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I haven't been sleeping well. I always wake up troubled by the last night's dreams. I don't remember a lot about these dreams (if I did, I wouldn't describe them, nothing more dull than listening to a stranger drone about their dreams) but for the past two weeks they've been overwhelmingly characterized by regret, grief, sometimes anger. I wish I knew why.

Today I have to work on my visa. Afterwards, I'll meet up with one of my friends and we'll continue watching the Lord of the Rings. We're two thirds through The Two Towers. I don't think we'll bother with Return of the King because she saw it years ago. These movies are kind of a bitch to schedule, each a three hour epic, so the whole thing has taken on the appearance of a chore. Still, I feel like every "nerd" has to at least see LotR, especially if they have any interest in fantasy. She worked on a fantasy novel for two years, was a huge fan of Harry Potter in primary school, plays Dungeons and Dragons and still doesn't have the cultural background of Lord of the Rings.

To me, this is like trying to learn Chinese without understanding radicals or becoming a baker without ever giving flour much thought. Like it or not, every modern fantasy novel is somehow informed by Lord of the Rings, if not directly derivative of it. The obvious question is "so what?" To continue the string of awkward similes, aren't I just giving sex ed to someone who's been with twenty people?

That was a metaphor and I have no intention of restructuring that sentence.


Anyway, I'm a historian. Of course I'm going to think knowing who your grandaddy is is important. Understanding the literary roots of a work adds a great deal of nuance. In the case of Lord of the Rings, I think it's important to know the extent to which fantasy owes LotR a debt so you can appreciate the guys who are working to step out of Tolkien's shadow.
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The megabus rockets down the New Jersey Turnpike towards Philadelphia. I'm sitting in the front row on the top level and I have to say, there's nothing quite like traveling in this way. It's as if you're riding a large air-conditioned elephant; you feel every bump and rattle, but the view is fantastic.

About twenty hours ago, I met China Mieville in a small bar in Brooklyn. The man is absolutely amazing - articulate, intelligent, and extremely kind. He read a rather esoteric passage from his latest novel Embassytown and promised the audience of about sixty people that it would all make sense when we finished the book.

There was an amusing moment when Les Grossman walked onstage to begin the interview portion of the event. Grossman is white and bald -- save for China's tattoos and the fact that Mr. Mieville looks like he could bench a truck, the two could have been brothers.

Grossman began by asking a few questions about Embassytown - with an emphasis on comparison to China's earlier work.

Obviously, Embassytown primarily focuses on themes of language and how language defines us - building on philosophies espoused by Søren Kierkegaard while also homaging authors that influenced the young Mieville such as Ursula le Guin and M Thomas Harding. Mieville would go on to explain that the beauty of fiction is that you can play with grand philosophical notions while also having "spaceships and exciting chases and so on."

For Mieville, language has been a fascination from a young age and as such has played a role in many of his books, notably The Scar and Kraken. However, now that he has written a book primarily about languages, he doubts that he will revisit language with such focus again, much as how he doubts he will write another book as political as Iron Council again until he had something to say on the subject to avoid being "camp."

China does not have the same sort of anatomical understanding of the Hosts, the two-mouthed aliens of Embassytown, as he does the many fantastic races in his New Crobuzon (anti-)trilogy written during his "Dungeons and Dragons (D&D) phase." A D&D enthusiast since age 12, Mieville recently licensed a Bas Lag RPG although he doubts he will return to the universe in a literary sense. Mieville believes one problem that plagues fantasy writers and readers is that too frequently, one stops enjoying a setting and starts living that setting. For example, Mieville referenced a "bad time" when he watched Buffy because he was so enamored with the setting.

At the mention of Buffy, an audience member or two whooped; judging by Mieville's expression, it was this exact moment that confirmed his suspicion that he was surrounded by dorks - a suspicion doubtlessly raised by the enthusiastic response he received when he revealed he played a Chaotic Good Ranger in D&D as a lad.

China sported a new tattoo at the event. The new "skulltopus" is a small tribute to the idea of death (skull) meeting the ineffable (octopus). China briefly flexed his immense knowledge of octopuses ("not octopi, how's that for a mindfuck?") but refrained from going into great depth for fear of being too dry.

An audience member, impressed with China's ability to describe the indescribable queried where China himself has experienced the ineffable. Given the phrasing of the question, I nearly expected a recommendation for where to get rolls of acid on the cheap, but as Mieville would later quote Kipling while signing my book: "Words are, of course, the most powerful drug."

Mieville explained how man has always been searching for the sublime, how Romantic poets would climb tall mountains and be overwhelmed by by the vast countryside stretching beneath them. Personally, China Mieville finds the sublime in several writers, not just weird fiction by the likes of Lovecraft, but also in Jane Eyre.
Go figure.

The audience was the biggest disappointment of the night.

The crowd was predominantly white and predominantly male, but not as male as I expected. There were many couples in attendance and I wasn't enough of a creeper to figure out who dragged whom to the event. The median age, as far as I could tell, was late twenties/early thirties; the average dragged up by four or five persons whom I would liberally describe as "old people."
China referred to the venue Public Assembly as a punk bar. If that is the case, none of the regular clientele were there. It's safe to say that everyone there deserved to be shoved into a locker at some point in their life - Mieville himself acknowledged "none of us are cool."

I was surprised to discover that many audience members were only casual fans of Mieville; some only came to add another autographed book to their collection. I could tell many did not agree with Mieville's political views, worse, it seemed some were amused by them. One question clumsily attempted to get a rise out of Mieville ("do you feel guilty making money"), as if political radicals were capuchins in small cages that will throw shit at the sight of a peanut. China handled the situation with aplomb, answering that while he felt guilty about a lot of things, he had no difficulty reconciling his profession with this political leanings.

I sounded like a tool when I finally got to meet Mieville personally. I told him I was from Philadelphia and that I rather hoped that Orciny was real. In the gentlest terms possible, he told me that was kind of the point. Hoping to recover some dignity, I babbled a heartfelt thanks to him for what he has done for the genre - avoiding such outdated tropes as Chosen Ones and the superiority of monarchies and he thanked me and then I wandered for an hour through Brooklyn looking for my friend's flat.
mistersandman: How would you feel if you had to put on a really stupid hat? (RAGE)
Life is full of wonderful small surprises, like finding a Chuck-E-Cheese token sitting on a park bench or having a pleasant conversation with a stranger on a bus. And then there are the other surprises.

I reserved Shenzhen: A Travelogue by Gary Delisle from the library. It was one of the few non-fiction books on Shenzhen in the library's collection and I wanted to get to know my future home a little better. When I finally got my hands on it, I was surprised to discover it was a comic book, entirely etched in charcoal.

Intrigued, I read the book in an afternoon between classes. To say the least, it filled me with loathing.

Read more... )

Christ, what an asshole.
mistersandman: Friends are a nice thing to have... Could you be my friend, too? (happy dance)

So most of my night shots aren't very high quality and come out kind of blurry, but I like to think of them as artistic. It's like a watercolor in real life! This building is Posvar Hall. I spend a lot of time here because it is where the history department is located. Man I sure do love history.

"I sure do love history" was in effect, how my page-long letter to Scott Westerfeld went today. Unsatisfied with sending out ten letters begging for work (four of which have already declined), I sent him a letter telling him how much I enjoyed his Leviathan YA series. I also asked him a bunch of dumb questions about Russian Communism and Chinese politics at the turn of the century. I'm not sure if I have enough good will left in my heart to gush about the series right now, but I will certainly try!

Anything to keep me away from that Stalin paper.

The premise of Leviathan is incredibly cool. It's so cool that I'm willing to forgive some of its weaknesses. Basically, it presents an alternate history where the two sides of World War I were not just divided by stupid alliances and divergent colonial interests, but also by their different paths down awesome technology trees. The Triple Entente became the Darwinists, people who exploited Darwin's discovery of DNA (???) to create huge fabricated war monsters. The Central Powers became the Clankers, who run around in large walking machines. The books are all beautifully illustrated by Keith Thompson, who also sure loves history!

Oh, and if you are at all curious about the music that I'm currently listening to, do yourself a huge favor and check out this new album: STRIFE!  It takes you to happy places, happy places where you don't have a paper due in a few hours.

mistersandman: (hahaha)

Think back on the last anniversary of your nation's founding. Maybe you watched some fireworks. You might have kicked back a beer or two with friends. Maybe you got laid, or even ate some apple pie. Well, the People's Republic of China sent up a lunar satellite. Feel free to shit yourself:

Yeah, that's right. The Chang'e-2, carried by a Long March 3C rocket no less, lifted off from Xichang Satellite Launch Center in southwest China's Sichuan Province around seven this morning EST.

It is expected to reach the moon in
5 days, which is leaps and bounds more awesome than its predecessor in 2007, which arrived after twelve days. The first Chang'e orbited the moon for 494 days and sent back 1.37 terabytes of data, producing China's first complete moon picture before it... intentionally crashed into the moon. Righteous!

China's space program has received a great deal of attention from the Chinese media, because there's nothing more patriotic than sending your nation's symbolic phallus into the great unknown and if nothing else, the Chinese Communist Party derives its power from being the largest bastion of
Chinese nationalism around.

I've met some people who insist that China will arrive at superpower status the minute a Chinese person sets foot on the moon. Others are less enthusiastic. In his 2005 book China Road, NPR correspondent Rob Gifford recalls covering China's first human space flight mission, the Shenzhou 5, in 2003. In Beijing, he encountered the sort of positive response one would expect from such a momentous achievement. Fifty miles out of Beijing, very few of the farmers had heard of Shenzhou 5.

A hundred miles out of Beijing, an elderly couple asked, "What's outer space?"

And now for something completely boring )
I need to work on coherence. This tale began with a bang and ended in bureaucracy. It is a metaphor for your life.


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Three Little Birds

August 2011

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