Monday, April 22, 2013

still working on that

Packed up some more too-large clothes for the charity box, and again failed to rejoice at it. Several items I had bought new--not going to do that again.
Contrary to my previous habit, I've been turning on the light and looking at myself in the full-length mirror every morning, trying to pin that image down as the actual me, and not a stranger or alien shape-shifter.
It occurred to me that getting some clothes that fit might reconcile me, so I spent a couple of weekends hitting the thriftshops, especially Community Thrift, which has terrific $1 racks plus random sales (once, everything green in the store was half-price--not green tags, anything coloured green). That was fun. I bought myself a few books as well as skinny tops and hoodies that weren't my usual style. Because if a shirt is only a dollar, why not try out a different look? I particularly liked the black hoodie with a heart composed of tiny laughing skulls. Maybe I should have picked up the pink-and-white skull-pattern pyjamas too, but I prefer nightshirts to pyjamas.
One trip netted me a dozen items for $21, another one was eight tops and two pairs of trousers for $30. I was fairly satisfied until I realised that I was engaging in Retail Therapy and buying into the whole consumption will make you happy thing. Okay, it's pretty low-end consumption, and I could make a case for it being environmentally innocuous consumption, but still. Retail therapy is avoidance of addressing the real issues. Or of figuring out what the real issues are.
a) That I'm still struggling with revisions of Cost of Silver
b) That I'm doing fitness/weightloss wrong or I would be happy
c) That I'm having vitamin/iron-related depression again
d) All of the above
e) That our culture is so weird about women's bodies that there is no way to win.

On the positive side, I should note that I do enjoy working out with weights. It's not a team sport, so there's nobody to hate me for letting the team down. It's just me and the machines or the free weights, and I can set my own pace and schedule. I like having stronger arms and core muscles, and I'm getting used to those non-fatted calves.
I don't even mind the shower room, where lean and smooth-skinned young women rush through on their way to or from the pool. I figure I serve a useful purpose as a sort of Memento Mori to them, a reminder that work out and wax as you will, to this favour will you come.
It goes with the skull hoodie, I figure.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

too damn picky I guess

I was reading a back issue of Fantasy & Science Fiction recently, and thinking once again that it had an old-fashioned feel to it. Retro, maybe. One story I enjoyed for the most part, because it had a very Edward Pangborn vibe:  enigmatic old man with Biblical name arrives at early-settler-type village, befriends adolescent narrator, reveals knowledge of advanced tech and lost history of colonisers of alien planet, is feared and accused of witchcraft by less-enlightened, lights out for territories with adolescent narrator. You see what I mean.
The Pangborn echoes kept me reading on, though after a while I started to wonder why far-future colonists would revert to a 1600s American Colonial sort of social structure, and why they would fear witchcraft (why would they know about witchcraft?) without the sort of pressures and fears that were present in the 1600s? Since there was a hint that the colonists were multicultural, why not revert to clans or tribes or monasteries? But yeah, okay, pick one, and the author did pick one.
And when the village crops depend largely on a steam-powered tractor that's a piece of ancient tech, why is knowledge of ancient tech suspicious? I get that fear-of-tech is a common trope in post-catastrophe stories, but they didn't fear tech, they'd just forgotten how to maintain it.

Near the end of the story, a sentence just jumped out at me. A sympathetic character says that our adolescent narrator will reach adult status and "choose a bride".
Wait, what? Choose from where? Because other than the narrator's dead mother, there were no women in this village. The speaking characters were all male, the named secondary characters were all male, the un-named tertiary characters were male. (Come to that, the only non-adult character was the narrator.) The enigmatic old man scores points by teaching the locals how to make devilled eggs and to add "aromatic herbs" to the stewpot (yeah, might want to be a bit more specific about which ones, this being an alien planet and all). He tells this to the men because there are no women present in the narrative. I skimmed quickly back through the story, and didn't spot any women.
I think I figured out why your colony isn't doing too well, fellows. And it's not just because you forgot how to fix machinery and make devilled eggs. (Speaking of which, where did they get the pepper?)

The more I thought about this story, the more worldbuilding problems I began to see. The villagers live apparently at the brink of starvation, one bad harvest and they have to start eating each other. Again, I don't think devilled eggs are going to solve that problem, and if hunger means you routinely pop wrongdoers into the stewpot, making stewmeat tastier is not the big issue. They have 'bottles' in which they could preserve food (hey, where did they get bottles? who made them? Is there a glass foundry somewhere nearby?) but don't bother to do so until the enigmatic old man suggests it.
Okay, maybe the lack of nutrients in the native plants or starvation because of climate change is making everyone stupid, as in some theories about what happened to the medieval Greenland colony
By the time I reached the end of the story, I was so distracted by background questions I had to re-read the last paragraphs a couple of times, which only made the problem worse.

It wasn't badly written. And I was prepped to enjoy a Pangborn-style story. But there were so many loose threads that I couldn't resist pulling on one, then on another, until it all came apart. I don't know if there's a moral here, unless it's Don't have picky readers.

Monday, April 8, 2013

pruning again

The pear tree is in blossom outside my window. The blossoms come before the leaves. Last weekend I was two steps up on the small stepladder, trying to clip the watershoots on the Transparent tree before they bloomed. I put some of the clippings in vases (well, in pitchers, we have no vases) for the contrast between the smooth cupped petals and the rough twisted twigs. Finally hacked back the lilac beside the house, and took some cuttings to watch the tight green leaves open on narrow elegant stems.
If only revising were as clean to do. I trim out characters and scenes in the modern-day storyline, with a vague hope that I may use them elsewhere--drop them into other storylines and see them open up--but then must continue through that scene and the next, making sure no trace remains to jar the reader. More like uprooting blackberries or holly, that send shoots underground to pop up annoyingly in a space you thought was clear. Or, I suppose, more like weeding than pruning, done on your knees, laboriously with eyes to the ground.
What I need to learn is how to keep background characters in the background. I want more than the principal characters to be visible, because I dislike stories where no one seems to be in the room or the building than the two main characters (I keep wondering what passersby or the cleaners or the busboy think of their conversation or their goings-on.) I want passersby or cleaners or busboys, or the guy in the next cubicle, so the story feels more real, or more thoroughly imagined.
But when I write background characters, they move into the middle ground, where they draw too much attention. I don't know whether it's the dread 'hey, I'd rather read about this guy than your boring protagonist', but it's something I need to work on, as I engage in the selective erasing of characters.