Wednesday, June 21, 2017

American Names

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I was on the road recently and posted on Facebook (Marianne was driving at the time):

What a country this is for names! Mud Turnpike. Clums Corner. Farm to Market Road. Cropseyville. Quakenkill (river). Dyken Pond. Pickleville Road. Little Hoosic River. Bee Hill. All within a few miles of each other.
Which was responsible not only for our visiting a friend who lived nearby and noticed we were driving through, but also for over fifty comments on Funny Names People Have Known.

All of which was good clean fun. (Though if you live in Pennsylvania you will, after a few decades, grow tired of hearing people snicker about Intercourse and Bird in Hand.) (Not that I kept myself from snickering when I was in Dildo, Newfoundland, so l'm not going to put on airs here.) But I really wasn't making fun of those names, or if I was only a little bit. There is an honest, plain-spoken beauty to old American names. Even a kind of poetry.

Here's an excerpt (with a couple of sentences cut off of the first paragraph) fro a story I wrote titled "Mother Grasshopper":

Our business entailed constant travel.  We went to Brinkerton with cholera and to Roxborough with typhus.  We passed through Denver and Venice and Saint Petersburg and left behind fleas, rats, and plague.  In Upper Black Eddy, it was ebola.  We never stayed long enough to see the results of our work, but I read the newspapers afterwards, and it was about what you would expect…
 We walked to Tylersburg, Rutledge, and Uniontown and took wagons to Shoemakersville, Confluence, and South Gibson.  Booked onto steam trains for Mount Lebanon, Mount Bethel, Mount Aetna, and Mount Nebo and diesel trains to McKeesport, Reinholds Station, and Broomall.  Boarded buses to Carbondale, Feasterville, June Bug, and Lincoln Falls.  Caught commuter flights to Paradise, Nickel Mines, Niantic, and Zion. The time passed quickly.

I hope you can hear the music there. I was trying to evoke the homely rhythms of the plains states, where you can get on an Interstate and drive all night, while periodically an exit sign drifts by for Berlin or Paris or Vienna or London, so that eventually you begin to hallucinate that you got onto the wrong road and are traveling one with off-tamps to all the major cities of the Earth.

That was the intent, anyway. It fit the story, which was a strange one. But I'm going to share a minor secret here: All those names are of places in Pennsylvania.

Why did I do that? Because I could, mostly. Because even though they were from a single state, they sounded like they were scattered across America. And because as long as you're writing a story, you might as well leave a few Easter eggs behind, to amuse those few who happen to notice.


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Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Touring Finland: Old Rauma

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As long as you're going to Helsinki for the Worldcon, why not make a vacation out of it? Finland is a beautiful country and the one tie I visited it, I loved every minute of it.

This is part of a continuing series.

Old Rauma is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, one of seven in Finland, and is quite possibly the single most laid-back to tour. It consists of some six hundred buildings in the core of the town, built between the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries. (The city is much older but, as with so many other wooden cities, there was a fire.) The streets were laid out in medieval times, so they tend to be narrow and the buildings are vernacular -- in the style of earlier times. They are painted a variety of colors: reds, greens, yellows, blues, and ochres.

Rauma is a living city and most of the houses are inhabited, so you can't go tromping about in people's yards. But in a warm human touch, many people place items in their windows for decoration. I thought that very generous of them.

In Helsinki Square, there is a statue titled The Lace-Maker, a memorial to the fact that Rauma was once a lace-making center. But the pleasure in visiting Old Rauma is not historical but simply the gentleness of the experience: spending a few hours wandering about and getting to know a very old city, and gaining some sense of its soul.

I found the above photo at the Visit Helsinki site, which has tourist information far superior to anything I can give you. I believe (I could be wrong, though) that's the market square at the center of Old Rauma. But really the joy of the place is wandering through its medieval-narrow streets, seeing what there is to b seen.


You can explore the English-language version of the site here.

You can read what UNESCO had to say about it here.


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Thursday, June 15, 2017

Bloomsday!

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In Plato's Myth of Er, you will recall, he told how in the afterlife, the Greek heroes were given their choice of lives to be reincarnated in. Most chose lives of glory and heroism. Orpheus chose to be a swan, Agamemnon an eaglle, and Ajax, a lion. Odysseus, wiser than the rest, sought carefully until he found the life of an ordinary and undistinguished man.

Over two and a half millennia later, James Joyce wrote of exactly such a man as Odysseus aspired to be -- Leopold Bloom. His Odyssey of a single day Joyce recounted in Ulysses.

That day was June 16, now known to bookish people around the world as Bloomsday. In Philadelphia, Bloomsday is celebrated by the Rosenbach Museum  which possesses the manuscript of Ulysses. Here's what they say on their website:

The Rosenbach celebrates the Joycean tradition annually on Bloomsday, June 16. Bloomsday, the only international holiday in recognition of a work of art, brings scholars, devotees, and the general public together on Delancey Place for a day of dramatic readings from the novel. The Rosenbach also produces a special exhibition related to Joyce and Ulysses, drawing from its substantial collection of modern literary materials.

And tomorrow I will be one of the readers!

If you care to hear my five minutes of local fame, I'll be reading at 5:05 p.m. But, really, if you're local and have the free time, you should just show up anytime and be happy. It's a public celebration of a work of literature! What could be more pleasant?

The Rosenbach is located at 2008-2010 Delancey Place in Philadelphia. If you've never seen their collection, you really should.

You can find more detailed information on this free event here.

Or you can check out the museum's main page here.


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Monday, June 12, 2017

And It's Done!

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Look what I have made with my own two hands!

On April 4, 2012, I wrote the first 185 words of what would eventually become  The Iron Dragon's Mother. Today, I finished the novel and the trilogy that I didn't set out to write.

When The Iron Dragon's Daughter was first published in 1993, it was intended to be a stand-alone novel. Then, ten years later, Marvin Kaye hit me up at a convention for a dragon story for his anthology, The Dragon Quartet. "I don't have any ideas for a dragon story," I told him. "But if I think of one, I'll send it to you."

In the strange way that such things sometimes happen, I went home, sat down at the computer, and immediately came up with an idea for a dragon story. And when "King Dragon" (published in 2003) was complete, I recognized that it was the opening segment for a new novel. Thus, The Dragons of Babel, which was first published in 2008.

When you have one book set in an imaginary world, it's a novel. When you have two, it's an unfinished trilogy. So I found myself in a situation similar to that of the guy who lives downstairs from a pooka and is waiting for the third shoe to drop.

The protagonist of the first book, Jane Alderberry, was in a world where she did not belong and so, no matter what she tried, she could not find a place for herself. The protagonist of the second, Will Le Fey, was a native of Faerie, and so he had to find a place for himself. I was an English major... I can recognize Thesis and Antithesis when it stares me in the face. So I knew there had to be a third novel and that it had embody Synthesis. But I had no idea what that might be.

Until five years ago.

And now the trilogy is done. At a good guess, I probably began writing The Iron Dragon's Daughter  in 1991. So it's taken me 26 years to write my trilogy.

I cannot help noting that Tolkien's trilogy only took him 12.



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Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Touring Finland: Atelier Bar (Helsinki)

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The Atelier -- in Finnish, Ateljee -- Bar is a rooftop bar atop the Hotel Torni is known primarily for two things. First, it has the best view in all Helsinki. This is because, until the Skywheel Helsinki Ferris wheel was built, it was the highest spot in all Helsinki. The other is because the ladies room, one floor down, has huge windows. I haven't seen them myself, but Marianne assures me they're worth the trip.

Neither of those is why I recommend you visit the Atelier, however. I recommend it because in Cold War times, it was a notorious spy bar.

Are there really such things as spy bars? A former spy I know assures me that there are. On first being told of the Atelier Bar, I had my doubts. But when I actually went there, I realize that if you were a spy, whatever your cover story might be you were passing as the sort of person who could not resist drinking there.

I vividly remember sitting in the Atelier, drinking absinthe while being interviewed for a Finnish fanzine. It was a beautiful day. The tile roofs on the buildings below were bright orange. The alleyways between them were narrow and black.

Looking down on them, I felt cunning and ruthless.


And I'm told...

Supposedly, the Ateljee Bar makes an appearance in one of Len Deighton's spy novels. I've never tracked down the scene myself. But if you can, it might be worth taking a copy with you and reading it while sipping on an appropriate drink.

Whisky, most likely.


Above: Image swiped from Crawl Pal, which has other good suggestions for things to see in Helsinki. You can find those suggestions here.


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Tuesday, June 6, 2017

The Man With No Name

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I was reading Bob Dylan's Nobel Prize speech just now and what he had to say about Moby-Dick made me want to sit down and write a story. Here's a taste:

Moby Dick is a seafaring tale. One of the men, the narrator, says, "Call me Ishmael." Somebody asks him where he's from, and he says, "It's not down on any map. True places never are." Stubb gives no significance to anything, says everything is predestined. Ishmael's been on a sailing ship his entire life. Calls the sailing ships his Harvard and Yale. He keeps his distance from people.

Did you get that? There's a man with no name from a place that's realer than real and not on any map. Wherever he is, that's where he's always been. Whatever he's doing is foreordained. No one can say they truly know him. Underestimated, barely noted, he descends out of nowhere upon the Pequod. When he leaves, everyone behind him is dead.

Have you guessed his name? Do you see what "Ishmael" has in common with Clint Eastwood in Sergio Leone's Man With No Name movies? In Cosmic Trigger, Robert Anton Wilson gave the game away. The man has no name, he wrote, because he is Death.

Ishmael is still out there today, walking down a dusty road somewhere, on the way from a place that's not on any map to a destination he will not share. And he's headed this way.

You can read the speech in its entirety here.


And as always...

I'm on the road again. I'll let you know about my adventures when I get there.

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Monday, June 5, 2017

Touring Finland: Rock Church (Helsinki)

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So you're going to Worldcon 75 in Helsinki, and you're thinking of staying over to see Finland. Good decision! You won't regret it.

I am far from being expert at touring Finland. But I did spend a week wandering about it once and had a fabulous time. So I'm starting an occasional series of posts on things to see in that beautiful land.

Today: Temppeliaukio Church in the heart of Helsinki, at the end of Fredrikinkatu. Also known as Rock Church. In 1969, the church was blasted and jackhammered into a rocky knoll surrounded by lovely old buildings. The result is very modern, with raw stone walls vaulted by a copper dome that seems to float overhead.

How you respond to this depends largely on how you feel about modern architecture. The French, I am told, take one glance and run screaming into the outer darkness, appalled by the lack of ornamentation, gilt, carved cherubs, and the like. But there are usually Japanese tourists present, sitting in reverent admiration of the austere simplicity and beauty of the space.

The rock walls and copper ceiling, as it turns out, combine to create ravishing acoustics and, as a result, many concerts are held there. It is also much in demand as practice space.

When Marianne and I first arrived in Helsinki, dragging our wheeled suitcases behind us, our friend Tino insisted that we go several blocks out of our way to see the church. We did, and when we walked in, discovered an ensemble of 19 trombones practicing a piece which, in retrospect, we decided must have been composed by Arvo Pärt. It was a magical introduction to a country which is, let's not forget, the home of the Kalevala.

Thank you, Tino.

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Friday, June 2, 2017

The World Is So Full Of A Number Of Things...

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I'm working on the final draft of my novel, going up and down the pages looking for typos and infelicities of phrasing or thought. Which is why I have been so terribly remiss in keeping this blog updated.

Mea culpa, and I'll be done soon.

Meanwhile, life goes on. So I have a more than a week's worth  of news for you. As ensue:


1. The Liars Club Oddcast

I was interviewed by a group of merry pranksters from Philadelphia's own Liars Club (that most
admirable of all writers' organizations, one that doesn't distinguish between genres and mainstream) for their podcast -- or Oddcast, as they call it.

As a rule, I cannot bring myself to listen to listen to my own interviews. But Marianne and Sean say that it came out well. Certainly, there was a great deal of fun and laughter. Because -- and here's a dark secret that no one else will tell you -- most writers are fun-loving, upbeat people. Shh!

At the end of the interview, I was challenged to present my hosts with two truths and one lie and let them guess which was the untruth. Did I fool them? There's only one way to find out.

You can find the Liars Club Oddcast main page here, which let's you choose iTunes or Stitcher or iHeart Radio as options for listening.


2. The Iron Dragon's Daughter E-Book Sale

Amazon has selected The Iron Dragon's Daughter as a Kindle Monthly Deal throughout June. The ebook will be downpriced to 1.99 at Amazon.com for the entire month,  With so many ebook sales being one-day pop-ups, this is a surprisingly generous deal.

So... much praise to Open Road Media for arranging this.


3. I Am Returning to China!

I have been invited to the Fourth China International SF Conference in Chengdu, Sechuan Province, China this coming 10th-12th of November..

I accepted, of course. I love China, I love Chengdu, and this is a very exciting time for Chinese science fiction. Also, and best of all, I'll get to see some of my Chinese friends again. So this was an extremely easy decision to make.

I'll almost certainly be blogging from Chengdu when the time comes.


4. The Photo Above 

Not everything, mirabile dictu, is about me. When I was at the Nebula Awards Weekend in Pittsburgh, I snapped the above shot. 


This requires a little context. The guest speaker for the awards banquet was astronaut Dr. Kjell Lindgrin. During the signing event, I was standing by Joe Haldeman's table, talking with his wife Gay when Kjell came up with his phone in his hand and the above picture loaded into it. While he was waiting his turn to show the picture to Joe, he explained what it was and, very quickly, I asked if I could take a snap.

What you see above you is a copy of The Forever War afloat inside the International Space Station.

Wow.


And that's all for this week. There'll be more news soon. And, knock on wood, more often.


Above: See how casually that's held. What a wondrous time in which we live!


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