April 19th, 2009

shocked and surprised

Susan Boyle

If you haven't already heard of Susan Boyle, you really need to watch this extract from last weekend's broadcast of a British TV talent show. As fastfwd comments:
We love her because she reminds us that we don't have to stop living at 47, or 57, or 67, or 77, or ever.

We love her because she reminds us that we don't have to wait till we lose weight or get some new clothes or get a better job or make more money to start living.

We love her because she reminds us that we are already good enough to go on to our own next round (as it were).

We love her because she reminds us that we don't have to let anyone else tell us who or what we are.

We love her because she reminds us that we don't have to give up.

In addition, "I Dreamed A Dream" is one of my favourite songs from Les Miserables, and this is just fantastic.
buzz

Anticipation

The nice people at this year's Worldcon, Anticipation, have made available a large number of the nominees for electronic download by members of the convention. Thanks in particular should go to John Scalzi for getting this started.

The following nominees in the fiction categories are not included in the download:

Best Novel nominee: Anathem by Neal Stephenson
Best Novella nominee: "The Tear", by Ian McDonald
Best Novelette nominee: "The Ray-Gun: A Love Story" by James Alan Gardner.

However, it does include all the Best Short Story nominees, and two complete books in the Best Related category - John Scalzi's Your Hate Mail Will Be Graded and Farah Mendlesohn's Rhetorics of Fantasy, as well as an extract from Paul Kincaid's What It Is We Do When We Read Science Fiction, by Paul Kincaid. I must say that the 55 Canadian dollars for a supporting membership for the Worldcon, which gets you all the fiction nominees not mentioned above (including novels by Gaiman, Stross, Scalzi and Doctorow) plus an actual vote for the Hugos is a very good deal.
ireland

Science Fiction written in Irish

Delighted to find this article by Philip O'Leary of Boston College, discussing the rather minimal amount of sf written in Irish.
Even interpreting "science fiction" quite broadly—as we will do throughout this essay—we find startlingly little interest in a kind of writing with proven appeal for a wide range of readers—in many ways precisely the kind of writing one would expect to have most excited those in charge at An Gúm, people never faulted for their elite standards in literature... original Gaelic works of science fiction are thin on the ground and thoroughly mediocre.
What there is of it, O'Leary surveys pretty comprehensively, devoting a reasonable chunk of the essay to the works of Cathal Ó Sándair, "whose productivity and sales figures will almost certainly never be matched by any other writer of Irish."
To get an idea of Ó Sándair's approach we can focus here on An Captaen Spéirling, Spás-Phíolóta (Captaen Spéirling, Space-pilot) (Dublin, 1961). The story is set in 2000, when the earth's most precious resource, uranium, is running out and war for what remains is imminent. An Irish scientist has, however, determined that there is an abundant supply on the moon. The Irish government benevolently decides to fund a mission to prove his theory and then secure and distribute the uranium to all countries on earth in need of it... Ó Sándair's astronauts travel in a real rocket built and launched on the Curragh of Kildare. On the moon they discover a humanoid civilization whose members still bear the disfiguring scars of their own nuclear holocaust. The Irish manage to overcome their suspicions, win their trust, and acquire a huge supply of uranium on condition that it never be used to make weapons. More importantly, the moon people share with their new friends their own greatest technological advance, "so-ghaethe" (good rays), energy beams that immediately neutralize feelings of aggression and cause an overwhelming desire to cooperate. Needless to say, when the astronauts return to Ireland, their government arranges for these rays to be made available through the UN to every country on earth.
O'Leary does find one or two sparks of hope for the future, though more in the line of a sort of urban Celtic magical realism, including
Tomás Mac Síomóin's Ag Altóir an Diabhail (2003), where contemporary Ireland's cultural identity crisis is mirrored by the entirely unreliable narrator's obsession with a lifelike robotic sex partner with interchangeable heads—he opts for Hilary Clinton and Mary Robinson.
I slightly question O'Leary's analysis on one point: he buys into the widely-held view that interest in speaking and learning Irish tended to preclude any parallel interest in science. My own investigations (as part of my thesis, on-line separately here) lead me to conclude that the relationship is a bit more complex than that. But O'Leary's observations are an important piece of evidence against my own revisionism.
shakespeare

April Books 13) Pericles, Prince of Tyre, by William Shakespeare (and George Wilkins)

I swore four years ago, after reading this cruel but entirely accurate summary, that I would never bother with Pericles. Well, the rapidly dwindling list of Shakespeare plays brought me to break that oath, and I think it's a bit of a lesson in how performance can shape your perception. Pericles is without doubt a very silly play, probably Shakespeare's silliest (and the silly bits are shared evenly between the bits he wrote and the bits by brothel-keeper and part-time playwright George Wilkins). But if you just read the script, either on your own or without preparation among a bunch of friends (as Francis Heaney and his pals were doing), you miss out on the tremendous possibilities of performance by a cast who are just having fun with the absurdity of it: and it's no worse than the average pantomime, and there are Shakespeare plays with better reputations but worse plot holes. There's no deep observation of human nature here, but surely Shakespeare was entitled to the odd belly-laugh now and then (helped by Wilkins).

One thing that struck me (not mentioned by Heaney) was that the Chorus who steps in to give narrative background is explicitly identified with the medieval poet John Gower, and Wilkins actually tries to make him speak Middle English (Shakespeare doesn't try as hard). He must be the most intrusive Chorus in the canon, giving away the punchlines before they happen. Again, the casual reader of the script wonders what the heck is going on, but a stage production can play it for laughs.

Arkangel don't quite dare to do this with their Gower, who is Sir John Gielgud, aged 94. One gets a sense that the rest of the cast, led by Nigel Terry as Pericles (and with ex-vet Christopher Timothy as weak-willed Cleon) were trying to do a respectful performance. But the script doesn't really allow for that, and it's just as well.

One could not by any stretch of the imagination call Pericles a masterpiece, but it is very funny.

Henry VI, Part I | Henry VI, Part II | Henry VI, Part III | Richard III | Comedy of Errors | Titus Andronicus | Taming of the Shrew | Two Gentlemen of Verona | Love's Labour's Lost | Romeo and Juliet | Richard II | A Midsummer Night's Dream | King John | The Merchant of Venice | Henry IV, Part I | Henry IV, Part II | Henry V | Julius Caesar | Much Ado About Nothing | As You Like It | Merry Wives of Windsor | Hamlet | Twelfth Night | Troilus and Cressida | All's Well That Ends Well | Measure for Measure | Othello | King Lear | Macbeth | Antony and Cleopatra | Coriolanus | Timon of Athens | Pericles | Cymbeline | The Winter's Tale | The Tempest | Henry VIII | The Two Noble Kinsmen | Edward III | Sir Thomas More (fragment)