any difficulty sympathising with them. I certainly enjoyed reading it.

***

There is some advice on writing attributed to Gene Wolfe (though his name is misspelled on the page). One of the points is "Almost any interesting work or art comes close to saying the opposite of what it really says".

(Referenced in comments here.)

***

Mitch, Alter: What about 10th century Khazaria, where you've again got Judaism as a state religion? (I don't know whether the percentage the Khazars would have made up of the worldwide Jewish population, though.)

#149 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: July 08, 2006, 06:11 PM:

Peter --

There was in the English law a lot of measuring with money -- in the Time of King Edward, you became thengly when you met criteria including an income of five pounds per annum and possession of a mill, frex, and Long Edward pulled rather a fast one on Parliament by summoning the feudal host, which by that time was everyone with an annual income of 20 pounds or more.

Early feudal systems were relentlessly practical, as pretty much any culture with no margin to speak of would be, and while the money was really a measure of land -- the vexatious hide seems to have been whatever amount of land returned an income of a pound a year -- the money-measure did make into the law.

#150 ::: Peter Erwin ::: (view all by) ::: July 08, 2006, 07:11 PM:

Graydon,

There was in the English law a lot of measuring with money -- in the Time of King Edward, you became thengly when you met criteria including an income of five pounds per annum and possession of a mill, frex, and Long Edward pulled rather a fast one on Parliament by summoning the feudal host, which by that time was everyone with an annual income of 20 pounds or more.

Which King Edward was that, out of curiosity? (I'm assuming it wasn't the Confessor, since he predated Parliament.)

Sure, actual countries with feudal or quasi-feudal systems had all sorts of variations on the system (starting with scutage, the "pay your feudal overlord some money and you don't have to go to war with him" approach). I just wanted to emphasize that mere wealth was not, in general, the determinant of social class or status in feudal societies: a rich merchant in 12th C Paris or 16th C Osaka was not in the same social class as a French knight or a samurai.

#151 ::: Faren Miller ::: (view all by) ::: July 08, 2006, 07:46 PM:

Though I haven't read LOTR for decades(?) and first read it in my pre-teens as fantasy adventure, at some point I got the idea that Frodo's heading westward has a Christly element -- and we're just lucky that his hobbit mates didn't turn into rabid evangelists for Frodoism. As for the humans, the extent of their physical and psychological traumas (as noted by others above) saves the more religious elements from becoming sheer allegory. [To restate the obvious!]

#152 ::: Faren Miller ::: (view all by) ::: July 08, 2006, 07:48 PM:

PS: never quite lost my girlish crush on Aragorn!

#153 ::: Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: July 08, 2006, 09:33 PM:

rhandir: I'm not talking about the terribly serious auteur project type books, but the fun ones.

rhandir, you haven't been 'round these parts long, have you? 'Round here, when someone distinguishes "terribly serious auteur project type books" from "the fun ones," them's fightin' words.

Peter Erwin: I suppose the peasants' arnarcho-syndicalist commune in Holy Grail would qualify as an example of an alternate political system of government in a fantasy story...

Back in 8th grade, my social studies teacher put on an education game designed to teach the kids about geopolitics. He drew a map of a fictitious world with nations, divided the class into small groups, and had each group represent the governing bodies of one of those nations. The game was kind of like Risk and kind of like Diplomacy.

I understand it is--or was--a very, very popular educational game among teachers, and I have no doubt that somebody here knows the name of it and far more details than I can remember.

Anyway, my little nation was about five people. Since this was a suburban American school in the late 20th Century, we were as class-conscious as Middle Earth--the group consisted of a few jocks and greasers, and me. I was the only student of the class Brain in our nation, so of course I was elected leader of that little nation, without any question.

This was a very exciting opportunity for me, and I instantly set up a government along the lines of the asteroid belt government in Larry Niven's Known Space stories (which was, of course, itself modelled on Asimov's Foundation). I was the First Speaker, another kid was Second Speaker, and so forth.

The game ran a full week of five, 42-minute class periods. Our little nation was the first one conquered, before the first day of play was over. We spent the rest of the week watching the other kids play. It was pretty dull.

We all learned an important lesson that week. I'm not sure what it was.

#154 ::: "Charles Dodgson" ::: (view all by) ::: July 08, 2006, 10:43 PM:

Well, to quote some guys I mentioned on another thread, concerning the subject of class status and arrangements:

Everybody's equal, some more than others,
So hold out your hand, toss a penny to your brother.
You may not be as equal as me,
But everybody's equal, to a greater or lesser degree.

(This was one of the encores at the Friday night Upper Crust gig, along with the rarely performed "Friend of a Friend of the Working Class").

#155 ::: JC ::: (view all by) ::: July 08, 2006, 10:46 PM:

I understand it is--or was--a very, very popular educational game among teachers, and I have no doubt that somebody here knows the name of it and far more details than I can remember.

My 8th grade Social Studies class played this game too. I was on the same team as the person who four years later would become our class valedictorian. He also consistently beat me (and everyone else I knew) in Diplomacy. So I figured the best thing for me to do was just to sit back and let him convince all the other nations to go destroy each other. Needless to say, we were a dictatorship. What I found astounding were the number of people on other teams who continued to trust him during negotiations even though there was clear evidence that he was lying through his teeth.

(BTW, as an unrelated aside, I've yet to read anything by China Mieville. However, having now attended some of his panels at ReaderCon, I really want to.)

#156 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: July 09, 2006, 02:07 AM:

I've played my share of Risk, but I've never even heard of Diplomacy. Hmm. I wonder if that's a function of being on the early cusp of the baby boom generation, when war seemed to be a more likely prospect than containment, détente, etc.

#157 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: July 09, 2006, 02:12 AM:

Nope. Since it was released in 1959 (if Wikipedia is to be believed), that can't be why I've never heard of it. It's interesting that it was/could be played by mail.

#158 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: July 09, 2006, 02:21 AM:

Diplomacy is still in production:

http://www.wizards.com/default.asp?x=ah/prod/diplomacy

The game is designed so that you must form alliances to win, and it is pretty much required that somewhere along the line you're going to have to screw your allies.

Good Wiki article:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diplomacy_game

Each player's social and interpersonal skills are at least as important to the game as the player's strategic abilities.

Ah, that would explain why I never got into it!

#159 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: July 09, 2006, 03:01 AM:

The release of The Silmarillion forced a lot of rethinking about what the ending of LOTR meant, partly because it is established that Men die. They pass beyond this world, they are not as elves and dwarves. And, in the reckoning of Middle Earth, Hobbits are Men.

And nobody, in Middle-Earth or Valinor, knows what the death of Men really is; they do not know if it is a Blessing or a Curse, and the Half-Elven have to choose.

And, just as Luthien did, Arwen chose to die. She chose the Doom of Men, and if Illuvatar meant that as a curse on Mankind, then the whole of creation is tainted.

But that's a matter for Faith, not Knowledge.

#160 ::: Steve Taylor ::: (view all by) ::: July 09, 2006, 03:37 AM:

Serge wrote:

> Oops. Somehow a word got dropped, Xopher. I had meant to write that Windling had seen enough of humanity's darkness that she did NOT want to run into more of it in fiction.

Oh damn.

I get really really sick of hearing people people say "If I want something depressing I'll just watch the evening news" or the like - and I was delighted to hear the opposite for once.

#161 ::: Julie L. ::: (view all by) ::: July 09, 2006, 04:58 AM:

Quoth Dave Bell: "The release of The Silmarillion forced a lot of rethinking about what the ending of LOTR meant, partly because it is established that Men die."

At this point, I can't recall which tidbits come from Silm. and which from HoME, but Elves also have a certain form of mortality-- although they can endlessly reboot into Valinor if the Valar aren't cross at them (hello, Feanor), their existence is bounded within the realm of Arda; when it ceases to exist, so do they. Men pass away from Arda, but they go beyond it to somewhere which only Iluvatar knows for certain.

I'm not sure anyone really knows what happens to the Dwarves, though they have their own lore about Aule making a special place for them, and about occasional reincarnation (various Durins).

#162 ::: Peter Erwin ::: (view all by) ::: July 09, 2006, 05:37 AM:

And nobody, in Middle-Earth or Valinor, knows what the death of Men really is; they do not know if it is a Blessing or a Curse, and the Half-Elven have to choose.

My impression from reading The Silmarillion was that almost none of the Elves (and certainly none of the Valar) considered the death of Men to be a curse (though many Men ended up thinking so); there was more a sense that it was some kind of mysterious blessing which the Elves were denied.

#163 ::: Peter Erwin ::: (view all by) ::: July 09, 2006, 05:56 AM:

Linkmeister: It's possible you never heard of Diplomacy because it was never marketed as widely as Risk. I think Diplomacy was, for most of its life, sold by the wargames company Avalon Hill, while Risk was sold by Parker Brothers and was thus marketed as a general "family boardgame" along with Monopoly et al.

Diplomacy is a fascinating game, but I found I couldn't quite manage the shifty "backstab your allies" way it's played.

#164 ::: Stephen ::: (view all by) ::: July 09, 2006, 09:55 AM:

My impression from reading The Silmarillion was that almost none of the Elves (and certainly none of the Valar) considered the death of Men to be a curse (though many Men ended up thinking so); there was more a sense that it was some kind of mysterious blessing which the Elves were denied.

Presumably based in part on an understanding that Iluvatar doesn't curse. If he were in the habit of cursing then there would have been a passage in the Ainulindale that read:

"Look, Melkor, one more of those and I will slap your sorry ass into the Fourth Age!"

It's also possible that Tolkien wanted to suggest that immortality inevitably leads to looking at the past as a "Golden Age" with the present as a degeneration of some kind (cf. Elrond's comments regarding Men). Death may be a blessing to a race that sees the past as better than the present and the future as an oncoming doom.

#165 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: July 09, 2006, 11:44 AM:

Steve Taylor... At least I think that's what Windling had said in that Locus interview. More than once in these parts, I mentionned something that, after then digging thru dusty boxes, made me realize my memory is not quite as good as I thought.

#166 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: July 09, 2006, 12:13 PM:

I read The Silmarillion relatively recently, and my impression was similar to Peter's: The path men take was more blessing than curse.

I also recall several mentions of both elves and (the souls of) men participating in great goings-on at the end of time.

#167 ::: rhandir ::: (view all by) ::: July 09, 2006, 01:51 PM:

Mitch Wagner wrote:
you haven't been 'round these parts long, have you? 'Round here, when someone distinguishes "terribly serious auteur project type books" from "the fun ones," them's fightin' words.

Granted, I haven't been 'round these parts long, but I thought that the arguement had been fought so many times that we could just skip it and move on to the "oh, this is a fun read that sold really poorly, undeservedly so." If anything I figured the arguement would be over wether a named book was sufficiently obscure to merit mentioning. ("Ha! I see your God Stalk and raise you a Search the Seven Hills, beat that!)

Alternatively, we could fight over precisely how unjust it is that good books get ignored by the marketplace, but that wasn't really my intent.

-r.

#168 ::: DaveL ::: (view all by) ::: July 09, 2006, 02:06 PM:

I don't think anyone's called Park "Park Street Under" since Lovecraft days.

The Sunday Boston Globe has a photo of the preserved mosaic wall sign for "Scollay Under."

Scollay Square was the lost-to-urban-renewal-and-the-abomination-that-is-City-Hall-Plaza theater-restaurant-red-light-district. The subway stop is now called "Government Center."

#169 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: July 09, 2006, 02:13 PM:

"terribly serious auteur project type books"

I was going to ask if Shakespeare was considered an auteur back in the days, then it occurred to me that the concept probably didn't exist. Which reminds me of the skit I once caught on TV where Hugh Laurie plays the Bard, who's having an argument with the director, played by Rowan Atkinson. The latter is mercilessly going thru Hamlet, cutting left and right, taking one passage from a long line down to to be or not to be, much to the strong disapproval of Shaespeare, until the director agrees to let him keep the scene with the Cockney gravediggers.

#170 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: July 09, 2006, 04:04 PM:

Since the LOTR discussion is still kicking around, I happened to be rereading Le Guin's essays in Languages of the Night, and think she very cogently addresses some of the questions about Frodo and Sam.

In a part of her essay 'The Child and the Shadow' (her National Book Award acceptance speech) Le Guin sees very clearly that there is something missing when you judge LotR by what she calls "daylight ethics". When you look at it in terms of the psychic and spiritual, she says, it is very different. Everything in the LotR is doubled, bright against shadow - light against dark, elf against orc, Gandalf against Saruman - and Frodo is doubly doubled. Frodo and Sam are not complete in themselves, but form two halves of the light side; Sam is in part Frodo's shadow, his more down-to-earth, simpler, yet more purely good side. Against them are set Gollum, who is himself doubled into Smeagol and Gollum, "Slinker and Stinker". And at the end, she reminds us, it is Frodo - the good - who fails the quest and is corrupted by the Ring, and Gollum - the evil - who through accident in his bliss destroys both himself and the ring and succeeds in the quest.

"When you look at it that way, can you call it a simple story? I suppose so. Oedipus Rex is a simple story, too. But it is not simplistic. It is the kind of story that can be told only by one who has turned and faced his shadow and looked into the dark."

Well worth searching out the essay if you can find it.

#171 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: July 09, 2006, 05:37 PM:

"Park Street Under" was used in an Op-Ed in the 8 Jul 06 Globe. Antiquity lives! (And "Scollay Square" isn't the only old sign; the last time I looked, a remote part of Prudential still had a similar mosaic saying "Mechanicsville" -- an appropriate name since the Pru is on the site of the old railroad yards.)

The Benjamin January novels are worth reading, even if you found the first one or two a little slow; she spends less time info-dumping her research in the later ones.

#172 ::: Stephen ::: (view all by) ::: July 09, 2006, 06:22 PM:

Well worth searching out the essay if you can find it.

Sounds interesting.

The turning to face the shadow and the subtle lessons that lead up to them are amongst the most interesting themes in the books; Gandalf and Saruman, Aragorn in the Paths of the Dead. The interesting bit is sometimes what precedes it. Gandalf cannot defeat Saruman until he has faced the Balrog. Aragon cannot throw off the memory of Isildur and redeem the broken oath until he has seen Boromir and Theoden.

Not sure about Frodo. On the one hand he falls at the last to the flaw that led to being stabbed by a Morgul knife. On the other he(and we) are indirectly saved by his compassion/pity for Gollum ("There, but for the Grace of God, go I"). Whether there is something profound in the notion that ultimately it is because Frodo tries to serve i.e. do good by destroying the Ring which strengthens his own sense of self-will sufficiently that he can be tempted at the last I'm not sure. But if we add that it is his pity for Gollum, without any desire or expectation of result from the act, that leads to the finale, and that Sam's own experience with the Ring is simplified greatly by the fact that he acts from love rather than will, then it seems to me that Frodo's prima facie failure conceals the deeper success that Gandalf foreshadowed at the beginning of the quest (and echoes the way Iluvatar deals with Melkor in the Ainulindale). All of which may also be reflected in the fact that it is Sam who rises to power in the Shire rather than Frodo.

Perhaps the final point is that Evil (in the psychic and spiritual realms) cannot be resisted as such but it can be blessed, much as darkness is dispelled by the introduction of light.

#173 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: July 09, 2006, 07:39 PM:

Drat. Le Guin won the NBA in 1973 for The Farthest Shore, but her acceptance speech is not onsite.

#174 ::: Steve Taylor ::: (view all by) ::: July 09, 2006, 09:23 PM:

Serge wrote:

> More than once in these parts, I mentionned something that, after then digging thru dusty boxes, made me realize my memory is not quite as good as I thought.

The other I realised that a line I really admired in a song by Do Re Mi was actually a total misremembering on my part, and that the original was nowhere near as interesting.

The unsettling part is that I've been thinking for years how clever the songwriter was, and now I have to shift to thinking that... I am clever. I'm not sure I'm ready for it.

#175 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 09, 2006, 10:17 PM:

Le Guin won the NBA in 1973

I'm amazed she even made it to the Final Four.

#176 ::: Paula Helm Murray ::: (view all by) ::: July 09, 2006, 10:38 PM:

which do-re-mi song are you talking about, Steve? Sound of Music or Woody Guthrie. Just askin'

#177 ::: Steve Taylor ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2006, 02:22 AM:

Paula Helm Murray wrote:

> which do-re-mi song are you talking about, Steve?

Oops! I'm talking about the band Do-Re-Mi, and a song called "The Happiest Place in Town" from the album of the same name. I should have been clearer (*).

> Sound of Music or Woody Guthrie. Just askin'

Yikes! The good twin and the evil twin. I have many good things to say about the Woody Guthrie version.

* - though I've never really worked out the etiquette of over or under explaining trivia in net conversations, where speech is non-real-time and everyone has access to search engines. We're already living in an underpowered version of a Greg Egan story. In the end I usually settle for assuming that everyone knows everything and let Google sort it out. Sometimes this works.

#178 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2006, 04:54 AM:

Which King Edward was that, out of curiosity

Ed III, who was "Long Edward" because he hung on to the throne for fifty years.

I was going to ask if Shakespeare was considered an auteur back in the days, then it occurred to me that the concept probably didn't exist.

Uh, what? Shakespeare was, in the day, generally believed to be the author of the plays; the noisy discussion of whether it was actually the Duke of Plaza-Toro, Homer, or Homer in collaboration with Jethro, comes later. The Auteur Theory, a later development still, concerns whether a film director can be considered the "author" of his movie, in the sense that his particular vision is imprinted on the film.* While both film and theater are collaborative arts, auteur in the sense that requires the word be in French is not a word that can be equally applied to any creative art, unless you want to construct a theory that explains what it means for that particular art.

*It originates in postwar France, where the Cahiers crowd, who had been deprived of most of the world's movies during the Occupation, suddenly go to catch up, and observed that if you watched a dozen films by certain directors, repeated themes, and even specific scenes and shots, recurred.

#179 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2006, 05:29 AM:

Oh, and Diplomacy. This won't take very long.

It's not that surprising that Dippy can be played by mail; any game with open board information, and a way of recording the location of pieces and their moves, can at least theoretically be played that way. (Counterexample: Stratego, where the pieces' identities are secret.) Avalon Hill's "classic" games, like Afrika Korps and Gettysburg, had a good deal of mail play; die rolls were resolved by picking a stock for a given day, and using the last digit of its closing price to determine the roll. (Doubtless this sold some WSJ subscriptions.)

Diplomacy doesn't need dice, has few units to keep track of (and all the units are either armies or fleets), and moves are uncomplicated -- area to adjacent area, sometimes via a chain of fleets. (The map does have a couple of ambiguous situations, which there are house rules to control.) And the most important part of a Diplomacy move is the negotiation between players, and it's a whole lot easier to have secret negotiatons if you're not all in the same room.

Some of us consider Avalon Hill's Machiavlelli (you can guess the historical subject) to be a better game in a variety of ways, though its rules are far more complex and it doesn't have the streamlined elegance of Dippy. And other people go for Kingmaker (Wars of the Roses, blood is good fertilizer). Conquest: It's not just a job, it's a weekend with friends you didn't know liked you only up to where controlling the Aegean became critical.

#180 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2006, 06:06 AM:

now I have to shift to thinking that... I am clever

Ah, I wish I could find myself having to go thru that kind of shift, Steve.

#181 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2006, 06:13 AM:

Actually, Mike, I was thinking of auteur as someone who doesn't worry about where his income is coming from. The Bard, and probably every artistic type of his era, did have to think of monetary considerations, and of pleasing the big muckamucks. (That explanation probably doesn't make much more sense without considerable explanation. Oh drat.)

#182 ::: Lis Riba ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2006, 06:57 AM:

Maybe I'm atypical, but I understood what you meant perfectly, Serge.

I find it interesting how different generations perceive Shakespeare. Personally, I think he was a hack -- a really great hack, and I respect that in an author, but a hack nonetheless.

If he lived in modern times, I could easily see him pulling Harlan Ellison's stunt of writing in a store window...

#183 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2006, 09:31 AM:

I don't know if I'd go as far as thinking of Shakespeare as a hack, Lis, but he did try to balance Art and Commerce.

#184 ::: rhandir ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2006, 09:41 AM:

Steve Taylor wrote
In the end I usually settle for assuming that everyone knows everything and let Google sort it out. Sometimes this works.
The level of ambiguity in the google (or wikipedia) search results is probably a key factor. (e.g. do re mi) Note that teh goog has a hard time with punctuation marks*, and that Ctrl-F to find strings of text gives too many matches for short words like Tor.

John M. Ford, Serge,
Oh, I was completely making up the connotations associated with auteur when I brought it in.** I'm sorry, I've been both careless and offtopic this week, which isn't helpful.

-r.

*no $, for instance. Unless things have changed.
**I figured that it was a good shorthand for author-centric works vs. story centered ones. Of course, I should have just written that, but I didn't.

#185 ::: Lowell Gilbert ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2006, 09:53 AM:

Lis Riba: "I find it interesting how different generations perceive Shakespeare."

Absolutely. I, for instance, am one generation older than when I first read Romeo and Juliet. I doubt I will shock anyone when I claim that it is a completely different story than it "used" to be.

[Stupid, whining teenagers...]

#186 ::: Laurence ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2006, 12:08 PM:

Aragorn . . condemns the woman he loves to death and the loss of all else she loves.

Funny, I thought it was her choice.

Galadriel, well, "I will diminish, and pass into the West" sums it up pretty neatly; she wanted the rule of realms and freedom of action and she got the long defeat and a diversity of grief, including the extirpation of her descent.

Galadriel actually lived in Middle-Earth for a long time. Wasn't she one of the first elves who came there from Valinor? Although she doesn't say so, I imagine that she got to do pretty much everything she could have wanted over those thousands(?) of years.

(Getting back to the discussion of class among Hobbits - Merry and Pippin, not Frodo, were genuine Shire nobility.)

#187 ::: Russell Letson ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2006, 12:17 PM:

Coming in late on LoTR: 30 years after my last reading, what I retain of the books is exactly described by Lisa Goldstein's catalogue of how much everybody loses. In those intervening years I've also read a fair amount of Brit between-the-wars literature with all the echoes of the Great War, and the book that I keep connecting with Tolkien is Graves's _Good-bye to All That_. (Though the echoes are audible even in Agatha Christie.) And now that I think of it, maybe a better generic connection for LoTR is not quest fantasies but _Beowulf_ by way of Tolstoy.

As for Willie S. being a hack, even a great one--hack your way through the Sonnets and say that. Or lovely _Twelfth Night_.

#188 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2006, 12:38 PM:

Back when the first French translation of LoTR came out in the late Seventies, I heard that Tolkien had a list of how certain names should be translated from the Elvish into various European languages. Is that true? I'm asking because I also had heard at that time that he had no such translation from Elvish into French. Is that what Colonel Potter used to call horsepuckey?

#189 ::: Peter Erwin ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2006, 01:07 PM:

Laurence said:
Galadriel actually lived in Middle-Earth for a long time. Wasn't she one of the first elves who came there from Valinor? Although she doesn't say so, I imagine that she got to do pretty much everything she could have wanted over those thousands(?) of years.

Yes, Galadriel was part of Feanor's mad, bloody quest to take the Silmarils back from Morgoth. I can't remember if she is supposed to have been born in Valinor after the Elves arrived, or was actually born in Middle Earth before or during the journey to Valinor.

(Also, I don't see how her descent was "extirpated", as Graydon suggested.)

(Getting back to the discussion of class among Hobbits - Merry and Pippin, not Frodo, were genuine Shire nobility.)

Good point. The Shire in LotR is probably an interesting example of an "alternate political system" in fantasy, what with its mixture of quasi-aristocratic positions (like the Thain, which Pippin eventually becomes) and elected positions. And its general placid near-anarchy, in the sense that there's very little real "government" in the Shire.

(Really, I suppose it's mostly Tolkien's idealization of late 19th Century English country society. But there's certainly no King or Queen of the Shire.)

#190 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2006, 01:18 PM:

For those now looking for that Le Guin essay, it's called 'The Child and the Shadow'. The other must-read in that same collection - especially for writers - is 'From Elfland to Poughkeepsie' about language in fantasy and bad fantasy. Also touches on Tolkein (how could it not?) and well worth seeking out.

#191 ::: Lisa Goldstein ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2006, 01:35 PM:

Hi, Russell! I wasn't the one who talked about loss in LOTR -- I think the post you're referring to is Graydon's.

#192 ::: Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2006, 01:46 PM:

rhandir - I didn't mean to be a jerk about your distinction between "terribly serious auteur project type books" and "fun ones."

It's just that ... well, I graduated college in 22 years ago. Since then, 100% of my fiction reading has been for entertainment. I don't get paid for it, and I don't do it to improve myself as a person, or for professional development. Every time I pick up a novel or start reading a short story, it's been for enjoyment.

So I don't see any distinction between "terribly serious auteur project type books" and "fun ones." They're all just fun to me.

What's an example of a "terribly serious auteur project type book"?

#193 ::: Russell Letson ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2006, 02:06 PM:

Hola, Lisa. You're right. Blogs make me dizzy, if not ditzy. Graydon, apologies for misattributing.

#194 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2006, 02:10 PM:

Well, to turn it around, how would you describe the difference between, say, Absalom, Absalom! and Red Thunder? Of course, they're both entertaining and fun, but they seem like very different types of entertainment and fun to me, and it would be more satisfying, or at least more convenient, to have a vocabulary that distinguishes between them, ideally without residual snobbery.

(Choose your own examples if you don't like those.)

#195 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2006, 02:14 PM:

if you watched a dozen films by certain directors, repeated themes, and even specific scenes and shots, recurred.

They were doing, er, homage to themselves? ...

#196 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2006, 02:26 PM:

Exactly. There isn't any government at all in the Shire. The Mayor is a ceremonial post, there to preside over parties. The common defence is taken care of by a volunteer militia, as far as we can tell - law and order is handled by the Shirriffs, who also seem to be volunteers. There are certainly rich and poor hobbits, but we don't see any in grinding poverty or terrific wealth - no palaces or great estates, and even Bilbo, though wealthy enough not to have to work even before his Adventure, doesn't live in tremendous style - it doesn't alter much after the Adventure. No servants, too - there's a definite distinction between someone coming in to deal with your garden, and a live-in servant. Bilbo and Frodo both do their own cooking, washing-up and so on.

That's what makes the Hobbits so inhuman - no lust for power and wealth - and that's brought out a lot in the books. Think about it. Bilbo is rich enough to be living the Hobbitish Dream, but that doesn't really mean more than a decent hole, a room for his books, enough money for food and pipeweed and a bit left over to pay Sam to do the gardening. It's not exactly Howard Hughes. With none of them particularly greedy, the Shire is rich enough to provide a living of some sort to all its inhabitants. So with no real greed and no real poverty, and no external threats, why would you need a government?

(Incidentally, why haven't they bred like Malthusian rabbits until the whole country is packed with rural slum? Well, Hobbits love children, but a lot of them don't seem to have any, and those that do don't seem to have many. Sam (the exception) doesn't have any siblings. Neither does Frodo. Neither do Merry and Pippin. You get a few who seem to like large families - Sam himself, for one - but most of them stop at one, and a lot of them (Bilbo, for example) don't have any. Maybe inbreeding has cut fertility down to drastically low levels. Maybe Hobbits like spoiling their children so much that it's too expensive to have more than one. Maybe mushrooms cause sterility...)

#197 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2006, 02:58 PM:

You know, ajay, the thing that always bugged about the hobbits is that they don't feel like they belong in Middle-Earth, socially, in the way they dress, in their architecture, heck, in any other aspect. It's like they just sprang fully formed.

#198 ::: Dan Layman-Kennedy ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2006, 03:34 PM:

As for Willie S. being a hack, even a great one--hack your way through the Sonnets and say that. Or lovely _Twelfth Night_.

Speaking as one who loves Shakespeare, and Twelfth Night in particular - guy was a hack.

Brilliant, of course, and capable of mind-numbingly lovely poetry. But he was, unquestionably, a hired quill. The fact that he was other things as well doesn't change that he was turning out crime dramas and sitcoms at the whim of his patrons.

This diminishes him not at all in my eyes, btw - one of the things I love about Twelfth Night is that it's a sitcom written by a genius.

#199 ::: cmk ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2006, 03:42 PM:

the thing that always bugged about the hobbits is that they don't feel like they belong in Middle-Earth, socially, in the way they dress, in their architecture, heck, in any other aspect

Oh, good point; I hadn't formulated it to myself before, but aren't the Shire and Bree at a 19th century level while Rohan and Gondor are medieval or earlier?

But as to "no external threats"--they were protected by the North-Kingdom and then by the Rangers from (from memory) dangers "that would freeze [their] blood."

#200 ::: Clark E Myers ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2006, 03:50 PM:

The common defence is taken care of by a volunteer militia, as far as we can tell Yes not of hobbits but of rangers - rough men stood ready to do violence on their behalf so to speak.

As you know Bob folks who've ignored the backstory miss the sigificance of Galadriel's hair and her simply granting Gimli's request. Galadriel certainly did not always get to do what she wished but her hair was very much involved in big things IIRC.

The backstory does remind me of Grave's Greek Myths with lots of room for and some say...... I've attributed some variation to lags in writing.

Given that Sam explicitly can't read a map (handle abstract representation?) and has only a vague conception of distances - the like a child are we there yet thought - it must follow that the office of Mayor is not very demanding. Perhaps the time lag in writing allowed the author's conception of Sam to change over time. Likely Sam improved (in story terms) by association with his betters.

Assuming a change over time then the book missed a little copy editing here and there?

#201 ::: Peter Erwin ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2006, 04:54 PM:

(Incidentally, why haven't they bred like Malthusian rabbits until the whole country is packed with rural slum? Well, Hobbits love children, but a lot of them don't seem to have any, and those that do don't seem to have many. Sam (the exception) doesn't have any siblings. Neither does Frodo. Neither do Merry and Pippin. You get a few who seem to like large families - Sam himself, for one - but most of them stop at one, and a lot of them (Bilbo, for example) don't have any. Maybe inbreeding has cut fertility down to drastically low levels. Maybe Hobbits like spoiling their children so much that it's too expensive to have more than one. Maybe mushrooms cause sterility...)

ajay -- it's worse than you think. I was looking at the family trees in the back of LotR last night, and found myself agog at hobbit fecundity. Frodo and Merry are only children, true, but Pippin has three siblings and Sam has five. Furthermore, Pippin's father had four siblings (one of them being Merry's grandmother) and two generations further back there are the offspring of "Gerontius, The Old Took", who stretch all the way across the damn page. At least six of these had children of their own (one of them credited with "many descendants"), though you do get the odd Took-ish "went off on a journey and never returned" cases.

So Sam's thirteen(!) children are not that unusual by hobbit standards (even his wife Rosie had four siblings). That, or hobbits have some weird biology whereby only a very few families in each generation actually reproduce. Presumably there's some reset mechanism every few generations that narrows the fecundity back down to just a few individuals.

(I'm trying to imagine if there's some weird social insect analogy, like those ant colonies with several queens rather than just one...)

Alas, I don't think socioeconomic and ecological plausiblity were things Tolkien was really worrying about. Even the history of his human societies is difficult to believe: Gondor endures for more than three thousand years with very little cultural or political change.

#202 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2006, 04:56 PM:

Bilbo, though wealthy enough not to have to work even before his Adventure, doesn't live in tremendous style - it doesn't alter much after the Adventure.

Well, that at least is explained in ROTK; Bilbo's lifestyle didn't alter because he didn't use any of the treasure he got on his Adventure (aside from the One). "Bilbo gave it all away. He said he did not feel that it was really his, as it came from robbers."

#203 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2006, 04:57 PM:

"like they just sprang fully formed."

I've occasionally wondered if they were a long lost tribe from the same root or branch that produced Bombadil. They had the same kind of "no worries, mate" attitude that Tom did, although certainly none of his powers over the natural world.

#204 ::: Peter Erwin ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2006, 05:16 PM:

Given that Sam explicitly can't read a map (handle abstract representation?) and has only a vague conception of distances - the like a child are we there yet thought - it must follow that the office of Mayor is not very demanding. Perhaps the time lag in writing allowed the author's conception of Sam to change over time. Likely Sam improved (in story terms) by association with his betters.

Well, it's certainly true that being hobbit Mayor is not very demanding; I doubt there are any hobbit offices that are.

But my impression is that Sam gets elected (and re-elected, and re-elected...) Mayor in large part because he seems, to other hobbits, much more like a normal, everyday hobbit than, say, Frodo. Sam isn't, really -- he's changed too much -- but to the average hobbit he's not peculiar and eccentric, like Frodo or Bilbo. Here's what Tolkien says about the situation about a year after Frodo et al. returned to the Shire:

"... Sam was pained to notice how little honour he [Frodo] had in his own country. Few people knew or wanted to know about his deeds and adventures; their admiration and respect were given mostly to Mr. Meriadoc and Mr. Peregrine and (if Sam had known it) to himself."

(This, incidently, strikes me as a good refutation of Gene Wolfe's claim that "Sam rises in the estimation of the Shire because of his association with Frodo.")

#205 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2006, 05:27 PM:

I don't think socioeconomic and ecological plausiblity were things Tolkien was really worrying about. Even the history of his human societies is difficult to believe...

And the movie version, much as I liked it, didn't do any hand-waving to hide that either. When Our Heroes finally make it to Rohan, what we see is a rather smallish town on top of a grassy hill. No trace of any cultivated fields. No Rider has a single horse in nearby pastures. And where are the forges needed to make the fancy armors that the Riders wore? None of the needed social infrastructure is there.

I know, I know, that's not what the story is supposed to be about. Still...

#206 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2006, 05:28 PM:

On the languages of names, yes, Tolkien did write a guide for translators, and it has been published, about 25 years ago in a collection of essays.

(Hazy memory and Google get lucky. A Tolkien Compass edited by Jared Lobell, with a reprint in 2003)

The basic theme is that the Common Speech is translated as English, and names which have a meaning in Common Speech should be translated to have similar meaning. There's also some info on obscure English words which translaters apparently got wrong.

If I remember right, the Swedish translatero thought that a "ropewalk" was a sort of suspension bridge.

Anyway, all that means that there are no French versions of Elvish names. It would make as much sense as translating Montezuma into French.

Strictly, you shouldn't do transliterations either: the Elvish names and words are already transliterated by Tolkien's own system.

On the other hand, allowing for how some surnames shift their sounds, and how Tolkien used obsolete and dialect words, he seems quite happy with loose translation of names. Elrond should always be Elrond, but "Evenstar" should be translated. And names like "Bag End" and "Baggins" and "Sackville-Baggins" have connections too.

#207 ::: Caroline ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2006, 05:33 PM:

Lowell Gilbert:

Absolutely. I, for instance, am one generation older than when I first read Romeo and Juliet. I doubt I will shock anyone when I claim that it is a completely different story than it "used" to be.

[Stupid, whining teenagers...]

I am a decade older than I was when I first read Romeo and Juliet, and it's certainly a different story than it used to be. However, I seem to have gone in the other direction than you. Maybe this is because I had a very irony-heavy teenagerhood when it came to that sort of thing. Now I see all the moments where they (and others) made stupid mistakes, but I find them properly tragic. The story moves me now in a way that it didn't when I was a teenager. (I suspect I read it now looking back sadly on my own teenagerhood, where love led me to make some pretty stupid decisions too.)

It is also possible that by the time I'm a generation older, I will have gone back the other direction....

#208 ::: Russell Letson ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2006, 05:39 PM:

Willie was not "a hired quill" but a partner in his company, which makes him something more like writer-producer. I realize that some of these comments are only semi-serious, but if you want to read hack work, spend a while reading Renaissance plays by guys who weren't Shakespeare, Jonson, or Webster (or even Tourneur, Marston, Chapman, or Ford). I take "hack" to indicate one who is 1) at best a journeyman and at worst a plodder and who 2) is *only* in it for the money (though I've seen a couple do it for the pitiful fame of being a writer). WS was certainly producing plays in order to prosper, but you don't write characters like Leontes, Prospero, Coriolanus, Edgar, Iago, Shylock, and Lear just because they're great crowd-pleasers. And even the guaranteed gotta-love-ems (Beatrice & Benedick, Viola, Richard III, Falstaff) have way too much juice in them to be mere commercial creations. (Guess one of my buttons got pushed, eh?) Dr. Johnson said, "No man but a fool ever wrote, except for money." But then, he wrote "The Vanity of Human Wishes," so go figure.

#209 ::: Lis Riba ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2006, 05:53 PM:

To Russell:
I take "hack" to indicate one who is 1) at best a journeyman and at worst a plodder and who 2) is *only* in it for the money (though I've seen a couple do it for the pitiful fame of being a writer).

I think there's the difference; I don't think hack is derogatory or says anything negative about the quality of the work.

What I mean by hack is that he could really churn them out (38-or-so plays, hundreds of sonnets, a couple longer poems, and who knows what else that's been lost to history).

The Isaac Asimov of his day, perhaps.

Not only did he write a lot, but he didn't restrain himself to one genre. History, comedy, tragedy, romance, horror... he managed to be a "name" writer for several decades, through two different reigns and widely divergent audience tastes.

#210 ::: Lis Riba ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2006, 05:57 PM:

PS: From an online etymology site, here's the derivation of hack:

c.1700, originally, "person hired to do routine work," short for hackney "an ordinary horse" (c.1300) ... Extended sense of "horse for hire" (1393) led naturally to "broken-down nag," and also "prostitute" (1579) and "drudge" (1546). Special sense of "one who writes anything for hire" led to hackneyed "trite" (1749); hack writer is first recorded 1826, though hackney writer is at least 50 years earlier. Sense of "carriage for hire" (1704) led to modern slang for "taxicab."

#211 ::: Russell Letson ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2006, 06:16 PM:

I propose a practical usage test: Go to a gathering of writers (or lawyers or politicians, for that matter) and try opening conversations with "Hello, I hear you're a hack." As you wipe the drink off your face, you might add, "I mean that in the nicest possible way." Or maybe save it for a funeral eulogy: "X was, of course, one of our favorite hacks. . . ." Don't expect to be invited to hang around to sample the funeral-baked meats.

#212 ::: Peter Erwin ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2006, 06:16 PM:

Lis Riba:
I think there's the difference; I don't think hack is derogatory or says anything negative about the quality of the work.

I'd have to agree with Russell on this; in my opinion, the negative implication is part of the standard modern definition. It also shows up in both of the dictionaries I have to hand. (The etymology is interesting, of course, but not necessarily relevant to what the word means now.)

(Are you perhaps mixing in the computer-programming sense of the word, as in "a good hack"?)

#213 ::: Peter Erwin ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2006, 06:44 PM:

Dave Bell:

Thanks for the informative summary! I'm reminded of the appendix in back of LotR where Tolkien does a straight-faced explanation of how he "translated" various names into English. E.g., the Tooks supposedly went in for slightly old-fashioned, grandiose names, so he chose corresponding names like Peregrin. This is also why the Rohirrim have Anglo-Saxon names: Tolkien was, he claimed, translating their somewhat archaic names and words (archaic in relation to what the Hobbits were speaking) into English equivalents.

On the other hand, allowing for how some surnames shift their sounds, and how Tolkien used obsolete and dialect words, he seems quite happy with loose translation of names. Elrond should always be Elrond, but "Evenstar" should be translated. And names like "Bag End" and "Baggins" and "Sackville-Baggins" have connections too.

At one point I started reading a Spanish translation of The Hobbit (called, of course, El Hobbit). I can't locate it at the moment, but I do recall that Bilbo Baggins was "Bilbo Bolson" -- a "bolson" being a type of bag.... (Oh, and Thorin Oakenshield was "Thorin Escudo de Roble", which means exactly what it should.)

A Spanish friend told me that the Catalan translation apparently managed the trick of finding Catalan dialectical equivalents for Tolkien's shifts in English: e.g., the contrasting dialects of Bilbo, the dwarves, the trolls, Gollum, etc.

#214 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2006, 07:23 PM:

At one point I started reading a Spanish translation of The Hobbit (called, of course, El Hobbit). I can't locate it at the moment, but I do recall that Bilbo Baggins was "Bilbo Bolson" -- a "bolson" being a type of bag.... (Oh, and Thorin Oakenshield was "Thorin Escudo de Roble", which means exactly what it should.

'Bolsón' means 'large bag'. Not quite the same as 'Baggins' but as close as Spanish can come I suppose.

#215 ::: James ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2006, 08:16 PM:

"Hack" has never been a synonym for "professional writer". The dunces in the Dunciad are (largely) hacks; Pope was not, for all of his very successful commercial acumen in the Iliad translation.

Shakespeare is not a hack, even in the Elkizabethan context. A man like Nashe would be far closer to the model.

Shakespeare's work amounts (in terms of categories) to:

1) A very few longer poems published under the patronage model (e.g. The Phoenix and the Turtle and Venus and Adonis.

2) A sonnet sequence (or two sequences jammed together plus miscellaneous others) published in what was probably a pirated edition. This would be more like Donne's poetry than any hackish model.

3) Plays written for peformance by his own company. A few were published in his lifetime, but mainly to counter pirated editions. As far as I know only one play can be traced to a specific request by a "patron" (The Merry Wives of Windsor) and a few more to specific occasions or clientele (thus Troilus and Cressida may be associated with the Inns of Court and was probably performed at Blackfriars).

These seem to have been written in general response to popular trends and tastes -- a revenge tragedy to match the Spanish Tragedy and Kyd's Hamlet; history plays (a genre which it was Shakespeare who largely brought into prominence). Tragedies come into public taste more generally arounfd the turn of the century; he shifts his output; comedies come back in and he produces romances. But any writing on commission or to order model is basically out.

#216 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2006, 08:32 PM:

Incidentally, why haven't they bred like Malthusian rabbits until the whole country is packed with rural slum?

"Diana Worthy", in an issue of MITSFS's TwilightZine, argued (bawdily) that hobbits became fertile long after reaching adult size -- note that Tolkien says they come of age at 33. Note also that if this was a typical 19th-century village something like half of them would have died young; does the huge genealogy cited show this? More likely Tolkien just wasn't thinking; a lot of his view of village life was through \extremely/ rose-coloured glasses.

#217 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2006, 10:18 PM:

"something like half of them would have died young"

Except nobody in the Shire (IIRC) was ever described as ill. Wasting away in the Shirriff-holes, perhaps, but not sick.

#218 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: July 11, 2006, 12:05 AM:

"An' then there was Glimmister Woolpants, died summat young, relatively speakin.' Devoured in one goolp by 'un barrow-wiggit, say the witnesses, such as they was. 'Cept for one stick-in-the-mud who kept sayin' it involved a sheep wot in better light would've been identified as a ram. Heither way, wa'ant enough left for for-ren-sick analeeysis."

#219 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: July 11, 2006, 12:35 AM:

The other canonical source on the Shire identifies one major cause of youthful mortality as asphyxia due to rapid eating (and hints at other causes):
"We boggies are a hairy folk
Who like to eat until we choke
Loving all like friend or brother
And hardly ever eat each other.
Gobble, gobble, gobble, gobble" &c.

#220 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: July 11, 2006, 03:31 AM:

We hobbits are a merry folk
Though this is in contention;
But since that wizard come, we're broke
And cancelled our convention.
These tin-plate folks come marching through
With tales of what we ought to do,
We'd rather stir up oxtail stew,
Than some dramatic tension.

No Hobbit fights when he can flee
From enemies advancin',
But past the age o' thirty-three,
No Hobbit's got his pants on;
The big Men say we're late to bloom
An' laugh as they depart the room,
But ladies tire of bang and boom
And like a sense of scansion.

We joke about our scaredy rep
And honestly don't mind it
The unshod foot can lightly step
And sense the boot behind it
Now ghastly things are in the air
But if you're dead there's nowt to care,
It's true the brave deserve the fair,
And fair is where you find it.

Though swords may thrust, and thunder roll,
You don't get dinner by it,
And if you knows a better 'ole
It's time to occupy it;
Both knaves and heroes find they die
In want of beer and shepherd's pie;
To love, and fight, and not quite lie
Is Hobbits' balanced diet.

#221 ::: Lisa Spangenberg ::: (view all by) ::: July 11, 2006, 06:47 AM:

This is also why the Rohirrim have Anglo-Saxon names: Tolkien was, he claimed, translating their somewhat archaic names and words (archaic in relation to what the Hobbits were speaking) into English equivalents.

Technically, the names are Mercian, West Mercian, in fact. I point this out, not so much to be a PITA, as because when we lost Tolkien, we really did lose the paramount expert on West Mercian, and we've not really recovered. He had unfinished work, especially on names, and on the relationship between Mercian in Old English, and West Midlands in Middle English, that was and is superb.

#222 ::: Faren Miller ::: (view all by) ::: July 11, 2006, 11:57 AM:

Once again: Bravo, Mike! (Versatile as Willy the Shake, even if blogs are a lot more fleeting.)

#223 ::: Tim May ::: (view all by) ::: July 11, 2006, 05:44 PM:

Strictly, you shouldn't do transliterations either: the Elvish names and words are already transliterated by Tolkien's own system.

I don't see the logic here. Russian isn't transliterated the same way in French as in English; why should Elvish be any different?

#224 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: July 11, 2006, 06:26 PM:

On the other hand, The Little Red Book of Westmarch looks really cool in Pinyin.

#225 ::: adamsj ::: (view all by) ::: July 11, 2006, 07:08 PM:

There's a question for Patrick (or, I suppose, anyone else who knows the answer) in this Readercon report.

#226 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: July 11, 2006, 07:36 PM:

Question answered, albeit unsatisfactorily.

#227 ::: Alex Cohen ::: (view all by) ::: July 11, 2006, 09:16 PM:

I'm late to the party, I suppose, but (IMO) Walter Jon Williams is one author who generally thinks clearly about class and includes it as a dimension of character and conflict in his stories. See especially Metropolitan for a mirror version of our own class (and race) conflicts; Aristoi for a more fantastic and imagined one, but with no less examination of the issue.

#228 ::: Rob Rusick ::: (view all by) ::: July 11, 2006, 09:44 PM:

Re: Sports page remark ( mentioned here )

I recall Carl Sagan saying something similar. He was complaining that most newspapers didn't think it was worth their while to carry a science column, and that editors would argue that their readers couldn't comprehend one anyway.

He responded with a similar sports page analogy, to make the same point; your readers are cleverer than you give them credit for, and will learn more to follow their interests.

Can't remember which book it had been in; a quick Google-search on 'Carl Sagan' and 'sports page' turns up nothing helpful. It might have been Cosmic Connection (that is what suspect memory is suggesting), but I don't have it handy to check.

#229 ::: Peter Erwin ::: (view all by) ::: July 12, 2006, 07:20 AM:

Lisa Spangenberg:
Technically, the names are Mercian, West Mercian, in fact. I point this out, not so much to be a PITA, as because when we lost Tolkien, we really did lose the paramount expert on West Mercian, and we've not really recovered. He had unfinished work, especially on names, and on the relationship between Mercian in Old English, and West Midlands in Middle English, that was and is superb.

Thanks! I remember enough from my (quickly truncated) career as a medievalist to remember who the Mercians were, but I didn't know that was one of Tolkien's specialties.

And a quick thank-you to John M. Ford for A) decoding "Long Edward" for me; and B) posting his poem after I'd finished drinking my coffee, so that my keyboard is unharmed.

#231 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: July 12, 2006, 11:48 AM:

OK, so maybe I did get a bit out or step with the possibility of Elvish names beng differently represented in a French edition. After all, look at what we English-speakers do to Italian and German placenames. But changing "Rivendell" is something completely different from changing "Imladris".

#232 ::: Mark DF ::: (view all by) ::: July 14, 2006, 11:42 PM:

Hi all,

There seems to be a dearth of post-Readercon comments here. (Although I am VERY much enjoying the Tolkien discussion). Did some of you regulars here not make it this year? This was my first time (and second con) and I found it fairly interesting. It's been a long time since I've been able to hear people talk about Books and Things in Books.

Patrick & Teresa: I sat in on your kaffeeklatsch. I was next to the Asperger guy. I had every intention of introducing myself and thanking you for ML, but, boy, do you two move fast. I even lurked outside Viable Paradise and STILL missed you.

I spent a lot of time stalking China Mieville panels and also ended up in his kaffeeklatsch. Reading about him online, I thought he might be a pompous pontificator, but I was pleasantly surprised otherwise. I've come to the conclusion that people quote him online and he sounds pretentious. In reality, he's someone who speaks in paragraphs, so clipping a sentence here or there takes his personality out of it. In any case, while I may not have as leftist political views as he, I found him very interesting.

In light of which, on of the most interesting panels I attended was Social Class and Speculative Fiction. The drift of this thread would have been perfect to share at the panel. I'm still ruminating about it and realized just home much I am playing with class issues in my first novel, some of it without realizing.

I also met John Scalzi, who will never remember me because it was brief, but if you read his blog, he is exactly what you expect. (Which personally I enjoyed).

Anyone else attend?

#233 ::: Paula Helm Murray ::: (view all by) ::: July 14, 2006, 11:58 PM:

I vaguely recall someone mentioning here that they'd lived in middle Kentucky and when they looked at the phone book they thought they'd fallen into the Shire from the names. Tooks, Stoors, etc.

Just sayin'. Maybe that's where these Americans originally came from. (Mercia/West Mercia). No telling though.

#234 ::: Melissa Mead ::: (view all by) ::: July 15, 2006, 01:50 PM:

I wish I could've gone to Readercon. I've heard from many places that it was excellent.

#235 ::: joann ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2006, 06:19 PM:

Paula Helm Murray: what I wrote was that Guy Davenport had written that, somewhere in _The Geography of the Imagination_, but that I had lived in central KY and *not* noticed any of those names.

#236 ::: Stephan Brun ::: (view all by) ::: August 21, 2006, 05:27 AM:

Rob Rusick, the book where Carl Sagan described the sports page analogy is The Demon-Haunted World, if I am not completely mistaken.

#237 ::: Rob Rusick ::: (view all by) ::: August 21, 2006, 08:56 AM:

Stephan Brun: Rob Rusick, the book where Carl Sagan described the sports page analogy is The Demon-Haunted World, if I am not completely mistaken.

That sounds plausible; I did read a library copy, so that might be what I'm remembering. The sports page analogy felt like an old argument to me, which is why I thought it might have gone back to The Cosmic Connection. I do own a copy of that; though I am getting tired of having the bulk of my library in boxes (I have to feel *really motivated* to pull a book out of deep storage). I would like to thumb through the book to see if that analogy was used there. Even if it were (which I am doubting now), he might have used it again in The Demon-Haunted World.

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