Saturday, 26 November 2011

Power Posting

Power tools. George W Bush and Tony Blair shake hands at a White House press conference.  Photo by Paul Morse, for the US Government, via Wikimedia Commons - public domain.
They got the power! - George W Bush and Tony Blair shake hands at a White House press conference. Photo by Paul Morse, for the US Government, via Wikimedia Commons - public domain.

I'm in a triadic mood, and have three thoughts about power:

1) The will to do or make something which will require a lot of power, is a sign of virtue and quality - specifically, the virtue of magnificence. Aquinas's idea that this is ultimately an aspect of fortitude or courage is looking good to me at first blush.

2) The will to make oneself fit to wield a lot of power should one need to, is the sign of a more careful and scrupulous virtue - which feels, to me, like a sort of magnanimity. But it is magnanimity played in a careful and questioning mode, if so, and seems to me intimately linked to fortitude's three companion cardinal virtues - prudence, temperance, and justice.

3) The will to power for itself, as against these, seems to me a psychic form of self-gratification - pleasant and harmless enough in moderation and in private, but neither attractive nor civil to exhibit in public, and depressingly narcissistic and sterile if considered as a vocation.

So magnificence seeks power as a tool to do great things, by which I mean some particular great things which it has the heart and mind to imagine; magnanimity cultivates the skills to wield one's power greatly, by which I mean gracefully instead of grossly; and mere ambition is satisfied with just being a great big power tool. That sounds about right.

What does this say about people who are 'passionate' about attaining the highest levels of power, so that they can deliver 'strong leadership' towards - 'whatever works'?

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Lessa's Last Word - for Anne McCaffrey (1926-2011)

Anne McCaffrey, whose death is just today announced, was a prolific and widely-beloved author of science fiction and fantasy - perhaps of science fantasy above all.

Her most famous work, and the one dearest to my own heart, is her Dragonriders of Pern series. Its beginning tale, Dragonflight, was one of the books I most badly needed to read on the threshold of my teens; Lessa, its central character, may have offered me my first female viewpoint into which I could sink quite seamlessly. I had the most enormous book-crush on her for a couple of years afterwards, and remain highly prejudiced in her favour. Readers who know what Lessa is like, may draw any deductions they please about my character from these several circumstances.

To these books I also owe: my first encounter with a vision of dragons that was not mine, but was yet close enough to be played upon my heart; my independent discovery of the possibility of fanfiction, and the inspiration that compelled its writing; a great eye-opening to the possibilities of fantasy that didn't fit into familiar moulds of the heroic and epic; and last, by no means least, a world which offered me wholly new kinds of places and characters worth being haunted by.

Without encountering the works of Anne McCaffrey so early on, I should have likely grown up a perceptibly different person - and I don't think the changes would have been to anybody's benefit. For all these things thanks are due, and I give them most heartily now.

Goodbye, Dragon Lady. Fare well; dream long; fly high.

And here is the only other thing I presently know how to say about it.

Lessa's Last Word

"He'll shake me!" she said,
Who shook him into shaking
Their world's mean Alexander from his roost atop High Reaches –
Who shook his heart, and in the aftershock
Their age,
Their ways,
Their me - a small mean singer from an eminence of twelve,
Borne up to be, to love her, in a storm of stone-musk wings –

"He'll shake me!" she protested,
Still shivering from shaking
The wide world's tree for redfruit: new days, new flights of old
Whom she had moved to leave for after times
Their age,
Their ways,
Their selves – that small fierce vision, from a child's height and the sky's –
Spent, shivered, frozen – home, with all the wide world's price on wings!

She shook us, then.

Between our worlds seeps chill.
The breath that bore her flight up's fallen still.

First posted here in the comments on Making Light, where the news caught up with me. A separate commemorative thread for the sharing of thoughts and memories has now been started there. More on io9, and John Scalzi's blog Whatever.

ETA 26/11/11: Replaced a self-destructing metaphor and removed two renegade commas.

Monday, 21 November 2011

Serenade to the Healthists

You're the skim in my decaf!
You're my savourless stew!
Keep your water clear -
Leave my beef and beer,
Or I'll Safety Elf you!

This post inspired by the genius practice in Certain Nameless Institutions of: (i) Cooking dishes without salt, so that people can add their own to taste instead of having it imposed upon them; and (ii) playing Hide The Only Salt Cellar, in order to nudge them into getting none at all.

We really have to start taking all these professional health panickers cum grano salis!

Friday, 18 November 2011

The Lombards Have Stormed the Library

Part of the Occupy Wall Street encampment's People's Library, after the New York Police Department had confiscated it in their violent nocturnal storming of the camp, and used it according to their pleasure before its lawful owners were permitted to reclaim it.

This picture by Lauren Comito, released under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported Licence.

Lest doubt remain: who are the looters, and who the guardians of Civilization, now?

This picture was brought to you by grace of Hizzoner Michael Bloomberg: Mayor of New York City, Wall Street media magnate, and in no way possessed of any private interest in punishing public impatience with his business cronies and their political bagmen.

All hail the New Alboin, King of the New World Lombards! Or else!

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

The System's Failing, So This Is No Time to Change It!

Senior European politicians discuss how to rekindle the public's love affair with the EU - Struthio camelus, Chay Bar Yotvata, Israel, by MathKnight at Wikimedia Commons - released under   Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported Licence
Senior European politicians discuss how to rekindle the public's love affair with the EU. Struthio camelus, Chay Bar Yotvata, Israel, by MathKnight at Wikimedia Commons. Released under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported Licence.

For the Liberal Democrats in the UK, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg offers a bold response to the current structural crises in the Eurozone and the EU: Please sirs, may we have some more? The BBC reports:

David Cameron said on Monday it was time for the UK to "refashion" its relationship with the EU.

The prime minister argued powers should "ebb back" from Brussels to Westminster as part of "fundamental" future reform

But speaking at a press conference alongside Dutch prime minister, Mark Rutte, Mr Clegg said only populists and demagogues would benefit if EU leaders disappeared "into a windowless room" to discuss things that no-one understood, at a time when people were worried about their jobs.

Some of us might think that people were right to be worried about entrusting their jobs to the same old truffle-hounds that led us to this dirty big clump of stinkhorns in the first place. But no: apparently the nature of the EU's institutions can have nothing to do with any failure modes of those institutions whatsoever, so those institutions must not be tampered with until they have properly solved our problems.

And some of us might also think that if the highest-level rules binding people's choices of government are things that nobody is expected to understand, and only a small privileged circle meeting in windowless rooms is permitted to influence, then perhaps the people so ruled could use a little more populism than that.

They might flirt with a childish philosophy called 'liberalism', in which people might aspire to know what the supreme laws of their land were, or even to make suggestions about what they found good or bad in them. Of course, if questioning leads to liberalism, liberalism itself too often leads to a radical outgrowth called 'democracy', in which the ignorant herd actually demand the right to consent to their governors or to reject them. I would not suggest that Mr Clegg or his party endorse such a radical position as 'liberal democracy' itself - yet I think he might find some food for thought amongst its demands, if he could descend briefly from his mountaintop to study them.

I guess I must be just a big old populist demagogue, after all!

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Killer-Kate and Luke Lackland - First Draft

Finished! Man, that was a big binge there towards the end. Last chapter and epilogue knocked out this week.

So where do I go from here? Well, the story has changed enough in the telling that what I have before me is the original Crappy First Draft on a number of levels, principally that a number of the things I was originally aiming for in the early chapters didn't happen or happened very differently, so there are consistency and relevance issues out the wazoo.

Another aspect of the Official Crappiness is deliberate - large sections of text are functionally mostly construction lines in this version: passages written to remind me what I was thinking, what alternatives I needed to consider, or just to write myself the hell out of a difficult corner. My particular process requires this to be written actually in-story, in order to keep the narrative flowing - but passages of that kind come sort of pre-marked for editorial attention at the first opportunity. So the final text is liable to be considerably slimmer than the original.

This is good, since the size of the raw draft is about 185,000 words. I'm thinking that something like a third, maybe even a half, of this can be slimmed down in a superior draft that eliminates all ramblings and false starts and fictionalized notes-to-author.

But if Three Katherines of Allingdale is to work as one story, to this I have to add the 42,000 words of The Deed of Katy Elflocks. There's little or no fat on that at all, though there will be some minor tweaks for consistency with the way the setting and story have developed. So my best guess as to the size of the Reader Ready Second Draft comes out at somewhere between 130,000 and 165,000 words. This is kind of chunky for a first novel, and unfortunately the only reasonable breakpoint for splitting it is at that 42K mark, where the story takes a thirty-year break.

Funny old thing, that. The original point of extending the story before doing anything with Katy Elflocks was because the logic of the tale suggested a really neat triptych structure - three roughly equal panels: first Katy's song of a summer, then Kit's story of a fall, and last Kate's winter's tale to round the whole thing off. But Kit's story soon proved to be like the Red Witch of Alland herself: elaborate, tricksy, and far-ranging even for a standalone novel of its own. So here we are, with a very different and asymmetrically divided treatment, the enchantment-shot realistic fantasy of Killer-Kate developing and resolving the themes propounded in the grounded fairy-tale of Katy Elflocks. There'll be work to do, in making that work - but it'll be more than somewhat worthwhile, if I can pull it off.

I'm setting myself a deadline of Easter to have the work out and ready for beta-reading, there being so many grades of cutting and polishing ahead. The rest of this month I'm devoting to the highest-level stuff: grand consistency, major structural and character issues, and generally working on the overview.

In the meantime, here is a nicely evocative but necessarily spoiler-free taste of the Honeywoolf's tale: the final chapter-list for Killer-Kate and Luke Lackland.

Killer-Kate and Luke Lackland,

a Winter's Tale


1. The Black Roots of Langdale
2. Treacher Pike
3. The Disenchanted Woods
4. The Last Mortal Passage
5. Beneath the Sky of Thorns
6. The Red Star's Bale
7. Company out of Song
8. Tally-Clerks and Tigers
9. The Long Lane to Hexhold
10. The Horned Moon in Her Hair
11. A Fairfields Wassail
12. Katy of the Marches
13. The Free Folk in the Dales
14. Langdale Rising
15. Fire and Honey
16. New Braidings along Allwater
17. Winter's Telling
18. Upon the Lightning's Fork
19. Eyes of Storm
20. Cockshut Time
21. The Grey Wolf in the Red Gloaming
22. The Assize before Carrowglaze
23. The Low Road
24. The Torches of Heaven
25. The Sweeping of the Hearth
26. Wolf, Witch, and Widow
27. Mother and Son
28. Three Katherines on the Edge
End-Piece: A Spring-Breakfasting in Newborough

Ye Gods, I love being able to post that!

Saturday, 12 November 2011

The Problem of Partisanship

In these times of stern need, we must resolve this perennial nuisance once and for all!

Partisanship: When rival oligarchic factions are so occupied with doing down each other, they hardly care how much damage they are doing to the public.

Non-Partisanship: When rival oligarchic factions are so occupied with doing down the public, they hardly care how little damage they are doing to each other.

The US seems to be well into a full-on partisan phase at the moment, whereas the EU is starting to sprout governments of 'national unity' like toadstools on a rotten tree. It will be interesting - in the historical sense that nobody wants to experience up close and personal - to see which mode manages to completely exhaust the public's patience first.

Better hope that, before this occurs, we manage to enter the other possible though unstable phase of government:

Awk Cluck Cluck Cluck Cluck Cluck!: When rival oligarchic factions are so occupied with not being all cast down together and stripped of their ill-gotten swag, they hardly care to how many of the public's easier demands they yield for the moment. Later, they may be too weakened to renege.

This may not work where the main demands involve competencies which a target oligarchy has long excused itself from cultivating, and prevented anybody else from acquiring. It is also vulnerable to the loudest public demands' coming from stupid heads, with Hilarious Consequences. But it is the moment of hope and choice, in a way that picking the liveliest scrapper or uniting behind the blandest fudger are not.

I wonder how ready we all shall be for it, at the turning of the tide? Most of all, I wonder how ready I shall.

Let me not prove a sluggard or a stupid head, come the local hour.

Friday, 11 November 2011

The Red Is in the Green

Lest we forget - picture of Canadian remembrance poppy, by user striatic at - Released under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license.
Lest we forget - by striatic at, 2007 - Released under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license.

This is what came to me, to end this year's silence for the war-dead of all my peoples.

The Red Is in the Green

Remembrance Day 2011

The red is in the green.
The rose is in the grave.
The reason's still unseen
The lead is in the brave.
The cock is on his dunghill.
The dust is on the plain.
The ocean's in my eyes, my love –
But never you again.

No, never you again.
The wind is in my eyes, my dear –
The way it blows is plain.
The plumes are on the princes.
The names adorn the arch
The flesh that drew apart.
The bones are on the march.
The red is in my heart.

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

"Kate! Katy! Ralph!"

Will the Circle Be Unbroken?, by Pentangle - embedded from Youtube.

Another chapter - really two chapters, but the first very slight and little more than a vestibule to the second - of Killer-Kate and Luke Lackland completed. One of the big ones, containing the Family Fight, to which the now Whole-Book Climax was originally little more than an afterthought.

Secrets laid bare, revenge, self-sacrifice, death, yesteryear's pains variously assuaged and renewed, and a monster diplomatic negotiation to get through... this was not one of the easy ones, nor the short. As for doughty old Kate, the Battle of Carrowglaze was japes to this. The back of her nightmares she has broken in close wrestle, at such a cost as one might pay; and the villain in all the Dales who has longest needed killing goes unburied and unmourned, with only snack-happy ravens to appreciate him.

But her confrontation with her own son was never going to go much smoother than Lady Persy's introducing Orestes to dahling Clytemnestra at the Hades All-Achaean Centennial Reunion Dinner; and even once the lad had grown his character in the telling of him, there was no way to understand him completely before I'd actually written this rough passage through. He and she both surprised me several times, and showed me how the impossible-seeming attack on the Big Bad would have to go. No more big revelations now. I understand my characters as well as I'm going to, and I know how the last part of the plot must play out.

(Katy, Good Katy, where are you? That I see now, too; but so long I'd thought to meet you here!)

The immediate political aftermath on the other hand is a lot more transparent and optimistic than I'd envisioned, because it turns out that just about everybody for many miles around has some reason for truly wanting to believe that this settlement will work for them in particular. That works out sufficiently interesting, that I I may extend and dramatize the diffusion of it in the redraft. It will make a better standalone section and pace-governor than this duo's vestibule chapter, which I foresee will be absorbed or eliminated in the fast-approaching rewrite.

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Old Thirty-Two

Non-setting-specific Kateverse rebel folksong, directed at the Dales-lords, from the desperate and disastrous peasant revolts that were crushed in the days of the Good Witch's great-great-grandfather. It's another of those things the gentry strike out at people for even knowing, and its singing is as sure a sign of imminent explosion as anything between the lowlands and the Edge.

"Old Thirty-Two"

Bleed me red or black my eye –
You can't have water when the well's run dry.
Storm and curse or stomp and beat –
You ate the ox, so there ain't no meat.
Thrash me through, you'll get no grain –
You've had my loaf, and you can't again.
Your siege can speed without my sons –
You spent them all where the black brook runs.
My daughter dear shan't warm your bed –
You stole our coal, she's cold and dead.
Pick the lint from out my coat –
And here's my teeth for your milk-white throat!

"Thirty-two" is the count of human teeth. This ditty is freely made available, under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License, to anybody who judges that they see a good use for it.

ETA 03/11/11:

(1) Apologies for the imbecile and unnoticed rhyming of 'dry' with 'dry' in the first couplet as originally posted.

(2) No, I do not mean to imply that it is time to be biting anybody's throat out, metaphorically or otherwise! But I do think it's well time already to sing songs about peasants' long patience with their masters finally expiring. Anybody who suspects the coronet might fit them, will then be very free to consider whether it is really as becoming as all that.