marina_bonomi: (book)
While reading The Inklings on paper (and a fascinating reading it is, although I wish I were able to increase the font size, the print is really small), I discovered a new favorite crime writer and series on Kindle: the Lei Texeira series by Toby Neal.

Last year I grabbed as a freebie, the second book in the series, Torch Ginger  and I liked it enough to make a note of the author's name. A couple of weeks ago the first book, Blood Orchids went free as well and went straight to the top of my TBR list, as soon as I finished it I bought and read the third novel Black Jasmine  and now Mrs. Neal is on my auto-buy list.

To be clear : the Lei Texeira books aren't cozy, the crime there is serious and bloody and the books deal with pretty serious issues, what I love, though is that nothing of it feels gratuitous (or, even worse, voyeuristic) and while there are no easy answers there is always the hope and the possibility of meaningful ones.

The series is set in Hawaii and the local culture is a very important part of the books, one element I like very much is that the author (herself a resident in Hawaii), doesn't exoticize the place at all, she strikes a very good (and difficult) balance between treating the reality of the islands as 'normal everyday' and explaining enough of it that somebody not familiar with the setting may make sense of the whole.

The main character, Leilani (Lei) Texeira is interesting and intriguing, has a very distinctive voice and a lot of demons she tries to deal with on a daily basis while doing her job the best she can. Lei is the daughter of a drug addict and a survivor of child abuse who still has flashbacks and moments in which she 'blacks out' in response to triggers (be warned, the content of the books my be triggery in itself). She is a complex individual and I found her reactions and voice very believable.

Mrs. Neal (a therapist herself) treats touchy topics with sensitivity and depht and is careful to avoid the trap of the 'miracle cure' that is seen way too often. For instance: falling in love and entering a relationship doesn't solve Lei's troubles, rather it adds another layer of complexity to her behaviour towards people. She is used to being alone and indipendent (" no one will love damaged goods / I don't need anyone") and simple things like letting her partner know where she goes often either chafe or slip her mind althogether (which brings in another, if small, load of guit for not being able to behave 'like everybody else').

For all this, though, the Lei Texeira books aren't bleak or depressing, far from it, people have agency, there is friendship and support and a lot of humor, and I really like how the anchor for Lei, in many occasions is her dog, Keiki (and the fact that Keiki is a Rottweiler, a breed that gets way too much bad rep, in my opinion).

I also held Mrs. Neal and Lei Texeira responsible for the newest addition to my hobby list:

Moth orchids

...I had never been tempted by Nero Wolfe's orchid growing.

One last note to readers who prefer supporting indies, Mrs. Neal is one.

marina_bonomi: (book)
I hope you had a wonderful Christmas and your 2013 started in the best possible way.

Here is our weekly instalment of Black Fox (I really need a better title for this), I hope you are enjoying the journey so far. The previous instalments can be found under the 'fox' and / or 'romance' tag.
Let the music speak... )

marina_bonomi: (argh)
That throw one straight out of a book with no chance of recovery...

Yesterday I downloaded a sample of a book set in a science fiction world I like and dove in. 
I was liking it, there was this android policeman waking up in an hotel (much to his dismay, since he never sleeps), suddenly realizing he was sharing the bed with a female in state of undress, then she wakes up, asks a question, and the whole mood falls apart  since the author writes:

[i]Her tone was a pleasant baritone, made slightly deeper because she had just awoken[/i]

Well, given that baritone is a [i]male [/i]timbre, and the one deeper than that is bass, I can't help but see this 1.70 m., 57 kilos lady in the leading role in [i]Boris Godunov[/i], and the picture I get of the scene makes me burst out laughing every time.

Since there is no hint watsoever that this character is anything else than a biological female, my guess is that the author meant to write 'alto' and 'baritone' slipped in instead. As incidents go I think this qualifies as epic.
marina_bonomi: (book)
As promised, here I come, as both the year and the chapter draw to a close together.

A word of warning, This scene rapresents serious violence on-stage, is not graphic but emotionally charged.

If you are new, here are the previous episodes:

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

And now

Let the music speak )

Next episode will be way lighter in tone, I promise! In the meanwhile have a great last day of 2012 and may 2013 be better than your hopes.

marina_bonomi: (cap)

Part 1 is here

As we, arm in arm, entered the elegant eighteen-century building,  I recognized a few familiar faces milling around in the  stuccoed lobby: a  critic writing for the local newspaper  sneered something sottovoce  to his companion, a false blonde with silicon-enhanced lips and way too much makeup for either the hour or the occasion. The critic’s expression didn’t bode well for his opinion of the performance, but everybody in town knew Mr. Lorenzi’s crankiness was as carefully cultivated as his Van Dyck .

I smiled  spotting the tall figure and snowy hair of my high-school chemistry teacher. A gifted amateur musician, he was the terror of those of his  students who were also in the conservatory. He never missed a dress rehearsal and, more often than not, followed the performance on the score taking notes. 

Quite a few members of the theatre’s choir were there too,  women making up at least three quarters of the total. Lucia followed my gaze : “Do you think that they are here for instrumental music?”

 “ You are terrible, you know? Hu Xiaowen’s fame is well deserved and  having him here in Chiarenza is quite the event, he usually moves in way more elevated circles”.

It’s not like we are a blank spot on the musical map, far from it. Our summer opera festival, held in the old Roman theater on the hill, is known world-wide and, together with our rich history and natural landmarks, brings to Chiarenza hundreds of thousands of visitors each year, it’s just that our winter symphonic season isn’t, usually, quite in the same league.

The lights flickered signaling that the concert was about to start, the noise level abated and the tension went up a notch while we all entered the auditorium looking for our places.

Inside, a troupe from a regional TV channel was checking their camera and sound set-up, the flow of incoming public parted around them, narrowly avoiding a minor disaster when an elderly gentleman tripped on one of the cables. As soon as the audience was settled the musicians came in, it wasn’t the full orchestra but a smaller formation with some new musicians carrying Chinese instruments among the local regulars. They took their seats on the stage.

 “ What are those instruments?” whispered Lucia.

 I leaned in her direction “ Those with the bow are erhu, a kind of Chinese violin, only they aren’t really Chinese, they originated with a nomadic people in the North; the wind instrument that looks like a bundle of bamboo canes on a pipe is a sheng, the mouth organ; the two ladies play the moon guitar, zhongruan and the gentleman standing in the back plays the bianqing, a lithophone”. An huff from the man sitting on my other side silenced me, I shrugged an apology to Lucia mouthing “Later”. The lights in the auditorium dimmed, leaving us in half-shadows; only a spotlight remained, aimed at the left side of the stage.  Just a few moments before the  tension in the audience started to ebb,  Hu Xiaowen  entered.

He was tall,  with a longish, strong-boned face that spoke of Northern China and wide, intense eyes the color of dark amber. It wasn’t his looks, though, that held us all mid-breath, that would not have been enough, it was his effortless magnetism, the charisma he exuded with his simple presence that grabbed us and would not let go.

The guy from the  Confucius Institute  who entered after the maestro to introduce the program was the anticlimax.  He must have felt it,  because he tried to warm us up with a couple of jokes and keep up with his written presentation, extolling the ‘unwavering friendship’ and ‘glorious musical traditions’ of Italy and China,  but after a couple of minutes he surrendered and went for a brisk, shortened version before disappearing again behind the curtains with a plastic smile stamped on his face.

Then the music took center stage.

marina_bonomi: (book)
As most of you know, I have a paranormal romance in the works. It has been going by fits and starts, for a while it felt like it had ran aground, recently it began obsessing me again nagging at some things that didn't work well. Today I found myself rewriting a couple of scenes, one of witch included some rather draining research. I hate when I start editing before having a full first draft, but it seems I cannot help doing it.

And, since I am going to do it anyway, I thought of having my strange modus operandi work to my advantage : I'll start posting Black Fox  (horrid temporary title) once a week, comments and discussion will influence the development of the story.

Hope to have you on board,

Here we go )

NOTE: edited as per suggestions. Thank you!

marina_bonomi: (book) one of my favorite characters would say.

Among the people and groups I follow on Twitter there is (a wonderful resource on its own account), through them I discovered Unbound and a very special book.

Unbound is a British Kickstarter-like site, for books only, and the project posted about is The Wake by Paul Kingsnorth. The wake is an historical novel set in the aftermath of the Battle of Hastings, in the author's words it is a story of the collapse of certainties and lives; a tale of lost gods and haunted visions, narrated by a man of the Lincolnshire fens bearing witness to the end of his world.

As if it wasn't enough (for me it definitely was), this is what the author has to say about the a very specific struggle I'm sure many on my friends' list will relate to:

More than three years ago, I began to write a historical novel which made me realise why I don’t read many historical novels. I couldn’t make the words fit, and I gradually began to see why: the language that we speak is so utterly specific to our time and place. Our assumptions, our politics, our worldview, our attitudes – all are implicit in our words, and what we do with them. In order to have any chance of this novel working, I realised I needed to imagine myself into the sheer strangeness of the past. I couldn’t do that by putting 21st century language into the mouths of eleventh-century people.

So I constructed, almost by accident, my own language: a middle ground between the Old English that would have been spoken by these characters and the English we speak today. The result is a book which is written in a tongue that no one has ever spoken, but which is intended to project a ghost image of the speech patterns of a long-dead land: a place at once alien and familiar. Another world, the foundations of our own.

Here is a short excerpt:

when i woc in the mergen all was blaec though the night had gan and all wolde be blaec after and for all time.a great wind had cum in the night and all was blown then and broc. none had thought a wind lic this colde cum for all was blithe lifan as they always had and who will hiere the gleoman when the tales he tells is blaec who locs at the heofon if it brings him regn who locs in the mere when there seems no end to its deopness
none will loc but the wind will cum. the wind cares not for the hopes of men
the times after will be for them who seen the cuman
the times after will be for the waecend

who is thu
who is thu i can not cnaw
what is angland to thu what is left of angland
i spec i spec i spec
no man lystans

I know this book will drive me crazy, but I also know I'll enjoy every minute of it.
If you are into roleplaying or fantasy art it's very likely you have at least heard of Larry Elmore, he is the one who did the famous D&D red box and set the tone for D&D art for years.
He is also a very personable and approachable guy, bot T. and I were stunned by his friendliness and down-to-earth attitude a few years ago when we met him at GenCon.

The news is that he is planning to do a full-color art book including most of his pieces, and is crowdfunding it through Kickstarter.
(it's already a few times above the set sum), it's good to see more and more established creatives taking the crowdfunded route.

(Crossposted to [ profile] crowdfunding )
marina_bonomi: (book)
Some time ago I was in the mood for some light, fun reading, I happened across White Tiger by Kylie Chan, the blurb intrigued me, I went with the book and was hooked right from the start.

Let it be said immediately, it isn't a 'perfect' book (if such things even exist) there are moments in which I wish the editing had been tighter, sometimes the romance is a bit schmaltzy and the action feels a bit repetitive, but nothing of this mattered overmuch to this reader, because a whole lot of things felt absolutely right, and one of these is the outsider gaze of the main female character, Emma.

Wave in front of me a book, any book, set in China (in the wider sense, including Taiwan and Hong Kong) and I'll bite, but most of the time when those books are written by non-Chinese authors (mrs. Chan is not an ethnic Chinese) I end up throwing  them against the wall out of frustration (sometimes outright fury, thankfully those are few and far between) due to mistakes, misunderstandings, poor research, exoticizing, 'I want to show you how much research went into this' or anything in between. Not so with White Tiger and the other books in the series.

Emma, the female protagonist is an Australian expat living in Hong Kong, she works as a teacher in a kindergarten and, in her free time, as a nanny. In the same day she leaves her job and gets an offer from one of her private clients, a mr. John Chen, to become a live-in nanny for his daughter. John Chen isn't exactly what he seems and Emma finds herself catapulted in a world she didn't have an inkling about.

When I surfaced for air, having zoomed through White Tiger, Red Phoenix, and Blue Dragon I tried to find out what had me so enthralled in what basically is fantasy light reading, I found a few things.

The setting: as one could hope for, the author having lived there, Hong Kong comes alive in the trilogy, and not as the magical exotic city where magical things happen, Hong Kong here is  alive and concrete (pardon the pun), pollution and maddening traffic very much included.

The cast of characters is wide, but not exaggerated and they are, by and at large, well rounded.

The supernaturals in Hong Kong are mono-cultural (a nice change from the usual) and part of a whole system that is internally consistent and get explained little by little. 

The main thing, though, is Emma's gaze. She is a foreigner and an outsider, her closest friends are also foreigners (an American and an ethnic Chinese from Australia), at the beginning her relationship with the local people is just about work-only, she is adjusted, reads and researches but a lot of things go above her head while she has very present some matters that can directly impact her life ( the 'trophy Western worker' for instance as a way for a company to gain face),and this doesn't change all of a sudden  when she finds herself working for a shen (I'm trying not to spoil too much).

Some of the supernaturals like her from the beginning, some are very standoffish because they don't like the idea of a foreign woman in their midst and, in either case, when they talk and joke among themselves a lot of it is lost to Emma because she doesn't share either their cultural milieu or their common history. It is very well done, half a sentence there, a literary allusion buried in dialogue here, a joke that has somebody reacting strongly for no apparent reason someplace else, definitely not enough to bore a reader with no previous knowledge of Chinese myths (and the tasty morsels are explained in the author's note), but at the same time enough to give cultural dephth  to the whole and to startle this reader into delighted laughter more than once either because I got it or because I didn't and wanted to find out.

So, my compliments to mrs. Chan for the whole and, specifically, for using the outsider gaze as it should be used but too rarely is.

marina_bonomi: (book)
A post by one of my LJ friends ( [ profile] la_marquise_de_, this time ), provides a lot of food for thought and sparks a post of mine. I count myself fortunate in my friends.

La marquise ponders on many things, one I feel strongly about is the matter of principles, rules, duty and sacrifice as portrayed in fantasy literature.

If one reads recent productions, by and at large it feels that we are in the age of the anti-hero, the sheer number of books with vampire main characters, for instance, seems indicative to me. Not considering the popularity of the ultimate predator as hero, though, even normal human 'heroes' seem to be mostly loners who live by their own rules, disregarding those of the society around them as arbitrary or just irrelevant, 'I do what I like and I don't give a ****' people.

I understand the idea of cycles in history and literature, I understand growing tired of 'clichèes' and going for something else (even though at times I think some people don't get the difference between a clichè and an archetype), but when I read over and over again on authors' and readers' forums that 'evil characters are more fun' or that 'goody-two-shoes are boring' I start to worry.

Let me say it loud: if a good character is boring it is because it is written badly.

I see  this idea that being good is effortless and a good character is also perfect, we all should know enough, by simply living and dealing with people around us, to realise that it is an idiocy : being good, being decent, takes effort. The tentation of shortcuts, the tentation of 'but no one is looking, no one will know' is always there, should be always there. Rules chafe, even though one recognizes the need and embraces them willingly, doubts creep in, hard choices need to be made, the dark night of the soul can threaten even the most devout and committed of paladins (or rather particularly the most devout).

One of my favorite characters (non-fantasy, but the reasononig is the same) is Brother Cadfael, the benedictine sleuth created by Ellis Peters. None who is aquainted with him can doubt that Cadfael is a good man, but he is also a complex character.
Cadfael is a Welsh monk living in an English abbey on the border between the two countries, he has taken the cowl in his fifties after a rather adventurous life, with both eyes well open and loves the life he has chosen, warts and all. With all that, he often comes in contact with different grades and shades of evil and at times has to choose, as he puts it, between obeying the rules or The Rule, but in no case is this  a travesty for 'do whatever I like' .

In the last book of the Chronicles, Cadfael comes to know that his natural son is being held prisoner, and he leaves the abbey against the wishes of his abbot to do what he feels is his superior duty towards a son he didn't know he had, knowing fully well that he might have thrown away his chosen life  with that decision. The book closes with Cadfael prostrated in front of the altar of Saint Winifred, in the abbey's church. The reader is left hoping that the errant sheep will be welcomed back, but we don't know, and neither does Cadfael.

Here are the two themes that [ profile] la_marquise_de_ (rightly, in my opinion), feels are lacking in most contemporary fantasy : duty and sacrifice, the idea that there are things worth doing, no matter the cost to oneself; the idea that my own convenience could and should take a distant second place to something else because that is the right thing, the idea that someone might choose to lay down their life, with no resurrection spell or last-minute rescue, because that is how it should be.

That is, I think, the main reason why I loved, and still love, The Wheel of Time saga (I haven't read the latest books yet), because, no matter how derivative the first book might be, or what the holes in the world-building are, or how in need of a tighter editing that huge beast was, the themes of sacrifice, choice, lesser evil, and duty, embraced, freely chosen or shouldered from what appears to be chance ('why me?') are constant threads giving meaning to the whole, that, for this reader, covers a moltitude of literary sins.

It goes without saying that I highly recommend [ profile] la_marquise_de_ 's books to anyone wanting to read fantasy with brains and elegance, her most recent post mentions quite a few other writers of note.

Death is lighter than a feather,  duty is heavier than a mountain.


Read Today

Oct. 1st, 2012 09:13 pm
marina_bonomi: (facepalm)
Because of sexual discrimination, women in ancient China seldom received education. Women were not expected to write so their work were usually lost to the time.

Really? Everywhere in China? Always in ancient China, never mind that (restricting it to imperial history) 'ancient' (or 'traditional') China goes from 221 BCE to 1644 CE (if you don't count the Manchus, 1911 CE if you do)?

And how come, then, that one of the most famous ancient Chinese historians is a woman, one who was  also a poet and  court librarian, taught the Empress and the ladies of the court and whose daughter-in-law was  a writer too?

How come that Stanford University Press has published Women Writers of Traditional China a 928-page anthology including works by about 130 female poets (and poets only) from the Han dinasty  to the end of the empire?

This kinds of extreme generalizations drive me crazy, they tend to pass from a divulgative book (or article) to the next without anyone bothering to check, much like the 'dirty and brutish' view of the European Middle Ages or the fable of the widespread hate of cats in said Middle Ages for being witches' familiars  (never mind that the animals most often quoted as diabolical were black dogs and that the height of the witch hunts was in early modern times).

It isn't the case of the OP, but often, when I see this kind of statement about women being oppressed in ancient China I can almost hear a congratulatory self-pat on the back, an unspoken 'here it was different'. Pray, tell: how many women writers can you mention for the Roman Empire? How many Greek female poets but for Sappho?
Today the postman brought me a little treasure, a paperback copy of The Assisi Underground by Alex Ramati, the book was published  originally in 1978 in the UK under the title Why the Pope Kept Silent, it is a non fiction work telling how a network of people in Assisi among which Father Rufino Niccacci hid and protected hundreds of Jews.

I was familiar with mr. Ramati through his And the Violins Stopped Playing an haunting, heart-breaking book on the Rom and Sinti genocide. I had seen the TV movie based on The Assisi Underground but didn't remember the book until I found it by chance, I ordered it on the spot.

This afternoon I was browsing the epilogue (more of an Author's Note, really), and found these words:

 The Yad Vashem  (...) had arranged a ceremony to honour the poor peasant monk (sic) who became the hero of a wartime rescue operation. A forgotten hero. His file was only number 876 and he was only the 300th person to be honored in Israel and only the twenty-fifth Italian. For, in spite of their love for the dramatic, the Italians showed great restraint in telling of their actions which had resulted in saving 80 per cent of Italian Jewry, the opposite of what happened in the rest of Europe, where, except for Denmark with its 8000 Jews spirited away to Sweden, 80 per cent of the Jews perished. All in all, 32000 Italian Jews and several thousands foreign Jews were hidden successfully by the Italian people, most of them in monasteries and religious institutions. Monsignore Montini, who headed the Holy See's Aid Service to Refugees during the war and who in 1955 was to become a Cardinal and later Pope Paul VI turned down the gold medal offered him by the Jewish Community of Italy. 'I acted in the line of duty' he answered, 'and for that I am not entitled to a medal'. 

marina_bonomi: (book)
Some of you may remember that I mentioned having an half-baked idea for a paranormal romance, I went so far as posting here a snippet of the beginning. I think I wrote about 400 words in all, the story didn't let me be but something was off and the words weren't right.

Last week I thought of some changes, and the pieces of the puzzle started coming together, my characters started talking to me and I find myself writing every night, linking together the scenes they show me during the day.

I realize that's nothing new or grand for the many writers I'm lucky to have in my friends list, but for me it is, since every time I have written fiction it has been in short form.
I'm used to writing fairy tales, not novels, Ming Li has been my longest work to date and it's just over 7000 words, so finding myself at 5200 words with a whole lot of story left to tell it's a new and very exciting sensation.

And if my male main character is determined to be something of a dissident in addtion to a composer and wants to use his music to bring some issues to the attention of the public in a book that was supposed to be pure escapism... ...well, if a character takes the bit between his teeth and runs that's a good sign, right?

*crosses fingers* 
marina_bonomi: (facepalm)
Before leaving I loaded my kindle with books, not a few Roman-themed, among these was The Forgotten Legion, set in  late Republican Rome. Characters end up fighting the Parthians with Crassus and being marooned in Central Asia after his defeat, very likely ending up in Liqian, China according to the author's note. I was very curious to see how someone else had treated the subject.

I didn't make it halfway through the book.

I could more or less tolerate two Gauls discussing a wolf-hunt and speaking of the 'alpha male' (time-travelling ethologists, maybe?), I could stomach late-empire typologies of gladiators thrown in to 'enliven' the arena scenes (it won't be either the first or the last time), the description of life in slavery felt more like Roots that the first century BC, but that is nothing new either (although, come on, slaves rarely allowed out of the house on their own for fear they'll escape? People kept in shackles all the time in a city house? ), one of the main characters being referred to as a 'rookie' in the gladiator school, though, was almost too much, and when I reached the scene where street urchins pelt Crassus' bodyguards with overripe tomatoes of all things, I couldn't take it anymore.

This is one of those times I miss reading paper books, throwing The Forgotten Legion against a wall and, this winter, using it as kindling would have been really satisfactory.

I need to cleanse my brain, De Bello Gallico sounds just about right. 
marina_bonomi: (facepalm)
I'll never understand why some US publishing houses feel the need to 'translate' British books into American English: just yesterday I bought Whispers Under Ground, the third book in Ben Aaronovitch 'Peter Grant' series, I found that 2 different editions were available in my country, the British one and thre American one, I sampled both to try to understand the differences in page lenght and other parameters, and found out that the US edition not only uses the US spelling, but also has gotten rid of all the Britishisms, so that, for instance, a donkey jacket has become a workman jacket.

Now, one of the things I love about English is its extreme versatility and the variety of its national and regional incarnations, British English isn't US English, isn't Canadian English, Indian or Ghanaian English, but each variation is understandable to speakers of the others (more or less easily, that's true).Chosing among the possibilities a good writer can individualize or regionalize his/her characters' speech (think of Tolkien, how English stands in for the common tongue in Lord of the Rings but how we don't need to be told if the speaker is an Hobbit, a Gondorian, a Rohir, an Elf or a Dwarf, their word choices, speech rythm and sentence patterns tell us).

Now, I wonder why a publishing house would think it is a good idea to make a PoC London Constable speak like an American, it may be a bit challenging to get the references, but, good grief, this was even the Kindle version, and Kindle has pre-loaded dictionaries and the ability to recognize the language one is reading in without having to preset the dictionary. How lazy do they think readers are? Or is it that they (or the readers) want to deal only with the familiar, with no element reminding them that this place is the real London, that we are in a different country and the setting isn't just a coat of varnish on some 'generic' US big city?

I don't get it.
marina_bonomi: (book)
A few days ago I bought an e-book I had been eyeing for a long time, an anthology of international speculative fiction. As soon as it downloaded I settled down with my Kindle and dove in with a will... only to be completely turned off half-way through the first page of the introduction (yes, I have the habit of actually reading the introductions to books, I also read the backmatter and the glossaries). My disappointment had nothing to do with the stories themselves, the included authors alone are pretty much a guarantee that the stories are worth it, but next time I open that file I'll be sure to avoid the introduction and these irritating lines:

Lingua Franca come and go. They are universal in that they allow people with different mother tongues to communicate with each other. In the time of the Roman Empire and far later, Latin was such a language, though it is now a dead tongue - read (rarely, and by scholars), but not spoken. French was once a major international language (we still use par avion for airmail, a remnant of that time). The rise of British power(...) led to English becoming the new language of comminication (...)

And so on.

Pardon me? First of all if you are using lingua franca as a plural and you are an editor, then, please, it's either lingua francas or linguae francae, then, I find the discussion rather narrow. What about the role of French as lingua franca in Africa? What about literary Arabic as veicular language for the Islamic community world-wide? What about Kiswahili? Or Spanish in Latin America?

As to Latin... read (rarely, and by scholars)? I guess someone forgot to tell the guys that publish these , or this, or any of these guys (and gals). or the folk over at Vicipaedia, moreover Latin is still the official language of the Holy See, official documents are published in Latin, their web site is available in Latin and Latin is even a possible option for their automated teller machines (that are also very polite) : "Inserto scidulam quaeso ut faciundam cognoscas rationem".

Not spoken? About 15 years ago a delegation from Poland came here, we meet them in several occasions, during one lunch I listened to my dad and one of the delegation members (their parish priest) conversing amiably in Latin for the whole time with no trouble whatsoever (neither of them was a Latin scholar, they both had learned it in high school). It drove me crazy because, while I understood perfectly, I was unable to speak, the teaching method had changed by my time. BUT that isn't true everywhere, and even here more and more schools are going back to Latin as a 'normal' language for instance using Lingua latina per se Illustrata or other similar books as textbooks.
Then there's Nuntii Latini , a regular news broadcast on Finnish radio, Latin circles everywhere in the world  and even instances of multilingual families where Latin is used as the everyday in-home language so that neither of the parents' native languages would dominate the other. Do they speak like Cicero? Definitely not, but, you know, when at home even Cicero did not speak like Cicero .

In short, Latin speakers may not be as many as English speakers, but Latin is alive and well, thank you.
Browsing my friends' page I happened across this post by [ profile] ysabetwordsmith linking to a different post about evil races in fantasy. The whole sparked a few thoughts of mine and here they are, in part to elaborate on what the quoted OP wrote, in part to get a few things off my chest (or off my stomach, as we say in Italy).

The OP mentions  the evil race in his/her own writing saying:

Inspired by varied African folklore, they’re definitively not Orcs–nor are they based on any existing human phenotypic differences. No “tall, broad-chested, sharp-nosed, pale-skinned, with thin mouths and blue eyes degraded and repulsive versions of the (to POC) least lovely Caucasian-types” in my stories…cuz that would be ridiculous

What I really don't get is why it would be ridiculous, I'd totally read an epic fantasy work where one or more African heroes work to discover who those repulsive pink beings snatching away people are, what they want and how is it possible to foil their nefarious plans (and that's just the most obvious plot possible). What I would find ridicolous indeed, was  if such story was written only to 'turn tropes on their heads' with no research, no world building and no characterisation, but a story where caucasians are the antagonists and seen through the eyes of somebody who has had no previous contact with them and as such tries to 'read' them through his/her own standards (be it a standard of esthetics or of what constitutes civilized behaviour)? Give me!!!

Another quote that I found interesting is this one:

There’s a line of thought that Tolkien was merely pulling from European medieval texts, who used such unflattering terms to describe the Mongols, Moors, Saracens and other “foreign” armies they encountered. Take for instance the semi-mythical Frankish Song of Roland:

And Ethiope, a cursed land indeed; The blackamoors from there are in his keep, Broad in the nose they are and flat in the ear, Fifty thousand and more in company. These canter forth with arrogance and heat, Then they cry out the pagans’ rallying-cheer;

Yeah…transcribing ethnocentric medieval descriptions of human differences into fictional sub-human monsters…still *cringe* worthy.

First of all I believe that writings must be read keeping in mind when they were written, one cannot expect 2012 CE sensibilities in a 1950 CE book. Secondly why it doesn't make sense to transcribe ethnocentric medieval descriptions in a fictional work when that work is meant to be a saga (not a novel, a saga in a literary sense) set into a lost age of European history?

I've read more than one article saying that Middle-Earth is a world 'more or less' like our Earth, fact is that Middle-Earth is and moreover is meant to be our Earth, in a long-over age before the history we know and even before the continents took the places and the shapes we are familiar with (see The History of Middle-Earth and The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien for more about this).

Many readers nowadays (and even more, many US readers) seem to have problems realizing (or possibly believing) how ethnically homogeneous (from an European point of view), most of Europe was, outside of the big cities, till just a few decades ago (for my own country till about 25 years ago). When I was growing up everyone around me was caucasian and no one gave a second thought to the matter. Moreover our definition of caucasian is rather different from the one I 'get' from my US friends, it covers anyone that isn't evidently of a different ethnicity or doesn't actively claim a different ethnicity: to us people from Portugal to Russia, from Iceland to Sicily are equally caucasian (moreover  that includes also my Berber, Jordanian and Libanese collegues, and my once-removed cousin with afro-textured hair and dark eyes isn't seen as any less caucasian than his blondish fair-eyed relatives).

i remember speacking with an 80-year old Comboni father from Yorkshire, who told me that when he was about 10 he heard there was a newly-come man in his village who built and sold wonderful  kites, he gathered his courage and the little money he had and went to this gentleman's house to ask to buy a kite, and when he opened the door the kid froze in place for a few moments before bolting. The kite-builder was of African ancestry and was the first non-caucasian the boy had set eyes upon.

I remember my time as the only caucasian in my neighborhood, in Taipei, comments on my nose, hair- and eye-color were a given (particularly before everyone realized I knew the language), and I remember a kid of about three that, when he saw me, started screaming and crying. He was scared to death and I well understod why: 'white' skin, long nose, pale eyes and light hair, I do look like a Chinese demon. When a population is very homogeneous, people from a different ethnic background stand out, and usually the elements that are most different are those that become the defining characters of that group and-or get translated in myth. 
Is it dangerous? Yes. It is always bad? I don't think so. Sometimes it can be the only believable, realistic gaze, depending on the specifics of the world or community one is writing about.

Once again Professor Tolkien is often called a racist because of this line: "Out of Far Harad black men like half-troll with white eyes and red tongues"

Honestly I don't know what kind of image Tolkien had in his mind writing this, I can only say what image I see when I read it and it is something like this. To me 'black' when referred to mythical creatures has always meant black, not 'human-shade brown'.

'Uber-fair skinned elves'? Elves are part of the North-European mythology and are explicitly linked to light, they are always described as fair-skinned, I don't expect (actually I don't want) elves of different ethnicity, other cultures have their own nature spirits, elves are a European myth.

'Gandalf the White'? Yes, that's part of his 'transfiguration' and a clear (if maybe not conscious) reference to the other Transfiguration (and His garments became glistering, exceeding white, so as no fuller on earth can whiten them), our culture has a long-standing association of white with purity and light (and that's the reason why candidates bear that name, in ancient Rome candidates wore the toga candida the bleached toga that symbolized their purity of intentions), I don't believe any writer should be considered guilty for writing within his/her own cultural symbolism (even more if you are writing a work you mean as 'an epic for' your country intended as a long lost book), moreover here again white means white, not skin-pink.

But I forgot, professor Tolkien was strongly and explicitly Catholic, and that's no good either.

In Tolkien’s universe, these weak-minded men of the South and East were just hood-winked and bamboozled by the Dark Lord (He who Sits on His Dark Throne), cut off from the almost “Christ-like” light of Maiar colonial missionaries.

Well, we have the gall of believing that the devil is a real entity (not just an astraction or a symbol) and that he takes a rather keen interest in the world, and having been 'the brightest of angels' he is rather more cunning and smart than any mortal, so, when writing of the embodiement of evil from that perspective, there's no need to be 'weak-minded' to be bamboozled,

In fact there are plenty of the 'wise and honorable white guys of Gondor' who don't fare any better (I'm really sick and tired of hearing that Tolkien's characters are either wholly good or wholly evil):

Denethor is one of the best, full of good intentions, but he gets tempted through his pride (convinced he'll be able to master the Palantir) and through that he is led to desperation (in the theological meaning) and his suicide.

Boromir gives in to the ring's temptation, only to come to his senses later and try to atone protecting Merry and Pippin, ultimately dying for them.

In 'The return of the King' we learn that the Pukel-men (wich we saw at the beginning as savages) were 'hunted like beasts' by the Rohirrim (which we saw as good guys) and yet it's the Pukel-men that lead the allied armies (including the Rohirrim) through their paths so that they come in time.

And, folks, Frodo fails  he goes through all that, some of his friends die to help him on his way and right at the end he claims the ring for himself. If not for Gollum Frodo would have become the next lord of Mordor.

And given that Tolkien was an old classist reactionary (another staple comment), Sam is a ring-bearer too, and the only one to relinquish the ring completely of his own will, because he is truly humble (which doesn't mean thinking poorly of oneself, it means doing what needs to be done without taking oneself in consideration) and he can shake the temptation of power the ring provides with a laugh or a song, it has no hold on him.

And of course the professor himself is responsible for all those people that, knowingly and consciously, decided to 'repeat the formula' ripping elements from his books and regurgitating them in some kind of different shape to appeal to readers clamoring for more, more often than not grabbing just the outer layer of things with no understanding and, even worse, no love.

I guess I'll still see the same objections and comments going around tomorrow or next year, at least I do feel better now.

marina_bonomi: (book)
Is a very interesting fantasy/alternate history novel by a three-writer team, Mercedes Lackey, Eric Flint and Dave Freer.

I'm often wary of collaborations, but in this case as I was reading I kept forgetting that the book has more than one author, no mean feat, in my opinion.

I picked The Shadow of the Lion from the Baen Free Library, I was intrigued by the premise, a fantasy set in 16th century Venice, and I figured that, it being free, at worst I would just lose a couple of hours before deciding it wasn't for me (I'm past the phase in which I forced myself to finish each and every book I started).

In that couple of hours, or even less, I was hooked. The alternate history is intriguing (also 'alternate theology' if you wish, thanks to the conversion of Saint Hypatia), the characters are nuanced and three dimensional, there are as many intriguing and strong females as males, and it manages to completely sidestep one of my biggest turn-offs in fantasy (the 'big, bad, fanatic church' and 'poor, persecuted magic users/pagans' trope) here there is bad and good on both sides. I loved equally the dottor Marina (a family name here) the strega, and father Eneko Lopez, a Basque former soldier of venture turned priest who, I believe, is the fictional alter ego of Íñigo López Loiola

The plot is complex, many of the major players on the European checkerboard of the time are there (but for France, the rival of the Empire is different in this story), it may not be your cup of tea if you don't like politics in your fantasy but the politics is neatly balanced by the action, in my opinion, and neither feels overdone.

And, most of all, Venice feels real. That in the book is the city were I studied, with its pride, its history, its special mix of sea and island that sets it apart from any other city in Italy, the strong esprit de corps of the workers at the arsenal, the strenght and world-view of the canalers, the pomp and sense of duty of the best of the aristocracy... I could go on for hours. Venice is a character in the novel, and not a minor one.

This is not to say that the book is perfect, but my problems with it (if that's even the right word), are definitely minor.

I did a couple of double-takes reading of the Swiss guard of the Doge and of the Scaliger of Verona as an enemy of Venice in 1538 (in this world the Scaligers were thrown out of Verona in 1387 and Verona gave itself to Venice in 1405), but I think it likely that these aren't mistakes but points of divergence (note to writers of alternate history: please, please put a note on historical matters somewhere in your book spelling out what is intentionally different , this reader, for one, would be grateful) .

All through the narrative there are Italian words for flavor, I've no doubt they work fairly well for readers that don't know Italian, for me... the mis-spelled words were like a constant itch I could not scratch.
Giaccomo for Giacomo, Polestine for Polesine, Caesare for Cesare, Fruili for Friuli, Veneze for Veneziani, capi (a plural word) used also as a singular, in one instance slices of prosecco on a platter (prosecco is a wine, neither cheese nor salame) and why should Kat, a scion of one of the 'old houses' of Venice bear the definitely non-Venetian family name Montescue ?

They are all small, silly things, but an Italian beta-reader would have weeded them out, and I believe an already good book would have been made even better by it.

BTW, if any of my writer-friends on Live Journal needs an hand with Italian words or details, I'm happy to officially volunteer.
marina_bonomi: (book)
[ profile] haikujaguar has this interesting post about speculative fiction that doesn't fit the mold of 'inspired by such and such culture' (which is a thing I love and I'd like to see more of, but it appears publishers like better playing it safe).

The post links to this list of 'Non-european Fantasy by Women' (sic), connecting nicely with this previous rant by[ profile] la_marquise_de_ .

I went to read the list out of a mix of interest (I'm always up for discovering new-to-me authors) and a masochistic streak (all those 'everything by Europe, please' posts and lists make me feel a bit like I and my fellow Europeans are plague-carriers, moreover no setting on its own guarantees a good book), and I found a couple of interesting things:

First of all: the list includes books set in Eastern Europe and Byzantium, because 'those are less known' and ' in fantasy, Europe mostly means Western Europe, the protestant and catholic countries'.

..But it also includes at least a book, Silver Wolf , set in Rome at the time of Charlemagne and another, Lavinia, set in pre-Roman Italy. It looks like Italy moved while I wasn't looking...

It is a pet peeve of mine, but my hackles rise really fast when people manipulate data like...,you know, geographical and cultural boundaries, because they don't fit the theory (European settings must be stale and overdone, so let's mutilate Europe of anything that hasn't already been done to death), besides, as many have said better than me, most of what generally passes for 'Standard European Setting' is McFantasyland, a bland, flavorless pap of uncertain composition.

So I'd like to start a list of mine: speculative fiction set in Europe-inspired or European settings written by Europeans (Europe , not the EU, both female and male authors, if dead, deceased not earlier than 20 years ago )
suggestions are welcome.

Ben  Aaronovitch

Sarah Ash

Petros Ambatzoglou

Pierre Bordage

Maite Carranza

Mike Carey

Mark Chadbourn

Susanna Clarke

Michael Ende

Valerio Evangelisti

Alan Garner

Kerstin Gier

Markus Heitz

Paul Hoffman

Wolfgang Hohlbein

Ju Honisch

Rhys Hughes

Tanith Lee

Stanisław Lem

Suzanne McLeod

Sergei Vasilievich Lukyanenko

Stan Nicholls

Milorad Pavić

Pierre Pevel

Otfried Preußler

Cecilia Randazzo (aka Cecilia Randall)

Jessica Rydill

Andrzej Sapkowski

Ekaterina Sedia

Johanna Sinisalo

Kari Sperring

Jonathan Stroud

Thorvaldur Thorsteinsson

Licia Troisi

Freda Warrington

Diana Wynne Jones

Paper Mage

May. 1st, 2012 10:32 pm
marina_bonomi: (book)
Thanks to this post by [ profile] haikujaguar I learned that Paper Mage is now available as an ebook, I had read of it some time ago and was intrigued, I don't know of many Chinese-themed fantasy books and the idea of one where a mage folded paper to do magic, bringing back origami to its Chinese roots intrigued me even more.

I started Paper Mage yesterday, and finished it a short time ago.

Read more... )



March 2013

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