A local friend turned RT onto Charles De Lint several years ago; he read De Lint’s short story collection Dreams Underfoot, and after finishing that book, bought a second-hand copy of another De Lint collection, Moonlight and Vines. He has been making his way through M&V at a leisurely pace.
RT, on a tight schedule with his domestic and literary obligations, doesn’t keep too many fiction works on his nightstand. Why has he made an exception for the writing of De Lint, whose work falls into the “urban fantasy” genre?
Part of the answer lies in the world that De Lint has created: the imaginary city of Newford, which lies, presumably, in the Great Lakes/southern Canada region. Newford, as far as RT has been able to ascertain, is not a mapped-out region, along the lines of Middle Earth, for instance. It is a modern city that offers layers of mythological history and a rather long list of mythological and fantastical creatures. On its human surface, it sounds rather like any other metropolis of the 199o’s, with businesses, nightlife, newspapers, bookstores, mental institutions, universities, and the like. If the population tend to be on the young side and have a bohemian feel, blame the 90′s. If various fictive creatures show up at least once in a story, well, they at least serve the story’s purposes (and are interesting as characters). After all, what is really important in De Lint’s world is the way that all Newford’s inhabitants help each other. If you want a less-than-50-word description of Newford’s atmosphere, imagine the opposite of an H.P. Lovecraft story, where everything, the people and their surroundings, is not just going to hell, but went there centuries ago without anyone realizing it. (And RT is not saying that HPL is anything less than a great fantasy writer.)
RT could take out his technical toolbox and give a scene-by-scene account of De Lint’s writing chops, which are plain impressive. But he will only note that CDL’s nuts and bolts are solid, thoughtfully crafted, and remain scrupulously behind the scenes, where technical underpinnings belong.
These stories are accessible, comfortable, and, on a regular basis, brilliant. In particular, RT will single out “The Big Sky,” which takes the reader over the great divide and into the land of the dead. The afterlife in this story is as dusty as it is often reputed to be, but there is hope arising from, of all sources, Buddhist teaching. RT will also point out that the story’s setting is an excellent description of the horrors of Major Melancholy, a demon by no means to be dismissed in our own waking world. And if you want sheer talent, in “Passing” CDL takes us into the world of Gracie Street’s girlbars to experience the difficulties and satisfactions of love seen in the Goddess’s mirror (and through the story of Excalibur).
In a literary culture that often focuses on the horrors of history (and the last century’s in particular), CDL gives his readers healing: happy endings, but maybe not of the old-fashioned sort. There are benign spirits at work here, God, gods, mermaids, nameless sweet fates, and the subtler therapies of music and poetry. It’s not that Newford never heard of the Atom Bomb, not that there is no pain or darkness, but rather that the city’s denizens are resolutely and convincingly working to put the Bomb and other, vaguer, terrors back in the Nameless Box they came from. De Lint has sifted the debris of contemporary despair to find a tender, surprising, and romantic world. RT
Painting: View of the Colesseum by Night (c. 1830). Carl Gustav Carus. WikiCmns; Public Domain.
the muse of culinary arts recently whispered a few words in RT’s ear as he was perusing the offerings at Walmart, and, late that evening, RT was able to take advantage of her kind suggestions. here is the meal he produced in ten or so minutes:
Salmon and Artichoke Heart Salad w/ Blueberries
1 can pink Alaska salmon (red salmon might be better)
1 jar Reese’s sliced artichoke hearts
1 can Reese’s sliced water chestnuts
1 large box blueberries
garlic salt and curry powder
head of romaine lettuce
In a soup bowl combine three or four forkfuls of the salmon, five or six chestnut slices, and three or four artichoke heart slices. (You’ll notice that Chef RT is not into precise measurements.) Microwave for 30 seconds. Remove bowl from microwave and add two or three leaves of romaine lettuce. Add virgin olive oil, curry powder, and garlic powder to taste. Cover with a couple of spoonfuls of blueberries. Serves one.
well, the romaine lettuce is green, so RT will wish everyone, Happy St. Pat’s Day!
Photo: Processing salmon fish meat; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. WikiCmns; Public Domain.
well, RT is a bit impressed, he has to say. as it turns out, his grandfather the actor performed in a play that included Lionel Barrymore. the performance took place in the 1930s, rather close to the end of his grandfather’s career (he was 40 at the time).
well, well, way to go, granddad! RT
Photo: American actor Lionel Barrymore (1878-1954). George Grantham Bain Collection (Library of Congress). WikiCmns; Public Domain.
a beautiful photograph for the afternoon… RT
(reposted from t smith knowles)
RT remembers his first encounter with Rendezvous with Rama; he was 13, living in Costa Rica and attending boarding school in Arizona. He had become a devotee of Arthur C. Clarke, the famous science fiction writer, through reading Clarke’s stories published in Analog (if RT’s memory serves him correctly). But Rama was something else again. RT was swept away by the power of Clarke’s vision of an enormous (50-km-long), cylindrical alien space ship, dubbed Rama by us awe-struck humans, racing through the solar system. An intrepid band of human explorers gains entry to Rama, and the story concerns what happens thereafter.
But RT’s life was racing along, too, and he soon moved on to more adolescent preoccupations.
Recently, however, the book has been haunting RT, and so this week he bit the bullet, checked out a copy at his local library, and reread it in a couple of days.
Early Sci-Fi takes a lot of flak from literary critics: its authors were scientists first and foremost, and their authorial skills, whether concerned with fiction technique or the realities of social relationships, are therefore supposed to be stunted. In proof, the usual suspects are marched out: elementary plotting and scene construction, limited and repetitive diction, cardboard characters, women who are men with breasts, and the like. RT cannot speak for Sci-Fi in the period from 1930 to say 1960, but by the time he started reading the genre in the early 1970s, things, at least among the most famous Sci-Fi authors, had begun to change; and the encounters he has had with more recent Sci-Fi suggest that the field has reached literary maturity and, indeed, an impressive sophistication.
That isn’t to say that Rendezvous with Rama doesn’t show some signs of the literary neighborhood that produced it: in particular, Clarke’s diction is repetitive at times and the plotting is very straightforward. But none of that affects the novel’s strengths: its sense of wonder and a certain atmosphere that RT will discuss in a moment. More troubling to RT are the Simps (that is, super-chimpanzees) that serve on the Endeavor, the human ship that has gotten the story’s characters to the eponymous rendezvous. The simps provide all domestic services on board. Equipped with an IQ of 60, they are pictured as ideal servants, capable of cleaning things up but not understanding what menial service means or experiencing what it feels like. Well, maybe it would work, but the idea that the ship’s captain will never have to soil his hands with laundry and that the simps will never experience a sense of being at the bottom of the totem-pole, is problematic. Isn’t hierarchy an invention of the higher mammals? Wouldn’t a topsy-turvy day when the captain washes the dishes be good for all concerned?
But RT’s caveats and quibbles aside, RwR presents a world that is truly alien, in which the ship’s alien inhabitants, or at least some of them, lack mouths, have eyes located in odd places, and appear to be organo-metallic: nope, there’s no common ancestor with terrestrial zoology here. More tellingly, though it’s evident that the Ramans possess a very high degree of intelligence, the human explorers find no written script. Do the Ramans possess writing? Can they speak? We’ll have to go to the book’s sequel, Rama II, in hopes of finding out.
But that’s what makes RwR so great: the continuous sense of discovery, of entering a genuinely new world. The appeal here is not to our assumptions; in the book they are often shown to be wrong. But that doesn’t mean that Rama is utterly alien: the spaceship possesses an oxygen atmosphere and, at its most hospitable, semi-tropical temperatures. Could all life, produced by whatever combinations of evolution, manufacture, and command, still have some common defining characteristics?
And so we reach the composite image, the total vision, that Clarke presents of Rama. The ship’s interior, while certainly strange and occasionally threatening, tends towards the wonderful, and most of all in the demands for growth that it offers to its human explorers. Do we want to be more like the Ramans, possess their accomplishments? The answer is, yes. We want to grow towards the unknown, at least sometimes. That is the source of book’s optimism, its underlying sweetness.
Utopias are odd. (And whatever else Rama is, it is a completely planned world.) They are meant no so much to be perfect as to be challenging. We would not wish our planet to become Rama, but if it could help us work towards a happier existence, we can only humbly thank its creators.
Image: Rama in Forest (date: 1920s; author: Raja Ravi Press). WikiCmns; Public Domain.
Cycladic pottery…someone’s tribute to the universal and the beautiful… RT
Some fun on a snowy night: William Norris as one of the living “toy soldiers” from the 1903 production of the operetta, “Babes in Toyland.” Enjoy! RT
Photograph: from the original production of Babes in Toyland, 1903. WikiCmns. Public Domain.
RT has to say he doesn’t have the faintest idea what this is, but wow! Some worthwhile research is in the offing, he’s willing to wager!
Photo: Scanning electron micrograph of trichome: a leaf hair of thale cress (Arabidopsis thaliana). Author: Heiti Paves. Uploaded as part of the Estonian Science Photo Competition. WikiCmns; CC 3.0 Unported.
for some reason, the cartoon character Krazy Kat sprang up in RT’s mind yesterday. between the cubist graphics and the zany plot and words, the cartoon strip remains one of America’s great (or at least funny) artistic achievements. RT
Sunday Cartoon Page: Krazy Cat, published 1/21/22 in the New York Evening Journal. Author: George Herriman. WikiCmns; Public Domain.
Dateline: West Virginia. Our first item is that RT has officially moved in with his mother; perhaps not the optimal arrangement, but one that isn’t bad either. We are currently in process of redecorating (i.e., finding more room for RT).
& here is a poem that came to RT suddenly yesterday afternoon as he was getting himself ready for the monthly reading at a local tearoom. This is a somewhat wintry composition, though showing early and promising buds.
this wrinkling and withering,
maybe it will never end:
*****skin tough as bark,
*****face falling like tattered leaves
**********a spoiled apple.
take another pill, amend the flesh,
disappear the treacherous
leg spilling sand into soil like
a glass pouring out hours.
Hidden your mind then,
*****each twig, every
**********blade of grass your limb,
*****the spider weaves your name
*****the seed speckles
everything is mazed and mapped: they
have to follow, to measure and decipher, each
step, each echo,
Copyright © 2014, The Rag Tree
Image: Terpsichore (1510-1511), Raffael. WikiCmns; Public Domain.