March 25, 2004

Wasteland of Flint, Thomas Harlan

Even when I try to ignore the psychological and social oddities of space opera aristocracies, I get hung up on the historical ones. I don't have to accept the entire, what?, Weberian thesis that Northern European Protestantism was the necessary and sufficient matrix for technological takeoff to be puzzled by ancient cultures surviving massive technological change. It should be more destabilizing. The States has scarcely kept its plutocracy through three hundred years on one planet; it doesn't seem very likely that Iron Age social structures would last through half a millennium of interstellar colonization.

On the other hand, the Japan-and-Méxica background is a nice change from eternal England, and is even just, barely, plausible, as Samurai William suggests. For all I know Harlan altered large chunks of it as though they had experienced something as complicated as Protestantism, universal suffrage, and the rise of the technocratic middle class. Doesn't sound like it, much. Nor was there room, I admit; it's a thick brisk book.

In small details, it's straightforward and suspends disbelief nicely. The archaeologists sent to the wrecked planet of the elder races are perpetually concerned with boots, publication, warm hats, censorship, fuel-line repairs, military intervention, the social problems of crushes in camp, and nanotech chilblains. (Suspension of disbelief w.r.t. the main outlines is a matter of taste.) I think the social interactions are well-done, especially when Harlan just describes them without giving us explanatory flashbacks and social commentary.

ISBN: 0-765-34113-1

Posted by clew at 08:58 PM | TrackBack

Samurai William, Giles Milton

William Adams, tactful and tactiturn, is only in the background of the failure of the English to found a trading outpost in Japan in the early 1600s. He is a mountain in the background, but half the history is the galloping stupidity of the crew sent out to build on his achievements.

It's like a dozen tales from the late 1990s of incompetence and poor social skills in ill-supported startups, but of course the risks were larger (syphilis, dismemberment) and the escape routes well closed off. Weirdly familiar: inane, self-delusional support from the home office; colleagues who didn't like each other before a year in close quarters, and who now drink too much, sleep with each others' concubines, and then write thinly coded letters to each other to gossip about it. That's better than having your adolescent embarassments pinned out in the Usenet archives: having them in the British Library, just waiting to be released to the Internet archives.

There was, actually, one trader in the factory who could make money. Unfortunately, he made it all in private trading (using Company boats) and covered his tracks by casting aspersions.

Adams had arrived earlier, the long way, by dint of being a stout mariner and navigator. He was also diplomatic enough to get along with the Dutch, who were rather like the English and therefore in perpetual competition with them, and clever enough to dissociate the English and Dutch from the well-established Spanish Jesuit presence in Japan. Adams learned Japanese, was honored with land and title by Ieyasu (the first Tokugawa Shogun). He and some of his surviving men built an oceangoing ship, one that did eventually make it across the Pacific; this though Adams hadn't ever overseen the construction of a vessel in Europe. It's a great pity that Milton doesn't quote him more often. I want more of the story of his successes; it's more impressive than A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court. In light fiction, it would take up at least a C. J. Cherryh series, since Adams' tenure in this foreign land saw Ieyasu's consolidation of control, war between the Dutch and English, peace between them, the suppression and martyrdoms of Catholic converts, and a lot of trips to rough and exotic cities in the region. Oh, and Adams got a second (bigamous) wife and family, as well as a feudal estate, which seems more than a little hard on the wife and children he left in Limehouse.

The style of the book is somewhere between historical and popular. We might see a higher proportion of the racy quotes than the carpentry ones, but they're all marked off as quotes, although sources aren't given to the page-number.

Richard Hakluyt is in this story in person! he was a consultant on missions of exploration and trade, and seems to have realized that Japan, more cleanly and sophisticated than England, would be a different matter for trade than the commoner expeditions to less developed countries. His The Principal Navigations, Voyages, Traffiques and Discoveries of the English Nation has a brief mention in Milton's Notes and Sources, and the cited publications and republications of similar works by the Hakluyt Society are many.

Words: "Chargeable" was used for "expensive" in one of the letters Milton quotes. Less familiar is "homegers", vassals accompanying a lord to show his importance (p. 262; "homage-ers", I suppose).

One minor oddity; there's a copy of an engraving of Japanese prostitutes in décolleté kimono (p. 219) from what seems to be a European atlas of Japan, published in 1670. But, if I remember Liza Dalby's Kimono correctly, a seductive woman would instead have loosened her kimono to show the back of her neck. There are surely Japanese engravings of the same subject in the same period, which I could count up for evidence.

ISBN: 0-14-200378-6

Posted by clew at 04:10 PM | TrackBack

March 22, 2004

Dread Empire's Fall: The Sundering, Walter Jon Williams

The ponderous constructs of the first installment are gathering speed—falling downhill, maybe, like a crate of anvils from Acme Co.

Williams is doing at least one clever, history-minded, contrarian thing with his bag of Space Opera parts. His aristocracy is a dragging bane on its society, wasteful of everything, even the talents of the aristocrats. His main characters, each clawing their way to higher status, are not kindly or enlightened except when it pays. But they aren't melodrama villains either; nor is there a pornographic tone of 'Vicious them! how virtuous us!' to the narrative. Williams lets his aristocracy convict itself without pretending that most people would do better in the same circumstances. This is rather like Anthony Trollope's assessments of character.

It is totally unlike the current trend in SF&F aristocrats, which makes its aristocrats likeable and virtuous by our standards while they prance around in all the unearned advantages of theirs. Elizabeth Moon does some of this, although her society is threatening to break down under it. A. J. Hall, who has written an elegant fanfic crossing Lois McMaster Bujold's characters with the Harry Potter ones, gravely dislikes Elli Quinn for a related reason. If remember Hall's argument correctly, she finds it disgusting that Quinn pitched someone else out of life-support when Miles Vorkosigan needed it. Me, I agree it might have been a morally disgusting action, but not Quinn's fault more than the Vorkosigans'. First, that seems like the usual deal for either a mercenary soldier or a feudal vassal. That's why they guard the hiring general. Like a henhouse rooster, they are to die noisily and valiantly—but first. Second, Miles is by assumption a genius at tactics and strategy, and his survival presumably saves more soldiers than one.¹ Third, to rejoin my original thoughts about depictions of aristocracy, the Vorkosigans have other people do their dirty work all the time. Then they get props not just for getting the work done, but for forgiving the doer. This may be an accurate view of the emotional billing-system of inherited power, but I can't gloss over it nearly as well as Bujold seems to.

In Williams' defense, thinking historically, I should point out that Jeffery Farnol has nice nobles, but he's Edwardian/modern as well as escapist. G. A. Henty characters take advantage of their own enlisted men. Don Quixote laughingly beats up on all slow-footed peasantry, as do the gallant rogues who are lieutenants to Magistrate Bao.

Williams' protagonists fight for unfair advantage but are conscious of it. The smartest one, having finally won a job that lets her commit war profiteering with inside knowledge, thinks to herself that now she really feels like a Peer. That's the true-quill early nineteenth century speaking.

¹ I might disapprove of this application of utilitarianism, but I'd still distinguish between Quinn a Bad Person and Quinn being the sharp end of a value system shared by the Good characters. Should Quinn have whined and suffered more? Ick; like the walrus hiding behind his handkerchief.

ISBN: 0-380-82021-8

Posted by clew at 01:34 PM | TrackBack

The Money Moon, Jeffery Farnol

A lot like My Lady Caprice, but with more stage-dressing and less heart.

It is an example of non-nuclear families valued by pre-1960s standards. The romantic heroine is raising her nephew, who the hero is immediately an Uncle to. There's an unrelated older woman also loved as part of the family and called Aunt to demonstrate as much. She gets to marry even though she's too old to bear children.

Project Gutenberg etext #10418

Posted by clew at 01:22 PM | TrackBack

Fifty-One Tales, Lord Dunsany

The Assignation is so pretty and formal that it warrants letterpress. It's so short that it would still fit on a large postcard. There wouldn't be much of a market, though; it could announce auctions by the executor, or serve as a refusal notice from those imaginary editors as cruel as a A. C. Swinburne daydream.

The Assignation
Fame singing in the highways, and trifling as she sang, with sordid adventurers, passed the poet by.
And still the poet made for her little chaplets of song, to deck her forehead in the courts of Time: and still she wore instead the worthless garlands, that boisterous citizens flung to her in the ways, made out of perishable things.
And after a while whenever these garlands died the poet came to her with his chaplets of song; and still she laughed at him and wore the worthless wreaths, though they always died at evening.
And one day in his bitterness the poet rebuked her, and said to her: "Lovely Fame, even in the highways and the byways you have not foreborne to laugh and shout and jest with worthless men, and I have toiled for you and dreamed of you and you mock me and pass me by."
And Fame turned her back on him and walked away, but in departing she looked over her shoulder and smiled at him as she had not smiled before, and, almost speaking in a whisper, said:
"I will meet you in the graveyard at the back of the Workhouse in a hundred years."

Gutenberg etext #7838

Posted by clew at 01:08 PM | TrackBack

March 20, 2004

Sunshine, Robin McKinley

An ex-busker I once worked with divided acts into Cheap Tricks and Sure Things. These overlap, he said, but not much. Most of us mostly make our living on Cheap Tricks that work pretty well; too often we stick to a trick while it loses all its pull. While young or driven, we might work hard enough to pull off the really expensive Sure Things.

Watching a recording of Alegría reminded me of that; I have mixed feelings about the Cirque du Soleil because the physical work is very sure-thing (and definitively expensive); the costuming also; but the framing narratives such-as-they-are and the style of the music get boring because I can guess the cheap trick coming. (It all sounds like Vangelis' version of the "Orchestra Hit" button on a synthesizer.)

Sunshine had a similar effect on me. That is, I was glued to the pages, but there were many annoying stretches barely rescued by McKinley's ability to revivify clichés. The worst cliché is the Doomed Romance with a vampire who's a Good Guy, Really, But Tormented. Cheap trick! The heroine is too smart and world-wise for me to really believe the romance, even though the vampire in question isn't a bad antihero. Maybe she'll cut out her own heart to get away from him in a sequel.

I'm afraid she won't have to, because she has inherited unprecedented abilities that take some work, but not nearly as much work as everyone else's seem to. That's a pet peeve of mine. In a book, you'd think more people would be willing to admit seven years of study and practice, if compressed into one chapter.

The rest of the heroine's life is convincingly complex; she's the baker for the linchpin coffeehouse in a recovering bad neighborhood. The baking is really convincing. For one thing, she has worked at learning it for her whole life, leaving little time to do or even think of anything else. Her experiments are still actual experiments; many fail. Also, even while famished she criticizes other bakers' cheap tricks.

The neighborhood is recovering from an overt war with the vampires, which everyone knows humans barely won, if we won at all. Vamps control a great deal of global capital already, and some ill-defined fraction of the Internet, etc. These bits gave me a nice schematic view of the vampires as the aristocrats of late-stage capitalism, devouring ag towns and rust-belt cities around the world. The café and the baker are the Jane Jacobs and Slow Foods and human-scale forces feebly allied against the vampires. I doubt McKinley meant that schema, but because she writes descriptions of magic that do use isomorphisms, my ear was tuned to catch such patterns and that one swam right in.

It might be as sensible a story as one can construct from post-Buffy pop vampires. I think it's more sensible than Buffy, perhaps because shorter and therefore less full of conflicting plot detail and retroactive-continuity. McKinley almost avoids the goshawful plot-device information dumps characteristic of Laurel K. Hamilton.

ISBN: 0425191788

Posted by clew at 11:03 PM | TrackBack

March 19, 2004

The Scoundrel Worlds, Chris Bunch

Thin, alas, with three saving charms. First, Bunch picks good old warhorses of history to throw his interstellar A-Team into. In this novel, it's mostly l'affaire Dreyfus. Second, every so often there's a literate-tough-guy sentence that rings like Dashiell Hammett. Third, lots happens.

He doesn't knit together originally disparate histories the way Pratchett knits fairytales, unfortunately. Bunch may abut them in time or space, but their causative links are separate. And the Hammett lines never string together into Hammett dialogue. Punk's Wing was poetry and music in comparison.

One oddity for its subgenre is that I'm pretty sure the characters know they're bad guys. They mostly fight much worse guys, but still; some of the comments about their moral ambiguity didn't come off as apologia or boasting.

ISBN: 0-451-45936-9

Posted by clew at 12:32 PM | TrackBack

Love Me, Garrison Keillor

Keillor doing what he does so well, but nothing he hasn't done before. The character and story of the novel proper, I'm going to forget within a few months, but there were a dozen sentences at least that made me laugh out loud; and when my other half looked up & I read them out, he laughed too.

If you really like Keillor, this will have just enough Keillor-isms to keep you happy; if you're neutral, I donno. If you're filled with the loathing of predictable Midwestern smugness that Keillor's most eloquent detractors convict him of, sharpen your pencil before you bother to open the book.

ISBN: 0-670-03246-8

Posted by clew at 12:05 PM | TrackBack

March 17, 2004

culch

Culch (or cultch) is stuff that isn't actually trash, but is waiting to be reused. It usually lives behind the barn. The word comes from the bed of crushed shells and rock that oysters breed on. It's what a bricoleur wants to have around, or sometimes what a compulsive hoarder thinks they're keeping.

My mnemonic false derivation is "cultural mulch". There are different mulches, some fast, some slow, some not as useful as they seem. The town dump can set aside a section for culch. A middling city can support several exchanges. A native NYNYer once described that City's culch system to me as one involving neither planning nor storage. No-one has room; storage is expensive; quite useful stuff goes out to the sidewalk daily, so that those who need stuff don't hoard it in advance. Instead, they go out for circuitous contemplative walks and trust that the city will provide. After all, you only need something good enough to be adapted.

That's probably a tropical system, no matter NY's physical climate. Cold hardwood forests don't cycle matter nearly as quickly; instead they can store carbon a long long time. (My mother inherited her father's culch pile, as well as her mother's store of probably-reusable buttons and cloth and pots. I don't think the domestic culch was called culch, though.) The classic New England culch pile rewards long planning by reducing dependency on the market. To investigate; does Braudel mention culch, when distinguishing between the three layers of economic activity?

I think it isn't culch when it changes ownership, either; the rag-and-bone man in Waste Not Want Not, and the trashpickers in Land of Desire or Gaffer Hexham in Our Mutual Friend, are pursuing a commercial trade.

I wonder what the words for it are in other languages.

Posted by clew at 12:00 PM | TrackBack

March 10, 2004

The Last Kashmiri Rose, Barbara Cleverly

It's a brilliant setup for a detective series; after the Great War, in India, with a detective who is not only English but a Metropolitan Policeman and measurably socially below most of the English officers and civil servants he mixes with. This allows a plausible and slightly modern viewpoint, and also makes the frequent lumps of exposition plausible. Such a character might well have rehearsed to himself, before going to dinner, the peculiar rules of a cavalry mess; and might have had "what everybody knows" laid out for him by people who knew he wasn't anybody.

It's a handy solution, even if it isn't as elegant as sinking the exposition invisibly into the action. There's at least one more novel in the series; presumably he'll need even more exposition if he investigates anyone not English.

ISBN: 0-440-24156-1

Posted by clew at 12:51 AM | TrackBack

Hollow Crown, David Roberts

I found the language flat and the characters unconvincing, so I can't tell you if the plot went anywhere. Sample:

Edward was immensely pleased to meet the distinguished economist and his Russian wife. He had long thought Benyon was one of the few economists who made sense and moreover was, at least in his private life, an outsider and a rebel. His interests were not the usual pursuits of the upper class — hunting, shooting and fishing — but books, theatre, painting, and ballet.

ISBN: 0-7867-1052-7

Posted by clew at 12:42 AM | TrackBack

March 09, 2004

Firedrake's Eye, Patricia Finney

Elizabethan London spinning out madmen and bravos, Jews, spies and codebreakers, spinning around a plot wound around the Queen. It works as a spy novel and as a story of outsiders. The language is not obs., but echoes Elizabethanisms in its arrangement and grammar. The characters' voices are distinct. A great deal happens; in the penultimate scene it nearly happens all at once.

In all of England is no finer sight than London Bridge, the glory of the City, with its serried fleet of piers against the onrush of the Thames. The best drapers' shops in the land are on it, arching across it, enclosing those who care not that they get their cloth good cheap, but that it be fine. There may be bought silks of Cathay and cottons of Inda, velvets and damasks of buttercup and viridian and violet and crimson and strange fancy colours like Dead Spaniard that was begun as a putty shade.


ISBN: 0-312-18094-2

Posted by clew at 11:47 PM | TrackBack

The Slynx, Tatyana Tolstaya

Russia in a fantastic, tumorous re-Neolithic age, after a perplexing Blast; published without illustrations, but those can be assembled from elsewhere. My library had it out in a pile of 'Gloomy Russian Novels to make February seem Pleasant by Contrast', but this one isn't gloomy. The scraps-and-mutations culture post-Blast is tragic or cathartic, but usually violently cheerful; they live on mice & under Directives, but with high spirits.

Tolstaya's prose is vast, rumpageous, cheery, full of dialogue that it's a pleasure to repeat out loud. (Honor to the translator.) One of the cover blurbs calls it 'postmodern'; it reminds me more of the less refined works of science fiction's "New Wave". (Am I redundant?) A Canticle for Leibowitz, obviously, but with gusto.

The burden of the tale is to do both with post-Blast—post end-of-USSR, in part—politics, and with culture literary and material. Much poetry is quoted - more honor to the translator! - and and index of authors is given at the end. Chapter X runs through a fool's categorization of everything printed, The Yellow Arrow to Plaiting and Knitting Jackets.

Translated by Jamey Gambrell.

ISBN: 0-618-12497-7

Posted by clew at 11:10 PM | TrackBack

Memory and the Mediterranean, Fernand Braudel

Prehistory and ancient history, even of the Mediterranean, wasn't Braudel's real field; and this book is decades old and was put away unfinished; but it's still a characteristic pleasure to read. He made a story of the rise and recombination of civilizations, but does not hang it all on single persons, or ascribe intent to a civilization that would only make sense in a person. Instead, he describes the little that is known, leaves clear his chain of reasoning when leaping to a conclusion, and is affectionate towards quite disparate groups, especially as they managed to spend their energies on trade or food or dancing or anything but war. Two current scholars, one of prehistory and one of ancient history, put in tiny emendations - usually just footnotes referring to more recent discoveries, or a phrase indicating that Braudel was right or wrong in a conjecture.

Notes to myself, of things I wondered at:

Chickens in Egypt in 1500BCE? So early? I thought Gallus gallus was SE Asian. Has anyone mapped the dispersal of the common chicken? and if so, who had to count the bones in the middens?

He has a careful, serious explanation of the layout of story graphics in Egyptian and Mesopotamian friezes, like a strip cartoon. Oddly, he says Movement is therefore sacrificed. Depends on where you learned the convention, I guess. (p 131)

In the rise of the nomads (always part of a mixed economy with agriculture): Herds of [...] sheep, goats and cattle (though not pigs). (p. 139) Pigs later? Wild pigs are terrifying, but so were wild cattle. Pigs may well have been worse. So, when pigs? Compare with chickens.

Hittites: the nice warrior-nomads. At least, after sweeping through Asia Minor and fighting Egypt to a draw, they turned to diplomacy, leaving the signature in 1280 of the oldest peace treaty of which the text has survived. Also, nice art, not a theocracy, and womens' status seems to have been as liberal as in Crete. (p 144) It's the (later but loosely similar) Scythians who may have had women warriors, depending on how recent excavations are interpreted, I think.

The Hittites also look better because they come before the hardly-understood collapse of the 12th century BCE, in which the Mycenaean cities were burnt or deserted, writing and technologies were lost, whole peoples moved as—refugees? nomads? invaders? The climate explanation, p. 151, makes one think of ENSO. The only records, apparently, were left by Egypt, who didn't really know where the masses were coming from. Egypt called them the "People from the Sea", and fought off waves of them, or at least diverted their settlement. As for the Philistines, with or without the pharaoh's consent, they settled in the land to which they would give their name—Palestine—which they had to defend against the Hebrews. (p 154)

And after that, which sounds bad enough, several hundred years of dark age - the Iron Age, which Braudel associates with the common possession and "democratization" of weapons, and also with war becoming endemic and more cruel. He also looks at it as an enormous economic depression. (pp. 155-163, various)

Indo-Europeans burble into or out of central Europe, identifiable because they cremated their dead and left the remains in fields of urns. (p 168) Urn Buriall?

Eventually civilization restarts, especially the Phoenicians trading with, or colonizing, the back-of-barbarian West of the Mediterranean. Braudel skips over many "who was first" quibbles. He probably doesn't have a dog in the fight; in the first place, he's happy when people are making and trading and moving about; and in the second he regards the whole Med as one culture.

Historical humor: Carthage made a mint by trading with the backward people in Spain for silver. Enough silver has circulating to move the gold:silver exchange rate in Egypt from 1 : 2 to 1 : 13! (p. 188). This is funny because that makes twice that Spain has been a conduit for a significant fraction of the coinage in its world-circuit and apparently come off the worse for it both times.

Creepy but consistent bit of Carthaginian religion: in times of crisis, they sacrificed the aristocrats' young sons. (On altars, not in war.) Late in their history some aristocrats bought and sacrificed other children, to save their own; this was such a sacrilege that it required another two hundred children to be sacrificed to expiate it. (p. 199) (No note as to how they checked, er, provenance the second time. And really, at that point sacrificing the fathers would have seemed more effective.)

Economic viewpoint, related to the Phoenician success making landing in primitive places, and Alexander's unsuccess despite conquering Persia; best strategy is to have both primitive and advanced areas in your circuit. ...the Mediterranean belonged to whoever could embrace it from end to end, linking up the high point and the low point of commerce.... (p. 224) Over and over, a city lucks into cheap grain from a hinterland it acquired for other reasons, and leaps to a much more productive, division-of-labor material economy. This was good for the people on top of the city on top of the division. Not so clear about everyone else.

Added on the 11th:

The Etruscans seem to have popped up out of nowhere. Hunh.

Wishing that Alexander had conquered to the West instead of the East is ambitious! Fits the pattern of 'embracing the high point and the low point' as done by the Phoenicians, above; east of Greece was more of a par with the Greek citystates. His other comment is that some of Alexander's cities lasted a thousand years and then collapsed in the Muslim conquests, leaving no trace of Greek language, thought, cultural ties (pp. 249-250). Hm. I'd want to know more about how Greek those cities were after his death. Merv, Harat, Kandahar; all are named, in the map of Alexander the Great's empire in 323 BC, (p. 338) as "Alexandria 'of ...'". What institutions had they taken, did they exchange people as well as trading goods?

His history of Rome is extremely brisk, probably because there's so much written about it elsewhere; and the end was written in the expectation of a second volume on Byzantium, which is more a tease than tidy. Wondering about the Greekness of the cities above especially invites curiosity about Byzantium.

ISBN: 0-375-40426-0

Posted by clew at 12:38 AM | TrackBack

March 05, 2004

Magnatune

Magnatune the music-shareware house modestly declares, "We are not evil."

Try the Dufay Collective's La Estampida as a soundtrack for The Geste of Duke Jocelyn; for instance La Rotta, pure rhythm for measures and then a squeal of melody not totally unlike klezmer (if you aren't familiar with Early Music dance tones).

If you already like EM, you'll recognize a bunch of these tunes - I heard them on good old affordable Nonsuch when I was a wee, LP-hoarding squeaker. You will certainly have an opinion on the World Music/Academic Respectability divide. Dufay might be on the first hand of that false dichotomy, but I thought it was plausible enough, and by my tail and whiskers you can dance to it.

The classical offerings are mostly pre-1800. Maybe that's what the man of Magnatunes likes; maybe Sony avoids them; maybe it's hard to get an entire hundred-player orchestra to put their work up in this format. Lucky for me, though. Even paying more than they suggest for an album costs less than most do in stores.

Posted by clew at 03:29 PM | TrackBack

The Geste of Duke Jocelyn, Jeffery Farnol

Farnol carries off clichés as though he had them over his saddlebow. He slips from blank to jingling verse and into prose at his convenience. He interjects himself and his daughter, arguing about the course of the story, and usually puts their discussions into the same rhymes the medieval characters use, even as he's aggrieved by his daughter's tasteless use of slang ('ripping', 'corking'). But his pace is brisk and even, so—taking this as the light amusement it claims to be—it works. The plot is a trusty old dobbin:

"'Spite all thy talk, my mind on this is set--
Thus, in all lowliness I'll e'en go to her
And 'neath this foolish motley I will woo her.
And if, despite this face, this humble guise,
I once may read love's message in her eyes,
Then Pertinax--by all the Saints, 'twill be
The hope of all poor lovers after me,
These foolish bells a deathless tale shall ring,
And of Love's triumph evermore shall sing.

"So, Pertinax, ne'er curse ye so
For that in lowly guise we go,
We many a merry chance may know,
Sir Pertinax of Shene."
"And chances evil, lord, also!"
Quoth Pertinax of Shene.

Some of the antic prose is jolly too:

"Fellow," questioned the haughty knight, "what hold ye there?"
"Fellow," quoth Sir Pertinax, haughty and gruff also, "'t is no matter to thee!" And speaking, he buttoned the jewel into the wallet at his belt.
"Fool!" exclaimed the Knight, staring in amaze, "wilt dare name me 'fellow'? Tell me, didst see three foresters hereabout?"
"Poltroon, I did."
"Knave, wilt defy me?"
"Rogue, I do!"
"Slave, what did these foresters?"
"Villain, they ran away!"
"Ha, varlet! and wherefore?"
"Caitiff, I drubbed them shrewdly."
"Dared ye withstand them, dog?"
"Minion, I did."
"Saw ye not the badge they bore?" demanded the fierce stranger-knight.
"'T was the like of that upon thy shield!" nodded Sir Pertinax grimly.
"Know ye who and what I am, dunghill rogue?"
"No, dog's-breakfast--nor care!" growled Sir Pertinax, whereat the stranger-knight grew sudden red and clenched mailed fist.
"Know then, thou kennel-scourer, that I am Sir Agramore of Biename, Lord of Swanscote and Hoccom, Lord Seneschal of Tissingors and the March."
"Ha!" quoth Sir Pertinax, scowling. "So do I know thee for a very rogue ingrain and villain manifest."
"How!" roared Sir Agramore. "This to my face, thou vile creeper of ditches, thou unsavoury tavern-haunter--this in my teeth!"
"Heartily, heartily!" nodded Sir Pertinax. "And may it choke thee for the knavish carcass thou art."
At this, and very suddenly, the Knight loosed mace from saddle-bow, and therewith smote Sir Pertinax on rusty bascinet, and tumbled him backward among the bracken. Which done, Sir Agramore laughed full loud and, spurring his charger, galloped furiously away. [...]

The secondary characters are some of them charming; Rob o' the Greenwood, who Farnol does the respect of not explaining; the frightening but benevolent witch and her frightening but benevolent dwarf son; and the grouchy sidekick Sir Pertinax, who gets several star turns of his own. The lovely maidens are valiant, though ineffectively, and the hero gets himself into trouble for consistent and not totally numskulled reasons.

Project Gutenberg etext #8165

Posted by clew at 03:08 PM | TrackBack

London Pride, M. E. Braddon

It starts with an air of Cavaliers and convents; then the plot suggests a more Victorian sensation novel of moral taint and repentance. In the end, the Restoration England setting bears only a little on anyone's actions, and the conclusion was a fairly realistic compromise. It's a lot like a Joanna Trollope story.

Project Gutenberg etext #9377. The eight-bit version handles the French names and babbling better than plain seven-bit.

Posted by clew at 02:46 PM | TrackBack

March 01, 2004

The Good Stuff Cookbook, Helen Witty

None of these are very difficult recipes, and they're all extra-tasty; one would find the results in fancy wrapping near the checkout stand of a thorough, perhaps a swank, grocery or deli. I think Witty must live somewhere with good gardening and terrible delis. Her Fancy Pantry was even better for a gardener; it has a seasonal index reminding you what to make of what's ripe together.

From Good Stuff, I have been making lots of the Grissini (breadsticks) and baked corn chips, because one recipe calls for an egg-white and the other for an egg-yolk and besides, the oven is already hot. They're all so crunchy! it's so easy to experiment with additions! And I eat them so quickly!

Witty even has a comment on the Early English origins of beaten biscuit, that effortful alternative to the use of saleratus. From p. 111; "flead biscuits" ... were made with flead (a fatty membrane from the innards of a porker) ... the dough was then thumped to a fare-thee-well.

Flead Cakes still current in Kent; check out the Biddenden Cakes in memory of twelfth-century conjoined twins. Flead crust is mentioned in Isabella Beeton's Book of Household Management, too; item 1218.

ISBN: 0-7611-0287-6

Posted by clew at 04:18 PM | TrackBack

Behind the Bungalow, EHA

As I would not be a slave, so I would not be a master; Abraham Lincoln. Behind the Bungalow is a humorous description of all the kinds of servant available to someone in the British administration of India in the, oh, mid-1800s. All of them are all flaws, they're flawed from birth, their flaws are petty, their religions and scholarship are petty, their poverty is laughable... I quit three-fifths of the way through the book. The subject was so corrosive to EHA's civility and fairness that I was afraid it would be corrosive to mine.

A "two kinds of people" dichotomy: one kind naturally mocks people with less power, and the other naturally mocks people with more. (Some are reckless enough to mock everyone, and I've known two or three people who had senses of humor but were so kindly, or good-mannered, that they never mocked anyone but themselves.)

Gutenberg etext 7953

Posted by clew at 03:59 PM | TrackBack
« February 2004 | Main | April 2004 »