Fiction and moral decay. Or fictional moral decay...

April 14th, 2010

I was reading an article about the American Library Association's list of "challenged books" for 2009. And, shock of shocks, the Twilight books showed up. But only as number 5. I guess vampires and werewolves are not enough on their own to take the top spot.

No, that goes to the "IM" series, of which I am completely unaware. But just feel the moral indignation wash over you: "...criticized for nudity, language, and drug references."

Sure, of course people would object to foul language (I'm assuming; or maybe they just didn't like the grammar?). And drug references? Another obvious choice.

But...nudity? In a novel? As in saying that a character is naked? Honestly?

Like this?

Character One's clothes dropped to the floor. "Look at me, Character Two. I am naked. I stand here, without clothing."

Character Two looked at Character One, who was naked. "Yes, I can see that you are naked. And not wearing clothes. My, you are very naked."

I know: That's pretty hot, right? That's causing all sorts of immoral thoughts to careen around your head. The thing is, another book was cited as a challenged book because it contained "nudity, language, sexual content." So "nudity" and "sexual content" are separate items.

The nudity part is just the author saying that a character is naked. I guess. At least, that's all I can figure.

And that is so completely insane. The whole notion of banning books is ridiculous enough, but banning them because a child might see the word "naked"?

The insanity of that just makes my brain ache.

(Oh, and please stop banning Catcher in the Rye. It just makes people want to read it, and that's just cruel.)

The Other Side of Fairness

April 14th, 2010

I must say, after reading her editorial in the Times, my opinion of J.K. Rowling has gone way up.

The fact remains that the first time I ever met my recently retired accountant, he put it to me point-blank: would I organise my money around my life, or my life around my money? If the latter, it was time to relocate to Ireland, Monaco, or possibly Belize.

I chose to remain a domiciled taxpayer for a couple of reasons. The main one was that I wanted my children to grow up where I grew up, to have proper roots in a culture as old and magnificent as Britain’s; to be citizens, with everything that implies, of a real country, not free-floating ex-pats, living in the limbo of some tax haven and associating only with the children of similarly greedy tax exiles.

A second reason, however, was that I am indebted to the British welfare state; the very one that Mr Cameron would like to replace with charity handouts. When my life hit rock bottom, that safety net, threadbare though it had become under John Major’s Government, was there to break the fall. I cannot help feeling, therefore, that it would have been contemptible to scarper for the West Indies at the first sniff of a seven-figure royalty cheque. This, if you like, is my notion of patriotism. On the available evidence, I suspect that it is Lord Ashcroft’s idea of being a mug.

Je vous salue.

Angels and Arquebuses

April 13th, 2010

Speaking of Empires of the Atlantic World: Britain and Spain in America 1492-1830, one of the fascinating bits I picked up that I had been utterly unaware of before is the Cuzco School artistic tradition, a melding of Baroque art with Catholic tradition. What particularly caught my eye was a gorgeous illustration of an archangel with an arquebus: check out these examples.

Here's Archangel Uriel. Here is one of Laeiel, in a different pose. Here's a glorious Letiel. Their wings are completely overshadowed by their spectacular coats.

In the Anglo-American tradition, of course, archangels have swords. If they are wearing armor it's of a decidedly medieval sort, although after the nineteenth century it might be more ancient Greco-Roman. They certainly are not dressed like a dandy from Queen Elizabeth's court. And I've not seen one with any sort of firearm.

But that's exactly how they are portrayed in the artworks of the Cuzco school - and why not? Archangels certainly were capable of keeping up with fashion and technology, and would without question use the best of both.

Anyhow, I had been completely unaware of this syncretisation, and I think it's excellent.

Double-Edged Microbe

April 12th, 2010

I'm reading Joe Abercrombie's The Blade Itself, which is a rather good "gritty" fantasy novel, and in the course of thinking about the world he's created I put together two ideas which I think combine to make an interesting fantasy novel setting.

One of the compelling features of good fantasy (not always but in most cases) is an old world, full of ruins and lost empires and artifacts of various sorts. This has strong roots in Tolkien but runs all the way back through the Romantic period and the Grand Tour and back to the Renaissance. (I suspect the Romans felt the same about ancient Egypt; the pyramids were as far back in time to them, as they are to us. Note how many obelisks they swiped to decorate Rome.) A world where the protagonists are constantly encountering the past is an interesting world, whether they are camping in an ancient, ruined tower, or being gifted a sword from a distant age.

The trick, of course, is coming up with such a world. In order to have long-gone civilizations, something has to have happened to those civilizations. What brought about the dark ages?

As I was thinking about this, my mind somewhat randomly cross-referenced with the book I finished just prior, Empires of the Atlantic World: Britain and Spain in America 1492-1830. In that book, of course, the defining background event is the collapse of native American populations after the introduction of European diseases, to the tune of seventy-five to ninety percent in some cases. Entire civilizations simply ceased to exist.

And then I thought - what if it went both ways?

Given Jared Diamond's hypothesis, namely that Europeans had the upper hand in diseases because of the shape of their landmass, what if in the fantasy world the landmasses were roughly equal in terms of disease generating potential? So that once they had come into contact, each collection of cultures found itself beset by the same staggering mortality level, equal in intensity to the demographic collapse of the New World. I.e. what if the French Pox - and others - had actually wiped out two-thirds of Europe? So that fifty years after the first cogs crossed the ocean, entire nations on both sides of the sea were simply disappearing.

Fast forward a few centuries and you have a world covered in ruins and dark forests, with an heroic yet tragic past. Buildings once commonplace were now beyond the capabilities of the shrunken population, crafts have been lost, wolves have returned to once settled fields. "Once upon a time" would hearken to days when Man was a much mightier race than at present, and yet the arc of history might have turned upwards again. Certainly a setting for heroes.

Sure, there are some issues with the epidemiology, particularly if you hit a level where intercourse between the two sides of the ocean completely ceases. Still, I find it a compelling scenario.


April 1st, 2010

Chinese automaker Geely has purchased the Volvo brand from Ford. Because if there are two things that Chinese products are known for, they're quality and safety.