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September 24, 2015
Spot the Saint
Posted by Teresa at 09:50 PM * 65 comments

This splendid piece of late-medieval woodcarving by Tilman Riemenschneider shows the Fourteen Holy Helpers, also known as the Viersehn Heilegen or the Auxiliary Saints. As we’ve remarked here before, they’re more or less the Avengers of the Late Middle Ages. The game is to figure out who’s who.

To see a much larger version of the sculpture group, go here. (It’s part of this blogpost.)

Riemenschneider Holy Helpers.jpg

Playing Spot the Saint with a Holy Helpers group is always a challenge. You’ve got your normal kind of problems: bishop saints tend to all look alike, people living far inland were confused by that object Saint Erasmus travels with, and one Saint Cyriacus is always being mistaken for another.

With the Fourteen Holy Helpers, there’s also the question of who was in the team lineup for that issue. A fairly standard lineup would be Acacius/Agathius, Barbara, Blaise, Catherine of Alexandria, Christopher, Cyriacus, Denis/Dionysius, Erasmus/Elmo, Eustace, George, Giles/Egidius/Aegidius, Margaret of Antioch, Pantaleon/Panteleimon, and Vitus.

However, saints in the normal lineup could be swapped for others. The Oxford Dictionary of Saints lists the potential replacements as SS. Anthony Abbot (Anthony the Anchorite), Leonard of Noblac, Nicholas of Myra, Sebastian, and Roch or Rocco. To these, Wikipedia adds SS. Apollonia, Dorothea of Caesarea, Oswald the King, Pope Sixtus II, and Wolfgang of Regensburg.

On top of that, Riemenschneider’s sculpture group only has thirteen saints in it. So: who’s who, and how can you tell? Any idea who’s missing, or where in the group they’re missing from? What else do we know about the missing figure?

Have fun, split hairs, drag in interesting data you’ve run across. The usual.

Please refrain from posting the complete answer in clear as the first comment in the thread. In fact, please refrain from posting any answers in clear until the fluorosphere’s chewed on things for a while. You can get the same murmurs of astonishment out of the rest of us by posting answers in ROT-13. The point at which this ceases to be necessary I leave to your own good judgement.

September 22, 2015
Open thread 208
Posted by Patrick at 12:21 PM * 983 comments

Arthur Chu interviewed medievalist and journalist David Perry on TechCrunch:

Perry: [W]hen I hear people talk about Nordic fantasy as white supremacist, I like talking about the diverse ways the Vikings interacted with people around the world. They often intermarried local populations, they very quickly adopted local religions when it was useful. The Viking experience in Russia is really not the story they want to tell. You can try to make it that way, but the story in Russia is really state-building, collaboration with Slavic peoples, connections to the Eastern Mediterranean, both the Islamic and the Greek Orthodox world — and quite a diverse Islamic world at that. The story to me is that the greatest Nordic civilization is this wonderful Kievan polyglot, polyethnic society.

That’s not the story that the racists want to tell and they’re not gonna listen, but people asking “Is this true? Is their way the only way to do it?”, you can really work with that.

You can also tell the story of medieval democracy in Iceland, for instance, with a very non-authoritarian, collaborative element — where violence still played a very prominent role. I try to complicate this vision of Vikings as all about dominance and conquest.

Chu: It seems that we’re drawn to idealized versions of medieval times one way or another — some forms of fantasy that depict those times as a romantic ideal, a “simpler time” filled with pageantry and honor, and then Game of Thrones subversions that focus on rape and mutilation and horrible suffering, but rarely anything in between.

Perry: These are all things that tell us a lot more about ourselves than about the Middle Ages. Not that rape and torture didn’t happen in the Middle Ages, it certainly did, and not that it wasn’t responded to in ways that are different than ways we would respond to it today.

But, you know, we pick and choose, the creators pick and choose, they want to show something that will be disturbing or controversial or will be a political tool and they try to say history supports us in this. And then they throw in dragons and zombies and then they say that’s unrealistic but that’s okay, that’s just storytelling.

That comes back to what I try to say — it’s okay to draw from history, but history does not wholeheartedly support any one of these fictional depictions. These come from creators making choices. And the choices they make have consequences.

September 21, 2015
Dysfunctional Families: Looking Back, Walking On
Posted by Abi Sutherland at 01:00 AM *

I joined the Roman Catholic Church in 1989†. The parish where I was baptized was known at the time for two things: the starkness and modernity of its architecture and the dramatic dysfunction* of its community leadership. It was home to me in many ways, and I am grateful to this day for the gifts I received there. I realize now that I like the clear openness of my current church partly because it reminds me of that first home. But I also was and remain damaged by some of the things that happened there. It’s a place that’s much easier for me to contemplate after moving away, when I no longer have to choose whether or not to go back.

This is familiar‡ territory for many people here.

So a few days ago, I stumbled on a Twitter/Tumblr discussion of a particularly “ugly” chapel. It was the usual easy internet snark, with cutesy nicknames, uncharitable assumptions without evidence, concern trolling and hand-wringing, contempt and judgment. And the picture at the top of the Tumblr post was my baptismal church.

I was irritated. I answered some of the posts, got some apologies, maybe made a few people think a little. But under that simple irritation was a much more complex net of emotions, one I’m still tangled up in.

On the one hand, all of the criticism was superficial stuff: the easy and unkind things that people write when they forget the humanity of the rest of the web. But even that was hard to answer as I remembered the deeper flaws, the ones the critics didn’t know about. It was all too tempting to move from defense to defensiveness, to proclaim or pretend that all had been well in that cool and airy chapel. To tell myself those outsiders hadn’t proven themselves wise or nuanced enough to deal with the whole story. To cover up. To lie.

And in this case, some of those temptations are true. Some of those impulses were right. Outsiders are rarely able to understand the context, the complexity, of dysfunction; casual internet outsiders doubly so. The events I remember are long ago, and the culture and people have changed several times since then. Walking away and staying away was the right decision. I don’t need to try to undo it now.

There are members of our community here who have taken that path, the simple one of cut ties, silence, unanswered calls, unopened letters. And they witness that simple does not mean easy. It’s a hard path, because so few of these situations are free of good things or the hope of good things to come. It takes courage and firmness to stay away, to remain uninvolved.

Meanwhile, there are others who have gone the other way, who have left the Gordian knot uncut and figured out how to drive the cart despite it, who maintain relationships with the family that hurt them. That takes another kind of courage, a different form of firmness.

Today is the 21st of September, Dysfunctional Families Day, the seventh we’ve observed here on Making Light. I admire and honor you, the people in this community, for the work that you have done to help yourselves and each other along your chosen, necessary paths. I value beyond measure the truths that you have told here. And I love you, the way one loves the family one looks upon with an unshadowed heart.

† for reasons that are off-topic here
* NB: everyone involved was an adult. No crimes were committed. This isn’t the dysfunction you’re thinking of.
‡ pun very much intended

This is part of the sequence of Dysfunctional Families discussions. We have a few special rules, specific to the needs and nature of the conversations we have here.

  1. If you want to participate but don’t want your posts linked to your contributions to the rest of Making Light, feel free to choose a pseudonym. But please keep it consistent within these threads, because people do care. You can create a separate (view all by) history for your pseudonym by changing your email address. And if you blow it and cross identities, give me a shout and I’ll come along and tidy it up.
  2. On a related note, please respect the people’s choice to use a pseudonym, unless they make it clear that they are willing to let the identities bleed over in people’s minds.
  3. If you’re not from a dysfunctional background, be aware that your realities and base expectations are not the default in this conversation. In particular, please don’t do the “they’re the only family you have” thing. Black is white, up is down, and your addressee’s mother may very well be their nemesis.
  4. Be even more careful, charitable, and gentle than you would elsewhere on Making Light. Try to avoid “helpiness”/”hlepiness” (those comments which look helpful, but don’t take account of the addressee’s situation and agency). Apologize readily and sincerely if you tread on toes, even unintentionally. This kind of conversation only works because people have their defenses down.
  5. Never underestimate the value of a good witness. If you want to be supportive but don’t have anything specific to say, people do value knowing that they are heard.

Previous posts (note that comments are closed on them to keep the conversation in one place):

September 17, 2015
Helping Larry Smith, Bookseller
Posted by Patrick at 04:43 PM * 20 comments

Larry Smith has sold SF and fantasy books at more conventions than some of us have had hot meals. At nearly every con I attend, Larry and his wife and bookselling partner Sally Kobee have the largest all-new book installation in the dealer’s room, offering just about every single title released in the previous few months, including plenty of material from publishers not part of the Big Five. They’re part of the infrastructure of our community. I once (only partly jokingly) defined traditional SF fandom as that set of people who (1) subscribe to Locus, (2) read somebody else’s copy of Locus, or (3) will tell you at some length just how thoroughly they don’t care about Locus. You could as easily define us as “that set of people who buy a new hardcover from Larry Smith at least once a year.”

As widely reported, on 8 Sep 2015, Larry was driving his van full of books home from DragonCon, when he was involved in a freeway accident that rolled the van. His passenger was unscathed, but Larry is reportedly pretty banged up. He was released from the hospital yesterday but it’ll be a while before he’s completely healed, and meanwhile insurance is covering only part of what it will cost to replace the all-important van, to say nothing of the many damaged and destroyed books. There’s a GoFundMe for Larry and Sally that aims to raise $10,000; it’s about halfway there. We’re going to donate to it and we hope some of you do too. Truly great booksellers are never in plentiful supply.

September 15, 2015
On sale today: Greg Van Eekhout’s Dragon Coast, concluding sequel to California Bones and Pacific Fire
Posted by Patrick at 08:11 AM * 4 comments

dragon coast.jpg On sale today in hardcover and e-book. Excerpt here. Author website here. Bookstore appearances (with tacos!) here.

(Making Light posts about the previous books: California Bones and Pacific Fire.)

My flap copy:

Daniel’s adopted son Sam is lost. Made from the magical essence of the tyrannical Hierarch of Southern California whom Daniel overthrew and killed, Sam has been consumed by the great Pacific firedrake secretly assembled by Daniel’s half-brother Paul.

Unknown to Daniel, however, Sam is still alive and aware, magically trapped inside the dragon as it rampages around Los Angeles, periodically torching a neighborhood or two.

Daniel has a plan to rescue Sam. It will involve the rarest of substances, axis mundi, made from the bones of the great dragon at the center of the Earth. To obtain it, Daniel must go to the kingdom of Northern California and boldly pose as his half-brother, returned to claim his place in the competition to be appointed Lord High Osteomancer of the North.

Only when the Northern Hierarch, in her throne room at Golden Gate Park, raises her scepter to confirm Daniel in his position will he have an opportunity to steal the axis mundi—under the gaze of the Hierarch herself.

And that’s just the first obstacle.

Some notice:

“It’s got subterranean halls with pillars of bones, a magic sword, magical duels and some of the coolest bone magic ever, but that’s all interwoven with the taste of an LA burrito, the concrete waterways of Los Angeles, and the neon glow of the Ferris wheel on the Santa Monica Pier. Van Eekhout has written a 21st century alchemy.”
—Maureen F. McHugh on California Bones

“Half crime caper, half heroic quest, Greg van Eekhout’s Pacific Fire pulls the reader into an inventive, compelling, fully-textured urban fantasy world, mixing SoCal culture with magic so ingenious and convincing you can practically smell it, and feel it crunch between your teeth. A real treasure, not to be missed.”
—Kurt Busiek on Pacific Fire

“Captivating…The author’s fantastic ear for dialog is often well employed in snark, especially between Daniel and his friend and fellow thief Moth. While the series could end here, it would be a shame to create such an intriguing world and not visit again.”
Library Journal on Dragon Coast

September 05, 2015
Forces of nature
Posted by Patrick at 05:50 AM * 22 comments

This morning’s Guardian has an editorial about the sudden turnaround in British public opinion regarding the need to help Syrian refugees, a shift clearly caused by the heartrending photographs of young Aylan Kurdi’s drowned body washed up on a Turkish beach.

The turnaround in the British tabloid press has been astonishing. The Murdoch Sun, which just months ago published a column describing the refugees as “cockroaches” by a woman boasting that her heart could not be touched by drowning children, now puts “For Aylan” on its front page and demands that the government provide places for 3,000 orphans. That is very little compared with the need, but it is still 3,000 times more than the paper would have considered Britain had room for three days ago.

Almost everyone now sees that there is a moral imperative to help the Syrian refugees, even if this means letting them into the UK. It may be that this is just a spasm of sentimentality and that in a fortnight the same papers will be back to denouncing the “migrant” hordes in Calais, and demanding that dogs, or the British army, be deployed to protect holidaymakers from refugees as they were three weeks ago.

It’s a good piece about two important issues—the moral imperative to help refugees everywhere (an imperative that applies as much to editors in Brooklyn, New York as it does to the British public), and also the fact that we humans are far from rational in what affects our daily inclinations. We’re unmoved by hundreds of pages of dry facts, but show us a photograph of a small child in tennis shoes washed up dead on a beach and suddenly we’re ready to act.

Likewise, I’m as small-minded and focused on the local as anybody else. Normally the displacement of millions of innocent Syrians tends to weigh on me as merely one of a seemingly endless series of humanitarian crises for which there is never enough attention or care. But put one particular namecheck into a Guardian editorial and you have my undivided attention:

[I]t is also an astonishingly vivid demonstration of the inadequacy of statistics to move our moral sentiments compared with the power of pictures, and still more of pictures that bring to life stories, to affect us in ways that reasoning never could. As the critic Teresa Nielsen Hayden observed, “Story is a force of nature.” One single death and a refugee family have moved a nation to whom 200,000 deaths and 11 million refugees had remained for years merely a statistic, and not a very interesting one at that.
That was…unexpected.

(SF&F-related sidebar: Neil Gaiman has been working for some time to change the way we think about Syrian refugees from “problemic foreigners” into “people like us who we’ve got to help”. And much credit to him for it.)

September 04, 2015
I see you like science fiction…
Posted by Abi Sutherland at 02:59 AM * 606 comments

(… and fantasy).

So here’s a thread for what you’re reading, watching, and listening to these days, and what you think of it.

It’s tragic that I feel that I need to, but let me lay down a few rules and guidelines for what I’d like this thread to be.

I want it to be an open discussion of our own personal reactions to things. This means leaving room for other people to have other views, even ones that disagree with yours quite strongly. I want this to be a space where people from other communities of fandom could, if they wished to, recommend and discuss works that might not be to the usual taste of this community. To that end, I’ll be moderating pretty closely, either propria persona or as Idumea.

I also want this to be a space where we can note and link to Hugo-eligible works (do link if you can!). Please mark them based on category ([NOVEL], [NOVELLA], etc) if you know where they would fit, and if they’re eligible for next year’s Hugos, add [2015]. Here are a Google Docs spreadsheet and a Wiki which can help determine these things. If you’re too swamped to check, note that you haven’t and maybe someone else can.

Please ROT-13 spoilers. If we get enough of a discussion going on a work that the thread looks like someone took a blender to the alphabet, I’ll happily hive off spoiler threads.

Note that there will be no summing-up, no conclusion, no derived recommendation list from this conversation. Please don’t try to create one in-thread, either, right?

September 02, 2015
The Dreadful Phrases Strike Back
Posted by Abi Sutherland at 01:52 AM *

The previous iteration of this thread was getting too long, so here’s a new space to keep adding them.

Smaller type (our default)
Larger type
Even larger type, with serifs

Dire legal notice
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