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Archive for January, 2017

Jerusalem, Post 5

HRSFANS Book Club – read-a-LONG up to our Feb 2017 meeting: Alan Moore’s Jerusalem, “Book One—The Boroughs.”

Reminder: proposal is now that the official Book Club plan for February 6, 2017 meeting be to discuss Jerusalem‘s “Book One—The Boroughs”: the first third of the book.

This post has some plot spoilers.

It has more concept/perspective spoilers.

Last-for-now favorite quote

Laugh-out-loud from the first page of the chapter “Choking on a Tune,” perspective character Michael (Mick) (hey! a second chapter with the same perspective character! Whoa!):

Blinded and howling, this according to the subsequent colourful witness statements of fellow employees, Mick had charged round in a semicircle and, with all the slapstick timing of a radiation-scarred post-nuclear Harold Lloyd, had run head first into a bar of steel prtruding from the outsize scales on which the flattened drums were weighed. He’d knocked himself out cold, and looking back congratulated himself on the speed with which, in trying circumstances, he had improvised a painkiller that was both total and immediate in its effect. Hardly the actions of a stupid man, he’d smugly reassured himself after a day or two, by which time the worst bruises weren’t so bad.

Should’ve picked the middle?

I finished the first third of Jerusalem today. YAY! I read on and was surprised at how easily the second part started to move: the last chapter of “Book One—The Boroughs” and first chapter of “Book Two—Mansoul” follow much more directly from the moody and hinting-at-reasons “Prelude” than do any of the chapters before them. We get to start hearing more about Michael’s vision. In fact, it’s getting a lot like Black Elk Speaks around here: I feel like we might be about to learn his life’s mission, revealed to him in a vision in a fit as a small child. The timings are even quite comparable (Black Elk had a nine-day catatonic spell at the age of five, Michael Warren was at the age of three unconscious or dead for two weeks of his own subjective experience, though less than an hour from his family’s perspective).

Yes, I feel like all the multi-generational “friends and relatives” – oh, and ghosts – stuff earlier gave me a more thorough grounding in what the heck might be going on “Upstairs” than I would have had starting here, but it almost certainly would have felt more standard in a modern narrative way to give us the plot chapters (if plot this is) interwoven with background, rather than lay such deep literal foundations before attending to any construction we can see from ground level.

I guess this kind of gets back to Post 2 that though this book wasn’t written as if you were supposed to know all its parts already at any given point, it sometimes seems that way.

Another SF/F burst I’d forgotten to mention

From the same 4-page spread of “Do As You Darn Well Pleasey” that was suddenly FULL of tropes I recognized:

Vernalls, as their father had defined the term, were those responsible for tending to the boundaries and corners, to the edges and the gutters. Though a lowly place in the ethereal hierarchy it was a necessary one that carried its own numinous authority.

There’s a similar worker early in Catherynne Valente’s The Girl Who Soared Over Fairyland and Cut the Moon in Two, a “lineman” who is much more secure in her post and sense of self than most of the characters in Jerusalem (and particularly than any of the Vernalls, with the possible exception of Thursa).

This will be very hard for you

Quote, from “Do As You Darn Well Pleasey,” perspective character Snowy:

“This will be very hard for you.”

He meant his child, his wife, himself, meant everyone who’d ever struggled from the womb to somewhere that was brighter, colder, dirtier and not so loving in its ways. This, THIS, this place, this eddy in the soup of history, this would be very hard for all of them. You didn’t need an angel to come down and tell you that.

Quote, from “The Breeze That Plucks Her Apron,” perspective character May:

Worse than this, she had started to suspect that life, all life that walked upon the earth, had never had a reason from the start. This was a world of accident and mess without a divine plan that guided things. It weren’t that God moved in mysterious ways, more that you never saw him move at all. What was the point of going on with it, the human race? Why did everyone keep having babies, when they knew they’d die? Giving them life then snatching it away, just so you’d have some company. It was cruel. How had she ever seen things differently?

There’s a folktale folded into the middle of Orson Scott Card’s Saints, regarding two traveling salesmen and the promise of happiness. I’ve got the book waiting for me at the local library and will be able to pick it up in a day or two to reread and be able to summarize it more carefully. For now, let’s just say that it involves a character who asks for advice on happiness getting a suspicious, angry look and a screed thrown back at her that I’m almost certain I remember including the promise, “It means watching your children die” — yet the tale is neither callous nor farcical.

Sanctity inhering in a PLACE

This is one of the first topics I’d thought of writing about when I started reading Jerusalem, and I’ve been studiously putting off writing about it, because it involves looking into Neil Gaiman’s American Gods, and no matter what I read, Neil Gaiman and I are NEVER on the same page.

This evening I got the book out, frowned at it, and said, “This is a problem.”

My husband solicitously suggested I could put it back.

“I need to find the part about the House on the Rock,” I grumbled.

Google Books search failed me … and then I paged to it in our paperback in about 15 seconds. So, whew, much less painful than I’d expected.

Here goes:

“This is a roadside attraction,” said Wednesday. “One of the finest. Which means it is a place of power.”

“Come again?”

“It’s perfectly simple,” said Wednesday. “In other countries, over the years, people recognized the places of power. Sometimes it would be a natural formation, sometimes it would just be a place that was, somehow, special. They knew that something important was happening there, that there was some focusing point, some channel , some window to the Immanent. And so they would build temples or churches, or erect stone circles, or … well, you get the idea.”

“There are churches all across the States, though,” said Shadow.

“In every town. Sometimes on every block. And about as significant, in this context, as dentists’ offices. No, in the USA, people still get the call, or some of them, and they feel themselves being called to from the transcendent void, and they respond to it by building a model out of beer bottles of somewhere they’ve never visited, or by erecting a gigantic bat house in some part of the country that bats have traditionally declined to visit. Roadside attractions: people feel themselves being pulled to places where, in other parts of the world, they would recognize that part of themselves that is truly transcendent, and buy a hot dog and walk around, feeling satisfied on a level they cannot truly describe, and profoundly dissatisfied on a level beneath that.”

“You have some pretty whacked-out theories,” said Shadow.

“Nothing theoretical about it, young man,” said Wednesday. “You should have figured that out by now.”

So, back to “X Marks the Spot,” perspective character Peter:

If it were indeed a home of Christian worship, Peter knew it for a Christianity more old than his and come from the traditions of three hundred years before, when the forebears of Peter’s order had been forced to seek appeasement with the followers of peasant gods by mixing in Christ’s teaching with their rude and superstitious lore, preached from the mounds where shines to devils were once raised.

“X Marks the Spot” is, more importantly, the chapter where Peter is on a quest (returning from a pilgrimage) to plant a relic in the centre of his land. I don’t understand, and don’t remember him quite understanding, why this is important, but the world conspires to bring his task to its completion.

Reaching again to Snowy, in “Do As You Darn Well Pleasey” (this being, admittedly, one of the chapters NOT set in Northampton, but positing a close connection, tesseract-like, between there and Lambeth):

The Lambeth visionary [William Blake]’s notions of a fourfold and eternal city seemed at times so close to Snowy’s own view, right down to the exact number of its folds, that he had wondered if there were some quality in Lambeth that encouraged such perceptions. There may be, he’d often thought, some aspect of the district’s shape or placement when considered on more planes than three that made it most especially conducive to a certain attitude, to a unique perspective….

I really don’t know how to tie that all together. Maybe I’ll come up with some more before next week, but then again, clearly Moore plans to take his time about it all.

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Jerusalem, Post 4

HRSFANS Book Club – read-a-LONG up to our Feb 2017 meeting: Alan Moore’s Jerusalem, “Book One—The Boroughs.”

Reminder: proposal is now that the official Book Club plan for February 6, 2017 meeting be to discuss Jerusalem‘s “Book One—The Boroughs”: the first third of the book.

This post has hints at plot spoilers.

It has moderate concept/perspective spoilers.

Start at “Do As You…” if you’re looking for a clue

Like I’ve been warning, this book goes on and on with minimal connection from chapter to chapter, and with each chapter being itself less part of a story than a character study in “short-story” form. Very worthwhile on its own terms, but confusing and potentially frustrating if judged by terms Book Club is more used to.

“Do As You Darn Well Pleasey” breaks this mold. Not entirely, but enough that I can recommend jumping to there if you’re getting bogged down. Read this and at least you’ll feel you’re being set down on a path that involves some narrative plan, and some planned central conflict, and ground rules for how that conflict will be managed.

SF/F bursts

He he. So right after writing in the last post that Jerusalem shouldn’t count as SF/F I come across a set of less than four pages that, to me, rattles off like machine-gun fire pretty specific tie-in references to a nicely wide variety of genre works that I like a lot.

Quotes from “Do As You Darn Well Pleasey,” perspective character Snowy:

It would be hard for Snowy because he lived in a world where everything was there forever, never ended, never altered. … When he looked at it objectively, he saw that the real measure of his freedom was that he was free of the illusion of free will.

i.e. Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five.

Hi death would come in a long corridor of rooms, like the compartments of a railway train, and Snowy’s mouth would be crammed full of colours.

… maybe Alfred Bester’s The Stars My Destination.

As if they and their lives were not the smallest and most abstract brushstroke, a pointillist dab fixed and unmoving in time’s varnish, there eternally on an immeasurable canvas, part of a design too vast for its component marks to ever glimpse or comprehend.

… i.e. Guy Gavriel Kay’s Fionavar Tapestry.

Ernest had explained to him and Thursa how there was a way of foldin our experience of space as easily as we might fold a map to join two different places together, say the Boroughs of Northampton and the streets of Lambeth.

… i.e. Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time.

These two places were in fact unusually easy to bring into close proximity, due to the numerous others who had made the trip before and, doing so, had worked the fold into a worn and whitened crease.

This one hits me as so reminiscent of so much stuff I can’t quite put my finger on now (so to speak)–it definitely reminds me of the speculations on the workings of the Shadow Roads in Seanan McGuire’s October Daye novels, but I’m almost certain that’s attributable to my obsession alone (whereas for most of the others I can very easily suspect authorial intent).

Mr. Dadd, the fairy-painter who’d gone mad and murdered his own father.

Not checking this, I’m almost certain this “fairy-painter” is also alluded to in Terry Pratchett’s The Wee Free Men (almost certain because the allusion is explicated in an afterword, with a few key notes both on the painting and its author’s life).

[H]e allowed his consciousness of time to crystallise around the quarter-inch of the duration axis that the moment represented so that things slowed to a crawl, the progress of events barely perceptible. … “Pigeon eyes,” their dad had called this gift, without explaining why.

Well, in Ransom Riggs’s Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children it’s explained that only birds are time-travelers.


Quote, from “Modern Times,” perspective character with several aliases:

The woman laughed and it was music, more that of a pub piano on a Friday night than of Debussy, but music just the same.

Quote, from “Do As You Darn Well Pleasey,” perspective character Snowy:

… [T]he baby’s head was now emerged completely. Snowy’s wife had the appearance of those peg dolls you could buy that were reversible and had a head on each end at the junction of the limbs.

Then there’s any number of mentions of chamberpots and the smells of various excreta, in any number of chapters, which are, well, just rather more vivid than I’m used to in my reading. Even in other fiction set far enough in the past as to be before deodorant (or a concern for it), it usually isn’t pointed out that people, and living, and particularly living in cities, really smells. Here, that is pointed out.