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Melissa Mead
Posted on Monday, September 06, 2004 - 06:42 pm:   

Next time I'll try to remember to bring one of the more uncommon Frances Burnett books if you'd like to read them.
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Theodora Goss
Posted on Tuesday, September 07, 2004 - 07:12 pm:   

Hi Melissa!

Did I see you at Worldcon? I don't think so, but as I told several people, by the third day you could have stood my own mother in front of me, and I would have said, "Hi, I'm Theodora Goss. It's so nice to meet you." If I did but seem to have lost my short-term memory, blame it on significant lack of sleep!

I'd love to see some of your Burnett collection. I won't be at World Fantasy this year, but I will be at ICFA, Wiscon, and Readercon.

Thanks for starting this thread! I want to mention some of the Worldcon highlights, as I recall them.

In random order:

1. Meeting and spending time with students from the Alpha Workshop for young SF&F writers. They were smart and funny, and I'm betting they're also talented. So established writers, watch out!

2. Shaking hands with Messers. Minz and Klima.

3. Talking with Steve Pasechnick, the editor of Alchemy, which I think is one of the best and most sophisticated fantasy magazines around. The second issue should be out soon. Alchemy can be hard to fine, so I'm planning to post some information about it in the next few days.

4. Hearing Greer Gilman read. You haven't experienced her strange and lovely prose until you've heard her read it aloud. I said once, on a panel, that reading Kelly Link, Carol Emshwiller, and Greer Gilman taught me what I could do, and how far I could go, stylistically in genre fiction.

5. Watching the Regency dance. There's nothing like seeing people in starship captain uniforms and Jane Austen dresses bowing to one another. Next time, I'm going to join in.

More to come as the memories return . . .
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Melissa Mead
Posted on Wednesday, September 08, 2004 - 03:34 am:   

Very, very briefly. You were leaving the SFF.net party as I came in. The entire conversation consisted of:
"Hi."
"Hi."
:waving:

Plus, I was so nervous I didn't recognize you until I saw your nametag. ;)

Wasn't that a great con? I'd never been to anything like that before.
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John Klima
Posted on Wednesday, September 08, 2004 - 07:12 am:   

Glad to 'officially' meet you, too.

JK
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Theodora Goss
Posted on Wednesday, September 08, 2004 - 09:47 pm:   

Well, darn. Next time, let's be sure and at least shake hands! It was a great con. I was worried because I'd heard about its enormousness, but honestly it seemed populated by the same hundred people that I always see at cons. Though that has more to do with the way we perceive the world (focusing on the familiar) than with who was actually there.

John! This gives me a chance to praise the Spring issue of Electric Velocipede. So far, I love Stepan Chapman's "Ariadniad," which is brilliant, and like Liz Williams' "Indicating the Awakening of Persons Buried Alive" and Jodee Rubins' "Bob's Witch."

Highlights continued:

6. Hearing Justine Larbelastier read from her new YA novel, which is coming out some time next year. It sounds wonderful.

7. Meeting Sharyn November, who is a walking pre-Raphaelite painting. Rossetti would swoon. (Dante, not Christina.)
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John Klima
Posted on Thursday, September 09, 2004 - 10:26 am:   

Well cool! Glad to get the feedback.

JK
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Melissa Mead
Posted on Thursday, September 09, 2004 - 02:38 pm:   

It WAS fun! Overwhelming at times, but fun.
Are you coming to Albacon this time?
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Theodora Goss
Posted on Wednesday, September 15, 2004 - 10:35 pm:   

Not this time, I'm afraid. I really enjoyed Albacon, which is a smaller and very friendly con. (I recommend it to anyone in the area.) But with the Pipster to take care of, I have to choose my cons carefully. I'm hoping to go to all the Boston ones, plus ICFA (because it's academic, and academics is part of what I do) and Wiscon (because there's a strong focus on the sort of fantasy I write, which I don't have a word for exactly).

(Can I mention again that I loved "Ariadniad"? I read it again, and I think it's one of the best short stories I've ever read. And I'm very particular about short stories!)

I want to talk about some of the panels at Worldcon, but am once again writing after midnight. Sigh. The one I really want to talk about was called "Do Women Write Differently?" The panel description was "Well, do they?" (Yes, a one-line panel description.)

I'm going to come back to this, I swear. But I did want to get down a quick thought, which was that my first response, when reading the title of the panel, was "Differently than what?"

I mean, differently than each other? But of course they do.

I know, the question implied is whether women write differently than men. But that question depends upon the idea that women write similarly enough that their writing can, as a class, be compared to men's. Which I find to be a strange idea.

I'm not going to go on now, because I could go on forever, but the issue has stuck in my mind, so I'm going to come back to it soon. I think the reason it's stuck in my mind so strongly is that I remember being introduced, in college, to the idea of ecriture feminine (sorry, I don't know how to do accents here), and thinking it was such total bunk.

But no more for now. And I'm going to learn how to do accents in this program.

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Theodora Goss
Posted on Thursday, September 23, 2004 - 11:14 pm:   

So, why have I never seen a panel called "Do men write differently?" After all, women have been professional writers for over a hundred years, in such numbers than in the nineteenth century, male authors complained that women were taking away their livelihood. Is it a genre thing? Meaning, are we still responding to a 1950s assumption that science fiction should be written by men? (On the panel, we barely mentioned fantasy, as though there were really nothing to talk about where fantasy was concerned. If women write differently, wouldn't they write fantasy differently as well?) Would it be more reasonable to have a "Do men write differently?" panel at a convention of romance novelists?

That aside, on the panel I suggested that there was one thing women did write about differently: adolescent heroines. I think women authors tend to be particularly interested in and allied to their heroines when those heroines are teenagers. (For the simple reason that we've all been thirteen, or sixteen, and we know it's HARD.) I wonder if a woman author would have written the second and third volumes of the Dark Materials trilogy, in which Lyra, the spunky heroine of the first volume, becomes distinctly second-string to the hero, Will. (And I have to admit that while I generally liked the books, I thought the ending was truly sickening. As in, get over C.S. Lewis already.)

One of the suggestions made during the panel was that women wrote differently about children, since they were the ones who generally took care of them. I have to admit that I rather doubt that. Most of the contemporary male writers I know have plenty of experience with childcare.

Other differences? I dunno . . .
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Melissa Mead
Posted on Friday, September 24, 2004 - 03:41 am:   

I completely agree with you on the Dark Materials trilogy.
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Theodora Goss
Posted on Monday, September 27, 2004 - 11:26 pm:   

Hi Melissa! I'd love to hear more about your response to the trilogy. Mine was so strong, I think, because I found the books difficult to put down, so I loved parts of it intensely, and disliked parts of it intensely. (Like the ending. Ugh.)
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Melissa Mead
Posted on Tuesday, September 28, 2004 - 03:37 am:   

You just summed up my reaction pretty well. Gotta get to work, so for mow I'll just say I went from actively hunting up his other books to thinking "That guy's got issues..."
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Melissa Mead
Posted on Tuesday, September 28, 2004 - 04:05 pm:   

Ok, now that I'm back from work...
(Keeping in mind that I haven't read any Phillip Pullman in a few years)

When I read the first book, I thought "Oo! Alternate Victorian era, spunky heroine, imagination, whimsy, adventures in Really Neat Places, hints of Greater Things-this is my kind of stuff!

Second book: I started wondering if Mr. Pullman had a good handle on who we were supposed to be rooting for here. I got a sense that all right, his universe was in conflict-but we weren't really part of it.

Still, I waited impatiently for #3, and got the Sally Lockhart books to tide me over. Liked 'em, except for an "Honestly, m'dear. couldn't you wait one more night?" moment over a plot point that seemed way too convenient.

#3 Ouch! Now, maybe it's partly because I'm a Narnia fan, but I've never read a book that felt so bitter and spiteful. It was a diatribe. I honestly wondered if his wife had died during the writing or something, and if that explained the delay between books.

When an author does something that reminds me that he's there behind the writing, that I'm not really living the story, I call it "leaving fingerprints." In this case, I felt like the author had gone out of his way to create a beautifully-realized painting-and then slapped a great bloody handprint in the middle of it and shouted "Ha! Had you going there, didn't I?"

(Plus, how can the Golden Compass work at the end, if there's nothing higher than Man?)
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Theodora Goss
Posted on Thursday, October 07, 2004 - 07:15 pm:   

Interesting. I loved the Narnia books, I think in part because although Lewis was certainly trying to get across a religious message, there was also something else, something strange, going on in them. I see it most clearly in Prince Caspian, when Aslan appears and awakens Narnia again. The Narnia he awakens, with its dryads and hamadryads, its centaurs and satyrs, is distinctly pagan. I mean that its creatures come from the world of ancient Greece. Even Silenus shows up! I think that English writers of the 19th and early 20th centuries were so steeped in their classical education that they could not help falling in love with the old pagan world of Greece and Rome. You see that openly in writers like Swinburne and Wilde, and covertly in Lewis. (Tolkien, I think, was in love with a completely different pagan world, the world of the Norse gods.)

So, in the Narnia books Lewis combines themes from Christianity and classical paganism, without necessarily realizing (I think) that the latter is as powerful a presence as the former. At least, that's how I experienced the books. I loved Narnia because it was alive, and Aslan because he was a talking lion. I was aware of the religious message, even in elementary school (future English major that I was), but didn't particularly care that it was there or feel as though it was imposed on me.

The one place I felt Lewis betrayed his creation was in The Last Battle. I mean, who cares that there's going to be a new and better Narnia? I wanted the old Narnia. The new Narnia sounded like a pale imitation of the real Narnia, where there were good and evil, and adventure happened. Who wanted a Narnia beyond adventure? That was the one place where I thought the religious message overwhelmed the book. It's my least favorite volume.

I agree that Pullman seems to do that more and more as his three volumes proceed. And in his third volume most of all. I got to the end and never wanted to reread the series, whereas I've reread the Narnia books many times. Perhaps I would have had a different reaction if I'd read Pullman when I was younger? I don't know.
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Melissa Mead
Posted on Thursday, October 07, 2004 - 07:56 pm:   

I think Lewis appreciated the pagan traditions, Have you read 'Til We Have Faces? Besides, he was thoroughly secular before he converted.
(Didn't do things by halves, did he?)

I felt disappointed in The Last Battle too, but that felt like "Hey, you created this beautiful thing and you're taking it away," while Pullman felt like "Hey, you started to make a beautiful thing, and then you broke it in pieces and laughed." It was just so bitter.

I'm not sure if I would've understood Pullman when I was younger. Not that I fully understood Narnia at first either, but I could appreciate it.
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Robert Burke Richardson
Posted on Thursday, October 07, 2004 - 08:03 pm:   

There's a scene very early in "The Golden Compass" where Lyra is hiding in the wardrobe, and notices the mirror on it. I took this as signaling that the series was meant as a continuation of both the Narnia books ('The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe') and the Alice books ('Through the Looking Glass'). Many Narnia-reminiscent characters appear in Pullman: Mrs. Coulter is similar to the Witch, Ariel similar to Aslan (he has a feline daemon, if I recall correctly -- it's been a while).

I saw the 'His Dark Materials' trilogy as a story of growing up as well as an answer to the question posed by thinkers like Doestoevsky, Nietzsche, and Heideggar: How does one live in a world without God? Philosophy have been ill-equipped to answer this question, but I think Pullman succeeds through narrative. He twins scientific knowledge with mythological imagery and ultimately internalizes it within Lyra.

For me, lofty as Pullman's goals were, I do feel he succeeded admirably: that sort of collapse and naturalization of external metaphysical/wonder crutches is the process of growing up -- and if I ever decide to grow up, that's exactly what I'll do, too! ;)
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Melissa Mead
Posted on Friday, October 08, 2004 - 05:25 am:   

But if "babies playing a game can make up a world which beats your real world hollow,"* why would you want to? ;)

* C.S. Lewis (of course!), The Silver Chair.
(paraphrased from memory.)
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Robert Burke Richardson
Posted on Tuesday, October 12, 2004 - 12:56 am:   

^I guess that's why the worlds always normalize at the end of the tale... :-)
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Theodora Goss
Posted on Tuesday, October 12, 2004 - 09:15 pm:   

Just a quick post, since the last few days have been like the Mad Hatter's Tea Party, and I'm discombobulated and desperately needing sleep. (Standard apology to everyone I haven't yet responded to . . . :-()

Robert, I'm interested in your point, which I think is that Pullman is showing us how to deal with a world in which we must make our own meaning, showing us how to grow up into what he sees as reality.

And I think, too, that your and Melissa's points represent, in a really interesting way, two different views of what fantasy should be, or perhaps even what literature should be. I want to write about this at greater length, but will have to postpone. Until soon!

Just one thing: I read an article recently about the Austrian writer who won the Nobel prize. Her writing is evidently particularly bleak. She said in an interview, when she was asked about that bleakness, that she felt responsible for showing reality as it was. She left redemption to other writers. I don't quite know how I feel about that. But it reminded me a bit of this discussion (though I think Robert would argue that Pullman both shows us reality and a kind of redemption, a way of dealing with it?).
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Amy Sisson
Posted on Wednesday, October 13, 2004 - 01:17 pm:   

Speaking from a serious lack of religious knowledge (for which I'm thankful on a personal level, but it's certainly a disadvantage when it comes to understanding literature).... I liked the entire Pullman trilogy. I do admit that I vastly prefer the first book with the strong Lyra, as opposed to the second book (the sort of there Lyra) and the third book (the mostly sleeping Lyra). But I have read the entire trilogy twice (the first book three times) and I suspect I will eventually do so again.

Coincidentally, someone last night at an SF Writers Meetup commented that it bugged her that "love" was the all-powerful thing, and what was so special about Lyra and Will's "love"? To me, though, it wasn't so much love. I boil down this trilogy, oversimplistically, as this: innocence is wonderful and beautiful, but not until we have the fall of innocence (or the dawn of self-awareness) can we have people trying to consciously do good, which is far more profound than people doing good simply because they don't know how to do otherwise. And much of organized religion would have it otherwise.

So to me, the power wasn't supposed to be love, but consciousness or self-awareness.

I know this is oversimplistic, and probably naive, but that's all I've got to go on!

Anyhow.... I'd love to see the two-night, six-hour stage play in London.
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Melissa Mead
Posted on Wednesday, October 13, 2004 - 07:07 pm:   

I agree that you need self-awareness to have people consciously doing good, and that that would be growth in the right direction for humanity. It's just that I felt so much SPITE from the third book...
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Amy Sisson
Posted on Friday, October 15, 2004 - 09:03 am:   

Again I'm speaking from my non-religious background, but I suspect that if I had any version of the church hammering some of that stuff into me from an early age, I too might feel spiteful enough to make it a central issue in my work.

You want anti-church spite, try reading Sheri Tepper. <grin>
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Melissa Mead
Posted on Friday, October 15, 2004 - 03:11 pm:   

Oddly enough, I love Sheri Tepper's books! They don't give me the same feeling of using the story to grind an axe-even when she's clearly standing on a soapbox.

Doesn't make sense, does it? But Sheri Tepper's work just comes across as more positive overall.

I also love pretty much anything by Terry Pratchett, who cheerfully dissects organized religion under a microscope and skewers it with his wit.

For me, it's less an issue of religion than overall worldview.
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Amy Sisson
Posted on Tuesday, October 19, 2004 - 11:53 am:   

I love Tepper too, esp. "Grass", which just blew me away.

But I think of Pullman's "His Dark Materials" as more positive. Awareness won!

"Es ist alles relativ" (I think that's "It's all relative" in German -- and I always think that phrase in German, not English -- but I'm a little rusty so it could be off.)
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Melissa Mead
Posted on Tuesday, October 19, 2004 - 02:07 pm:   

Grass was one of the best. I liked Beauty, too. (I'm a fairy-tale-retelling nut.)
One of these days I'll have to reread Pullman and see if I feel differently. Right now, though, I'm up to my eyeballs in books from Noreascon, Albacon and a local book sale. Plus I'm trying to write a novel. Looks like it'll be a while...
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Robert Burke Richardson
Posted on Thursday, October 21, 2004 - 10:41 pm:   

I'm not nearly as busy as Dora, but I am lazy and disorganized, so you'll have to forgive the sporadic, semi-coherent post that follows :-) This is a really interesting discussion that has sprung up.

I think the cyclical nature of fantasy staring children -- which usually entails the whole 'coming of age' thing -- is cyclical for a reason. I see things such as religion and philosophy as phases. My first degree was in philosophy and I've come to see that hyper-rational way of thinking as a kind of sickness. Philosophy is something you move through -- something you digest and internalize -- before moving on to later phases. I think philosophy is wonderful and useful, don't get me wrong... it just can't be a way of life or an end in itself.

I see learning as a process. When the mind (or, indeed, the entire being of a person) is grappling with a new mode of thinking, things take on strange appearances. One thing, the 'self' for example, may appear as two things (as it does in Descartes' mind/body dualism). Likewise, one might posit an externally existing God to help make sense of things at a certain point. Later, that metaphysical crutch can be discarded.

In Pullman we have the alethiometer and other fantastic entities and devices. I see these as similar to Elric's Stormbringer -- it helps you sometimes, but it can become a liability. By the end of The Amber Spyglass, Lyra has naturalized these concepts. She's ready to move on to the next phase (which, if we're lucky, will involve all-new magical crutches).

I don't know if any of that makes sense. I'm at a phase now where I'm struggling with these very concepts, so it's hard for me to explain.

As far as spite, I didn't read Pullman that way, though it is of course a legitimate reader response. God in Spyglass seemed like an old fella who had outlived his usefulness and was ready to move on. It almost seemed he was held prisoner by his believers and needed to be set free. My personal belief is that anyone worshipped by both Bush and Bin Laden can't be any good anyway :-)

(Oh yeah -- Dust and awareness: I definitely agree about the connection. I see Dust as representative of the learning (or becoming) process).

One thing that irked me a bit was the lack of Iorek Byrnison in The Subtle Knife and of Lyra in Spyglass. Iorek was just too powerful, though, and had to be left behind. By the third book, we know Lyra can take care of herself, so she's taken out of the picture for a while in order to make the ending stronger and keep the tension going. At least, that's what I figure. Seemed like a careful choice on Pullman's part.

It's a funny thing, but these long-standing philosophical questions -- ultimately unanswerable from within the discipline itself -- are often solved in fiction. Narrative is like the id of theory, and vice-versa.

So, what do you read after Pullman? Where can we go now that god is (philosophically) dead and, hey, we really didn't need him anyway? I find myself drawn to stories like Dora's "Lily, With Clouds." It's sort of a quiet tale and the magic, if there is any at all, is very subtle. It's very natural and internalized -- perhaps nothing more than certain perspective. A good story (and, I suppose, a good philosophical work, too) can change you. Reading (and writing) can sometimes be a process of self-development.

So, yeah, I have no idea what I'm saying. LCRW is the new bible, or something wacky like that :-)

I'll look at this post again in the morning and, if it makes sense at all, I may try to post something more coherent...
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Theodora Goss
Posted on Saturday, October 30, 2004 - 10:52 pm:   

Phew. So sorry. Kendrick has to keep going out of town on business, which leaves me with the baby 24/7 or /5 or /3, however long he's gone, and it's really tough to get anything done, especially anything involving writing. Even emails.

I know I meant to write something moderately clever about fantasy that reconciles you to the world, and fantasy that shows you there is another and better world somewhere, but it probably wasn't that clever, and I'm not sure I could formulate it clearly now. It came from something Robert said. Pullman shows us several worlds, but they're all very much like ours in that they have crime, hatred, etc. There is no "better" world in his universe, not even after death. So, it's fantasy that shows you the difficulty of life and reconciles you to doing the best you can with it. The Narnia books are completely different: Narnia is better than our world, and of course there's the even better Narnia you can go to after death.

I think fantasy is very comfortable with, and perhaps the best genre for describing, a better world than ours. I mean, if our world is reality, a better world has to be a sort of fantasy, one that we don't entirely believe in, although we often want to. I'm thinking here of stories in which children, for example, step through into another world which is realer, truer, more beautiful, whatever. And then eventually they have to return to dull reality again. Or stories about Avalon, fairyland, the Back of the North Wind . . .

I think the "better world" fantasies are more traditional, so what Pullman is doing seems really odd in comparison, creating fantasy that tells us this is the only world, and we need to accept it and work with it. Which really has nothing to do with what anyone else said. It's just what occurred to me. One other way to say this, perhaps, is that traditional fantasy tends to be escapist (which I personally think is a good thing--I value escape), and Pullman tells us that escape isn't possible.

(I don't have a problem with his critique of religion, personally. It's his treatment of Lyra that bothers me. Robert wrote:

"By the third book, we know Lyra can take care of herself, so she's taken out of the picture for a while in order to make the ending stronger and keep the tension going."

I dunno. I guess I wasn't all that interested in Will, and I became less interested in Lyra the more virtuous she became, so by the third book I was losing interest and reading just to see how the books would come out. I think stories are strong because of their characters. For me, Pullman made his strongest character weaker, in order to make a series of points.)

I'm all for LCRW being the new Bible! Or anything else that doesn't provide an excuse for anyone to blow up anyone else. But hey, people are so good at translating "love thy neighbor" into something like "blow up thy neighbor and say you're doing it because you just love the guy to death" that I'm sure even LCRW would be misinterpreted.

And one quick thought, which is that I think (though writers aren't always the best judges of their own work) even though a story like "Lily" has either little or no fantasy in it, most of my stories are centrally about the sort of escape that fantasy offers. At least I think so . . .

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