International (non-Anglophone) speculative fiction

Here be unicorns. И музика и филми, вдъхновени от човешките ни книги. И всичко, дето ви е на сърце, ама не може да се побере в ^такива^ тесни теми...

Re: International (non-English) speculative fiction

Postby Кал » Mon Oct 26, 2020 4:21 pm

My review of Galaxy 42 Online SFF Magazine: Collected Stories:

The stories here vary widely, both in terms of subgenres and topics; there're literally no two of them that sound alike. The quality of the translations varies too, but most are well polished.

My notes as I read:

~ Miloș Dumbraci's "God Tears" won me over with its sassy style:
Sooo, the introduction of the story. The Moscow Church sees planet Flood, thinks it a miracle, sends us up here. The Ark can go so far, so fast, but for that it has to be tiny, just a silver stiletto the shape of a curled viper. So there were only four of us: Father Aleksei, theologian and chemist; sister Lena, archaeologist and xeno-linguist; myself, pilot, navigator and, frankly, a non-believer and a rather nasty human being, just the kind most enjoyed by the Party. A military human being, if there's such a thing, so also the expedition's warrior, if need be. Everybody had to have dual specializations, due to the limited size of the crew, except our Fairy, of course, who only has one: being the super-smart, cold AI. Icy just like me, hence our friendship, and quite unlike the warmhearted Lena and the passionate Aleksei ... can I call you Sasha? After all we've been through together? Thank you, Father. Hence their friendship, maybe more. Who am I to judge? They have their God for that.


But when did the story, our story, actually begin? Regulations required ten days of non-intrusive observation, so we used that to observe and research, and to good effect. Earth days, of course, but Flood ones were not much shorter, so no issue there. The other two also used the nights for praying, writing and bed-sharing, and the dark-haired sun-burned slant-eyed one, yours truly, for drinking the vast supplies of vodka synthesized by Fairy, while dancing alone on its instantly composed ballads. None of these is your business, stranger. We got along great, there were no inside tensions and no outside troubles yet; those were to come, so the ten days were "the good old days".

(I wish the anthology included the translators' names too, so I'd know whose hand I'd like to shake.)

And its insights into human psychology:
Fairy immediately secreted a transparent thin layer of slime from the floor, covered Lena in it and waved the thick gray carpet away, carrying the corpse into the laboratory, too. That room closed up, and only after it swallowed the drone, too, you, Sasha, took your head between your palms and groaned. I should have come to you, to suffer together, for in a different way I loved her, too, but I am not a kind enough man; so I just sat there on the floor, in silence.

"What the hell did you do?" I yelled, of course not naming my own guilt, as people never do in such situations. "Your damn filter didn't work, and the toxins killed her!"


Your voice trembled so bad, I felt like hugging you. Of course I did not, and maybe I should have.


~ Do I sense an undercurrent of Russian influence here? Two of the stories so far feature some references to Russia in space/in the future. However, I can't tell if they convey a particular attitude.

~ Boris Velimirovici's "The Source Code of Humanity" will make an interesting dialogue with Atanas P. Slavov's "The Matrix: Resolutions" ;) (which is available in ФантАstika: Almanac of Bulgarian Speculative Fiction: CoNZealand Sampler).

~ Lucian-Dragoş Bogdan's "Beyond the Horizon" is a fascinating little study of the various trajectories that immortals can take. I once toyed with a similar idea but came up with only three characters and three pathways; there are more than a dozen here.

It also features an argument about God that I wish my more vehement atheist friends would wrap their heads around:
"We've both studied this universe, Ahmed! Tell me: where have you seen this Allah of yours?"

"He's everywhere."

"Where exactly? Haven't you noticed that everything in the universe is based on cause and effect? There's nothing random out there. It's just a perfectly bonded system where no god can fit. He would just not have anything to do, where to interfere. He could mime Patricia, Tristan and MacPhearson's imposture at best!"

Ahmed smiled. He's looking as young as he was the day he became immortal. Like all of us. My comparison didn't seem to offend him.

"Your exact words prove the existence of Allah, my dear friend! He planned this universe so well that His work is there for our eyes to see in all of its aspects. The cause and effect that binds all is His own creation!"

"But you admit this principle is the basis of all that is. Why do you need to put Allah into the equation?"

"For you, Allah is just a moody being, like you and me. You think He's willing to interfere all the time, to help this and destroy that. But this is not Allah. He created a perfect universe, and His essence transcends our very minds and bodies. We can't find Him here. In the physical world we can merely see His reflection. As Rumi perfectly put it: In the sea of love, I melt like salt. Faith, Doubt - they both dissolve. A star is opening in my heart. The worlds turn in it."

"Sound wonderful. Still, I don't understand."

Ahmed tapped me on the shoulder.

"That's the problem: you try to understand what can't be understood. As for me, I let His beauty fill my heart in any way I find it."
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Re: International (non-English) speculative fiction

Postby Кал » Tue Nov 03, 2020 1:13 pm

My review of Smokopolitan #7:

While I enjoyed the short stories and novellas inside to various degrees, all of the articles (called "Journalism") appealed to me. Some pieces need better proofreading; others took my breath away with their translation.

Highlights:

~ I should start using this one:
“I apologize for my friend, he’s very sick.” He paused for a moment and added confidentially: “A severe case of asshole. Unfortunately, no cure has yet been found.”


All in all, I'm enjoying the humor in Magdalena Kucenty's "Dragon and Capricorn":
Meanwhile, the horned dwarf teamed up with the strongman. One approached Draak from the left, the other from the right. The midget was looking at his crotch. The Dragon did not like this. Huh, he even felt, say, embarrassed, almost ashamed, like a spinster when a prospective husband shamelessly eyeballs her tits! Nah, we will not have this.

He grabbed the tiny horn and started spinning the dwarf around. He spun and spun until the guy threw up on his forearm. Angry, Draak tossed him aside and grabbed the speechless giant by the face to wipe away the puke. The giant’s beard was perfect for the task, like a wire sponge.


However, is it the beginning of a longer story?

~ Marcin "Alqua" Kłak's "Polish Conventions" features staggering numbers:
The history of Polcon has started in October 1985 when in Błażejewko (near Poznań) first ever Polcon was held. In the beginning Polcons were not very large but recently we’ve seen quite a change and the last year’s convention was visited by more than 3600 fans (including one day passes). Attendance has been changing from year to year – as early as in 1987 there were around 1000 Polcon members but few years later (in 1990) only around 200 people have attended. This year Polcon was held in Wrocław and the attendance was around 4400.


Although Polcon is the most important Polish convention, it is not the biggest one. This title belongs to Pyrkon which is held in Poznan every year since 2000. In the beginning it was held in a school but with increasing number of attendees it had to acquire additional schools at first and then finally in 2011 it was moved to Poznan International Fair. Since the change of the venue the number of participants was growing very fast from about 3500 in 2011 up to over 40 000 this year. Pyrkon is truly a multi-genre convention with a huge dealers room and lot of attractions for all kinds of geeks. For the last few years there has also been a separate English programme track which allows foreign fans to participate in the event.

Seriously: is there another European country that can attract so many fans to one event?

~ Piotr Górski's "Paint My Space Red: Science Fiction of the Communist Era" has an interesting section on utopias. For instance:
The culture of utopian society is as interesting as its organization. As I mentioned before, the communist state didn’t take kindly to Western popculture. Little wonder that art, as suggested by socrealistic SF, is different. Dignified and statuesque. In Humans like Gods (Ludzie jak bogowie) Siergiej Sniegow paints a description of a symphony perceived with all senses: music is accompanied by light, smells, and even controlled weather phenomena. Iwan Jefremow in turn predicts, in The Andromeda Nebula, the decline of narrative arts. Behind each story there is conflict or dramatic tension, things that don’t exist in the society of tomorrow. Dance, music and gymnastics take place of literature, drama and cinematography. The only tiny doorway for stories is provided by space exploration – astronauts among the stars still face challenges, and the reports of their missions receive the attention worth of great epics.


It ends by asking a pertinent question:
Is the red speculative fiction, then, merely a curious episode in history?

Western speculative fiction, existing in an entirely different reality, often came across similar tropes as its Eastern sibling. Asimov’s Foundation series is an expression of faith in progress and laws ruling the development of societies. Arthur C. Clarke wrote Fountains of Paradise, his own version of a production novel – differing from the communist template only in the involvement of private investment in the construction of a space elevator. Everything else, from start to finish, looks very much the same.

Finally, dreams of utopia return to speculative fiction now. Optimistic science fiction has been the core theme of the Shine anthology, and Neal Stephenson in Seveneves revisits humanity’s old desires of reaching out to the skies.

Another trend worth mentioning is solarpunk – so far without great accomplishments, but doubtlessly with great ambitions. Solarpunk is an attempt to write contemporary, optimistic speculative fiction, as opposed to cyberpunk or ecently popular dystopias and postapocaliptic fictions. Solarpunk disregards the technological paradise offered by transhumanism and eulogists of Singularity, considering it too far-fetched and built in order to generate new inequalities rather to remove the old ones. It draws inspiration from punk ideology of DIY, ecology, feminism, economics of sustainable growth and literary classics such as Ursula K. Le Guin, Iain Banks or Octavia Butler.

It would be curious to see how Neal Stephenson, solarpunk writers and authors from Shine anthology would appear in comparison to long forgotten, Eastern European science fiction dating fifty or sixty years back. Better? Worse? Or would it be an encounter of two completely different civilizations, apparently growing from the same root and driven by the same goals, but essentially divergent? Surely initiatives such as this zine bring us closer to answering the questions posed above.

While I have a rather definitive answer to "Better? Worse?" (a few years ago, I did a 30-page re-evaluation of The Andromeda Nebula; however, it's in Bulgarian), I agree that Smokopolitan and these kinds of comparative surveys help us build much-needed bridges.

~ A particularly useful insight from Artur Nowrot & Karolina Fedyk's "The Best Convention Will Take Place on My Couch":
AN: I don’t think that any part of fandom is necessarily more or less creative than the other, but I think that an argument could certainly be made that there is a difference in the way this creativity is channelled. The older fandom seems mostly focused on reviews (as the report you mentioned shows), or fact-based histories of and guides to particular franchises or genres (this form is particularly prevalent in “Nowa Fantastyka”, a leading Polish SFF magazine). The new one seems to prefer fan fiction and more personal essays, character appreciations, critical analyses of comic books, TV shows, characters, themes…

In short, the difference would fit with the distinction between the affirmative (more hierarchical, focused on original texts) and transformative (informal, focused on creative transformations of the source material) fandoms. A sense of playfulness that you mentioned could very well be the defining factor here – when the younger fandom shares original and derivative fiction on the internet, not caring about the “legitimacy” of their creations, the older one debates whether vanity press-published books should even be listed as eligible for the biggest SFF fan award.

This transformative potential also leads, I think, to a more critical approach to media and more openness to innovation. This, to me, is very visible in any debate on representation – it’s usually the new fandom which demands more of it and that more eagerly embraces non-traditional characters and stories, while the old one not infrequently tries to suppress the critique, particularly of classic authors.


~ Michał Cholewa's "Science in the Service" (masquerading as "Journalism"--but you can't fool this old pro ;)) is a delightfully quirky story--even silly, but in a good way. Here's what happens when we find ourselves without oil and the other traditional fuels:
Completely ignoring our reservations about not even having a driver’s licence, the department began researching and inventing. A week later, we had a design for the vehicle, named Hilbert at first, although after our swift intervention paired with a suggestion that we’re not going anywhere without our contribution recognized, it was renamed Hilbert-Einstein. It was a complex construction made out of hastily-gathered materials, powered by a combination of mechanical force transferred from a dozen hamsters running in a wheel, and electricity harvested from special lemon cells. The lemons were the pride of the dean’s hothouse and we solemnly swore that we would use them well and for the glory of the scientific community.

Along with the vehicle we received a supply of hamster food, 5 kilograms of lemons, the entry fee money for the rally and a 300-page manuscript proving conclusively that our machine was best-suited to win the race.

The guys from the department of computer science gave us a bag of bottle caps. What for – I still have no idea.


And here's what happens when two male scientists run away disguised as cleaning ladies:
And we were right. As soon as the steam engine began to pull its long chain of carriages towards Paris, our companions, out of the goodness of their hearts, offered us seats, sandwiches, and hot tea from a flask, which pleasantly surprised us, and the surprise was only magnified by a sentence uttered with warm concern: “Poor women, to have to go on such a long journey alone”.

And as I was trying to make sense of this remark, my wandering gaze fell upon Banaś, with his head wrapped in a kerchief, dressed in a blue apron with the university’s emblem and trainers, with a woollen bag, in which we kept the entry fee money, in his hand. I was about to correct the mistake, my plan was foiled by a portly man with a hoe (an important fact), who went on a rant concerning “the unfortunate cleaning ladies, fed up with those damned mad scientists who caused all this damned chaos”, followed by a vivid description of what he – and he was not alone, judging from the vengeful murmurs of approval coming from the other travellers – would use his hoe for, if any of those so-called “professors” fell into his hands. We travelled the rest of the way as Mrs. Janka and Mrs. Rozalia, basking in sympathy and detailing the story of our noble rebellion against the nefarious academics. Banaś was particularly good at the latter, displaying gusto and considerable narrative skill in depicting the university as a realm of evil, ruled with an iron fist by the rector, who, in his sinister splendour, always arrived late to the Department’s Council, ate more than his share of doughnuts, demanded science camp reports from the young and gifted postdocs, even though he knew that science was the last thing anyone was concerned with at the science camp, and, most importantly, who took all the whiteboard markers for his own seminars. The despotic mistress of the school office, Mrs. Kafka, was also much talked about, as was anyone who had ever so much as looked at Banaś the wrong way. My colleague’s creative flow was admirable, and even though I don’t think anyone in the carriage could accurately picture the full horror of some of the university’s evil masterminds’ manoeuvrings, the nods of sad compassion, as well as regularly re-filled cups of tea, left no doubts as to the effect the story had on our listeners. Before we arrived in Paris, we – or rather, Mrs. Janka and Mrs. Rozalia – were the heroines of the carriage, outshining even Mr. Zenon, the inventor of a steam-powered tractor, and Mrs. Leokadia, heading to Champagne, to her family, a survivor of three political parties, eight farmer strikes and two husbands.

We left the carriage with not only wishes of good luck in the far-away country and addresses of various relatives and acquaintances, but also a big package of coffee, five croissants with cheese and a bottle of cherry kompot. Some of the offers we were made I will not mention – a true lady keeps such secrets to herself.
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Re: International (non-English) speculative fiction

Postby Кал » Sat Nov 14, 2020 6:29 pm

My review of As the Distant Bells Toll:

For the most part, I liked this anthology. Time and again, I was surprised by the tender (even romantic) undercurrent going through it. Earlier, I'd seen the author on a few online panels, and I thought he'd be more cynical. Goes to show how useful first impressions are. :)

The translations (done by Žiljak himself) were also excellent. So were the illustrations.

The stories I liked most:

~ "A Unicorn and a Warrior Girl" was a surprisingly gentle opening. (Watch this word, "surprisingly." Or perhaps my first impressions from Aleksandar have been misleading? ;))

~ "The Nekomata" has them all: Hattori Hanzo and Tokugawa Ieyasu and Oda Nobunaga and even this guy. Forget about the guys though; it is the girls that shine here. Especially when they explicitly need no guys. *wink-wink-nudge-nudge*

Aich, the above is doing a disservice to this story. It's tasteful and exciting.

~ "Rumiko" is another anime come to the printed page. ;) We should definitely import more of the Japanese to our own Balkans--the mix is deliciously explosive. (And sensual.)

~ The author's afterword offers a much needed wakeup-call-cum-reevaluation of the role of fantasy:
Most of my stories, in this book and otherwise, deal with relations between humans and nature. I believe that these relations can be particularly well-studied in fantasy, because I see this genre as a reaction to the modern (post)industrial urban environment, physical, but also economical, social and emotional, that was created by the capitalist expansion within the last two hundred years. Fantasy and its growing popularity in the last five or six decades are certainly the expression of resistance to that process, unfortunately still insufficiently articulated to move visibly from personal escapism towards the efficient social action.

This, when all is said and done, is mostly a book about humans and animals. One may wonder what is the purpose of all those unpredictable, perhaps harmful, perhaps dangerous, sometimes messy creatures? Practical reasons aside: we still go hunting, just like our ancestors did ten thousand years ago, only now we go to the butcher’s—somebody else is doing the unpleasant work for us. Something else is more important. If the animals disappear, if we exterminate the birds, whales, elephants, pandas, rhinos, tigers, we are left without any standards—biological, ethical, moral, cultural—to measure our existence against. We lose diversity created through hundreds of millions of years of unpredictable processes. Instead, we get the fascist nudity of steel, concrete and glass, geometrically regular landscapes through which rivers flow by straight channels (to use an image from an old Soviet SF story) into dead seas. The unfathomable beauty, comparable to and even surpassing all our achievements in art, is replaced by the grey monotony and absurdity of boring consumer existence.

Only when we remember again who we are actually—and folktales across the world remind us of that—we can build better and safer future for us and all the other living beings. However, we should not haze our vision, as is often done in fantasy, by tearful idealising of the times long past. The dilemma nature vs. science & technology is false. The true answer is both nature and science & technology, with (and there lies the problem) significantly different social relations, freed from economic, thus any other, exploitation. One of the starting points of that journey is the change of our present-day destructive attitude towards animals and nature, towards the environment in which we all live.

So, love the animals. One is facing you every time you look at the mirror.

Finally, what is the purpose of fantasy today? Is it just an escape from unbearable reality of our lives? That may tend towards glorification of feudal patriarchal system, racial and ethnic supremacy, and sexism? You may wonder what am I talking about? But I have seen history reduced to synopses of bad fantasy novels in order to mobilise crowds for the 1990s wars in Yugoslavia, and I have seen fantasy images, including the wielding of real swords, used to celebrate the darkest Nazi puppet regime of the World War Two. The danger is clear and present.

Or, on the other hand, is fantasy literature a tool to consider and discuss a new and better world, with new relations between races, nations, genders, human beings? (Remember what the fantasy others actually stand for!) And new relations towards the environment that surrounds us and still supports us.

If fantasy is taken as a tool—and literature is a tool—it all depends on the way it is used. I believe that the times in which we live demand pushing away the escapist purpose of the genre, and accepting the activist one. I believe it is time that fantasy, as the closely related science fiction has been doing for quite a long time now, needs to become a test tube to study something new and better through thought experiments, to propose new social and environmental relations, to look at the magic as—the way Arthur C. Clarke said—far advanced science. I find this very important, because if we fail in sketching, designing, and finally building this brave new world, I am afraid there is no hope for mankind in the long term. And time is running out.
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Re: International (non-English) speculative fiction

Postby Кал » Tue Nov 24, 2020 4:38 pm

My review of Future Fiction: New Dimensions in International Science Fiction:

All translations in this anthology were excellent. In terms of content, I liked some of the stories, and the ones that disturbed me, I skimmed over.

Here're the stories I enjoyed most:

~ Xia Jia's "Tongtong’s Summer" uses technology to humanize our old age:
Uncle Wang told Tongtong that Grandpa’s innovation could transform the entire medical system. In the future maybe patients no longer needed to go to the hospital and waste hours in waiting rooms. Doctors could just come to your home through an Ah Fu installed in each neighborhood.

Uncle Wang said that Guokr’s R&D department had formed a dedicated task force to develop a specialized, improved model of Ah Fu for such medical telepresence applications, and they invited Grandpa onboard as a consultant. So Grandpa got even busier.

Since Grandpa’s legs were not yet fully recovered, Uncle Wang was still caring for him. But they were working on developing a web-based system that would allow anyone with some idle time and interest in helping others to register to volunteer. Then the volunteers would be able to sign on to Ah Fus in homes across the country to take care of elders, children, patients, pets, and to help in other ways.

If the plan succeeded, it would be a step to bring about the kind of golden age envisioned by Confucius millennia ago: “And then men would care for all elders as if they were their own parents, love all children as if they were their own children. The aged would grow old and die in security; the youthful would have opportunities to contribute and prosper; and children would grow up under the guidance and protection of all. Widows, orphans, the disabled, the diseased—everyone would be cared for and loved.”

(...) There were also developments that no one had anticipated.

Uncle Wang showed Tongtong lots of web videos: Ah Fus were shown doing all kinds of interesting things: cooking, taking care of children, fixing the plumbing and electrical systems around the house, gardening, driving, playing tennis, even teaching children the arts of Go and calligraphy and seal carving and erhu playing ...

All of these Ah Fus were operated by elders who needed caretakers themselves, too. Some of them could no longer move about easily but still had sharp eyes and ears and minds; some could no longer remember things easily, but they could still replicate the skills they had perfected in their youth; and most of them really had few physical problems but were depressed and lonely. But now, with Ah Fu, everyone was out and about, doing things.


The ending is particularly poignant, with its hope even for those who cannot talk or move anymore.

~ I first fell in love with Carlos Hernandez's "The International Studbook of the Giant Panda" when it introduced me to its characters:
Dr. Xiadon, startled, looks up from her work. She’s about five-foot-nothing. Veins of silver run through her black hair, which is coiffed into a Chinese schoolgirl’s bowl cut. Her button-down, APM-branded denim shirt is baggy enough for shoplifting. She has small features except for her mouth. Her big, round, harmless teeth seem only good for smiling. But as her expression changes from surprise to pleasure, I can see they’re very good at that.

“Oh! You’re Gabby!” she says, suddenly coming alive. She throws herself halfway over her desk to shake my hand. “Ken’s told me all about you.”

“It’s an honor and a pleasure to meet you, Dr. Xiadon. I’m so happy to have a chance to—oh my God, are those panda thumbs on your wrists?!”

“Yes, they are!” says Xiadon, showing off her prosthetics. She makes them wiggle, which makes my stomach flip. “Aren’t they great?”

One thing that makes pandas unique is their “thumb,” a sixth digit that is actually a wristbone free-floating in the tendons of their forelimbs. They use those thumbs primarily to cut open bamboo—a neat little adaptation that, coupled with their unique throats and the special mix of enzymes in their guts, make the pandas’ weird choice in cuisine viable.

“Why did you get those?” I ask her. “So you could understand pandas better?”

Ask a stupid question. But she lets me down easy. “Naw,” she says, and grabs a mailer tube lying like a fallen log on her desk. She jabs a panda thumb into one end, sinking it all the way through the thick cardboard, and slices the tube all the way to the other in one clean stroke. The papers inside the mailer flower open and waft onto her desk. “I just use them to cut packages open.”

“You must get a lot of packages,” I say dryly.

“Tons,” she says dryly.


The premise itself sounds risque:
For the most part, pandas are solitary creatures. There is no term of venery for a group of pandas. We could default to the generic terms for groups of bears: a “sleuth” or a “sloth.” We could take one of the ad hoc suggestions from the Internet: a “cuddle,” an “ascension,” a “contrast,” or my favorite, a “monium” of pandas. But the fact is there isn’t much need to speak of pandas in groups since they spend almost all of their time alone.

There are two exceptions. (...) The other exception, however, is that fateful day when a sow is ready to mate. Then it can truly be said that pandas gather. Boars will contend with each other—usually through demonstrations of strength rather than battles to the death—for the right to conceive.

This is a panda behavior that has become increasingly rare in the wild since panda numbers have dwindled so dangerously low. But its resurrection may hold the key to a true resurgence of the population.

For you see, while the victor gets the sow, the losers get the consolation prize of watching the winner’s happy ending play out before them. It is in this fashion that younger, less-experienced boars are taught the ins and outs (ahem) of mating.

Biologists have tried to use videos of pandas having sex to mimic this effect for captive pandas. But humans found panda porn much more interesting than pandas ever did. There’s no substitute for the live show. A panda can’t trust anything it can’t smell.

But if the scents are right and the sounds are right, would-be suitors will find themselves a nice vantage point and spy on the mating couple. Yet another distinction between humans and the rest of the animal kingdom collapses: we are not the only animals who voyeur.

Perhaps the best term for a group of pandas is an “exhibition.”


The presentation, however, is glorious. I could quote pages and pages, but I'll skip straight to the (ahem) climax:
Скрит текст: покажи
Gui Gui mounts me. He mostly supports his own weight. I adjust to make us fit together better then press my backside into him. And he presses forward.

The suit doesn’t stimulate my human genitals or any part of my brain in charge of sexual satisfaction. I don’t orgasm, not even close. What I receive instead is communion. The event horizon that constitutes my sense of self grows outward. I breathe in the ground beneath me through my nose, and it becomes me; I inhale the stalks of bamboo that surround us, and I am they; I am the boar who mates with me, and I am all the death in the forest. But I am the life, too. Two other boars are in trees nearby—yes, I’ve smelled them out—watching, learning. I snort them into me, snort up more and more of the forest, the world, until it’s no longer useful or desirable to think of myself as a me.
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Re: International (non-English) speculative fiction

Postby Кал » Sun Nov 29, 2020 3:58 pm

My review of Anthology of European SF:

Another worthy international anthology. I even found a new author I'll be watching out for--Vladimir Arenev--so I count it as a win. :)

The stories that particularly won me over:

~ I enjoyed Jetse de Vries's "Transcendence Express" already in The Apex Book of World SF, Vol. 1; my impressions are here.

~ Liviu Radu's "Digits are Cold, Numbers are Warm" is clever and erudite, with a chilly ending. Not exactly my cup of tea, but the fact that I still remember its premise (I first read it nearly a decade ago) speaks volumes about its originality.

~ Cristian Mihail Teodorescu's "Bing Bing Larissa" is delightfully tongue-in-cheek. Test your knowledge of physics (and finance) with the following passage:
I don’t know how many of our readers possess advanced Relative and Absolute Accounting knowledge. To keep it short, one of the conclusions of this monumental theory is the equivalence between the Energy I defined above and the amount monitored. The necessary energy to track and drive an account is directly proportional to its financial value. On the other hand, the financial value of an account itself depends on the reference system used. A specific account observed from the reference system of an institution in motion (going either up or down financially) will change compared with its value in the reference system of the institution it belongs to for the time being. The textbook case that generated the Relative and Absolute Accounting is the observation of the loss account of an economic operator: seen from the reference system of the bank (an institution usually expanding in terms of business) is has a lower value; whereas seen from the reference system of the tax authority office (always in decline by definition), the account has a visibly higher value. On the other hand, the profit account is seen as having a much lower value from the reference system of the tax authority and a much higher value from the reference system of the bank.

Moving on, the Generalized Accounting says that the amounts of money (either organized in accounts or not) deform the very structure of the nearby Finance, which generates the Monetary Attraction Force. Under the circumstances, the Mint itself can be seen as an elastic net on which accounts or dispersed money travel and which is curved by them.

One more thing I should probably explain in such a way that Larissa could understand it, because I know that she will soon ask me whether the amount of money in the Mint is constant or whether more and more money come out as time goes by. Actually, no one was able to find an answer to this question, because the boundaries of the Mint cannot be seen even with the highest performance mozillas on computeresses. What is known for sure though is that Quantum Accounting has demonstrated the possibility of spontaneous emergence of profit and loss accounts of equal values and opposite sign, which create and annihilate each other in too short intervals of time for anyone to be able to observe them. These Fluctuations of the Financial Void are, however, brought to light by other phenomena: the disguising of certain accounts during audit, the artificial generation of micro profit and loss accounts when the complexity of the financial analysis increases in the vicinity of a certain account, virtual transactions and the Dark Finance (the origin of which no one can explain but it has to be factored in to be able to explain the macroeconomic trend of the major groups).


~ Hannu Rajaniemi's "The Server and the Dragon" fuses a fairy tale (of sorts) with hard science fiction (of the hardest sort). The result is far more relatable than my experience with The Quantum Thief.

~ Vladimir Arenev's "The Royal Library (Scrolls of the Bards)" had me chuckling quite a few times. Especially at this jab at our common vocation:
‘Bear in mind, youngster, that prophets are universally loved. By all girls. It is known. Remember the stonemason Moe-Zes? The crowd followed him on his heels wherever he went. He tried to escape, even fled into desert, but in it was no good –’

‘I ain’t going to no desert!’

Tytivillius lost patience, and in his temper said a few bad things about Crooknose’s ancestors. The lad grunted respectfully: such a weighty oath was new even for the Tanners’ Quarter.

‘Well then,’ concluded the Lord of Copyists. ‘You are my Prophet now. I shall come to you in your dreams and – ’

‘In all dreams?’ Crooknose grew anxious. ‘Not in the ones with Bluebell?’

‘Not in those ones! Only in special prophetic dreams. And I shall utter the words of wisdom for you to write down.’

Crooknose snickered in the most blasphemous way.

‘What is it again?’

‘Dreadful sorry, Lord, but I don’t know me letters!’

‘(...) You will be my Prophet. I shall talk to you. You will write it down. I know that you are illiterate. This is why I have chosen you. Nowadays, everyone who can hold a pen in one’s fingers considers oneself to have an artistic personality. Just copying and writing things down is not enough for them! They need to insert something of their own! To show off their individuality! (...)’
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Re: International (non-English) speculative fiction

Postby Кал » Mon Dec 14, 2020 4:34 pm

My review of Unwitting Street:

Not my usual fare: a bit too allegorical and plotless for my taste. (I'm surprised to hear myself say that, but obviously even I have a limit in these areas.) Still, I'm glad I got to read something so different; who knows what will come out of the juxtapositions? ;)

The translation was, for lack of a better word, awesome.

Specific impressions:

~ Given how early these stories were written (and how surreal the premise of a pair of sentient pants is), "Comrade Punt" surprised me with its vigorous parody of scientific explanations:
What’s more, in years to come a number of scientists, attempting to untangle the pantspunt problem, would propose a number of hypotheses. One of these, proceeding from an elementary fact of physics—“rubbing a piece of flannel against sealing wax produces an electrical charge such that little balls of paper brought near the excited bodies are alternately attracted and repelled”—offered this conclusion: given the presence, in the pantspunt case, of paper, wax seals, flannel, and, most importantly, the daily friction of that flannel against the seat of a chair, then why not suppose the emergence of a distinctive, as yet little-studied energy entirely sufficient to fulfill exactly and conscientiously Punt’s official pants-worn functions. Another hypothesis, in essence an extension of the first, was based on psycho-physiological premises: since the so-called heart or, rather, neurovibrations of a clerk tend to sink into his boots, then return to his head so as to again . . . in short, to constantly oscillate between boots and crown, it is entirely natural that the pants seam rumpalia, located midway, would each time retain some small part of those vibrations, gradually amassing and enseating itself with some semblance of thought, thus giving the pants the right to a rational and entirely independent life. In conclusion, why not regard the seat seam of Punt’s pants as analogous to the brain’s seamlike convolution connecting the hemispheres of gray cortical matter. Objections invoking the multi-linearity and convolutedness of the brain’s convolutions were cast aside by this hypothesis: one general brain line (and a straight one at that) was more than sufficient and even had a number of unquestionable advantages over a tortuous tangle of branching coils.


~ "The Slightly-Slightlies" offers this example of the translator's feats in preserving the effect (if not the exact content) of the original (what we called the principle of dynamic equivalence in my translation studies):
Yes, ours is difficult work, painstaking and, perhaps, superfluous: need one measure the angles of letters, is it worth counting ink dots when one already knows: they are all false-faces, pseudo-thinking and mock-talking. Impersonators. “What are you making?” Why not “what are you faking?” People fake love, thought, words; they fake what they make, their ideology, themselves. All their “stances” rest on a sham. And as for their marital sham, or rather shame: add one letter to that word, a small inconspicuousness to the meaning, give that sham-shame a good shake, and you will find such . . .


~ This excerpt from "The Life and Opinions of a Thought" is fascinating:
The first days of the Thought’s earthly life were its best: gazing about under the spacious bony dome of the thinker’s cranium, the Thought found itself amidst a vast, marvelously conceived and organized worldview. But when it looked out from under the thinker’s slightly raised eyelids, at the world, the Thought recoiled: it was far better in the worldview than in the world. From there, from the world, a small space crammed with things (from horizon to eye) looked back. Here—in the worldview—a clear expanse opened out, unsullied by a thing: it let itself be contemplated through and through—from beginninglessness to endlessness. In the world (at least here, on the wall, by the thinker’s eyes), seconds crept round a clockface, the Leipzig Universal Calendar lay open on the table, and no one was allotted more than one second at a time. Whereas in the worldview there was coming-from-nowhere, going-to-nowhere eternity.


Also, Krzhizhanovsky's sense of humor is beginning to grow on me:
Time helped. Having counted off one hundred years since the day of the sage’s death, it reminded people that . . . People have a wonderful custom: once every hundred years they remember their sages. But what can one do to honor a dead man: bury him again? It’s not always convenient.


~ Yes, Krzhizhanovsky definitely has some background/interest in science, or at least in scientific thinking. This is from "God Is Dead":
If, in February 2204, the papers had learned of God’s death, then in all likelihood not one of them, even the thirty-two page Central Word, would have devoted even two lines of brevier to that event.

The very concept of “God” had long since been disimagined, eradicated, and extirpated in people’s brains. The Commission to Liquidate Divine Worship had not functioned for close to a century for lack of need. True, historians wrote about the bloody religious wars of the mid-twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, but all of that had receded and abated long ago. The very possibility of the existence and development of faiths in gods was ascribed to pathogenic toxins which, over the centuries, had weakened intracranial nervous tissue. Scientists had discovered and even caught with the lens of a microscope a specific fideococcus [Note: Faith stimulator. (Latin)]—a wrecker that fed on the fatty substance in nerve cells, an activity which would explain “faith disease,” the ancient mania religiosa that destroyed correct correlations between brain and world. True, this view was disputed by the Neuburg school of neuropsychology, but the masses had accepted fideococcus.


Earlier, there's also a passage about calibrating a photometer.

This is the most science-fictional story so far (although still more of a parable than anything else).

~ Onwards with my leitmotif: here's some 1933 neuroscience from "The Gray Fedora":
Some thoughts live alone, recluses shut up in their neurons. Others scurry about the brain’s convolutions, proposing themselves for completion. Come night the brain-city, covered with its cranial crown, falls asleep. The dendrites’ ladders pull back from one another. The thoughts all fall asleep—and only the night watchmen, dreams, wander the brain’s deserted convolutions.

With the dawn, light also dawns in the mind. Thoughts rise from their neurobeds, fitting this subject to that predicate. Logic does its morning exercises: minor premises leap over major ones, major ones over conclusions. The awakened world outlook looks out for all it’s worth.


~ "Paper Loses Patience" is, basically, a large extended metaphor. Occasionally, it's even great:
The letters had fled and betrayed the great cause of culture. There remained—and then only at a few printers—several hundred punctuation marks. Mainly ellipses, question marks, and exclamation points.

City Hall, determined to fight to the end, printed up leaflets emblazoned with a hundred exclamation points under which ran two lines of ellipses.

This did not calm the public. On the contrary: city residents, scanning the forest of exclamations exclaiming about who knew what, hid their gloomy faces inside their upturned coat collars and, hunching their questioning backs under a drizzling rain of ellipses, passed quickly on.


~ "Unwitting Street" feels like the most personal story in the batch, bitterness lurking just under the surface:
You writers use your inkwells the way an octopus does its ink sac: in self-defense. To muddy the waters and “dissociate yourself.” Each new book gives the slip to the one before. With an eight-legged alacrity.


("Dissociate yourself" refers to the self-castigation practiced by Soviet writers in the early years of the Soviet state.)
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Re: Книги, автори, размисли творчески и човешки

Postby frog » Thu Dec 17, 2020 10:10 pm

Мисля, че сега е моментът да си купя книгите за робота Чапек :lol: Надявам се да стават за мен.
На 10 март 2020 me wrote:За робота Чапек на Петър Станимиров и Марин Трошанов: viewtopic.php?p=28591#p28591
Марин - https://www.bnr.bg/burgas/post/10112874 ... ota-chapek
Петър - https://www.bnr.bg/hristobotev/post/101178569
Двамата - https://www.bnr.bg/post/101219057 - Петър споделя за лигаво чудовище и други герои на Марин, на които се кикотел, когато научи за тях. За причудливите имена на героите.
От 2011 г. – възраждане на българския комикс не само като самиздат.

При изписване на "роботът чапек бнр" в Google излизат репортажите и интервютата.

https://kibea.net/author/2691 - под трите книги има и два музикални клипа - оригинален и с почитатели.

А книгите за Мортина видях, че ги има в Детския отдел на Столична, като ходих да разпитвам за събитие. Някой ден през 2021 трябва да отида и да се позаровя в книги да си чета, стига само престоят на човек да не е ограничен до 10 мин...

Скрит текст: покажи
И си пожелавам библиотечната ми карта, за която преди години ми бяха казали, че е нещо като доживотна, да продължава да си е такава, щото два пъти дискриминационно са ми вземали депозит задето не съм софиянка, но не са ми го връщали. И си отбелязвам да заема една книга за баба за Левски. Отдавна искаше да я прочете, но не ми се искаше да се юрвам да я купуваме, когато излезе.
Бесовете ви чувам“ ~ Jane Eyre Grisel. I refuse to be there for you when you need me.

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Re: Книги, автори, размисли творчески и човешки

Postby frog » Mon Jan 04, 2021 12:14 am

На 30 Dec 2020, 00:26 me wrote:Снощи почнах да чета първата книга за робота Чапек. Много съм доволна. Към 2 ч. посреднощ на няколко пъти се хилих с глас. Има разбиващи цитати, но не ми се вадят за показ.
Вече изчанчените имена ми харесват. Мислени са.

Сега приключих и с последната книжка. Малко се надишах с печатарско мастило :x
Ами много са хубави тия творения, но при някои каламбури и гротескни от натрупване имена или названия на същества се споменават неща, с които шега не бива – биполярно разстройство, двуполовост... макар и при животни. Иначе определено разпалва любопитството в разнопосочни нишки, има забавни и полезни препратки към най-различни неща. Казусът с вонящото цветно мастило ("Симолини", чудесно отпечатано) си стои обаче. Трябва да се чете по малко или с помощта на едрия шрифт - от разстояние с изпънати ръце.
Има и чудовище веган, споменава се и медитация, но е много тънка границата с насмешката. Ама все пак отчетливо се натъртва за музея, библиотеката, просветата, разбирателството, взаимопомощта, мира, природата; важността поне на всеки споменат в отделните комикси народ.
Във втората книга Трошанов wrote:Цял живот съм бил в нашата си епоха и съм горд от това! Вие младите си сменяте епохите по-често, отколкото аз си сменям ролката с тоалетна хартия. Никакво уважение към традицията!
Бесовете ви чувам“ ~ Jane Eyre Grisel. I refuse to be there for you when you need me.

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Re: International (non-Anglophone) speculative fiction

Postby Кал » Wed Sep 08, 2021 11:30 am

My review of Mithila Review #1:

A varied inaugural issue of an international magazine with an inspiring mission.

Particular favorites:

~ The following passage in Ajapa Sharma's editorial "Celebrating the Language of the Margin" reminded me of certain points about the importance of the periphery in Clifford Geertz's The Interpretation of Cultures:
The continued struggle in the Nepali plains against the government’s stern heavy handedness and the BJP’s failed attempts to bring the region into its realm of control, made us understand the immense power of the border, the margin, the periphery. While we did see a sense of defiance against the centralizing tendencies in the political developments, we also witnessed another kind of power mongering within the leadership of the region. As we followed the movement in Nepal and the elections in India, we realized that the language of representative politics and electoral democracy was inadequate.

The simple dichotomies, binaries and polarizations in polemical politics of the kind we witnessed in the Madhesh/Bihar were insufficient to speak about the interstitial spaces where people live their lives. We felt a deep craving, a yearning for a different kind of language, a language that slips, that dances off the words and the pages, language of the kind we may not even understand but only feel, only respond to with emotional reflexes: a chuckle, a gasp, a sigh, anything. This was the language of the margin.

The editorial is intelligent and impassioned in equal measure: a subtle tour de force of our ability to adapt and overcome.

~ Kelly Robson's interview fuels my revolutionary mood from the recent FutureCon:
9/11 was a terrible tragedy. I wanted to emphasize that similarly terrible tragedies happen all the time, around the world, and nobody pays attention because there are no video images, the victims aren’t New Yorkers, and millions of people didn’t witness the tragedy as it evolved.

Thousands of indigenous women have been murdered in Canada since 1980. Their deaths have never been properly investigated and their murderers have never been found. This is just as horrible as tragedy as 9/11, and yet few people know about it and fewer care.


~ Ack!
He held [his daughter's] hand at the hospital as a mysterious fever boiled her life away, yet he had not shed a tear. “How can you not cry?” Sangita had wept. “Do you not love her?” Bollywood had taught Sangita that men cried for the flimsiest of reasons, even the superheroes.

Guilty as charged! (Though in my case, it was K-dramas rather than Bollywood.) I generally find it hard to cry--and even harder when facing a real-life crisis. The only time when tears come easy is during fictional stories in any medium. It's as if I have to be thoroughly invested in the characters (that is, not myself) before I can let feelings out. Something repressed? A defense mechanism? (But against what?) The quest goes on.

(The excerpt is from Dilman Dila's "Braveheart Homecoming", which hovers in the uneasy space between hopeful and bleak.)

~ The personal narrative of Bhushita Vasistha's "Madhesh Through Magic Mirror: History and the Quest for ‘Self’" touched me. And Gurdjieff's idea that "On the quest for self, the only sin is to identify" was an important reminder.

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Re: International (non-Anglophone) speculative fiction

Postby Кал » Wed Oct 06, 2021 4:24 pm

My review of European Science Fiction #1: Knowing the Neighbours:

Varied, well translated (for the most part), and (for the most part ;)) upbeat.

Concrete impressions:

~ Francesco Verso's introduction presents (among other things) the mission of Future Fiction:
Future Fiction is a cultural association because – for us as a multicultural team – human relations come before business relations, and so we are set on a long term quest to preserve the biodiversity of the future, telling stories that would have never been published in Italian (due to the small size of the internal market) and maybe not even in English (if it weren't for the patience of authors, dedication of translators and courage of enlightened editors). Of course in Future Fiction you will also find stories from the US, the UK and other English speaking countries, because rather than diversity we prefer to talk about a “fair distribution of futures across the world.”


(Or, as a certain harpy would say, "We are sisters, you and I." ;))

~ Olivier Paquet's "Amber Queen" features an AI that actually sounds realistic:
[Noriko] poured a little wine into the sakazuki and pulled up the right sleeve of her shirt, revealing the diamond dragon on her hand. Adélaïde seemed to be sleeping under the nocturnal star. A slight contraction of her thumb sufficed wake the Artificial Intelligence. Immediately, the skin under the jewel quivered, indicating that the sublime jewel was perfectly adjusted. The network of claws and subcutaneous wires communicated with the chip installed in the gem-covered support. The machine–oddly enough, Noriko found it difficult to use that term–adjusted to the slightest change in conductivity, both thermal and electrical, and interpreted the signals.

It had taken ten years for a language, something that surpassed simple utility, to develop out of this coexistence. The complexity of the harvest, the interaction with meteorological constraints, could not all be turned into equations. The President wanted the Artificial Intelligence to feel the wine, to measure the effect and integrate it in her analyses. The cellar masters that preceded her drew this knowledge from their heritage and used it unconsciously. Noriko wanted this lineage to continue and to be expressed other than in the form of archives stored in databases.

The kirin’s tongue deployed and lapped at the wine in the cup, taking in enough to fill the eye. Shortly after that, the earring chimed and Adélaïde’s voice echoed in Noriko’s brain.

“It’s a very tall tree, long, majestic, reigning over the hill, like a shepherd watching new sprouts shiver in the morning. It’s a slow wind, the spray of foam lost on the beach sweeping over the feet of a child who runs off. Listen to the bird soaring over the mountain flank, wings barely flapping, and yet the air vibrates around it, enveloping it and carrying it. Wrap yourself up, curl up, share.”

(...) “Adélaïde,” the President said out loud, “I don’t want to leave. My place is here and I still have so much to learn. You enabled me to overcome my handicap, what will remain of me without you? I’m self-centred, but we’ve learned to tame one another and grow together. Each vintage is the fruit of our cooperation. I still need you.”

No response. The Artificial Intelligence had vocal modules for communication, but they were used most often to interpret reports, not for conversation. Adélaïde had no language other than that of the wine.


The story also offers a dialectic blend of the new and the traditional. Why should ever one come at the complete expense of the other?

~ Nina Horvath's "Programmed Obsolescence" is surprisingly full of interesting moments and observations--not necessarily SF-nal:
“I don’t understand though ... I mean, you’re quite pretty, I can’t see any disabilities or anything like that,” Irina answered.

“To tell the truth I have a disabled pass. But because of what I have in here,” I tapped my head three times with my finger. “My parents paid for a special modification. They wanted, more than anything, for me to have perfect hearing to be able to appreciate good music. However, things didn’t go how they were supposed to, because I do have excellent hearing but I can't bear it. Didn’t you wonder how I managed to hear your fire alarm?”

Irina nodded.

“I can hear even the smallest sounds. I can’t sleep if there is a clock ticking nearby, and every household electrical appliance hums continuously. I can even hear the sound a television makes when it is switched off.”

“Well, how about earplugs?” she suggested.

“It doesn’t work like that, not all sounds come through my ears and I can’t always use earplugs, because otherwise, afterwards, it would be worse.”

(I have a friend with a disconcertingly similar problem. And she says it got much worse after she fell sick with Covid last winter.)

Or:
I sat down on the floor and the curious kitten came over to me immediately. After letting it sniff my hand I started stroking her.

“Oh, how sweet!” I said enthusiastically, “You really are a lucky cat!”

“I don’t know about that, this little thing hasn’t had much luck. You see, I was shopping, and I saw a car slowing down and someone threw it out of the window, without even stopping. Unfortunately I was too shocked to note down the number plates, otherwise I would have reported it.”

“That’s terrible!” I said, distraught. “Y’know, sometimes I wonder what’s happening to people.”

“I stopped wondering a while ago. There are too many people who just don’t care. They don’t seem to understand animals are living beings, not toys, and they throw them away when they get boring,” she sighed.

You can basically tell the author is speaking from experience. ;)

I was also (pleasantly :)) surprised by the ending.

~ Neil Williamson's "The Golden Nose" is perhaps the sweetest nasty piece I've ever read. Consider:
Herr Zickler, when Felix found the proprietor slouched at a desk at the centre of the maze of lumber like a torpid spider, was a surprise. From the tone of his emails, the sure, unfussy knowledge he had displayed on the Habsburg History site that Felix’s ineffectual Googling had led to after reading about the artefact in the Karlheinz Kuntz biography, he had expected tweeds, greying temples, a professorial air. Not this…loafer.

Zickler acknowledged his arrival with a nod, but did not remove his headset or divert his attention from his laptop screen. “Five minutes, Herr Kapel,” he said, covering his microphone. “Raiding on Warcraft. Dungeon boss. Have a look around.”


Or:
Finally, Felix gave in to curiosity that logic and common sense had been unable to kill, and drew in a full, deep breath.

Well, of course, there was no difference between that breath and the one before. Does it actually work? he’d asked Zickler. Does it actually give you preternatural, magical, olfactory sensitivity? Will you be able to tell the difference between species of tulip from a mile away? Or inform the police what the victim’s last meal was from the odour palette of their kitchen? Or tell whether your lover is true from the tang of her sweat?

Felix laughed at himself. No, there were only the usual smells of the bathroom: soap on the wash stand, bleach from the floor, the slight odour of damp that told him Joanna had showered before she left. He could see the water droplets on the shower curtain, and a rim of mildew around the hem that had really quite a strong taint to it. It almost masked the sting of mint from the dried smear of toothpaste on the sink, and the fulsome guff of sewage seeping from the toilet, the lingering stain of farts too, and the cloying, complex melange of bathroom dust – talcum powder mixed with flakes of skin and tiny hairs and carpet fibres – and that dog really did stink, she’d been washing him in here, in their shower, that was disgusting, and their neighbours, the vegetarians, well she’d been cooking bacon again after he’d left for work and then doused the place in the most godawful aerosol freshener –

Felix removed the Nose.

And breathed out.


~ Linda De Santi's "Beautymark" presents a future that is as scary as it is allegorical--simply replace "beauty" with "likeability" (including the amount of likes we get on social media), and get scared yourselves.

And while some things may change, others have stayed the same:
I sat down at my desk and tried to concentrate, to make an idea come. I used all the techniques they had taught us at the Academy to overcome my writer’s block: I scribbled out lists, I wrote out the first words that came into my head in one breath, I tried to develop one of the suggestions they had suggested during a lesson (“invent a dialogue between you and your beautymark”), I listened to relaxing music, I even used an automatic incipit generator program.


And some of those immutable things make me retch just as they do now:
The authors of bestsellers - invited like Patron Saints to officiate at the mediatic rite of the exam - typed barrages of messages on their Influencer Profiles; magnificent heirs and heiresses distributed wide magnanimous smiles to the webcams, while a business angel confessed to preferring sex symbol artists to those who were simply beautiful. Then there were the investors, looking around hungrily, on the lookout for Future Stars or even only One Hit Wonders who nevertheless possessed a minimum 85% artistic beautymark rating. Then let’s not forget the millionaires, the brashest of them all, on a hunt for young authors to exploit to write their autobiographies, as well as the rows of journalists and opinionists telling the online channels how special these kinds of days were: the effort, the tears, the emotions, the authenticity, the wonder, the art on the stage, celebrities in the midst of the public, the beauty on the faces, money everywhere.


Alas, the ending reduces one of the main characters to a caricature. :( At least it made me realize that you can make a poignant story out of unpleasant characters or an unpleasant setting--but when you have both, it's simply ugly. (No pun intended.)

~ Uwe Post's "Petware" is the funniest story so far--so dazzling in its banter that I can't pick out one single quotable excerpt. I also need to reread it; there's so much inside so few pages, I'm sure I've missed something vital.

~ On the other hand, J.S. Meresmaa's "The Naming Tree" is simply sweet. There's no single passage that begs to be shared with the world; but the atmosphere of that smarter, more grown-up future feels nice and soothing.

~ Tais Teng's "Any House in the Storm" offers my favorite approach of "why should things be either-or?". The techno-optimistic solutions envisioned by the protagonist take my breath away:
In high school, Nadia’s design for a hurricane-proof house wins the second prize of the Building for the Future contest. Her house is a geodetic dome with a frame of supple titanium, anchored with carbon fiber cables and windows of cultured diamond. Even in the fiercest winter storms it will just stand there swaying, like the toughest soap bubble ever, and always right itself.

The buried accumulators hold energy for at least three months and her desalinator could suck a carafe of sparkling water out of Dead Sea sludge. Just you try, the house seemed to urge. I can withstand any hothouse trick the world has up its sleeve. I am deeply high-tech, completely up-to-date.

And:
Nadia stands on the edge of the construction pit and the whole world seems made out of sparkling sunlight—it’s endlessly wide. After all these years they have finally started: the biggest arcology of Europe.

The Belle van Zuylen is already half a mile high and grows forty more meters every day. When the Belle is finished, it will overtop anything Dubai and China have raised in the sky. A solar chimney forms the core, sucking in air, lifting it for more than two miles to drive a hundred turbines. The apartments hang from cables of twisted bucky-tubes, free to move and thus secure against any hurricane or earthquake. Above that super-tower a wheel of gliders will rotate, an Ockel’s windmill that reaches all the way to the stratosphere. On the roofs of the apartments she now sees the first date palms and olive trees growing.


And then the deuteragonist comes in to put my breath back with his simple, down-to-earth designs:
“(...) By the way, what are you doing nowadays? Did you go to the university like you wanted? To study construction?”

“Who wants half a million euros in study debt? I started my own firm. A while ago I designed a cabin for UNESCO. It condenses its own water with a dew trap and you cook all your food with a solar oven. Everything made from local materials.”


Thesis; antithesis; synthesis.

The only thing that mars the beauty of bringing these two approaches together is the condescending presentation of another culture:
“So sorry,” the grand duke says, “this isn’t what I was looking for. Both of the houses have their good points. The rug of living grass in Herr Cernik’s home, the view from madam’s window and free hot showers all year long. But I can’t stick my subjects underground like moles, now can I? And windows with twenty thousand channels are not a good idea. In Riga we have one government channel with the state opera and my fine speeches and the rest is foreign rubbish.”

Their gazes intersect and suddenly it is like before. Nadia and Rachid are the only smart ones in a classroom filled with idiots who don’t have the slightest idea what is truly important.


And finally, a scene that I, a fiction translator skeptical of my automatic colleagues, found hilarious:
A moment of blackness and the man steps from the window in glorious 3D, sits down in Nadia’s favorite chair. He wears a parade uniform with rows and rows of medals. Star-bursts and Maltese crosses, leering skulls and sheaves of grain.

“Laba diena, ponia Nadia Becker,” he gibbers and then the translation software cuts in. “My name sounds Linas the Fourth, grand duke of Riga. Ich have eine honorable Vorschlach for you, leading to successful profit both of us.”

Save me from low-tech hicks that insist on their own translation-ware, Nadia thinks.

“I am all ears,” she says. Yikes, I hope his program works better in the other direction. “Uh, please tell me?”


~ Krystyna Chodorowska's "The Lying Weather Forecast" nails my gripes against sinoptik.bg:
As a child I had always heard my father repeating these sayings: “Red sky at night shepherds delight, red sky in the morning shepherds warning,” and “Rainbow in the morning, gives you fair warning.” My father was a farmer, he lived and breathed the weather because everything depended on the forecasts being correct. He was usually right, his intuition seemed almost magical, but he was simply drawing conclusions from observing the signs. A few decades later and suddenly none of the proverbs had any meaning any more. My father died convinced he had lost his ability to understand the most important things in life.


~ Carme Torras's "Team Memory" examines the wonders of the human brain (just like that all-time favorite of mine, Perception):
I’d done research on amnesia and consulted colleagues with clinical experience about the kind of “lacuna” Tim had apparently suffered. None of them were surprised that the truth machine hadn’t detected it. A colleague with forensic experience told me that at a traumatic moment, the patient’s mind is like a tabula rasa, but made out of soft clay, and the first version of events that they tell the patient is inscribed in his mind as a memory that is just as real or even more real than if he’d lived it. When he recovers his memory, even if it’s only a few details, his reconstruction of what happened usually corroborates and completes the version he’d been given.

“Evidence shows that the blank created by amnesia is filled in within a few months.” I gave Doug a summary when he came to the gym to learn about my research. “Tim’s declaration before the judge and the machine would have been the same whether or not he’d recovered his memory.”

Or it would be, I began to explain, unless it was one of those extremely rare cases the prestigious Clinical Neurophysiology Journal had found worth publishing. The patient with amnesia in the article was an adolescent who, in exchange for a few grams of cannabis, opened the door of his school to a shooter who killed several of his classmates. His parents, trying to ease the effects of the trauma, told him he’d been present at the slaughter and was lucky enough to get out alive. Although he was under surveillance by the toxicology unit for drug consumption, the boy never connected drug use with the tragedy at his school. Months later when he recovered the memory of what had happened, he told it like a nightmare that kept dogging him, believing his parents’ version instead of the one in his own mind. Two similar cases coincided in interpreting the real memories like a recovered dream.

That concurred entirely with my own research into mirror neurons. These neurons are activated in the same way if I raise my hand or if someone else raises their hand in front of me: that’s what the name comes from. They’re also activated if an amputee imagines raising a phantom limb. When we dream or see a game, it feels almost the same to us as if we were really playing, due to the activation of the mirror system. I admitted to Doug that I should have guessed something along those lines back when I was in university because during the two months when I was laid up with an ankle injury, I watched more games than I had in my whole life, and when I came back, not only was I on top of my game right away but I’d developed new movements. A little after that I made first string. And I owed that to all the NBA forwards, especially LeBron James.


However, I didn't understand the ending. Who dun it? Need to reread.
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Re: International (non-Anglophone) speculative fiction

Postby Кал » Sun Oct 24, 2021 4:50 pm

My review of The Simoqin Prophecies:

A very solid 4-star, really-liked-it novel. And if the rest of the series goes where I think it's going (viz: where no-one has gone before), they will own all the stars. And make excellent Stewards.

Starriest moments:

~ Yes ...
The chimaera walked out of the tunnel. Its head and forelegs were those of a lion–hideous snarling face, long drooling fangs, graceful sinewy smooth limbs ending in gigantic talons of death. Goat-like hindquarters, huge ugly cloven-hoofed feet. Its tail was a fire-breathing serpent, lashing back and forth, angry flames spewing from its venomous mouth as it reared up and glared at the warrior.

A lesser man would have dropped his sword and run out of the cave. But our warrior laughed defiantly in the face of death and raised his sword in insolent greeting. ‘I fear you not, hell-cat,’ he said.

The chimaera shook its mane angrily, threw back its head and opened its mouth to roar.

‘Baaa-a-a-a-a-a-a!!’ it said.

Many people tend to forget that chimaeras are one-third goat.

‘What do you mean, baaa-a-a-a-a-a-a?’ asked the warrior.

‘Shut it!!!!’ came the voice from the mouth of the cave.

The imp closed its eye and buzzed back angrily to the rock. The actors, warrior and chimaera, glared at each other.

‘What do you mean, what do I mean?’ asked Nimbupani the chimaera angrily. The serpent-tail stopped breathing fire and began to cough hoarsely, smoke billowing from its sizzling mouth.

‘You were supposed to roar,’ said the warrior.

‘I did roar, Ali.’

‘You bleated.’

‘It was the goat’s turn to roar,’ said Nimbupani, wounded. ‘Everyone picks on my goat.’

... I think I'm in the right place. :)

~ ... Or am I?
IN A HOLE in the ground there lived a rabbit. What is a rabbit? A rabbit (Bunihopus bobtelus) is a small, white mammal that loves good food and is anxious when it is late for appointments. This particular rabbit was off for an expedition in the forest. He planned to wander around for a few years and then return home and write a book. There and back again–The Adventures of One Rabbit, he planned to call it. He popped out of his burrow and looked around, sniffing the air delicately.

He saw a man standing next to a tree, looking up. “Afternoon. Set out. Description of Forest. Many trees, leaves, green. Tension in air, palpable. Man, one, standing next to tree, looking up” the rabbit noted in his mental journal. Attention to detail is the key to holding a reader’s attention, he thought smugly.

‘They’ll be here soon.’ the man said. The rabbit took a look at the long sword the man held casually. Forward, to danger and glory? He wondered whether a travel writer’s job was what would bring out his inner rabbit.


~ How to get rid of a tertiary character and point out the primariness of another, in a couple of short paragraphs:
Vijay left.

What he did with the rest of his life does not concern us.

(...)

The Dagger and his men waited, silent on tall trees in the still afternoon. They were used to waiting. The forest was quiet. It waited too.

An hour passed. Nothing happened.

Another hour passed. Many things happened to the twenty-one people who rode into the large circular clearing at the end of that hour. Twenty died. But one lived. And whatever happened to him for the rest of his life concerns us. Deeply. For he was Prince Asvin of Avranti, the Hero of our story. The Chosen One. A Person to Whom Things Happen. Many Things.


~ Wait ... which place is this?
Triog had traveled all over the world before settling down in Kol. His ancestors were, like most ogres, from Ventelot. They were a very highly respected family of ogres, who had eaten many of the famous knights of the Almost-Perfectly-Circular Table, in the forgotten days when Ventelot was the mightiest kingdom in the world, and not just famous for bad weather and worse food.


~ Emancipation to live by (or, well, die by):
So. Prince Kumirdanga of Potolpur wants to marry me. Wants isn’t the word, is willing to make the great sacrifice. He came to Enki, barged into my room and was very eloquent and very romantic. ‘After all you have finished your studies and it is time you settled down. You need a husband and I am, let me tell you in confidence, considered to be an excellent catch.’ Moron. ‘And let me tell you something else, you know no one wants to marry spellbinders, especially spellbinders from Durg, as they are often disobedient wives; but I think if you cleaned up you would be adequately beautiful, also your (long pause) figure is, if I may take the liberty of saying so, quite excellent. Yes, you will do. I am willing to be your husband and have you bear my heirs, but you must understand my word is law. Always best to make things clear to spellbinders and Durgan women haha, haha.’

I turned him into a slug. He doesn’t look very different, actually. Will change him back if anyone misses him. I hope I don’t lose this diary before I forget all about this, because no one is likely to miss him.


~ Ah. Girl Meets Boy. And vice versa:
‘Hello, Maya? I’m Asvin, from Avranti.’

You’re very good-looking, Asvin from Avranti. ‘Hello, Asvin. You’re right on time. Do sit.’ Punctual, too, I like that.

There was a sharp nip on Asvin’s foot. He looked down. ‘Oh hello, where did you come from? Maya, I’d like you to meet Fluffy.’ He patted Steel-Bunz on the head.

Kind to animals, too. Maya held out her hand and Asvin kissed it. Charming. So charming. Quite the prince, aren’t you. Very good-looking. Muscles, too, and nice and tall. Of course all this means nothing to me. ‘Where’s Amloki?’

‘Packing. He’s packing for himself and for me. He told me he had to go meet Gaam the vaman, who is to be my new guru, and organize our departure at dawn. Apparently a member of the Silver Phalanx is also going to come with us. I love Amloki, he works so hard.’

Caring, considerate, respectful. What a nice smile. ‘I love him too.’ I love him too? What is wrong with you? ‘I mean, he’s very nice. Yes.’ Control yourself, Maya. He’s not the first handsome type you’ve met. Probably really stupid, and never read a book in his life.

‘Yes, khudrans are fascinating, aren’t they? I haven’t seen any other khudrans in Kol, though. I guess they don’t generally like city life. I once went to a khudran village, near our eastern border, with my father. It was amazing, quite unlike the books.’

The books. So well-read. So knowledgeable, wise, intelligent. Must have traveled a lot, too. But obviously he’s special. He’s a Hero. Simoqin’s hero, no less. I must say he suits the part. ‘Is that so.’ Is that so? Is that so? I’ve read all the books in Enki library on all the known races in the world! Is that so?

‘Amloki and the Civilian have told me wonderful things about you,’ said Asvin, feeling intimidated by Maya’s glassy stare. The most brilliant spellbinder in Kol, no wonder she doesn’t seem interested in what I’m saying. She’s probably far away, in some land where mathematics and magic mingle and sing to her in strange voices. ‘Can I get you something to eat?’

Well, there's a Reason for all that:
Maya had met many intelligent, charming and handsome men before. Her reaction to them had never been so strong, though. She was generally very level-headed and analytical, even cynical sometimes. Yes, Asvin was really attractive and dashing and heroic, but Maya was reacting more strongly than she would have in other circumstances. Normally she would have flirted happily with him and then forgotten all about him as soon as she found an interesting book. But as she looked at Asvin, she had a sudden urge to marry him and have six children. Because here she was dealing with more than standard attraction. She was dealing with one of the fundamental Laws.

The Hero Always Gets The Girl.


~ Chapter 19 features the best bar brawl I've seen in a book. Here's the beginning; and here's the climax. But everything in between is glorious.

~ Welcome to Bolvudis:
The boat came closer. The man stuck an arm out from beneath his robe. Maya heard Asvin gasp, for it was not a human arm, it was a skeleton’s arm, one bony finger pointing towards them. The dolphins must have stopped swimming, because the boat was not moving any more, bobbing up and down dangerously as waves threatened to topple it over. The man finally stuck the pole into the shallow waters, found bottom and pulled, propelling the boat forwards to the beach.

‘Ab-abandon all hope, f-f-or I am D-d-death,’ the man said in a sepulchral voice.

Maya saw Amloki smile, and she knew he had noticed it too–the robe had slipped back a little, and his real arm had appeared, clutching the bony toy and waving it about.

‘We can see your arm, Death,’ she called.

‘D-d-damn,’ said the man, and fell over.

He got up, spluttering. His cowl had fallen off, and a crab was attached to his straggly hair.

He pushed the boat over to a conveniently huge boulder in the shallow blue waters, and they waded up to it and stepped gingerly into the boat, which was very wobbly. D-d-death clambered on, nearly upsetting them all, and Irik perched on the prow. D-d-death’s pole sent the boat into motion again, and soon it was moving fast as the hidden dolphins started pulling again. Asvin, who was sitting nearest the front, sometimes saw a sleek grey body coming close to the surface, and was filled with joy, for he had never seen a dolphin before.

‘So, this Death, he’s an actor?’ Gaam whispered to Irik.

‘Yes, and not a very good one,’ said Irik, ‘which is why we’re training him as much as possible, sending him to pick people up and so on. He’s getting scarier, though – he only fell into the water once this time. You must remember he’s a very new Death.’

‘A new Death?’

‘The old Death died.’

‘The old Death died?’

‘He was a very old Death.’

Bolvudis grew larger, a beautiful little island covered in a mist that was lifting fast under the hot sun. They saw, on a cliff, huge letters, carved out of wood, painted white.

B-O-I-U-D-V-L-S, they said, shining in the sun. ‘People lost jobs over that,’ said Irik apologetically.


~ The tests of true friendship:
Kirin sat down on the floor, at Spikes’ feet, and told him Narak’s story. When he reached the part where his father had allowed himself to be captured, and had met Katar, he faltered, and looked at Spikes. Of course Spikes was his friend. And no matter what happened, Spikes would be on his side.

Wouldn’t he?

‘Tell me the rest of the story,’ said Spikes. ‘It involves me, doesn’t it?’

His father had said pashans were stupid. He obviously hadn’t met Spikes. Well, he had met the egg, but there is only so much you can say about an egg.

Kirin told Spikes the story of Katar and the egg of stone, and the coming of his mother and the death of his father and Danh-Gem.

Spikes was silent in the darkness.



Then he said, ‘So your father killed mine.’

‘Yes, and my mother killed Danh-Gem, who made your parents,’ said Kirin, feeling a little uneasy. But pashans didn’t care about their parents.

Did they?

How could they? They never even met their parents.

He suddenly realized that he had hardly ever met his….

‘Shouldn’t I be angry?’ Spikes said softly.

‘I don’t know, Spikes,’ said Kirin. Part of him was wondering whether to run.

‘And now you will slay Danh-Gem, who created pashans like me. I am probably the only one of my kind left, just as you are the only one of yours.’

His eyes were glowing green in the darkness. Kirin watched him. This isn’t happening, he thought. But Spikes was his friend…he’d probably lost Maya, and now… Spikes?

They were both quiet for a while, looking at each other.

Then Spikes laughed. ‘So what do we do now?’ he asked.

Kirin sat down on the rock beside him. He briefly considered hugging Spikes, but abandoned the idea because he would probably get hurt.

He grinned.

‘Now,’ he said, ‘we do nothing.’


~ The tests of true balladeering:
‘Some heroes do all the things the epics speak of. They go out into the wilds alone, suffer bitter hardships and return after completing their quests. These men are brave and hardy, true, but the tales they tell are not very inspiring ones. Most of these men do not have a flair for story-telling, and speak most fondly of food found in unexpected places. Long ago, in the times when the great Ossus was alive, a certain knight of Ventelot had a bright idea – he asked his page to note down everything he did on the quest, so that when he returned, the world might know of his deeds. The page did so, and later, when the knight read the sordid story of robbery, murder and duplicity that was the true tale of his journey to slay a dragon, he was enraged and threatened to put his page to the sword.

‘The page pleaded for his life and then changed the story completely, putting in distressed damsels, plundering dragons and many-headed ogres. The knight returned to Ventelot with gold he had stolen from a band of sleeping bandits and was rewarded with the hand of an extremely ugly princess, who was of course ravishingly beautiful in the tale. (...)’


~ The scientific method in a nutshell:
‘Should I talk about the Eurekus Test?’

‘Yes.’

‘Very well. Eurekus, a powerful Psomedean king, once decided to find out more about the sirens, whose songs were destroying ships and forcing his mariners to take a long and complicated route around the Ossus Archipelago. He conducted what was called the Eurekus Test. He sent two ships to the island of sirens, each with a captain tied to the mast to report on the effect of the songs on the sailors. Neither returned. The sailors on the first ship jumped off the ship and drowned as soon as they heard the songs, and the ship was dashed to pieces on the deadly rocks around the island. The sailors on the second ship had wax in their ears, but when they saw the beautiful sirens they jumped off the ship too, and this ship was wrecked as well. This disproved the commonly held theory that it was the song of the sirens alone that drove men insane.

‘Then Eurekus sent two more ships. Neither of these returned either. The sailors on the third ship were blindfolded, and didn’t have wax in their ears, and navigated through instructions the captain shouted. But this didn’t work either–when they heard the song, they jumped off the ship, and it was wrecked. The fourth ship never returned either, but it was not known whether this shipwreck occurred because the sirens had mysterious powers even beyond their beauty and music, or simply because the sailors on this ship had no idea where the ship was going, because these sailors were blindfolded and had wax in their ears.’

‘Very good. Do you know who resolved the issue?’

‘Yes. You did. You discovered in Kol that human attraction works not only through sight and sound, but through smell as well, as you described in your famous book, The Nose Knows. And you sent a ship with sailors with blocked noses past the island of sirens, and they were fine – they cheered and whooped when they saw the sirens, but stayed on the ship. Then you deduced that the sirens had a powerfully attractive scent, and that was the key to their charms. So you made a perfume that countered that smell, which is why Bolvudis is safe now.’


~ Ah, the power of love:
Скрит текст: покажи
They spun around and saw two trunk-like, hairy blue legs, which led up to a crudely sewn tiger-skin tunic that barely covered the monstrous figure of Arakat, standing quietly behind them.

She was as tall as the tallest tree, her fangs were gleaming white, her blood-red lips were dripping saliva. Her skin was dark blue, her hair was long and matted and she wore a necklace of tiger skulls. Her small, cunning eyes stared at them.

The Thrillseeker bounced up to her massive foot and exploded.

She laughed. The earth shook, and birds all over the forest took to the air, screeching.

Maya and Asvin looked at Gaam.

‘Run!’ he yelled.

He dived to his right as Arakat’s foot came crashing down into the ground where he had been an instant ago. Maya fired a fireball into her eye, but she didn’t even seem to notice. With one fluid, sweeping motion, she picked Maya up with one huge hand and Gaam with the other. She kicked Asvin, and he crashed into a boulder and fell unconscious to the ground.

She looked from Gaam to Maya, wondering which of them looked tastier.

Then a fat man came running out of the tunnel. He was clad in a tiger-skin loincloth, and looked as if he had just woken up. His bare flesh jiggled as he ran, and he looked annoyed.

‘Put them down, my love,’ he said. ‘You promised.’

‘But I’m hungry, O sweet one,’ grumbled Arakat in a voice of thunder.

‘I have told you before, light of my life,’ said Chorpulis, ‘We shall feast on the fruits and wild honey of the forest, drink spring water and mead, and live in peace and harmony with the natural world around us. The Bard himself avoided meat.’

‘But I’m a rakshasi, O eye of the moon,’ pleaded Arakat. ‘I cannot drink milk when I know there was a cow around it once.’

Chorpulis waved an admonishing finger. ‘Now, now, my wilful little butterfly, who is your bouncing bunny?’

‘You are,’ said Akarat coyly, ‘my one true love.’

She put Gaam and Maya, who had been watching this tender exchange with great interest, down on the ground, and patted their heads gently, almost cracking them open. Then she shrank until she was human-sized, and suddenly took human form. She was quite pretty, really.

‘All she needed was love,’ said Chorpulis, holding the simpering Akarat’s hand and looking at her with fond eyes.


~ The final reveal was ... wow. Just wow.

And here I thought I'd seen it all ....
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Re: International (non-Anglophone) speculative fiction

Postby Кал » Sun Oct 31, 2021 8:56 pm

My review of The Manticore's Secret:

Even more convoluted than the first book. The stage is getting deliciously cluttered. The stakes, ever more mysterious. The nods to gaming, as thrilling as ever. (By the way, if you enjoy nods to other works of art, or life in general, you'll love this trilogy.)

The only thing that mars my enjoyment is the casual slaughter (and at one point, it takes on an MAD-weapon scale). Let's see if the final book will justify it.

Particular titillations:

~ Maya in love:
In addition to his numerous other virtues, it turns out Asvin learned a lot more than yoga in his years at the ashram. I mean, I thought I was in good shape, but he could be a contortionist in his spare time…mmm.

It’s been three weeks or more since I last wrote, but who cares? Birds chirp merrily at me, there’s a spring in my step and it’s only because I sound like a hippopotamus in heat when I sing that there isn’t a merry tra-la on my lips.


~ Dark Towers in the making:
While many minds might shepherd the actual process of construction, at the core of any grand architectural structure is one driving, obsessed, inspired mind. And the mind behind Izakar was that of the renowned Ventelot druid Andmartine, master of stone, who had studied Dark Towers down the ages and had distilled and compressed his immense learning into two blindingly brilliant edicts that he had given his chief subordinates.

Edict One: The Dark Tower should be Dark.

Edict Two: The Dark Tower should Tower.


The great thing about simple instructions is that they are usually easier to follow than complex instructions.

Andmartine’s greatest creation, Izakar, was the Dark Tower that out-Darked and out-Towered every Dark Tower ever dreamed of (...).


~ Hah! The "names have power" school gets its comeuppance, finally!
Everyone, from asurs to gods, knew that names were dangerous things – that there was a whole branch of magic devoted to gaining power over objects and people by learning their true names was a fairly big clue, to say the least. And though most people didn’t know it, this worked both ways – sometimes names themselves could exert power over their subjects, by defining them, giving them identities and egos, which is why it was safest not to name anything you didn’t want to identify, from feelings to monsters under your bed. But on a girlish whim, Red had gone and named the arguing voices in her head (that she was drunk was no excuse – there was another sacred Rainbow Council rule she had broken) and cursed herself with immortal indecisiveness, and two powerful, wilful and permanently quarreling egos.

It wasn’t even as if they were each other’s mirror images, permanently locked in argument – they were just two different people. For example, they both liked coffee, but Tamasha liked it sweeter. On the subject of men, though, they were united – both agreed enthusiastically that having as many as possible as often as possible was the only way to go. It helped, of course, that Red could change shapes… her romantic life had become incredibly complicated, and somehow empty at the same time. She sometimes felt as if she were outside her own body, watching Soma and Tamasha with their lovers, who never touched her.


~ Dark Lords seldom come nicer than this:
‘Thank you,’ said Aciram dryly. He turned to the Lady in the Iron Mask. ‘Zolaa? Do you have anything to report?’

‘Nothing,’ replied Zolaa, the last gorgon, her voice flat and muffled behind the beautiful iron face she wore. ‘The gods play with our destinies. The true stars are veiled. My sight fails.’ She folded her bronze wings behind her sadly and looked at the floor. Inside her iron mask, the snakes in her hair hissed and squirmed, and then were silent. Kirin stared her in fascination, as he always did when he heard her rasping, strangely hypnotic voice. Once again, he felt the sudden mad temptation to throw off Zolaa’s mask and turn the entire assembly in the hall to stone.

Danh-Gem had met Zolaa centuries ago, when he had first explored the Mountains of Shadow. He had found her crying alone in a corner of a dark cavern in the roots of the mountains, surrounded by stone statues, desperate for someone to talk to but scared of the light, for light meant either more innocent victims or would-be assassins with mirrors. He heard of the horrors she had faced underground, of vamans in reflecting armour who had hunted her family through underground tunnels from Psomedea to Imokoi, who had heard of the gorgons’ prophetic abilities and wanted to enslave them. In that darkness he had befriended her, sent blind asur craftsmen to her aid, and they had fashioned for her a mask of iron, that completely covered her head with its death-dealing eyes and its swirling, hissing snake-hair. Yes, blindness was uncomfortable, but it had let Zolaa face the world without turning everyone she met into stone.

The new Age, Zolaa had told Kirin when he’d suggested liberating her from her mask, was not a good one for gorgons anyway – the modern obsession with physical beauty meant there were far too many mirrors in the world, and she would have gone mad with anxiety trying not to turn herself into stone.

Kirin was largely unconcerned with Zolaa’s skills as a prophet. The reason he kept her by his side was that he really liked her, and was trying to match-make between her and Spikes, who was obviously not someone who could be turned into stone.

‘Your sight has not failed, Zolaa,’ Kirin said warmly. ‘And if I had more people around me who were silent on matters they knew nothing about, my task would be much simpler. Is that not so, Spikes?’

Spikes was silent.


~ Hah! Has any wuxia scriptwriter thought of this?
‘Is there anything else, Aciram?’

‘Yes, there is. The shadowsnatchers have slain a Wu Sen monk they found crossing the mountains with the objective of assassinating you and regaining the Gauntlet of Tatsu.’

‘Just one monk?’

‘He was no weakling. He was from one of those secret martial arts cults whose mystic warriors can fly, walk on water and trees, and shoot blue beams of light with their hands.’

‘Right,’ said Kirin. It seemed the only thing to say under the circumstances.

‘I have rewarded the shadowsnatchers with gold and livestock.’

‘Excellent. How did they kill this monk, incidentally?’

‘They attempted to overtake and overpower him, and failed. Three shadowsnatchers felt the bite of his sword before he died. Luckily, the shadowsnatchers have dealt with his kind before. The only way to really overcome these monks is to debate with them; to persuade them that they have dishonoured their monastery in some way, which always makes them commit ritual suicide.’


~ Ahaha ... can you spot the influence?

~ Basu keeps amazing me with his panache in writing action sequences, such as the one that starts in Chapter Ten.

~ Chapter Twelve. The Gods talk about the Game.

Me: Wow, this is getting more exciting by the chapter.

~ I'm only halfway through the book, and I can already tell this is one of the most complicated/unpredictable plots I've ever seen. I feel genuinely sad for anyone who has given up already in Book One.

~ Here's an example of a rather unusual approach to writing action.

~ And here's an example of the hilarity of talking to mindreaders:
‘Put me on your shoulder and look at me, slowly, and reverently, for I have never let anyone see me thus before’, said the chameleon. Maya put him on her shoulder, and his skin turned the dark brown of her robe. Her gaze, however, was more amused than reverent. She opened her mouth to speak again. ‘W--’

‘Who are you?’ said the chameleon. She shut her mouth.

‘Greetings, Maya. I will ask you again, in the interests of my safety, not to make any sudden movements, for though I know you will know not, and I will not die just yet, I also know you will not because I asked you not to, and I also know that I asked you not to, so I did. Never mind that, it is not important. What is important is me. Who are you? I am an unwaba. A what? An unwaba. Nunwaba? What is a nunwaba? No. Not a nunwaba. An unwaba. The unwaba, in fact, because as far as I know there are no other unwabas in existence. And I should know, because I know everything. What? Yes. Perhaps it would be a good idea if you just listened to me. I will say everything you intend to say on your behalf,’ said the unwaba.

Maya, who had opened and shut her mouth several times in the course of this speech, opened and shut it again. And opened it again, but the voice said ‘All right. Go on, then. Thank you. I have come here from Kol, where I have resided since its very foundation, with one purpose alone – to meet you here, now, and guide you in your tasks until my death, for I will die soon, and this world will die too unless you succeed in carrying out the tasks I set you. I don’t understand. I realize you don’t, but it would help if you just listened instead of interrupting.’

‘B--’ said Maya.

‘But I-- Listen. I am the unwaba, oldest of chameleons. But before I was a sleepy old lizard, I was a god. There was a message I was supposed to deliver…a long time ago, when the worlds were young, when the gods believed… and when I was too slow, I was banished, I was sent here, to experience the mortality I had doomed the gods’ creations to, to taste the bitterness of age and pain and all things physical. But my banishment, like my present form, is limited, and draws to a close. And while I have suffered in your mortal world, I have become a part of it – I have taught, but more importantly, I have learnt. This world has given me new ideas… and new ideas are precious indeed to old gods. I wish to repay my debt before I die. And as the gods would have it, I have a chance. For great peril threatens this world. What peril? The ravians? No. The ravians threaten other races on the world, but not the world as a whole, for they seek to preserve it – and rule it. This world’s creator, a fickle, careless god, has invited other gods to play a game on it – and this game is a game that will destroy this world. For in this game there is victory only for idle gods – for the mortals on their living world-board, there is only death. The gods do not care what happens to their creations, for they can always create more… and I should know, for I was like them once. This world and this body have taught me the error of my ways. Which is why I have taken upon myself the task of informing you that escape is possible – an escape only I can lead you towards. You look like a lizard to me. That is because I do look like one, so there is no conflict, is there? I see. Good. I am the wisest creature on this world. How do you know that? I know everything. You’re all-knowing? That is another way of putting it, yes. Omniscient is yet another. Or Eitiktikitamohapechoonpaka, which in the forgotten language of the island of Omphalos meant Magnificent Saurian Whose Very Foundations Emit Wisdom. And I would like to point out that what you are about to do might hurt me,’ said the unwaba.

Maya closed two fingers around the unwaba’s mouth. ‘Now listen closely,’ she said. ‘Though if you are all-knowing, you knew I was going to do this. I like you – even if you’re lying, you’re funny, and I will listen with great interest to anything you have to say, but no matter how old and wise you are, you will let me speak for myself. Is that clear?’

She released her grip on his mouth. ‘--clear? Yes it is clear, Maya. However, you must realize that I tend to see words as words that were spoken, and not really consider who spoke them, because I have never had a conversation before. So when you wish to speak, you will have to hold my mouth – gently – and say your words yourself. That will--’

She shut his mouth. ‘That will not be a problem,’ she said. ‘By the way, what is the colour of my underwear?’

‘--wear? You are not wearing any. You did not expect to leave Vanarpuri in such a hurry. I--’

‘I see. So you really know everything.’
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Re: International (non-Anglophone) speculative fiction

Postby Кал » Fri Nov 05, 2021 5:16 pm

My review of Palestine +100: Stories from a Century after the Nakba:

There's something deeply disturbing about the prevalent tone of these stories--something that adds a sinister spin to the intro's claim that in Palestinian fiction, "Israelis hardly ever feature, as individuals, and when they do, they are rarely portrayed as out-and-out villains"--but I don't want to spend time exploring and formulating it right now. I'd rather focus my efforts on this seminar on nonviolent communication, with all the conflict transformation tools it provides. (Actually, I'm about to watch and discuss it with a group of friends in November and December; if you're close to GMT +2 and would like to join our online sessions, drop me a message.)

My reading notes:

~ Saleem Haddad's "Song of the Birds" is like The Matrix, only sadder. Much sadder.

~ Selma Dabbagh's "Sleep it Off, Dr Schott" has a fascinating structure, borrowing elements from plays and non-fictional reports. The language is excellent, too, capturing all those registers perfectly. However, I need to reread the ending; I didn't get it.

~ Majd Kayyal's "N" is yet another experimental story, containing perhaps the most breathtaking passages so far. (Congratulations to Thoraya El-Rayyes for the translation.) It also seems to be the most hopeful one--although with these literary works, it's hard to tell. ;)

Here's an idea that really spoke to the linguist in me:
(...) in most VR realities right now, there’s only one language. It might be your language, say, if you’re American and the reality is in English. Or it might be translated, if you’re an Arab and you’re watching a reality in English. No, no, I don’t mean translated like in the movies… I mean that the database contains the information for the other language as well. But the language data is loaded as part of your character’s past, so you skip having to learn the language. So I’m looking into interacting with a new language while you’re in the reality itself, and the possibility that you can create an improvised language in the process, a new language.


~ Hah! Food for thought (from Emad El-Din Aysha's "Digital Nation"):
‘Have you ever wondered why Arabs, Muslims, don’t have a utopian literature of their own?’

‘At times. I had satisfied myself into thinking that it was “low” expectations. A sense of fatalism. But there was something more. I just couldn’t put my finger on it.’

‘How true,’ the old man said, eyes transfixed on the flag. ‘They know the pitfalls that come with Utopia. They learned to fear themselves, the lack of humility that comes with it. They had a Utopia, of sorts, at the time of their Prophet, then it all fell apart afterwards. Everybody fighting for the promised land in his own way, turning a heaven on earth into a living hell.’


Thinking in utopias is the second most inane thing (after thinking in dystopias). Both require us to ignore a vast number of concurrent processes, dreams, aspirations. And what happens when you ignore many, many people's or communities' dreams?

Then again, it's MUCH harder when you try to take into consideration twenty or thirty trends at the same time. Very few writers can do it effectively; off the top of my head, I can only think of David Brin and Kim Stanley Robinson. "Harder" doesn't mean "impossible," though--let alone "pointless."

"Digital Nation" wasn't an easy story to read (and I'm sure it was quite hard to write). But for me, it's been the most satisfying so far.

~ Tasnim Abutabikh's "Vengeance" is the only story here that mentions a global issue: the catastrophic impact of climate change. This brings out a what I'd call symptomatic common trait of the stories: their insularity. They all seem focused on a very local future, ignoring planetwide trends; which ultimately makes most of them sound like cautionary dystopias rather than predictive explorations. (At this point, is there anyone who thinks the future--any future--can be local?)

I can see the rationale behind such an outlook, but it still creates a lump in my throat. It hurts to see how longtime hurt colors all our perceptions.

(It also makes me think of Kurdistan, Tibet, and any other place where great groups of people have been denied fundamental human needs.)
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The cultural hegemony

Postby Кал » Wed Dec 01, 2021 10:58 pm

In the Goodreads group Speculative Fiction in Translation, Kalin Stacey wrote:I was curious where we'd come so far in our international literary travels together as a group over the past year. So I made a spreadsheet covering our 2021 group reads and tallied up some of the results based on the categories we keep in our group bookshelves.

In total the group read 17 books throughout 2021 (including December's, which we're just getting to).

(...) Original Language
Japanese: 3
Spanish: 3
Arabic: 2
English: 1
French: 1
German: 1
Italian: 1
Korean: 1
Polish: 1
Russian: 1
Swedish: 1
Various: 1


Кал wrote:Re: languages, I noticed an issue that is common for publishers' choices and cultural influences. If you split languages into "large" and "small" (here're the "largest" languages: https://eewiki.newint.org/index.php/Lan ... _the_facts), you'll notice that in 2021, we read only one book originally written in a "small" language (Swedish, which has some 10-13 million speakers). The second "smallest" language on our list is Polish, which has some 45-50 million speakers. I wouldn't call that "small." :)

Of course, "small" languages have fewer translators capable of bringing them to the rest of the world. However, I have a nagging feeling (but not the statistics to verify it) that even with that consideration, the number of available (and publishable) translations from "small" languages is disproportionately small. Basically, globalization has exacerbated the hegemony of larger over smaller cultures--with all the loss of cultural variety and all the gain of simmering resentment stemming from that.

If you have any ideas how we can help balance the asymmetry, please share them.
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Re: International (non-Anglophone) speculative fiction

Postby Кал » Thu Dec 16, 2021 7:33 pm

My review of I'm Waiting for You and Other Stories:

K-drama--and I mean its best examples, such as Dream High or It's Okay to Not Be Okay--has set the bar of my expectations for all things South Korean high. Perhaps too high. :)

The stories here, while offering their share of fresh ideas and insights into intimacy, couldn't vault over that bar. In fact, hadn't it been for the heartfelt epistolary afterwords, with their genuine sense of connection, I would've left the collection feeling more lonely than when I started it. Stories centered around a single couple can do that to me. I'm not a "couple" person. And even the "transcendent" ones felt too solipsistic--as if they didn't really care there's a grander cosmos out there.

You can tell those are very subjective grievances, right? :)

Anyway, here're the moments when I did feel connected to the texts and their inhabitants:

~ This passage from "I'm Waiting for You" exemplifies the wry humor of the story (when it doesn't pluck at your heartstrings):
A little while later a stewardess came around handing out letter paper and told us to write to our families or close friends. When I asked, “Don’t you use quantum mail or something?” she explained that the only parts of the ship made in the twenty-first century were the hull and the engine. “Even the solar wind warning system runs like a wind-up alarm clock.” She added, “When it comes to machines, simple ones last the longest.”

I asked how my letter would be sent, and she said it would be converted into Morse code or something, and then transmitted out into the universe. Ships passing nearby would pick up the signals, amplify them, and send them out again. The ships that received the amplified signals would send them out again, passing on the message. Wow, I thought, what a surefire way of getting through! Why didn’t the postal service ever think of hurling letters from one speeding truck to another?


The novella felt like a gentler, more subdued version of This Is How You Lose the Time War. It's still terribly self-centered and uninterested in the world around--a chamber-music piece, despite its time span. Well, at least it does not glorify killing.

(And the chamber-music feel gets its justification in the Author's and Original Readers' Notes. ;))

~ "The Prophet of Corruption" welcomes us to the--sorry--to an afterlife:
Children sat in front of their teachers in many a corner and reviewed their previous life with the air of bookkeepers. They appraised what they had received, given, done wrong, and done right in their past life and decided what to learn in their next.

“Next time, I want to learn the art of swindling. I’ve taken an interest in eloquence.”

“You’d need a hunger for money, then. How about this? Your father’s business fails during your childhood and you spend the rest of your life obsessing over money.”

“Someone would need to play that role for me, though. Would you be my father? I’ll help you out in the life after this one.”

“I have a friend who wants to experience a divorce. Let’s rope them in too.”


~ I love its esoteric humor--as in:
“Do you think you can stop me from entering if you keep this door closed?”

My voice was confident, but I was worried that might be the case. This ship was made by none other than Tanjae. It would be just as closed-minded as its creator. It did not know where it came from. I had to teach it from scratch.

But Tanjae was my child—in other words, a piece split off from my body, one that used to be me not too long ago. Everything the child made was, in a broad sense, my kin. The other Prophets likely could not do it, but I could . . . at least, so I thought.

I tried.

I put my hand on the outer wall and peered into its molecular structure, which looked like a tangle of yarn. I reminded it of its younger days before it was heated to extreme temperatures, before it was alloyed and its molecular structure changed. I reminded it of its origins. I tried to persuade it: You and I are not different, we are the same entity. I, like you, am an aggregate of molecules, where the space between each molecule is empty, and the space between the nucleus and electrons is too. Emptiness and fullness are effectively the same thing.

The wall was flustered . . . then it resisted.

I am not a life form.

Nothing is lifeless,
I replied.

I am not you. We are strangers.

There are no strangers.

I am a solid object. You cannot pass.

Nothing is solid.


The wall reflected for a moment, then asked a fair question.

If you and I are not different, can’t you follow my orders?

It was a sound argument. If you yield now, I will do the same for you when you need me to.

With that, I was able to pass.

(...) Meanwhile, the wall was having an identity crisis after having let me through; it kept muttering to itself, I am solid . . . I am fluid . . .

Or:
“I haven’t been able to turn myself into a spiritual body for quite some time now. Meditating and praying doesn’t help. I just feel it’s impossible.” Tanjae pressed down on their palm. It sank and rose up again like well-kneaded dough. “I can’t even shape-shift anymore. So I break down my body instead, and beam the pieces into a fetus in the Lower Realm, reassemble myself into DNA sequences, then add on bells and whistles. ‘Beam me up, Scotty!’ style, you know?”

Tanjae raised a hand, palm out, and parted their fingers down the middle to form two pairs. Tanjae slowly put their hand down when I offered no comment.

Or:
“Why, your superstring theory was a commendable effort. For someone incapable of imagining four dimensions, that is.”

“Aah, please don’t.” Tanjae waved their hands in protest, blushing furiously.

The theory was not too far off from the truth. All of us formed one string, and Tanjae and I were the points where the string tangled to form oscillating bodies. Only, there was no continuity in our personalities.


It helps that I'm quite familiar with the ideas it pokes fun at. I still remember being One, you know? ;)

~ Finally, the incarnation principle illuminated:
“WILL YOU SEND them to the Animal Realm?” Tanjae sounded me out cautiously while laying Aman’s child in the transporter.

“I do not know yet.”

“But that’s what you usually do. Animals tend to share each other’s feelings more than humans do. Which is why living as animals or lowly creatures for a time can heal us. While humans are very disconnected from one another . . . right?”

That was what we usually did. The more corrupt a child, the more likely we were to give them the life of a small creature. Certain humans who correctly guessed that cause-and-effect relationship viewed it as a punishment, but there are no punishments in life. There are no rewards either. There is only learning.

(Here, "corrupt" is used in the sense of "feeling disconnected from everyone and everything.")

~ The author's scientific knowledge is impressive (and instructive--I can't remember the last time I learnt so many things from a story):
I shook. It made no sense for my body to shake here. In the Lower Realm, anxiety constricted the blood vessels. To prevent the constricted vessels from lowering temperature, the body shook and created heat. Shaking was an error that resulted from two programs clashing.


~ Alas, "The Prophet of Corruption" is too open-ended even for my more experimental tastes. With the fate of the afterlife in the balance, I wish I knew what happened next.

~ "That One Life" starts with the welcome mixture of serious and playful:
In the first history I had erased, this child escaped the battlefield alone and stumbled upon a camp of bandits in the mountain. It had been set up by farmers who fled the war and their kingdom and was governed by a simple and idyllic order. There, Aman immersed herself in books and Taoist sorcery and grew up to be their leader. She started a civil rebellion in which she ousted the king and seized the throne. She reigned as a powerful monarch, built a vast empire, and lived a long, full life. Following her death, Eastern learning, matriarchal monarchies, and gender-balanced governments spread across all of Asia and Europe. Female dynasties emerged throughout history, while fairly advanced forms of republics, albeit with some minor differences from modern democracies, took root across the world early on. When I had deleted this Aman, that history disappeared with her, leaving only a faint trace of her life in folklore and legend.

I had deleted and taken back all other Amans who made a mark on history, and their lives had vanished into the realm of myth. In later eras, when Aman underwent many divisions, I grew increasingly heavy-handed in my schemes. I instigated a ridiculous witch hunt in the Middle Ages and used sex-selective abortion to my advantage in modern and contemporary times. Once I had finished, the only democracy left in antiquity was a limited version in Greek city-states, rebellions and civil movements were ruthlessly crushed in most dynasties, and women were excluded from all sociopolitical institutions. I had felt no guilt over the results at the time.

“I think I get it,” said Tanjae. “History is variable. Only, whenever it changes, the world’s memory changes with it and no one realizes it’s changed. Except for the person who traveled back in time. It’s like in adventure games where the character remembers only one route, but the player remembers every route ever played . . .”

When I looked blankly back at them, they mumbled, “Haven’t you ever played a game before?” and folded in their arms one by one. Noticing that they had only one arm left, Tanjae pulled another one back out with a “Whoops!”


(And it may yet answer my yearning for a proper ending of "The Prophet of Corruption." Let's see.)

(... Nope.)

~ "On My Way to You" starts with some lovely riffs on the unusual uses of pencils and paper in the future:
I guess you’ll be pretty surprised about getting a handwritten letter—I was taken aback too when the attendant gave me a pencil and paper. I asked her, “What’s this for?” and she said, “You can write with it even when there’s no gravity.” She made a gesture as though writing upside down and added, “You know, if you try to write with a ballpoint pen lying down it doesn’t work, but a pencil does.” So I said, no, no, that’s not it, and asked why they use paper at all. “Well, technology is always changing,” she said, but I still didn’t get it, so she explained that no matter how simply a device is made, there would be people who can’t use it. The elderly, children, people from other star systems, occasionally poor people too. But that everyone would want to write a letter, no matter who they were.


And the unusual uses of AI:
WE’RE ALL GETTING restless already, so me and my roommates are in the middle of playing the “cooking-and-cleaning game.” Do you know it? I played it all the time when I was little. Then again, it’s a girls’ game, so you might not have heard of it. Whenever AI conversation scriptwriters get together, they play the game as though their lives depend on winning.

In case you haven’t played, I’ll explain: Two people give a command to an AI at the same time. One orders it to get the cleaning done and the other orders it to cook a meal, and the side whose command the AI sets as priority wins. Early AIs always carried out commands in the order they were given, but these days they make more complex deliberations. Commands like “Do the cleaning by seven thirty this evening” get prioritized over simpler ones, like “Make dinner.” The time limit gives the machine a sense of urgency. Actually, there are people who say that the know-how for winning the game is similar to the know-how for getting a husband to do housework. There’s even a rumor it was made up so that girls could train in the most effective ways of getting their future husbands to do things around the house.


And the all-too-usual domestic violence:
A few days later, when I finally went to the café, you were sitting near the door looking a mess. You honestly looked like you’d spent the last few nights sleeping on the streets. My appearance was no better. I was wearing a hat, a jacket, and an eye patch and had wrapped a scarf around half my face in scorching-hot weather. I managed to cover the bruises on my body with clothing, but my swollen cheeks and puffed-up eyes must have been plain to see. I felt so mortified that day, and I hated and resented you for being so persistent in wanting to see me, for being so patient that I couldn’t help but come out, despite my cringe-worthy state.

But you didn’t question me at all. Instead, you went on and on about things like ways of reducing swelling and old remedies for bruises, and then you fell asleep, right there on the café sofa.

“Family’s not a big deal, you know,” you said the next time we met. “When it comes to family, you can always make a new one. That’s why the world has this great thing called marriage. Since the average life expectancy keeps getting longer, we’ll live to be a hundred. And if I live with you from now until then, I’ll become four times more your family than your first family was.”

And then you pestered me, saying, “So let’s hurry up and get married! As soon as we can, let’s do it.”

That’s why I’m on my way to you now.

To become four times more family with the person I chose for myself.


I'm already enjoying myself. :)

~ Well ...
I saw it once in an old documentary. Within a few years of being deserted, even though they’d been contaminated with radioactivity, Chernobyl and Fukushima were densely populated with plant and animal life. From the perspective of nature, there’s no pollutant worse than humans.

... yes.

~ From the Author's Notes:
“I’m Waiting for You” brought me many things. Sophie Bowman found a copy of the small book the Korean version was published as in her school library and began translating it that day. She submitted a sample to English PEN for the PEN Presents East and Southeast Asia showcase at the London Book Fair and it got through. With that translation, this book was able to reach people on the other side of the world. It was also the first of my works to be turned into a recitation play, and an audiobook too.

Thinking about it now, great things have kept happening to me thanks to two people being in love and getting married. Even just by people living their own lives, the universe is transformed.


~ In "Their Third Letter," translator Sophie Bowman offers some food for thought to writers, translators ... and indeed, everyone:
When it came to the interplay between the couple’s letters, I made another list, this time of phrases and lines that repeated in the two stories but were slightly different. In a couple of instances Bo-young suggested that we unify them for clarity—like “the Orbit of Waiting” because it would be clearly marked as a proper noun in English—but for the most part she wanted me to translate them as slightly different. I guess that’s how we communicate after all . . . we hear and read things, or at least remember them, not perfectly as what they were. I think that goes for our own words as well as those of others.
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Re: International (non-Anglophone) speculative fiction

Postby Кал » Sat Jan 08, 2022 10:45 am

La mia recensione di "I camminatori, Vol. 1: I Pulldogs":

Il romanzo offre idee interessanti per un possibile futuro prossimo, ma avevo un problema con i personaggi, quindi l'ho abbandonato a metà. Per i dettagli, vedete le mie note di lettura:

~ La natura è un buon insegnante, sì?
Nel mese di marzo i cieli di Roma offrono uno spettacolo incredibile e gratuito: non la solita bruma di smog ma migliaia di uccelli – rondini, passeri e storni – che si danno appuntamento sopra i tetti e i pini della città per una sosta durante il loro viaggio, una tappa prima di proseguire la migrazione.

I loro incontri volanti disegnano coreografie fantastiche nel cielo, evoluzioni acrobatiche e mosaici dagli schemi sempre diversi; percorsi aerei di una fluidità e un dinamismo strabilianti. Virano di colpo, si dividono in due o tre stormi senza sfrangiarsi, assecondano le correnti ascensionali, ognuno sapendo con esattezza dove planare e come risalire per poi fondersi e ricongiungersi insieme.

Miriam Farchi ha il naso all’insù e ogni volta che le capita di seguire quei movimenti perfetti, coordinati da chissà quale istinto, ordine o regola, senza neppure un capo o un direttore di volo a dare le indicazioni, si dimentica di masticare. Anzi è stato mentre fissava una rondine – un esemplare dal collare di piume rosse attorno alla gola – che un giorno è riuscita a vederla prendere di slancio la testa dello stormo e influenzarne le successive direzioni per un breve periodo. Una scena banale, ripetuta chissà quante volte, eppure straordinaria e toccante. In quel momento Miriam ha intuito che un’organizzazione densa e compatta come quella degli uccelli funziona perché le decisioni vengono prese a turno da tutti i componenti, sia da quelli al centro della formazione che da quelli ai margini. Dopo essersi informata, ha appreso che nessuno sapeva spiegarsi le dinamiche di quelle acrobazie aeree: potevano rappresentare tanto un’armonia di gruppo quanto una lotta all’interno della società degli uccelli.


~ E voi credete ai miracoli?
“Vedrai, andrà tutto bene. Se i nostri amici hanno fatto il loro dovere, Alan potrà tornare a camminare entro poche settimane.”

“Tu credi ai miracoli, Ivan?”

(...)

“Tanti anni fa, prima di arrivare in Italia, sono andato a pregare... A San Pietroburgo c’è una vecchia chiesa, si chiama Nostra Signora dell’Icona di Smolensk, dove molta gente va a fare un voto a Santa Xenia. Si dice che la Santa, durante una sola notte, abbia trasportato i mattoni per costruire la sua chiesa. Non ti pare una coincidenza curiosa?” 

“E tu cosa le hai chiesto?”

“Ho chiesto una moglie e una famiglia.”

“Allora non ci credi?”

“Forse non era così importante. Il miracolo, da un certo punto di vista, l’hai fatto tu quando mi hai aiutato.”

Miriam infila il braccio di Ivan.

“Suvvia, adesso vuoi paragonarmi a una Santa?”

“No, volevo dire che non è sempre necessario essere santi per fare cose straordinarie.”


~ Una ottima scena intima:
Con uno scatto dei reni, Alan la spinge da un lato e rotolano insieme, uno dentro l’altra. I suoi occhi restano chiusi. Quando si fermano, lei è di nuovo sopra a cavalcioni e continua a muoversi, ad agitarsi, a spingere il pube e inarcare la schiena.

Sulle guance di Alan colano delle gocce calde e salate.

“Ti fa male? Vuoi che faccio più piano.”

“No, non ti fermare.”

“Allora ti piace?”

Lui si sta addentrando nell’occhio del ciclone, nella zona più serena dell’amore. Sa di non poter venire e la cosa non lo tocca. Con le labbra cerca l’orecchio di Silvia per dirle che l’ama, invece la bacia con un calore liquido che non brucia.


~ C'è un passaggio nel capitolo 10 in cui un personaggio pensa al corpo umano: "in migliaia di anni la natura non è riuscita a tirare fuori nulla di meglio dall’evoluzione umana. Qualcosa che abbia bisogno di meno cure e attenzioni; qualcosa di più durevole e non così facilmente deperibile."

Per me il problema non è con la natura ma con la cultura. Negli ultimi secoli abbiamo inventato così tante sostanze che il corpo umano non sa cosa farsene. L'evoluzione non riesce a raggiungere il nostro progresso tecnologico; il nostro pensiero non riesce a raggiungere l'idea che una nuova sostanza non sia necessariamente una buona sostanza per il nostro corpo.

Mi chiedo se qualche altro personaggio considererà quell'idea.

~ Non sento alcun legame con nessuno dei personaggi, quindi non voglio leggere oltre. Potrei provare un altro libro di Francesco Verso.
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