Friday, 28 January 2011

Hey Muhammed!

The Egyptian dictatorship is already so nervous as to knock out the
national Internet
in advance of today's planned protests. Even here in its heartland, the ferociously reactionary Muslim Brotherhood seems to have been caught almost as flatfooted as the government, coming late and reluctantly to the party.

"Hey Muhammed, say to Bulis, Tomorrow Egypt will be like Tunis!"

- Popular Egyptian protester's chant yesterday. Bulis is a common Christian name in Egypt. Via Chris Bodenner at Andrew Sullivan's Daily Dish, The Atlantic.

From their mouths to Lady Luck's lugholes!

It's a million-to-one chance, but it might just work.

Update 11:44: US Vice-President Joe Biden warns common foreigners not to get uppity, and explains lucidly that Mubarak cannot be considered a dictator, since his dictates align with US national interests. Back into your boxes, underpeople! - Well, fuck you too, Joe!

Update 18:14 It... might... just... work! Egyptian government throwing curfews around and sounding actually shaky. Unconfirmed reports of army-police clashes. Hague (UK), Clinton (US), Merkel (Germany) now stressing need for Mubarak to allow peaceful protests and answer reform demands. But who the hell in Egypt is going to trust him? Muslim Brotherhood still seems to be playing catch-up, in crappy thin-soled trainers. BBC live newsfeed here.

Thursday, 27 January 2011

Ranty Tanty and Others

When Hanther ran away, her enemies seldom ended up smiling about it...  - The Battle of Actium, by Lorenzo A Castro (1672) - public domain, via Gdr at Wikimedia Commons My Kateverse analogue of Alexander actually ruled - in however tenuous a sense - the entire mortal world for a period of several months before disappearing. It is hard to get any real grip on the enormity of that. One way in which I've gradually begun to approach it is through his warring successors - Cassander's own Diadochi - of whom there is both room and need for a much greater galaxy than our Macedonian megalomaniac left behind him.

Morgan the Man I know, name-hero of Kate's country, who alone of all his rivals refused to declare himself a deity:

"Ran! Tan! Gander gan!
Gods be gods, but Mog's the Man!"

as his troops' famous battle-chant, now piously reworked, had it.

That stupid little jingle, which bounced into my head after I concocted the modern version for Kate and Luke's benefit, is what gave me the heart of the Lord of the Goose-Feather's legend. But if I ever get Morgan satisfactorily figured out, he will certainly take up his own post.

A few others of these Diadochi reveal themselves by degrees when I'm writing other stuff. Stateira Hetaira, the accidental Pittacus-Sappho of the Vesper Isles, trivialized in the nursery-rhymes of far Starkady as 'Stacey the Singer', is one. Phaon the Navarch, Cassander's admiral, who overthrew and slew her before meeting his own much more dreadful end on the currents of a faerie sea, is another. And then...

Stupid nonsense syllables running through my head, on the march to the train. They ended up coalescing into this:

Ranty tanty hanta hoar,
Ranty Tanty won the war!
Ranty Tanty now advance,
Hanty Hanta, do the dance!
Ranty tanty hanta hoar.
Ranty lead your pack, and then
Hanty bring 'em back again!
Pitchy river witchy shore,
Ranty tanty hanta hoar.
Ranty Tanty, who's to blame?
Hanty Hanta won the game!

So then I was compelled to work out what the hell this had meant in the Kateverse, back when it meant anything at all.

Ranty Tanty sounds like the local equivalent of Mark Antony. Nothing in the Kateverse ever maps properly to any one thing in ours, but that surely suggests 'Hanta' as somebody like Cleopatra in her more regal capacities. That and some cogitation gave me Romolo Aquila of Lycania, a Diadochus whose legend combines elements of our Romulus and Julius Caesar and Romeo Montague, just because I can. Which has some interesting implications for the Stacey-yielding fairy-tale with the King of the Cats in it... Anthony Fulmen - Tony Thunderbolt, or Ranty Tanty - is then one of Aquila's successors whose self-donated godhood didn't quite work out in his own home town.

But I think his eventual alliance with Hanther*, Queen and - Diadocha? - of sinister Necyopol, and anointed Echidne-Spawn** of the Snake River Country, must have worked out better for all concerned than Cleo and Tony's in our parish. Whether this is because Morgan the Man was keeping some would-be Octavian busily occupied in what my grandad used to call Welsh wrestling, I have yet to tell.

My worlds get built in very silly ways.

* Not intended to sound either Greek or Egyptian. And certainly not Nyissan. The Snake River Country is very strange, sort of liminal, and most of what I know about it is that its relationship with Hades seems unhealthily intimate. This means that Cassander would have pretty much had to do something important there. I know why, but I can't even guess as to the what.

** In the same sense that a Pharoah is a son of Apollo. Contains no actual Echidne-spawn. Conforms to no international standards whatsoever.

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

What the Bad Lads Fear: Abdirashid Omar's Fatwo

The BBC has a story today about the Somali poet Abdirashid Omar, who is currently in hiding from the goons of the murderous jihadi movement al-Shabaab, after he excoriated them in Fatwo ('The Decree') for the bloody bombing of the Hotel Shamo at a medical commencement ceremony. As his poem began to circulate, the valiant martyrdom priapulids of that holy order demanded peremptorily that he recant in a new poem of praise for them, or die.

The bard explains:

A person who contradicts his own poem will never be taken [seriously] again in Somali society - something they knew because they are Somalis.

The police advised me to move out of Eastleigh for my safety because I refused to retract the poem.

As a poet I will talk about the social ills. If there are people who are pushing this society towards a dangerous zone - like al-Shabab are doing - I will be writing poems about them.

When you look at al-Shabab, they are people who are between the ages of 12 to 20.

What makes them tick is the silence of the society - we let them use fear to control the society.

Anger gives me the kind of drive I have, because this society, at the end of the day, has to solve its own problems.

The international community will not solve its problem.

We have to have voices among the people who will defy the kind of threats and dangers that are there, who will say: "No it's enough."

There is a partial translation on the BBC site, which serves somewhat to sample Fatwo's sentiments, and otherwise mainly to suggest the implausibility of any more substantial Englishing of the work. Via the Poetry Foundation, who have also linked to this story as well they might, I've come across an illuminating article by A Z Foreman on the difficulties of translating classical Arabic poetry in such a way as to yield an even readable result. I have a strong sense of similar barriers here, which is a shame because it means I shall probably never know whether the poem is as fair a song as it is a bright sword. Luckily, it is a song indeed, and the performance I've embedded above is well worth a listen.

In a world much marred by rampant pusillanimity - of both the cringingly fearful and the pettishly savage varieties, which after all are only the same mean-spirited vice travelling on different passports - it is always good to be reminded that there are those who can speak a word to cut through both those styles of frothing.

And Abdirashid Omar - brave maker, faithful witness, free speaker against the brute silence - has just joined my personal company of heroes.

Monday, 24 January 2011

"Dreadfuller than Song or Story"

...and they were sore afraid.  And the angel said unto them, 'Fear not...'; but, hello, it was an ANGEL! - The Annunciation to the Shepherds, by Taddeo Gaddi in Santa Croce Church, Florence, Italy - public domain, via Wikimedia Commons Another chapter finished of Killer-Kate and Luke Lackland, and not in the manner I expected. My protagonists pulled off a very nice trick with people's expectations, to get the cry of "Good Katy Comes!" echoing down every dale. A real person can't come back and set everything to rights like King Arthur or the returning hero in a fairy-tale? Well, but if you have that real hero on your side, she might be able to get folk to do a lot along those lines, whilst writing as much as they need of it down to her. Bluff, tweak, nudge, and when necessary do something spectacular...

But there really is a curse, an unspeakable monster, feeding on all the wrong things. And it really does need a hero to fight it on its own ground.

Last night I learned that, in taking up her mantle from her old Deed, and becoming again something of what she was afterwards when she walked strange fields with Cally the Shining Reaper... even my sure-footed Katy Elflocks, even she, might lose herself at last. And that it's not just the Big Bad that Kate, Luke, their friends, and their more sympathetic antagonists have to worry about. It's also the Good Witch out of all those songs and stories, whom my protags have persuaded Katy to play in their deadly earnest mummery.

Good Katy Comes. But what will come of it? And can she ever come back again?

This is shooting life into the final upswing of the tale like a dash of brandy into the blood. The next chapter will be something of a viewpoint kaleidoscope. If I hadn't shown this one through a new pair of eyes, I doubt I could have seen what I just did at all.

Sunday, 23 January 2011

Campaspe and the Swan

'I warned you this place was a dump, boys!' - Laïis in Hades, by Gustav Cortos, print by Luis Falero, c. 1902 - public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
"You cannot conceive the pleasure of peace unless you despise the rudeness of war."

- Laïs, the courtesan of Athens, to two soldierly admirers, in Campaspe by John Lyly.

Further to my Lyly post of last week, here's an interesting piece by Gabriel Egan, suggesting a possible influence of Campaspe upon Shakespeare.

This came to my attention whilst playing with the interesting human-curated search engine Blekko.

Monday, 17 January 2011

O for a Bowl of Fat Canary!

Alexander the Great and Campaspe in the Studio of Apelles - Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, 1726 - public domain, via Wikimedia Commons From John Lyly's Campaspe (otherwise A tragical Comedie of Alexander and Campaspe), a song to liven a grey day in the Country of the Roundheads!

O for a Bowle of fatt Canary,
Rich Palermo, sparkling Sherry,
Some Nectar else, from Iuno's Daiery,
O these draughts would make vs merry.

O for a wench, (I deale in faces,
And in other dayntier things,)
Tickled am I with her Embraces,
Fine dancing in such Fairy Ringes.

O for a plump fat leg of Mutton,
Veale, Lambe, Capon, Pigge, & Conney,
None is happy but a Glutton,
None an Asse but who wants money.

Wines (indeed,) & Girles are good,
But braue victuals feast the bloud,
For wenches, wine, and Lusty cheere,
Ioue would leape down to surfet heere.

Unfortunately no details are provided as to what Iuno would leape down to surfet on, and the boozy duet between Iris and Ganymede when they go out on the pull can be found only in Morpheus's Library; but a sympathetic imagination will, no doubt, be inspired to achievement in the same riotous spirit.

Campaspe herself is one of those elusive characters who might be anything from hapless pawn to turner of worlds, for all we can hear of her voice over the rhubarb of ages. I wonder what she is really saying? My Muse suspects the lady finds this funny.

Sunday, 16 January 2011

The Worm That Flies in the Night

Sometimes when I can't sleep, I listen to an audiobook from the merry band of public benefactors over at Librivox. Saturday night, I finished Bram Stoker's lesser-known horror offering, The Lair of the White Worm*.

Although in many passages an admirable response to the menace of insomnia, in the end I must firmly recommend against this particular medicine, lest my dear readers should be overcome by the horror, the horror.

Can a racist gold-digging weresnake and a decadent globe-trotting mesmerist find fortune and true happiness? Can they lace their own shoes without using detonating cord and setting it on fire? Can our plucky band of heroes beat them to the coveted inaugural Darwin Awards for 1860? No; hell, no; and no, but only by a short head.

Now you need not suffer as I have suffered.

* Alias The Garden of Evil, alias What Rikki-Tikki-Tavi Did Next, alias Doin' the Lambton Walk.

Saturday, 15 January 2011

You Can't Have One Without the Other

Social authoritarian, economic liberal: You can use your stuff for whatever you like! I will tell you what you may like!

Social liberal, economic authoritarian: Just do whatever you like, dude! Using whatever resources I like, in the manner I will tell you!

Yes, it is passing brave to be a liberal, and still have everybody freely doing whatever you like. Truly, you must be among the godlike of this world, like!

[Capers off, singing:]

"When Numa sanctified the State,
He praised the Great God Janus,
Who flaunts two faces brazenly,
Yet never shows his anus.
Ye statesmen who aspire to all
The honours to him owing,
Draw spunk from Numa's big brass balls
To catch us come-and-going!"

Friday, 14 January 2011

"Can't Run, Won't Fight, What's Left?"

We are so foxed. - Reynard, by Ernst Griset, pub. 1869 - public domain, via Wikimedia Commons Two chapters of Killer-Kate and Luke Lackland recently finished, depositing me into a new situation I'd completely failed to foresee except in murkiest glimpses. The Rising continues to divide loyalties and cut dreams down to the bone, at the same as drawing both secondary romances bow-taut. Less than ever am I confident that I understand all of where this is heading.

I wasn't very happy with the second chapter until I passed it, most of it being taken up with an interminable Council Scene of Doom that bogged me down for a month. I'm looking more kindly at it now, as it provides a useful pause for breath in a sequence of otherwise constantly escalating tension. Also, it is much shorter to read than it was to write.

Now I'm into the truly uncharted territory: the wrong people rebelling at the wrong time, and Kate's son and Katy's daughter seizing a chapter of viewpoint to see if they can break doom with it.

Thursday, 13 January 2011

Digest of Imperial Theology

Alexander not taking no shit from no lion - from a 3rd century BCE mosaic now at Pella Museum, Greece - public domain, via World Imaging at Wikimedia Commons Having read one of Eric Flint and David Drake's Belisarius books before going to bed last night, I should not have been so surprised to be visited as I emerged from sleep by one of my own tough bastards. Cassander is the Kateverse's equivalent of Alexander the Great, and then plenty. For a few insane months before his mysterious disappearance, he did technically rule the entire world. Mwahahaha!

There is (now) a story of him in which his troops have just finished sacking yet another city, and a brave woman reviles him bitterly, demanding what kind of man he is that he does this. Cassander scratches his nose, thinks, and answers,

"D'you know the difference between a god and a piece of shit? You step on the piece of shit!"

And the other one steps on you.

This story is understandably reviled in most places Cassander's legend is revered - because it makes the Emperor sound, by any humane definition, like an even more unmitigated piece of shit than the poets' line that he did it all because Incomparable Cleïs found it such a turn-on.

And, indeed, Cassander really was quite a nasty piece of shit, and (unlike the Olympians) dryly aware of the fact. But if you read the statement with the assumption that he endorsed the distinction between a normal human being and a piece of shit, it does ring a bit differently.

Admittedly the interpretation that he did all that shit to save normal human beings from being perpetually dumped upon by King Shits like himself, only with thunderbolts, seems... extravagant. Further, I as Cassander's author am not quite as partial to magnificent bastards as - say - Eric Flint generally is.

Two things, though, about the Entangler of Men make him a more tempting subject for me than a mere fantasyland Alexander, or even a Belisarius.

So famously intolerant of shit-eaters was he, that even a millennium after he bestrode the world, nobody has yet dared to make him the object of a divine cult.

And from some date within his brief universal dominion, and forever afterwards, all the oracles fell silent.

Which is how he came to speak to me.

Monday, 10 January 2011

Not the Tragedy of the Commons

A commoner - by me - my private property, precioussss! As a libertarian, it's easy to simply assume 'privatization good, nationalization bad'. In fact, I'm almost as suspicious of privatization as of its alleged reverse. I find myself bridling at privatization for very much the same reasons I'm friendly to private property - common or otherwise. Too often, it seems like a culmination of the following sequence:

1) These are everybody's rights.

2) We represent everybody, therefore we shall administer these rights.

3) These rights would be more valuable to everybody if they were less dispersed.

3a) [OPTIONAL] Or mismanaged by us, while we invest their fruits down the pub.

4) We will sell these rights to our mates, and blow the money on beer.

5) These are our mates' rights. We are drunk. Wheee!

I feel there ought to be a shorter word which describes this behaviour, and yet somebody seems to have stolen it from the tip of my tongue.

- No, I don't think any of the acts in this - Farce of the Private? - are inevitable, though they sort of increase in likelihood as the play progresses.

Friday, 7 January 2011

Now We Are Geezers

C.S. Lewis, via Rose Fox, getting it oh so right:

When I was ten, I read fairy tales in secret and would have been ashamed if I had been found doing so. Now that I am fifty I read them openly. When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up.

Thursday, 6 January 2011

Waste Not, Want It!

From the Rake's Progress - Sarah Young bails out her callous and spendthrift babyfather, Tom Rakewell.  Give 'im up, love, he's not worth it! - by William Hogarth (1735) - public domain, via Wikimedia Commons 2011 has dawned upon Britain with the harsh light of economic austerity. Taxes must rise like helium-filled balloons, and services must drop like politician-filled trousers. Some services, and the taxes that fund them, are obviously more essential than others.

Step forward, Sir Andrew Cahn, departing head of the government's corporate welfare business promotion unit UKTI. Sir Andrew himself is just now stepping through the revolving door to the board of a convenient investment bank, but he has doughtily defended the public interest to the last. From an leaked e-mail between him and his incoming successor:

"The FCO [Foreign and Commonwealth Office] is heading for an underspend and wants to get money out of the door. If we can spend money in this financial year on a one-off basis, then we can have at least £1million. Can you think what we might do with such money. In the past it would have been marketing but Cabinet Office restrictions may make that difficult."

The Daily Mail, in a freak gust of usefulness, has the whole scoop here.

Well, I sure hope my tax rises and boarded-up libraries will be paying for that!

There is, of course, nothing odd about this behaviour beyond its exquisitely embarrassing timing, and the fact everybody got to hear the dirty detail. That is how any organization large enough to have departmental budget generally works. Departments and managers which don't play the game are defunded and/or eliminated in favour of those that do. But it is hard to have my pocket picked even more lint-free than it was, just so that a £250K fat cat can ask for ideas as to how the loot might be used to justify the proudness of his paunch.

This is why governments and big corporations can't have nice things. Oh, no, wait, it's why the rest of us can't. Goldang it!

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

Demotivational Anthem

Still on the subject of lampreys, here is a slightly updated rendition of Gilbert and Sullivan's immortal paean to the true principles of Good Government By Goofing Off - as incarnate in that jewel of the British Constitution, our beloved House of Lords. When, O when will we return to the simple principles of disinterested thievery that once made Britain Great? Even electing the Drones Club doesn't seem to have helped.

O tempora! O mores!

Sunday, 2 January 2011

The Billy Quote Rides Out

A surfeit of lampreys - by Drow male at Wikimedia Commons - released under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported Licence

"It's a great mistake," she said in her deep voice, "to laugh at necromancy, Imogen. There are more things in Heaven and Earth - "

"I suppose there are, Violet, but I don't want to meet them."

- Ngaio Marsh, Surfeit of Lampreys

There was never any chance that a book could be called this without my eventually reading it.

Saturday, 1 January 2011

New Year's Catharses

According to figures just released by CAVIAR*, in 2010 I single-handedly exceeded my recommended daily quota of Katherine-related verbal products by 13,245.83%. Since I always take notice of advice dispensed by completely independent and genuine charities, I am devoting my 2011 resolutions to an urgent Cat reduction programme. Previous studies by CAVIAR have linked Cat to morbid obesity, hippophily, gout, and failure to win the Hugo! I must act now, before any of these awful fates overtake me.

With this in mind, here are my resolutions for a low-KKI** 2011:

1) Finish Three Katherines of Allingdale. And revise it. And submit it. And send Kate, Kit, and Katy on their merry way!

2) Leave Nine Catrins in Llareggub on the back burner a bit longer.

3) & 4) Refrain from seducing the future Queen of England in the back of my new Jaguar - which, in order to avoid the occasion of sin, I shall also resist buying.

5) Renounce abstaining from Catherynne M Valente novels.

6) Refuse point-blank to ghost-write any book words for the Celebrity Formerly Known As Jordan's next three naughtobiographies, regardless of any riches beyond the dreams of avarice which I may be offered for this service, unless there are really quite a lot of them.

7) Manfully suppress Lyre Lyre!, my sizzling screenplay set in an alt-historical Hollywood, where Audrey Hepburn's free-spirited Atthis comes fatefully between Lauren Bacall's hard-boiled Sappho and Katherine Hepburn's screwball Andromeda, and the Hays Code doesn't stand a chance. It would only be misunderstood anyway.

8) On a related note, boycott any new k d lang albums which she can't be bothered to release, or which I otherwise cannot get.

9) Purchase only CAVIAR-approved linear fireworks for this year's Feast of St Guido.

10) That is quite enough Katelessness for one year, methinks. Must sign off now - have to write my seasonal thank-you letter to Cousin Kitty.

*Catherine Addiction Vigil - I'm Appropriate Regulator!

** Catherinicity is properly measured on the "Kit-Kat Index" scale. The Bush scale is now deprecated, due to time-variation and availability issues with its Standard Catherine, and also to practically no bugger's being able to hit the high notes.