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December 27, 2001
What’s the Elvish for “Click image to enter”?
Posted by Teresa at 12:00 AM *

The movie of The Fellowship of the Ring isn’t absolutely perfect, but it is magnificent. Like the books, it leaves you with an urge to look up the fine points of the back story.

Start with the obvious: the official movie website, which is not half bad. (“Serving Middle Earth Since the First Age”) is probably the best of the massive all-inclusive fan websites. The Encyclopedia of Arda is the place to go if you want to look up some arcane point without having to wade through a lot of webfoo. Ian McKellen’s weblog, The Grey Book, contains much of interest. The Cabed-en-Aras site is good for resources, from movie trailers and audio files of Tolkien reading, to Tolkien-related art, active desktops, desktop themes, fonts, icons, ICQ skins, mIRC scripts, Nokia mobilephone logos, programs, game scenarios, screensavers, WinAmp skins…you get the picture. RingZone is all movie, all the time: moviemoviemoviemoviemovie. The main page of The Grey Havens is mostly just press releases, but the menu at its left is a well-organized collection of short fan commentaries on questions like where do orcs come from, and do female dwarves have beards. The Electronic Tolkien Encyclopedia Project is a more self-consciously serconnish site, and also has its own encyclopedia under construction, though it’s not a match for the Encyclopedia of Arda.

For the real inside baseball, there’s The Sindarin Dictionary Project, but the site is also fun for the light-minded. You can laboriously and probably quite ungrammatically construct statements like presto fennas-taith a minno, “click on image to enter.” (Literally, that’s “disturb the gateway-mark and enter” — the language is short on verbs, and has almost no computer-related terminology.) And you find out that “athwart” is in the vocabulary, which will prove useful if anyone ever tries to translate Gingrich & Forstchen’s 1945 into Sindarin.

(The reason Sindarin lacks computer terminology is that the Elves outsourced everything to the Rohirrim. For an extensive glossary of the computer-speak of Rohan, a.k.a. Graydon Saunders’ native language, see the Circolwyrde Wordhord, source of terms like wyrmbeslean (debugging), hundcu (dogcow), pinnpricelisc bewritere (dot-matrix printer), nathwaet (foo), sixtynelic (hexadecimal), gleosticca (joystick), musgad (insertion point), oferleornere (nerd), oftgeacsunde (frequently asked questions), spearcascyld (surge protector), weorcstede (work station), and many more besides. Great joy. Just remember that “sc” is pronounced “sh” and “y” is almost a long “e”, their “-lic” is our adverbial “-ly”, the funny-looking letters are pronounced “th”, and it’ll all come clearer if you say it out loud.)

The Barrow Downs is yet another massive all-inclusive fan website. So is Rolozo Tolkien, only it’s Italian. Rolozo Tolkien is deeply devoted to collecting everything Tolkien on the web, so you can find there a list of all the Danbury Mint collectible Tolkien plates — and worse, the Danbury Mint collectible mugs. If you don’t fancy the Danbury Mint mugs, the Lord of the Rings Merchandise Shop will sell you “6 inch ceramic pint glasses” (good trick, that), ostensibly from the Prancing Pony and the Green Dragon, though they look like you could get them for a plainchant at the Sign of the Goode Eats.

It’s at moments like this that the Brass Rat poster hack starts looking good. Or you can take refuge at The Flying Moose of Nargothrond, with its Tolkien Sarcasm Page. There you can Test Your Knowledge of Middle-earth

12. And if, as is likely, a bacterium had landed on the inner surface of the Ring, would the Ring corrupt it into an evil bacterium? Would it be invisible to other bacteria? Would its life stretch out and become an unending weariness? Would it use its increased strength and stature to rule over other bacteria? Would it fight to keep other bacteria from adhering to the Ring? Would it still evolve genetically, or would it instead become a Bacteria-wraith?
— or read one of Saruman’s speeches from Shakespeare’s lost play, The Tragedie of Frodo Baggins:
This bodes well for my hopes of conquest.
But a plague on that villain Ugluk
That thus delays my promised prize
Of captive halflings, taken close by Amon Hen!
One may possess the Token that I need
To topple Sauron from his throne
And take upon myself the rule of Middle-earth
To bring the order that I alone may provide
And I am louted by a traitor villain!
If he miscarry, farewell wars in Mordor!
If the desire of your heart is to see the entirety of The Lord of the Rings enacted by Legos, you may rejoice in the knowledge that that project is underway. (What is it about Legos?)

And if all else fails, Bored of the Rings is still in print.

December 17, 2001
I know Patrick blogged this, but…
Posted by Teresa at 02:00 PM *

I’m almost embarrassed by how hard I laughed at Alkulukuja Paskova Karhu, a.k.a. The Prime Number Shitting Bear. Thank you, Krokotiili Projekti. (For those with a low tolerance for naughty language, there’s also a Prime Number Pooping Bear.)

Further e-publishing dust bitten
Posted by Teresa at 12:00 PM *

When Scraps DeSelby phoned to tell me that two planes had flown into the WTC, I was in the middle of composing an elaborate weblog entry about the rise and collapse of the e-publishing speculative bubble. Maybe I’ll go back to it someday. In the meantime, the latest e-publisher to bite the dust is MightyWords Inc., a former subsidiary of Fatbrain.

I forget now whether it was a Fatbrain or MightyWords employee who wrote to me in the middle of the boom to say she’d been hired as an editor, and could I tell her what I know? (I never responded.) And Fatbrain did publish Gene Steinberg’s Attack of the Rockoids, a thoroughly bad book that provided rec.arts.sf.composition with many hours of fun.

On the other hand, MightyWords’ founder and CEO has been as refreshingly candid about the reasons for their failure as any e-publisher to date:

“There just weren’t enough sales,” company founder and chief executive Chris MacAskill said on Wednesday. “It’s taking a long time for the consumer to adapt.”
“I thought electronic publishing was going to be big,” Mr MacAskill said. “What a rude awakening I got.”

How can it have calories if it’s art?
Posted by Teresa at 11:00 AM *

I suppose you could describe the mighty Earlene Moore as a middle-aged wife and mother who lives in Lubbock and runs a cake-decorating business on the side, but that would be just plain inadequate. Earlene is an exuberant American folk artist who happens to work in sugar. Here’s a minor example: A lot of cake decorators will do you a passable computer cake (compare: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5), but Earlene’s computer is something else again.

Here’s her armadillo. A labrador retriever and a prairie dog. A basket of leaves. A burger with a side of Doritos. Buddy Holly. Ulysses S. Grant. A giant bottle of Tabasco sauce. Assorted sporting goods, with several variants on the “basketball with strawberries” theme. Palladio’s Villa Rotonda, in detail (here’s the original). A two-page “how I did it” leading up to a fishing creel that has to be seen to be believed. And much more besides. She’s scrupulous about crediting the originator of any design she didn’t come up with herself, so I assume the rest are hers.

The wedding cakes are morphologically conventional (except for the Alice in Wonderland cake), but the execution is wonderful: tie-dyed fondant, lace overlaid with more lace, edible ribbon bows, and one draped-and-festooned confection that looks like something out of Edward Gorey. For pure technique, check out the photos here and here (scroll down). For good advice about coping with difficult moments, try here.

It’s a site that repays leisurely browsing. You’d think a link that says “Cake Show Hints” would just get you inside-baseball techniques for other cake decorators, but that’s where you find photos of the cakes Earlene makes when she’s showing off for other cake decorators — or as she puts it, cakes that take so many work hours that no one would ever pay you to do them.

More cake personalities and eye candy: Cliff Simon is a confectioner to the stars, and a raconteur. His cakes are to die for — Faberge eggs, Chagall knockoffs, Day of the Dead imagery, Matisse cutouts — but I like his stories even better:

I did a wedding cake for a couple who had each been married once before. They wanted something different. They thought it would be a dandy idea to have both of their portraits on top of their cake. Who was I to argue? I paint cakes, I am not an expressive aesthete. So I gave them what they wanted (It’s my gift. I always give people what they want. Some see this as wimpy behavior. But last week my therapist told me it’s a strength of mine. Then she asked for her check.).

The cake was very nice, such as it was. I myself was at the wedding (in disguise, not wearing an apron). The bride’s ten year old, hyperactive, somewhat precocious and manic little girl attended. She reminded me of me as a kid, except for the dress. So I took her under my wing, and tried to calm her down. I escorted her to my cake, thinking a point of focus will help this urchinette. She stared at it, and suddenly, it was like this enormous light bulb went off in her head. She had found her purpose, and she repeated it over and over again. Wherever she went that night, she said it. Buddhists say ohm (or do I mean electricians?), but she kept saying “I want to eat mommy’s eye. I want to eat mommy’s eye.” In between courses at dinner, we all heard it filtering through the wedding chatter. “I want to eat mommy’s eye.” And when finally it was time to cut the cake, there was no way on earth to refuse her her wish. And I can still see her, clear as day, holding that retinal piece of cake up to her mouth, with absolute relish and reckless abandon.

Charmaine Jones, alias the Cake Diva, is a six-foot-tall Afro-American drama queen with an MFA from Loyola and a long-term addiction to soap operas, so naturally the gallery of cake photos on her site is divided up into Soap Opera, Afrocentric, Extreme, Conceptual, Wedding, Novelty, and Corporate. There are even a few stories.

Oi Cheepchaiissara makes some nice cakes, but her forte is madly elaborate Thai fruit carvings. Really. Go look.

December 12, 2001
Posted by Teresa at 06:00 PM *

There’s no grief so great it’ll keep time from passing, and the area of Union Square Park which this fall was full of memorial candles, and flyers showing pictures of the dead, has on schedule been transformed into the annual Holiday Fair, with its rows of canvas booths selling artsy Christmas gifts.

It was just a year ago that in one of them I found a little folding knife. It was of no great price, but it had a good sharp blade, a smooth action, and a handle made of brushed stainless steel that shone like a piece of jewelry. I bought it, and a bit later handed it in its box to Patrick. He looked at me inquiringly.

“For Jenna,” I said. “From you. When she says thank you, say ‘I thought you could use a nice knife for formal occasions’.”

“Ah,” said Patrick. And that was what he did.

I quietly walked past her office door while she was opening the package. I wrap all our presents, because Patrick’s no hand at it whereas I enjoy wrapping gifts. A small package needs a striking paper. This one got butcher paper decorated with tie-dye stripes of food coloring. I wrapped it very precisely, scoring the folds and trimming the excess to end exactly along a corner line, and fastened the paper with contact cement rather than tape.

The contact cement was there for the amusement factor. Jenna was the kind of package unwrapper who carefully removes the paper for later use. When I paused in her doorway, I saw that it had worked. She was raptly picking at the glued-down edges of the paper, and from the look of it would be some while figuring out there was no way the paper could be taken off undamaged. It makes a nice lead-up to the gift itself.

Later, I heard from another friend how delighted she’d been with the knife; how it was just the thing, gloated-over and polished. Happy me.

When we cleaned out her office this spring, we found several pieces of nice wrapping paper tucked away for future re-use. And all through this Christmas shopping season, I’ve kept finding things she would have liked.

Videos for world peace
Posted by Teresa at 12:00 PM *

I don’t know which is more appalling: Today’s story about the Chairman of the Jewish Defense League being caught — pretty much red-handed, if the story’s to be believed — planning to blow up a mosque and the offices of a Lebanese-American congressman, or this one about nine-year-old Palestinian kids growing up in the camps, who’re being taught to admire suicide bombers and play with toy dynamite belts.

I decided a week or two ago that henceforth I’m siding with whatever power or country or faction puts the best information and the fewest lies and hogwash nationalist myths into the schoolbooks of their eight- and nine-year-olds.

But as I remarked to Patrick: Who besides Hamas is paying attention to little Palestinian kids in refugee camps? Is anyone teaching them music? Showing them how to tie knots? Telling them stories? Taking them to the movies?

Do we even have the basic low cunning to send them lots of videotapes of American movies, just for entertainment purposes you understand?

That’s my idea of a good charity: Second-hand American videotapes. Have an address where you can send ‘em to be exported to impoverished Middle Easterners. If you want to be really generous, send your old VCR when you upgrade. And while you’re at it, throw some Bollywood and Hong Kong videos and some telenovelas into the mix.

Don’t hand them out. Have some corner of the camp or school or community center where they’re jumbled out onto a shelf in no particular order, like unread books in a library. Every so often, come in and quietly fill the gaps where tapes have been borrowed or stolen. If at all possible, arrange to have places nearby where it’s not too hard to arrange to discreetly watch a few videotapes of an evening — maybe by yourself, maybe with a couple of friends.

In ten years, we clean up selling popcorn to the world market.

December 11, 2001
Extratextual characteristics
Posted by Teresa at 12:00 AM *

I’m on a mailing list that draws heavily on people who work in SF publishing. A couple of days ago one of our list members wrote: “OK, gang, I have one for you. The term ‘speculative fiction’ has been used a lot lately. I find that it has a different definition depending on who you ask. What do you consider to be the definition of ‘speculative fiction’?”

I responded:

“Speculative fiction” is a more genteel term for “science fiction” that means more or less the same thing, but escapes some of SF’s vulgar old Gernsbackian pulp-magazine conntations.

It’s attractive to those who are predisposed to like science fiction, and more attractive than the older term to those who find the idea of science offputting. It sounds similar enough to “science fiction” that persons not previously familiar with the term will likely understand it to refer to something resembling but not identical to science fiction. And it has the same initials as Science Fiction, which means you can use it without having to teach a new abbreviation to booksellers, distributors, librarians, etc.

It allows a greater range of respectable old authors — Hawthorne, Poe, Twain, Bierce — to be identified as ancestors of the form, in spite of their near-total lack of scientifictional content.

It frees everyone concerned from the last vestiges of any obligation to furnish stories with scientifictional content, while allowing the use of such content if the author happens to come up with a good scientifictional story idea; and it enables anthologists to buy stories that would otherwise be outside the scope of the original proposal used to sell the project to a publisher.

I’m not cynical; I just know how often such labels are flags of convenience. I’ve often found myself explaining to the young that there was once a time — back before Tolkien was a smash hit, before Ian and Betty Ballantine published the Ballantine Adult Fantasy line, and infighters like Don Wollheim and Judy-Lynn Del Rey did their part to establish Fantasy as a publishing category — when “epic fantasy” was not considered one of the natural subdivisions of literature.

In my own time I’ve seen the technothriller broken out as a category. Books that at one time would have been “near-future action/adventure hard SF,” a subspecies of Our Beloved Genre, are now published as a technothrillers, a.k.a. “books like the ones Tom Clancy wrote,” and are classified as mainstream. It’s a natural process. A lot of readers enjoyed Clancy’s novels and wanted more just like them, so the increasingly strong gravitational field in that area of literary space started pulling in books that resembled Clancy’s.

It’s an oversimplification, but you could view technothrillers as books for people who’ve run out of Tom Clancy, Regency romances as books for people who’ve run out of Georgette Heyer, gothic novels for people who’ve run out of Daphne Du Maurier and the Brontes, and Bernard Cornwall’s Sharpe novels as methadone for Patrick OBrian fans.

When the pull of the reading market’s desire is very strong and there aren’t enough sufficiently similar works hanging around that can be scooped up, strange things can happen, like C. S. Lewis’ Perelandra and E. R. Eddison’s The Worm Ouroboros (et seq.) being sold as “Just like Tolkien.” (I was twelve, the bookstore cozened all my birthday money out of me, and the books were nothing like Tolkien. I was outraged. It took me thirty years to find another trilogy I liked that much.)

Sometimes a category eats its founding author. Georgette Heyer’s best-known books were first published as historical novels, but got pulled into the romance category they helped create. It’s a pity; half the Heyer fans I know are men who heard about them through word of mouth. Worse, some of the books are now effectively being thrown away, repackaged in cheap paperback editions as generic Regency romances, where general readers never look. But it’s not unimaginable that if the Patrick O’Brian (et al.) market were to become big and hungry enough, Heyer’s period novels could come full circle, and be repackaged yet again as mainstream historicals

A few years back, Patrick came home at the end of the day and said “I just acquired a new title for the Tor Science Fiction Doubles line, but we’re going to put the Tor Fantasy logo on the cover, and we’re either going to put “Dark Fantasy” or “Horror” on the spine. I clapped my hands in glee and said “You’ve bought Conjure Wife!”

And so it was. Fritz Leiber’s Conjure Wife is the all-time champion shapechanger, and not just because it’s been filmed three times under four different titles, and hailed by critics as both a feminist and misogynist work. It was first published in 1943 as a serial in Unknown, and then as a novel in 1953. In the course of its wanderings it’s been packaged as science fiction, science fantasy, fantasy, dark fantasy, in French translation as romantic suspense with fantasy elements, and once as a gothic novel. It passed muster every time. What kind of book is it really? The only true answer is that it’s Conjure Wife, by Fritz Leiber. Period.

The books that haunt me are the idiosyncratic little works you sometimes find shoehorned into a category where they don’t belong. They live out their brief month or two upon the wire racks, confuse a few readers of the category to which they’ve been assigned, then disappear, never having had a chance to be read for what they are.

There was one I read when I was in high school — Sarah, I think its title was; the cover was mostly magenta-purple — that was published by Warner as a sort of quasi-Regency bodice-ripper, back when bodice-rippers were getting big but there weren’t enough of them yet to feed the pipeline. But it wasn’t anything of the sort! Not only was it full of authentically unromantic period detail — the Corn Law Riots made a major appearance — but it wasn’t properly a romance at all. The heroine turns down the handsome and eligible young man who proposes to her near the end, and instead marries his very old and very much smarter uncle. The uncle dies in due course, leaving his money to her instead of the eligible young man. When we last see her, she’s making plans to move to Wales with her best girl friend and use the money to start a school. Young Teresa thought that was pretty cool. I wish I still had a copy.

I’m not saying that it was a deathless literary masterwork. But if the great American novel of our times happens to look like some kind of category fiction, that’s how it’ll be published, and good luck on the rest of us ever hearing about it.

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Making Light copyright 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020, 2021, 2022 by Patrick & Teresa Nielsen Hayden. All rights reserved.