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This morning I dedicate myself to the cause of literary perversity in various guises. In the Department of Artistic Prose-Mangling, the Bulwer-Lyttons are out. The Bulwer-Lyttons always make me strangely happy. I am torn between several of this year's gems, but I think my favourite is probably the following:

Watching Felicia walk into the bar was like watching two fat Rottweilers in yellow spandex and spike heels that had treed a scrawny bleach blond cat at the top of a skinny flagpole that for some reason had decided to sprout casaba melons.

This shares with my second favourite, the one about the dirigible, the peculiar quality of intangible near-miss - you could change no more than one or two key words or subtly rearrange the sentence structure to make it perfectly acceptable as the opening line to a deeply successful contemporary smart-arse comic novel. I also like the unplaced additional submission from the winner: "Planet KWS-1968 loomed on the horizon like the punchline to a really bad joke." You could use that, absolutely unmodified, as the perfectly acceptable opening line to a deeply successful contemporary smart-arse sf novel. I blush for the state of my genre.

Further on the perverse literary front, the Evil Landlord is renovating his study (a wholly overdue process, I have to say. It has carpets formed of a sort of peaty substance, and ant-nests in the roof. Which is, may I add, still painted with faint gold stars inexpertly daubed by the previous tenants, who were earnestly Artistic without actual benefit of Art). The process has entailed throwing out incredible quantities of junk (cue me cheering), and incidentally emptied a bookshelf, which I have promptly snagged and filled with my DVD collection. I am faintly aghast at the actual size of said collection. Two and a half shelves. Complete Buffy, Angel and X-Files, and more sf B-movies and junky superhero flicks than you could shake a zappy ray gun at.

But, she says meaningfully, the process has also enabled me to reshuffle my actual bookshelves, revealing some disconcerting gaps which are tragically aligned with the disconcerting gaps in my memory as to the borrowers of said books. Right, you reprobates - at least you Capetonian ones. Who the hell has the following books out of my library? please confess and return forthwith. I undoubtedly lent them to you in full possession of my senses, but have subsequently lost all recollection.
China Mieville, Iron Council
Sergei Lukyanenko, Night Watch (big trade paperback)
Neil Gaiman, American Gods
Neal Stephenson, Quicksilver
I have to say, you lot have taste, but I'd still like my books back.

Furthermore, would anyone like copies of the following? I seem to have spares, owing mostly to a tendency to acquire duplicates second-hand because I think they are good and should be promulgated to non-owners.
Tom Robbins, Even Cowgirls Get The Blues
Barry Hughart, Bridge of Birds
Robin McKinley, The Door in the Hedge (collection of fairy tales)

Finally: is it just me, or is Groin the Dwarf peculiarly compelling?


Monday, 18 August 2008 01:01 pm
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I've just fielded a phone call which went as follows:

PHONE: ring, ring.
ME: *suppressed muttershutup* Hello, extemporanea speaking.
PHONE: Fine, how?
ME: Um, sorry...?
PHONE: (impatiently) Fine! How??
ME: ...

I know that there's a tendency in southern Africa for second-language speakers to weirdly shorten and mistime the usual greeting litany, so that you'll often find someone telling you how they are before you've actually asked; this, however, has to be the most insanely compressed version I've ever encountered. I don't know if the effect is a desperate stab at conversational efficiency, or if they're simply confusing the words.

I suppose it's only fair to note that I'd probably do even worse if suddenly asked to take my part in the heavily ritualised and status-conscious Shona greeting, which I last practised when I was about 14. I vaguely remember it had "Ndarara. Kana mararawo" somewhere as a response to the standard "Mangwanani". (Good lord. Apparently I'm saying I slept well. I would, in fact, have pulled it out of distant memory without waiting for "Marara sei", i.e. the actual question. Which just goes to show.)

I spent the weekend doing absolutely nothing. Other than finishing up Season 3 of Farscape (woe! I was getting all fond of Crais!), I honestly can't think of anything I actually achieved. Oh, made banana bread for [ profile] wolverine_nun. New Seekrit Ingredient in banana bread: dark rum. Lovely flavour.

Last Night I Dreamed: I was one of a party of children trying to defend their island home against pirate attack. Fortunately these were stupid pirates, and our somewhat simplistic ploys of sneaking around setting booby traps seemed to work quite well. I personally pushed several of them off a cliff before the huge swirly impressionistic storm rolled in.
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Lordy. Epic grump this morning: yesterday's endless stream of obliviously disorganised students radiating annoyed entitlement had generated a fizzing, homicidal rage which seems to have carried through the night. I woke up at 5am with a pained yelp as my calves cramped, and drove up to campus swearing a blue streak at almost anything foolish enough to cross my path. (Traffic! pedestrians! infelicitous billboards! sudden flurries of leaves!)

Then Making Light did an open poetry challenge thread, including an array of vintage and lovely puns as well as well-scanned, witty verse from the site's scarily literate commenters, and the git of figgling, no, wait, fit of giggling has cured me, even if only temporarily until the first student idiot tries something.

I have to say, Orson Scott Card's latest homophobic rant hasn't helped the grump any. I've always been a bit ambivalent about his writing, but this kind of thing is giving me a strong disinclination ever to read him again.

Last night I dreamed I was trying to do a gym routine, in an unfamiliar and slightly down-at-heel gym where the attendants were slowly taking away the machines and locking them up in a back room, inexorably reducing my options and eventually bringing the routine to a grinding halt. As they did this a a horde of small children waving balloons poured into the room from the other end. Extremely frustrating. I think my subconscious is guilt-tripping me about my conspicuous lack of gym activity for the last two months. I say to my subconscious, deal! I'll go back when I've overcome the latest dose of post-glandular languidity. Sigh.
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The late, lamented Kurt Vonnegut apparently doesn't think much of semi-colons: they are, he says, "transvestite hermaphrodites, representing exactly nothing. All they do is suggest you might have gone to college."

Oops. He has something resembling a point, in that one of the basic editing jobs I need to do on pretty much anything I write is to sneak through the wordy thickets with a shotgun, scientifically decimating the semi-colons as they peacefully roost amid the clauses. I seem to think naturally in semicolons, possibly because of a pathological need for balance: on the one hand, this, on the other, that. It is, as Vonnegut suggests, a vice to which the academic writer is particularly prone; its careful weightedness can, indeed, be pretentious.

On the other hand, while I try to cut down on the vice I don't think that it's valid to demand I give it up completely; I'm not sure I agree with him that semicolons are "transvestite hermaphrodites". In its shy, bashful way the semicolon is a valid little gidgit, unassumingly linking two clauses whose connection is too important to be disrupted by the solid, divisive thump of a full stop or the portentous pause of the colon. It's a coded deep breath, a neatly-encapsulated "also". It offers a useful alternative to the headlong rush of the comma so beloved by my reckless undergrads, whose tendency to gaily link strings of clauses with commas causes me active, green-inked pain. Shotgun and Kurt Vonnegut notwithstanding, I like semicolons and wish to pet them, like shy fluffy birds.

Grammatical musings aside, thank FSM it's Friday. I am glandular, headachy and tired, badly needing the weekend to collapse in: the week has been a nasty succession of days in which I wake up feeling OK, but become progressively more feeble and headachy as the day wears on, ending with helpless horizontality in front of the TV in the evenings. Alias Season 5 is only marginally helping, the bastards have just offed Vaughn. I like Vaughn - he was the first TV character crush I ever had that suggested I might be getting over the bad boy thing. Fortunately this is Alias, so I don't actually believe he's dead. Also, the blonde computer-geek replacement to pregnant!Sidney is annoying and unconvincing as a geek, she's clearly an airhead.
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This, courtesy of Neil Gaiman's not inconsiderable nose for the weird, is amazing. Bizarre and 19th-century and random, but amazing. Lose yourself. Wonder. It shifts and morphs when you mouse-over and click. (There's an explanation here, but it's actually contra-indicated.) Also, it has owls.

And this man does exquisite things to language. Why have I never read him before? Cruel universe.


Friday, 29 December 2006 10:23 am
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My love-hate affair with Robert Heinlein continues apace. Read The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress yesterday, and was utterly charmed to realise that its narrative voice uses a Luna dialect which has dropped the use of the word "the". The word's only appearance in the novel was in the direct speech of Earth inhabitants or Luna inhabitants deliberately speaking formal Earth-speech, and in the title. I love sf that messes with language in a realistic, futuristic way.

I am also forced to conclude that the book was an instrumental influence in Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars series: it's a very serious investigation of politics, power and the economics of social control in the colonisation of a new planet. But, lordy, it's still Heinlein. Lunar society is a kick-butt, pragmatic, self-satisfied elite which, despite its convict origins, holds itself way above the seething, self-deceptive masses of Earth. Even within this elite group the main characters inevitably seem to believe that they are an enlightened hierarchy which absolutely needs to rule, and if necessary deceive, the bulk of the population for their own good, and my word are they smugly superior about it. Also, group marriage. What's it with Heinlein and group marriage? Honestly.

Apart from equal amounts of irritation and enjoyment, the book also gave me really weird dreams. The moon fell on Cape Town last night, after hanging around in the sky for a while like one of the alien motherships from Independence Day; it landed mostly in the sea but partially in the city, obliterating it utterly. Fortunately I could watch the whole thing from a random SCA event up in the mountains somewhere. One of those dark, lowering apocalyptic dreams, with added rubble but no actual sense of fear or loss. Weird.
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Oddness. I've just received a phone call which sounded like nothing so much as a series of bad sf sound effects for a spaceship docking: clunks, scrapes, rumbling noises, spacesuit respiration and the hiss of airlocks. I think someone's cell phone may be dialing me accidentally, possibly while watching The Right Stuff. Check it isn't you :>.

There has been Much Work this weekend: 8 hours on Saturday and a good 5 yesterday, and I am beginning to throw around terms like formalism, structuralism and post-structuralism with a certain degree of authority, although it's probably a bit of a front. I rewarded myself with a spot of random browsing this morning, productive of the following interesting tidbits:
  • For my surprisingly large number of Polish friends (i.e. >1): Henry Jenkins talks about Polish fantasy and post-socialist angst. In particular, The Witcher is apparently Polish trans-media fantasy that sounds really interesting.
  • I am becoming increasingly enamoured of The Language Log, not only because it offers a head-on assault on linguistic myths, bad writing and evil misrepresentations of science, but because its writers are incisive, witty and often hysterically funny. This morning I got a bit lost in the byways of "X language has no word for Y" mythologies, starting with a lovely rebuttal of the old chestnut about the Eskimos' millions of word for snow. (They don't. They have about the same number of root words for snow-related concepts, but a really nifty and complex language structure which allows them to accumulate almost infinite modifiers onto the root word. They thus have pretty much infinite words for snow).
  • Courtesy of Bowleserised, an obligatory Bah! Humbug! moment: Scared of Santa. Tiny tots terrified of weird old men in beards! Down with Christmas! The therapy bills aren't worth it!
Must go and search the house briefly for more bits of dead thing, my mother greeted the new day this morning by picking up a random bit of mess from the floor only to discover that it was an unidentified bit of bird innard, courtesy of an as yet unidentified cat dismembering some small, unfortunate bird all over the house. There's a wing in the Evil Landlord's study, and no doubt other little lovesome packages elsewhere. Fortunately my mother is a trained medical technician and is completely unphased by sudden tactile liver contact before her first cup of tea.

Then I shall work. Work worky work work work.
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God, it's December. LJ has a happy Christmas doodle on its standard header, and the radio and bloody supermarkets are playing schmaltzy Christmas carols and lame Band Aid warm fuzzies. Granny Weatherwax nothing, at this time of year I channel my inner Scrooge. Am I the only person who has an overwhelming desire to spend Christmas either curled up under my bed muttering "Bah, Humbug!" at intervals, or taking me a large axe and slaying six in a tinsel-bedecked mall?

Also, is it just me, or is KFM suddenly playing ridiculous amounts of ads with American accents? I was playing the radio while engaged in the recent round of boring administrative scut-work, and I swear one ad in five is eschewing Souf Effrican accents in favour of the standard, recognisable accent of the good ol' US of A. This suggests that globalisation and cultural hegemony is reaching a new and horrifying phrase. I don't really like the SA accent when recorded, its flattened vowels become horribly unattractive, but I can't say I'm into having Americanisation touted as the logical response. The logical response should be South African actors learning to speak properly. (And I swear, the subject line was from the first page of Omar Khayyam I opened. Too weird).

I slept until 10.30am this morning, a rare occurrence, and a de facto celebration of Saturday's happy lack of an Army of Reconstruction right outside my window. Last night was also late, given as we were playing my Falkenstein game at [ profile] wolverine_nun's place until 11ish at least. The session was enlivened by a sudden geyser disaster halfway through, but fortunately turned out not to be too serious. The thundering cascade of hot water in the courtyard outside was somewhat disturbing, though. In-game, Khoi-boi's character is trying desperately to dig himself out of the several deep pits into which he has fallen, since shooting an English Count, even non-fatally, is somewhat problematical not only socially, but legally, and is in addition getting him into deep shit with his sorcerous order. Money for jam for a DM: as long as characters are choosing to burgle the bedchambers of aristocratic ladies and attempting to off the outraged husband when discovered, I don't have to do much...

Really interesting article on a case of plagiarism, nicked from Neil Gaiman's blog (but attributed, therefore not plagiarised), here. Honestly, it's bad enough when the students do it.
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Actually, bits of it are ok, but large tracts of it make me want to convert to something sensible, like orang-utans.

It is a fearful and wonderful thing, to be an English academic in a time of terrorist bombings: the opportunities for linguistic analysis would make your toes curl (unless you're [ profile] starmadeshadow, in which case there's no knowing what they'll do). I am fascinated by the extent to which responses to the London bombings have divided themselves into two camps, which are in ongoing and dynamic tension as they try to colonise the opposition: the sensible/rational/measured response versus the deliberate attempt to emotionalise. People like Blair and certain media sites are doing their damndest to turn this into a black/white, us/them process: big on words like "horror", "terror", "atrocity", very low on actual logic. The bus didn't blow up, it was "ripped apart". This isn't an attack on London's people or transport system, it's an "attack on values and lifestyles". Sensationalism scares me, not only because it whips up extreme emotional responses, but because it suggests that those are the terms in which the majority of people actually want to respond. The rational voices suggesting that this could have been a lot worse, and that maybe we should wait for evidence before jumping to conclusions about the nature of the perpetrators, are a minority, and they're not the ones in charge. Politics these days seems to be interchangeable with mass media - you have to say what sells. I hate it.

Today was an annoying day. Last night's game was lack-lustre and is giving me crises of confidence about my ability to DM, or at least to bludgeon my brain into something like wakeful energy during games. The belated discovery that today is the deadline for tax returns didn't help; of all the things I hate about being a Grown-Up, tax returns are about the third worst. It is also one of the many ramifications of Sod's Law that this morning should have seen me bitten suddenly with inspiration re this thrice-dratted Tolkien paper, since I almost immediately had to stop chasing up fascinating ramifications of fan culture in order to wrestle with numbers and bureaucratic language. (You try making sense out of tax certificates when two-thirds of your brain wants to be wandering Middle-Earth in analytic mode.) The total non-appearance of a vital tax certificate didn't help, but, in a bizarre twist of hitherto unsuspected efficiency, the medical aid company provided me with an online copy in about two and a half minutes flat. I think I'm still faintly stunned. I was able to post the wretched thing about five minutes before the post was collected from the box, having exchanged furtive and guilt-ridden grins with two other people in the photocopy shop as we all frantically copied forms and certificates. Inefficiency, the great human commonality.

Just think. If we were an orang-utan civilisation, we probably wouldn't have to fill in tax returns. Bananas don't generate that much paperwork.


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