For those who have been waiting for it, the ebook versions of Mother of Souls are now available through non-Bella distributors, including iBooks, Amazon Kindle, and Barnes & Noble among others. (I would remind readers that Bella gets a bigger cut when ebooks are bought directly, but of course the best place to buy a book is always the one where you actually buy it. So I will never quibble as long as you buy!) This seems an opportune time to remind readers that reviews on the major reader-review sites like Amazon and Goodreads really help with visibility. There is, in theory, a "magic number" of 50 Amazon reviews that pushes one over into being part of automatic book promotions, and three years after release Daughter of Mystery is still staring longingly at that number with 47 reviews. Since the theme of today's excerpt is jealousy, I'll confess that I'm jealous of authors who don't have to beg and plead to hit that "magic number". (The fall-off in review numbers for later books makes it likely that none of the other Alpennia books will ever hit it.)
Have you ever had that experience of working intensely with someone on a creative project and then reaching the point where it's time for other people, other skills to be drawn in? It's easy for a proprietary interest in the project to become entangled with the intimacy of the partnership, especially if there's a sense that one's own contributions are being left behind. Taken for granted. Even when they aren't. Serafina has never before known anyone the way she knows Luzie. And she has no practice in disentangling those reactions.
Chapter 26 - Serafina
Serafina recognized the small creature that nestled in the pit of her stomach. It was jealousy. She’d learned to recognize it long before she’d learned to ignore it. Who was she to be jealous of anyone? Just as she had no right to give herself wholly, she had no right to expect the same in return. She’d been the first to urge Luzie to draw others into the plans for Tanfrit. But it had been theirs—just the two of them—for so long. Now here was Jeanne, visiting or summoning Luzie to discuss the business of the performance. There were the regular letters from Maistir Ovimen that left Luzie glowing with a pride that no one else could have given her. And there was Iulien Fulpi.
“I was thinking,” Luzie had said, as they rode back together from the Academy at the end of one of the music days, sharing the fiacre with Doruzi Mailfrit and another of the Poor Scholars. “I was thinking I might ask Iulien to look at the libretto.”
And when Serafina hadn’t responded immediately, Luzie continued, “I know, she’s dreadfully young. But you couldn’t tell that from her poetry. And that’s what we need: poetry. The libretto tells the story well enough, but we both know it isn’t what it might be.”
The lyrics of the two pieces Iulien played for the depictio class had seemed nothing special—perhaps she simply hadn’t an ear for Alpennian verse—but the way they wove into Luzie’s settings… There was a crispness, a definition.
Margerit had acquiesced with only a few rules. “She must be properly chaperoned. She isn’t allowed to be wandering around the city by herself.” With a wry smile, “She’s already sweet-talked me into letting her go down to Urmai by boat in the mornings so she isn’t tied to my schedule. It isn’t that I don’t consider Maisetra Valorin a proper chaperone, but…”
But trips to the Academy were a simple matter of going back and forth from the private dock at Tiporsel House. Evidently it was less thinkable to let a girl like Iuli walk alone through the Nikuleplaiz, even with a maid for company.
“I’ll ask my Aunt Pertinek if she can find time to bring her,” Margerit concluded.
And so Serafina sat on the sofa with Maisetra Pertinek, while Iulien sat beside Luzie on the fortepiano bench and eagerly followed along in the libretto as they worked, part by part, through the score.
“Are you enjoying teaching at Margerit’s school?” Maisetra Pertinek asked.
Serafina pulled her attention away from the music and its effects. It was always hard to remember that most people were blind to the visions.
“I’m not really teaching,” she said. “Just helping at this and that. I’m there as a student.” She was enough ahead of the other students in the philosophy and thaumaturgy classes to be frustrated at their progress. That would improve, Margerit promised, once enough students had learned the basics that they could hold advanced classes. But would she have that long? Every day she expected a letter that Paolo’s duties in Paris were over.
“Oh,” Maisetra Pertinek said. “I had thought from what Margerit said… Well, never mind. What do you know about this opera that Iuli will be helping with?”
What do I know? I was there when the seed was planted. I dug through Margerit’s library to find every scrap of history we might use. I’ve sat by Luzie’s side for months shaping it into being.
“It’s a historic drama. One of your Alpennian philosophers. Did Maisetra Sovitre warn you that it’s to be a surprise and we don’t want it talked about before the performance?”
Maisetra Pertinek looked affronted. “I should hope that I know how to hold my tongue when asked. Margerit can tell you that.”
Yes, that must be true. There were secrets enough at Tiporsel House to practice on.
I've written up a new set of tag descriptions. You can find the permanent page with access to the tag-links here. For reasons of internal website structure, this is going to duplicate the content of that tag essay to get it into the blog feed. (Life is complicated.) But you'll now find that permanent page in the LHMP drop-down menu.
The purpose of tags is to make information relatively easy to find. The topics covered under “people/event tags” are historical persons, authors, written works, and other specific events, organizations, or works that are the subject of the research and publications covered by the Project. This essay is intended to explain briefly how the “people/event” tags are being used.
The second purpose is to provide a tag list that the visitor can use to explore the site. The number of tags used in the project, and the organization into four different categories, doesn’t lend itself to a traditional tag-cloud. The Place and Time Period tags each have a single essay. The Event/Person and Misc. Tags will be covered in thematic groups in multiple essays due to the larger number. Due to character restrictions on the attached tags, I've had to link to separate sub-posts to include linked tag-lists. This page brings together all the names and descriptions for this entire Person/Event tag category, but you'll need to click through to explore the linked articles.
I’m planning six essays for the People/Event Tags, each covering a general category with several subcategories.
This present essay covers the third category and includes the following:
Obviously these categories are quite fuzzy at the edges, and I've classified individual people according to what seems the most noteworthy aspect of their lives. Every story is far more complex than a single classification. These are only for the purposes of exploring general themes.
Passionate Friendships (Click here for a sub-post with linked tags)
The concept of passionate or romantic friendship covered a wide range of expressions. Women who enjoyed these relationships might also be in a heterosexual marriage. They might never have the opportunity of having the relationship recognized or respected within their social circles. They might never be able to co-habit or even spend extended time in each other's company. And such intense friendships might not be exclusive--or necessarily reciprocated. Those couples who were able to enjoy a more marriage-like living situation have generally been placed into the "Romantic Pairs" group.
Romantic Pairs (Click here for a sub-post with linked tags)
This group covers a wide variety of types of relationships and the term "romantic" is really a misnomer. The unifying factor is the intersection of two lives in a particular bond based on love, desire, or sex, especially if the two lived together to some degree in a marriage-like arrangement.
Reputed Lesbians (Click here for a sub-post with linked tags)
This grouping is defined, not necessarily by specific relationships, but by either the fact or rumor that a woman had sexual relationships with other women. There may be some edge cases where one specific relationship was noted in the historic record, but in general I've placed people in this group due to the specifically sexual nature of the evidence.
The December episode of the Lesbian Historic Motif Podcast is available. This one explores the relationship between Renaissance poet and scholar Laudomia Forteguerri and Margaret, Duchess of Parma (among other titles), for whom Laudomia wrote a series of sonnets. I'm particularly fond of the two of them because they inspired me to write a short story exploring what their love story might have looked like: "Where My Heart Goes" in the anthology Through the Hourglass. (Alas, I do not recite any of Laudomia's poetry in Italian, but the podcast does include translations of two of the poems.)
The Lesbian Historic Motif Podcast is hosted by the magazine-format podcast The Lesbian Talk Show, which is available through Podbean, iTunes, and Stitcher. If you enjoy any of the podcasts hosted there, I strongly encourage you to subscribe through your favorite podcast service, and to rate and review the show so that others can find it more easily.
I was dithering between a fairly cursory review and an in-depth analysis, but fortunately Emily Asher-Perrin at Tor.com has covered almost everything I would have said in the latter. So I'll just mention a few things in addition. (Uh...go read Emily's review. Because otherwise this is going to sound really random.)
The biggest impediment to me enjoying Rogue One was that it slipped across the line from "lots of video-game style violence and visual bombardment, but there's enough character and story there that I'm willing to put up with it" to "ugh, if I'd wanted to play a shoot-em-up video game, that's what I'd have paid my money for." It isn't that I didn't like the bits of story and character it contained--I definitely did. But it slipped over the line into predominantly being a genre that I'm supremely indifferent to.
It feels much the same way as when the Marvel comic book movies eventually moved past the thrill of seeing my childhood superheroes on the big screen and into the territory of being bored by the endless pointless fight sequences and the extremely problematic gender issues. And I stopped bothering to go see them. I still have fond memories of the sheer goofball fun of the first set of Star Wars movies. And I rather hoped that--based on The Force Awakens--we were going to get to recapture that with a bit more diversity of cast.
So let's talk about diversity of cast in Rogue One. It is absolutely delightful to see all the central non-default-white characters. I mean that sincerely. And I love that the on-screen story encourages a reading that two of the guys are more than Just Good Friends. And I love that once again we have a female protagonist. These are all good things. But they should be baseline, not a special treat. (Cue Hamilton song cue: I will never be satisfied.) And the diversity is still doled out in teaspoons. Jyn is the lead, but in an ensemble buddy-flick, having the single female team member be classically beautiful, young, and white suggests that we're still dealing with the notion that she fulfills the role of The Girl, that The Girl is the extent of her function in the script, and that there is only room for one The Girl. While we're talking about gender and race in the same breath (well, ok, while I am)...
It is quite reasonable to postulate that long, long ago in a galaxy far, far away we are not dealing with the same racially-charged political dynamics as the present day. But I found it emotionally jarring to see the sole (named) black woman in the cast--Senator Pamlo--being assigned the role of arguing for appeasement and inaction against the Empire when, in our own socio-political context, black women are so often at the forefront of challenging evil empires. I can only barely imagine what it would feel like to be a black woman watching that movie and thinking, "This? This is the reflection that's being offered me? Fuck this."
I am, of course, slipping into the usual failure mode of the progressive consumer: when offered crumbs, I'm furious at not getting regular full meals, risking the possibility that The Powers That Be will decide there's no percentage in offering even a higher grade of crumbs. And we can circle back to the problem that I'm really not the target audience for a violent action movie. But there are people who are who deserve a higher grade of crumbs.
To date, in 2016 I have posted 333 separate blog entries (in the early part of the year on Live Journal, and then both on Alpennia.com and LJ). My goal was to blog every weekday, and while I missed some calendar days, I clearly over-shot that target in terms of total posts. As I've mentioned in a couple of recent round-up posts, I've been pondering exactly why I've pursued such a rigorous schedule and what I'm getting out of it.
Let me be bluntly honest: I took on such an ambitious schedule in the hopes of building a larger "presence" online. I've been trying to establish my blog (in whichever of its incarntions) as a "happening place" that provided useful information, interesting discussions, and entertaining ideas. It seemed worth a shot, given that I enjoy writing and never seem to run out of ideas. But it's still been a fairly grueling standard to maintain. And I don't think that what I was trying to achieve is actually achievable anymore in today's cyberspace. People don't go to blogs for community or interaction any more. I'll get a bunch of traffic for specific items, but it's tourist traffic.
I don't typically make serious New Year's Resolutions, but I'll make an exception. In 2017, I'm going to stop doing things just to try to impress people who don’t actually care. And one of those things is blogging five days a week.
So what do I plan to do with this blog? The projects that I'm doing for myself. Obviously I'm going to keep working on the Lesbian Historic Motif Project. Because even though other people don't care about the Project, it underpins most of my fiction. And I'm going to keep processing Abiel LaForge's diaries, because it's a family heritage thing. And I'll keep posting the occasional review, though I give myself permission not to review everything. And when I have something new and different to say about my fiction projects, I'll post about that too. But not every week.
In fact, I'm planning to set up something different for news and announcements about the fiction. I've been looking into doing an email newsletter, so if you find that interesting, keep your eyes peeled for further information.
I know this post sounds like a bit of a downer, but it's really just a reassessment. What I was doing wasn't getting the return on investment that I needed to make it worth while to continue at that pace. And that investment was taking time and energy away from things that might produce a better return. Like writing stories.
The eternal complaint of the regular correspondent whose letters are not answered is sharpened a bit in Abiel's note to his sister, "If I do not get an answer to this I will send another if I live to the end of the week." He may intend it partly as teasing, but the casualties that get mentioned in his diary entries suggest a certain seriousness.
We are finally informed of the name of Abiel's servant--Mr. Griffis (Griffiths?)--and I'm trying to work out what further information this reference might provide. I'm hesitant here to jump to conclusions about how Abiel would or would not refer to people. I had previously guessed--based on the implication that the man wsa a civilian--that he might be black. But I don't know enough about standard social practices to know whether Abiel referring to him as "Mr." is meaningful evidence on this point.
In a "Doh!" moment, it finally hit me that the "?"s appearing in places where one might expect numbers are not an indication that my mother couldn't interpret the number, but represent the failure of fraction symbols to survive file format changes. So at some point I need to go back through all the material, searching on question marks, and cross-check against the printed version.
There defintely are more readability problems starting to occur, no doubt in part to the harsh conditions that the loose papers were carried in before being mailed (as opposed to the bound book of the previous diary entries).
I have given myself permission to break the months up into multiple entries, depending on my available time to work on the material. So this post only covers the first third of the month.
The Diary and Letters of Abiel Teple LaForge 1842-1878
[PUNCTUATION AND SPELLING ARE COPIED FROM THE ORIGINALS. EDITORIAL COMMENTS ARE IN BOLD TYPE.]
In such fearfully hot and dry times a rain becomes an item of the utmost importance, so I will mention the fact that we had a slight shower last Sunday P.M. Several times since, we have been threatened with a repetition of the pleasant phenomenon, but each time have been disappointed.
Continued behind our works quite inactive until Wednesday 29th when we were removed by General G. A. Wright and in the P.M. received orders for the route. Three hours before sundown we moved out of the works. Our destination was Reams Station on the Weldon railroad to make a demonstration in favor of Wilsons Cavalry, which had been on a raid and was being hard pressed by the Rebs. And also we were to make a more thorough destruction of the railroad so that, with the damage which Wilson had done, the communications between Richmond and the South would be pretty well demolished.
Did not get to Reams until 11 P.M., although it was not a long march. The utmost circumspection had to be observed in making our advance, for an encounter with the enemy might be expected at any moment. As soon as we got into position at Reams, a strong picket was thrown out, the rest of the night [was spent] making coffee and sleeping on their arms. Early yesterday morning (June 30), two of our Divisions formed a line across and at right angles with the railroad and threw up strong breastworks. The remaining division fell to work tearing up [the rails and?] the railroad ties, burning the latter and heating and bending the former etc., making utter destruction as far as possible for some miles.
After dinner, my servant Mr. Griffis my servant [note: transcription repetition?] put up my tent and made me a table upon which I at once placed my Company Pay Rolls and fell to work finishing them, which I had nearly accomplished when Major Day, our Mustering officer, came arround and mustered the company for pay on the partial rolls. Every military organization has to be "Mustered for pay" on the first day of every alternate month. That is, they are formed in line and all men whose names are on the rolls have to be accounted for. That is, whether they are present or absent, if absent how, and where all who have died since last muster must be named etc. Payments are not received as soon as the mustering is over. The rolls are sent to Washington and given to the Paymaster of the respective Brigades, who are not ordered to pay the army sometimes for four months.
Directly after being mustered, orders came to "pack up" and "fall in" and the corps was marched out of the works, which had been erected, and started back towards its position of yestermorn. Start made about 5 P.M. We have only come about four miles on the back track and yet it has taken us all of five hours to march that distance. The delay was caused by the wagon train. Had one or two bad mud holes to go through, which is always a matter of no little time. Camped on the side of a bare sunny hill, made coffee, and threw ourselves on the ground. Went to sleep and did not stir until late this morning.
Today has been an extremely hot one, the bright sand on which the Brigade is camped threw the suns rays back into our ...i...ing in a dreadfully painful manner. And to add to the rest of the suffering, very little water could be obtained. I went to a well which had been dipped nearly dry, and as often as a bucketful of water could be obtained I would beg a swallow, so after a while I succeeded in obtaining enough to slake my thirst.
I could not finish my rolls in the hot sand, so I took them and climb[ed] into an old house which was occupied by a lot of broken furniture and a brood of very young chickens. They were motherless, and without a doubt it was owing to the fact that their ma was at that moment being digested [by] the strong stomach of some soldier. The extreme youth of the chickens was all that saved them from the same fate. I spread my rolls on a box and, seating myself on another, soon finished them (not the boxes, but the rolls), finding only one mistake, which was the adjutant's and not mine. That job done, I proceeded to pull off my garments and examine them for certain little animals which I found had begun to make their unwelcome appearance, and although they were very common in the army--not a man probably being without them--still I treated them. Crushed heads as fast as I found them.
This evening looks like rain again. Hope it will.
DIARY Saturday 2nd
Back in our old works of the 18th alt. again. Last night after dark, the corps was formed in line. The 3 Divs advanced [?] a mile, then stacked arms and, rolling themselves (those that had them) in their blankets, went to sleep. At 5 A.M. today, fell in line again and marched to our present position [note: I'm tempted to preserve Abiel's "posish" here, but I'm going for readability and the original is preserved in the unedited text.] where we are rigging ourselves up in good style.
I discoverd a curiosity on our return in the shape of an apple orchard in the midst of a pine forest. The apple trees looked very sickly and as if they would soon succumb to their more thrifty neighbors, which were already far over-topping them and depriving them of all "their sun". I also saw some noble oaks, the branches of a single tree covering a space of over 100 feet in diameter, If I had a home up North, how I should like to have a few of those noble trees in my lawn, under which I and my family might enjoy the beautiful sunsets.
I was down to the swamp to wash and, on the way, lost my gold pen & case. As hundreds of soldiers were continually passing over the same path, I expected I should never see it again. I took a bath after which I wet my shirt thoroughly and put it on. This I consider a grand idea [in] this hot weather, as one feels much cooler. The thermometer is 110˚ in the shade. On my way back, I found my pen where it had been stepped over by hundreds of men since I droped it. "Better be born lucky than rich." I shall have to postpone my letter to sister tonight as it is too dark to write, and candles are luxuries which we do not at present possess, and could not use them in the wind which now sucks through our tent anyway.
LETTER (very faded and difficult to decipher)
For a wonder in campaign life, I write this letter in nearly the same place I did the one a week ago to you. Not that we have not moved in the mean time, for we have, as you will see by my memorandum if you can read it. But the ....e of being at the end of the week near where you were at the beginning is accepted as a wonder by Grant's soldiers. I have not heard from you yet, and it seems so strange. You are usually prompt to answer, and yet to none of the three letters I have sent you from here have I received an answer.
..he ....th .... if I do not get an answer to this I will send another if I live to the end of the week. I hope that one of ..... [note: presumably part of the missing text is a suggestion that Susan is too busy with the new baby.] .............you so that you cannot write. If he is such a fine fellow, I should think you would want to write and tell me all about him, so that I could join my joy to yours. ......................... for a wonder I dreamed of you last night ........ I found you away from home somewhere and that I ....ly had an opportunity to speak to you. I saw the baby, but forget how he looked. You motioned for me to come and ......... where you were and appeared to have something to tell me, and for some reason I could not come. Shortly afterwards, I was sent for .................... and I woke up. A heavy cannonade was going on ................ the noise of which probably was my recall to the ...y. Did you get the letter in which I requested you to send me a bowl(?) by ...... send a light one, do it up just as you would a ....... and it will come through in ....... all right.
.................. in the paper how hot it is. But no one ....
............ the heat is 110 ................. still we are a jolly set and all are wishing for rain and making the best of life as it is. If you have any news from father, write it, for I have not heard from him since the middle of May. [several lines indecipherable] blackberries are getting ripe ......... we shall soon luxurate I suppose. I will close by sending love to all. I dare not be particular as to .......................... you will get the letter.
Your loving brother,Mrs. Joseph Potter A. T. La Forge Andover Address - 1st Lieut. "I" Co. 106th N.Y. Vols. Allegany Co. 1st Brig. 3rd Div. ?" ? C. N.Y.
You need not put the Washington on for they may stop there.
DIARY Monday 4th
This has been the most quiet and orderly national birthday I ever spent. There has been no cannonading along the lines in hearing of this place. The only difference from the ordinary routine was the playing of all the bands at sunrise. Indeed I quite lost sight of the fact that it was the Fourth until I heard someone about sundown remark "what a quiet Fourth". I at once determined on a celebreation, so took my revolver and went outside the works and fired two shots then came back feeling fully satisfied that I had did my duty.
I feel in excellent spirits, for last night I received a letter from my sister--the first in more than a "good while." Our people are in pretty good health, Joseph being better than when she last wrote me. I was amused at her question asking if my pay was any higher than when I was a private. She also wants to know how it is that I am in command of a company. Is there no Captains etc., all of which I must answer in my next. Both yesterday & today have been comfortably cool, a slight sprinkle of rain. I got my Co[mpany] Descriptive Book today and have been busy making up accounts, sending descriptive Lists to my men who are absent, sick, and wounded and, in fact, discharging the duties of which I feel so proud.
DIARY Tuesday 5th
Cool & pleasant. My occupation [the] same as yesterday. I was detailed this evening to go on duty tomorrow as officer of the pickets. At five A.M. that will be my first duty of the kind, as an officer.
DIARY Wednesday 6th
Orders sent around at four A.M. to "pack up and be ready to move at a moments notice." Our (3rd Division) part of the 6th Corps is to be sent to Western Virginia to meet the rebs who are advancing in a strong column down the Shenendoah Vally under General Enell [according to Bruce Catton's book "The Civil War" page 534 the southern general was Jubal Early], who threatens to cut off the retreat of General Hunter. The latter General was defeated in front of Lynchburgh and is now retreating down the Kanewa [Kanawha] Valley before a victorious foe.
The day has been very sultry and the march to City Point a very trying one, but the men feel so rejoiced that they are going to exchange the arid sands and pine forrests of Lower Virginia for the mountain breezes and fertile fields of the Blue Ridge & Shenendoah Valley, that the swealtering heat and suffocating dust are endured without a murmer. During our march today, at times the dust flew so thick that for 10 & 15 minutes at a time we could not see 20 feet from our selves. This, added to the heat was dreadful. However we are now on transports, steaming down the James River and feeling almost as good as though on our way home. Most of this Division for months did duty in West Virginia, and the place was found so agreeable that they are rejoiced at their return to it.
DIARY Friday 8th
Reached Baltimore at 5 P.M. yesterday. Not allowed to land, but had to wait for General Rickets, who was on a slower boat. Waited until midnight, when we were ordered ashore by General. Lew[is] Wallace who commands this Department. Cars were ready upon which we at once embarked for Frederick City Maryland, which we reached at 10 A.M. today. Leaving the cars, we marched through the town to the South Mountain (west) side. The people received us with joy, giving water and provisions freely. Bivouacked in the fields, took dinner mostly on soft bread, the first in a long time.
About 2 o'clock we learned that a column of the enemy were threatening Monocacy Bridge, an Iron structure of great value about three miles east of the town. Back through the town we went and closed in mass on a hill where we could overlook the city and plain. About 4 o'clock a cloud of dust on the side of South Mountain indicated the approach of the enemy on the Sheapardstown road. When the cloud of dust (for we could see no enemy) got within 1[?] mile of the city, the cannon on that side opened with shell, apparently with good effect for we could see them burst just over the road. We soon fell in and marched to that side of town again. Before we got there, the rebs concluded to retire up the mountain again, so we were not needed.
I therefore take advantage of our idleness to write up my memorandum. The citizens seem to vie with each other as to who shall show us the most kindness, a very strong contrast between them and the people of Eastern Virginia.
DIARY Saturday 9th
After dark last night, we again marched through the town to the East but did not stop, for a column of the enemy were already between us and the Monocacy railroad bridge. The direct march to the bridge would have been but 3 miles, but owing to the presence of the enemy we were unable to choose our road, so we had to cross the river away above here and follow down the east bank to this place. There was no road intended for wagons, so our progress [was] over the steep hills and through the woods and fields making our progress necessarily slow. In fact, the way was bad enough to be a disgrace to Allegany County. The route we came was fully eight miles and over such places. We got into posish [i.e., position] on the bank of the Monocacy at midnight.
I threw my self on the ground so completely tired out that I slept without covering through a hard rain. Woke up completely soaked. Wonder that no bad effect should come of it. I went to a brook near camp and took a good bath, the first in a long time, then had breakfast. We learn that a small party of Rebs marched into Frederick last night meeting no resistance. If I was in the habit of swearing I should call that a ____ disgrace. [Note: I don't know whether this was Abiel self-censoring in his original record or whether he blotted it out later (which happened to some much later entries). I strongly doubt the emendation was done in my mother's transcription process.]
I can hear firing in the direction of Frederick now. Probably they are engaging our outposts. An aid just rode up and ordered a picket of one hundred & fifty men from the 106th. I am to go on as officer of the picket. The order is countermanded; I am not to go.
The country through here is splended, in fact far the finest farming country I have seen since our passage through Pennsylvania on my last trip to the North. The wheat crop which has been just gathered seems to be a good one. (The firing on the Line has just ceased.) How strange it seemed yesterday to see our soldiers in Line of battle and our batteries engaged, while arround us in every direction farmers and farm maids were peacefully although rather hurriedly gathering their crops and performing other rural duties. The rain of last night was much needed.
Some refugee negros are going by, also several loyal families--many of the ladies well dressed--are seeking protection behind us, as they dare not stay in their homes so long as the Rebs have possission. [Note: unclear whether Abiel meant "position" or "possession" so I have left it.] They account for their good clothes by saying that so long as they had to leave some to fall into the hands of the enemy, they might as well be the poorest. So they carry their best on their backs and that is probably all the worldly goods that this day's work will leave them.
I posted this in LiveJournal back on April 21, 2016. Yeah, these are the thoughts I was already having 8 months ago. I think it needs reposting. Everyone has their own completely valid reaction to celebrity deaths. This is mine.
There is nothing special
About this year, these deaths.
Time passes; lives end.
I was five when Kennedy was shot.
My mother sent me to school saying,
"This is why the teachers may cry."
Years later she told me that I replied,
"Why is this death worse than every other death?"
Time passes; lives end.
Some in peace, some in violence,
Some in relief, some in triumph.
There is nothing special
About this year, these deaths.
When I was five, those who died
Were my parents' heroes,
My grandparents' companions.
They were old.
Old people die.
But for the lucky,
We live to see the day
When those who die are our heroes
It isn't right that they die,
Because old people die,
And we aren't old.
We can't be old.
Ask a five year old, "Who died today?"
Who died last month,
Who all the deaths were in this year of years.
A five year old will say,
"Why is this death worse than any other death?"
These aren't their heroes, their companions.
The lens moves on across the years and magnifies.
There is nothing special
About this year, these deaths.
Time passes; lives end.
Some too early; some too late.
Magnified by our attention.
We are lucky, who live to see our heroes die.
I ran across a lovely comment about Mother of Souls on Twitter: "[HRJ] continues to set the gold standard for her subgenre." (Of course, now I'm idly speculating on which of the several possible subgenres could be meant.) Rest assured that I will continue to try to be a gold standard for whaterver I'm writing. Oh, but of course today's blog title refers to the artist in the excerpt below!
It keeps getting harder and harder to select teasers that don't give away key plot points. I think this one will do. Princess Anna has been commissioning portraits of selected members of her court, including some monumental works that show off what she considers some of her key assets. One of those key assets is her Royal Thaumaturgist, Margerit Sovitre, but another is her alchemist, Antuniet Chazillen. The princess has hired a peculiarly talented painter, Olimpia Hankez to depict the creation of the mystic gemstones that sealed Antuniet's appointment, and that calls for a reunion of the haphazard team that helped to create them. Jeanne is amused to recreate her role as laboratory assistant.
Chapter 25 - Jeanne
While Antuniet and the apprentices attempted to carry on their work, Jeanne took her turn posing. She was to stand before the furnace holding out her hands as if carrying a sealed crucible to be placed in the blaze. At first she’d been afraid she’d be asked to hold one of the heavy vessels while Hankez sketched and frowned and scribbled color studies in pastel. But before her arms even had time to become tired, she was told, “Enough. I have the hands. And you may sit now for the head study.”
It was hard not to smile at the peremptory commands. It wasn’t simply that Olimpia Hankez was famed enough that people put up with it. It was that you understood you were in the presence of a master who wouldn’t waste your time and expected you not to waste hers.
Jeanne passed the time by trying to recapture her thoughts and feelings from the days the painting was meant to portray. Scarcely two years past and it seemed like another age entirely, one when she and Antuniet were still fumbling their way toward a place where both their hearts could live. Their hearts…her eyes went, as always, to the irregular crimson stone that lay on Antuniet’s breast. I don’t know if it will come through the fire, but it’s yours, if you will have it. She had been speaking of the stone and her heart both. She watched Antuniet straighten momentarily and stretch to ease her back. They were still going through fires, but now they entered them together.
“Perfect.” Maisetra Hankez set down her tools and signaled an end to the sitting. “You captured the spirit of transformation I was looking for.”
Jeanne stood and stretched in echo of Antuniet’s gesture. “May I see?”
The painter examined her critically. “If you wish. Not everyone cares to.”
What sort of warning was that? Jeanne waited until Maisetra Hankez had cleared her things away then stood before the easel where several sheets of paper were clipped with sketches in various levels of detail. The last one, still commanding the center of the space, was in many ways the simplest. Only a few spare lines in pencil, without any of the color that was roughed in on the more complete ones. But Jeanne could see what Hankez had meant. The expression that had been captured showed none of her private thoughts, but said plainly, we will come through the fire and we will be transformed.
Jeanne let out an admiring sigh. It would be almost insulting to praise Maisetra Hankez’s skill. This went beyond mere talent. She peered more closely at some of the other drawings. It was like a child’s puzzle blocks with little bits of a larger picture scattered here and there. An alembic, a mortar, a pair of hands grinding, the play of light from the furnace on a faceless figure who was working the gears for the alignment.
There were a few head studies as well, but not ones intended for the larger arrangement. These seemed to be quick sketches, snatched at a moment’s whim when the subject was unaware. There was one of Antuniet frowning over some problem. Another capturing a rare expression of tenderness that made you wonder what she’d been gazing at in that moment. There were several of Anna: laughing, studious, biting her lip over some perplexity, and one simply staring thoughtfully into space. The last was finished almost to the point of being a portrait, perhaps from the length of time available, though it was barely larger than thumb-sized. It had that captivating quality of Hankez’s best work.
This set of tags finished up the Historic Cross-dressing group. The permanent tag-essay page can be found here. These individuals sit at the intersection of both gender and sexuality transgression. A woman (or someone that society assigns as female) might choose to pass as male temporarily or live as a man long-term for a variety of reasons. Safety was one obvious motivation, but economic advantage was a far more common one. Pre-modern society didn't even pretend to the concept of equal pay for equal work. The same work would be compensated much higher if performed by a man, and that's before considering entire professions restricted to men. There are extensive records of women passing as men to enter the military, including many who were only discoverd after death. The individuals listed here only scratch the surface. In some cases, the cross-dressing was done openly to invoke male military authority (as for Jeanne d'Arc) rather than as a disguise.
Historic Cross-Dressing: Military
Historic Cross-Dressing: Female Husband
Living as a man (in whatever profession) created the potential for romantic or erotic encounters with women, and this naturally led to marriage in many cases. It is not knowable (and perhaps not always meaningful) whether they would identify today as transgender, or whether passing as a man was a deliberate strategem to enjoy a same-sex relationship, or whether marriage was simply seen as a part of the "disguise". The cases where we know details of the motivations cover a broad territory.
Historic Cross-Dressing: Passing/Transgender
This group collects non-military cases where marriage was not a defining aspect of the individual's story (although some of them did marry women), and where there are significant transgender aspects to the person's story.
Historic Cross-Dressing: “Transvestite Saints”
The biographies of the "transvestite saints" of the early Christian era were almost certainly highly fictionalized, although they accurately depicted some of the struggles around gender in the early church. More interesting are the medieval women whose lives echo those earlier fictions. I've grouped them together because of this thematic similarity even though the early legends more properly belong in the "literary" category.
(I've skipped the place-holder tag lists this time because I'm publishing the permanent page simultaneously.)
Given that this book won pretty much every SFF award available in the year it came out, it may seem odd that I'm only getting around to reviewing it now, but perhaps that helps me stand back from the buzz. For the possibly two people among my readers not familiar with the series, Ancillary Justice is the first in a three-part space opera revolving around the social and political consequences of multi-bodied consciousness, including the use of "ancillaries" -- persons who have their original consciousness/personality over-written in order to become interchangeable biological cogs in the larger machinery of the Radch empire. Breq, the viewpoint character, is the only surviving ancillary of the troop ship Justice of Toren and is on a mission directly related to that state that gives every evidence of being a pointless suicide mission. Isn't that how all good space opera begins?
The writing style hit my preferences solidly on target. The worldbuilding is laid out implicitly and released in casual observations and perceptions, allowing/requiring the reader to build an understanding of the setting and its consequences as the story progresses. The non-linear narrative intertwines well with the shifting nature of who and what Breq is in relation to the world. As Breq struggles with what words to use to describe her nature, her perceptions, and her relationships, we come to understand what lies behind those struggles and how they set up the conflict in the book.
At the time of the book's release, there was a great to-do over the presentation of Radch culture as not making distinctions of gender in language or social interaction, and the author's choice to use female pronouns to represent this in the narrative. As a linguist, I confess I found that set-up neither revolutionary nor problematic. Plenty of more familiar languages don't make distinctions of gender in pronouns, although such a grammatical system doesn't preclude a sexist society, it should be noted. And given that Ancillary Justice was written in English, the author necessarily had to make some sort of choice in representing this feature. Any choice would have had significant consequences for how the reader perceives and interprets the characters and story, based on implicit defaults. Given this, the choice of using female English pronouns is far more disruptive to reader expectations than any other choice (as well as being rather refreshing to this female reader).
But a far more radical aspect of the protagonist's voice is how issues of selfhood, personhood, and individuality are handled, as well as the potential for a multi-bodied personality to become divided against itself, which lies at the heart of the plot. If is far more interesting to untangle what it means when Breg refers to some segment of herself as I, we, or she, than the more simple question of whether she'd going to guess wrong in identifying another character as she or he.
In my interpretation of the story's premise, one of the deepest flaws of the Radch use of ancillaries as disposible, interchangeable tools (and it is a flaw essential to the story) is that selfhod and personality are emergent properties of the wetware: you can overlay an existing body with programming, but the nature of biological processes will immediately start modifying that programming with the experience, perceptions, and interactions that the body undergoes. The "ship personality" may be treated as an AI, but in order to perform its functions, it will necessarily acquire "humanity". We see people's prejudices and assumptions about the nature of ships and ancillaries to be challenged and deconstructed, and it is that chaotic, perhaps irrational, and individual humanity on which the outcome hinges.
Space opera, in itself, isn't one of my favorite genres, but when the action hinges around strongly-detailed and interesting characters, as in this book, it's a setting that allows for exploration of some fascinating concepts. I was immersed and carried along in the story...I can't say "effortlessly" because part of the charm is that the book requires you to do a fair amount of imaginative work, but let's say "with great investment in the characters and their fates." The other two books in the series are in the "to read" folder on my iPad and I expect they will continue in the "most likely to read soon" category.