Meranda And The Legend Of The Lake by Meagan Mahoney

Meranda is an 11 year-old girl whose parents moved away from their Nova Scotia home and close-knit family to live in Calgary when she was only 3. While she has regular video visits with her dearly loved relatives back in Cape Breton, her helicopter parents have always been cagey about returning, until the death of her mother’s beloved Uncle Mark sends them all home for his funeral.

Meranda has long been fascinated with her hometown, whose main claim to fame is its relationship with the mermaids who allegedly live in the surrounding waters. But her mother Beth is extremely nervous about her getting too close to the lake, and perhaps not just because Meranda uses crutches to get around, a result of the cerebral palsy that makes her legs difficult to rely on. Meranda’s also painfully near-sighted, using thick glasses to help her see; between that and the fact that her coloring is completely different from her parents, she can’t help but suspect that she has closer ties to a mermaid heritage than her parents are willing to let on.

Unfortunately, this is only one of the many things her parents don’t care to discuss with her, and so Meranda spends the days leading up to Granduncle Mark’s funeral feeling increasingly confused by the weird reactions, if not downright hostility, of some of the townsfolk to their return. Fortunately, she makes a friend, Claire, who’s willing to help her get to the bottom of things, with perhaps the foremost issue being the mystery of what actually happened to Granduncle Mark. Did he really fall overboard from his ship or was he pulled into the waters and drowned by the lake’s increasingly combative merfolk, as some are claiming? It’ll be up to Meranda to figure out what’s going on, in the process helping her family’s small town find peace with its own mythic legacy.

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Permanent link to this article: https://www.thefrumiousconsortium.net/2021/10/19/meranda-and-the-legend-of-the-lake-by-meagan-mahoney/

Hugo Awards 2021: Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form Nominees

Hello, everyone, it’s Hugo season once more! Doug and I are both voting members, and I’m waffling on whether or not to go in person to this year’s awards, seeing as how they’re basically in my city this time and who knows when that will happen again! Decisions, decisions.

Speaking of decisions, we’ll be talking about our voting choices here, starting with my opinions on (what I was genuinely surprised to complete first of all the categories) the nominees for Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form. Prior to the nominations, I’d only actually watched one of these movies, the effervescent Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn), written by Christina Hodson, directed by Cathy Yan (Warner Bros.) I got to see it in theaters right before the pandemic shut down the USA and thought it, quite frankly, the best DC movie made to date*. It’s definitely my favorite of the movies listed here, and my first-place choice for this category.

The next movie I checked out was Soul, with screenplay by Pete Docter, Mike Jones and Kemp Powers; directed by Pete Docter; co-directed by Kemp Powers; produced by Dana Murray (Pixar Animation Studios/ Walt Disney Pictures). I’ve gotten out of the habit of watching every Disney animated movie that shows up in theaters, and my enjoyment of Soul reminded me of how remiss I’ve been. Soul is an uplifting and surprisingly deep tale of finding your purpose in life (and, arguably, pre-life.) I can understand the criticism of having the main Black character spend so much of the movie not being inside his own body but am frankly glad Disney chose to feature a person of color at all.

A lack of diversity certainly isn’t a failure of Tenet, written and directed by Christopher Nolan (Warner Bros./Syncopy) This sci-fi film features John David Washington doing some really cool, really cerebral backward-motion action scenes. Unfortunately, the movie is entirely too much in love with itself and how clever it thinks it’s being. It was nice to watch Robert Pattinson and Aaron Taylor-Johnson talk in their regular accents tho (and, coincidentally, look extra tasty) in this ultimately silly tale that had much more interesting special effects than story.

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Permanent link to this article: https://www.thefrumiousconsortium.net/2021/10/18/hugo-awards-2021-best-dramatic-presentation-long-form-nominees/

Das Erwachen by Josef Ruederer

I admired the conception of Das Erwachen (The Awakening) more than I enjoyed its execution. As Josef Ruederer’s widow Elisabeth wrote in an brief introductory note, “[He] wanted to portray life — history and people — in his home city through the nineteenth century up to the present [1916] in a four-volume novel.” Unfortunately, he died in 1915, leaving the overall work unfinished. The Awakening, which was to be the first volume, was the only one completed at the time of his death.

Das Erwachen by Josef Ruederer

The contours of the larger work are visible in the first few chapters of Das Erwachen. The book begins at an unspecified but relatively modern time, and each chapter steps back a generation or two until Ruederer reaches the known beginnings of the Gankoffen family, a man who led the construction of Munich’s largest church, the Frauenkirche. He is mainly seen through the efforts of a later Gankoffen to trace the family’s continuity from its first famous son, through a period of obscurity in northern Italy, and back into social prominence in nineteenth century Munich. Each of these chapters offers an interesting period picture, but except for the family names they are mostly untethered to any ongoing narrative. I can imagine that Ruederer intended for these chapters to connect to elements in subsequent volumes, or for there to be equivalent chapters of an outro to match his intro, but as Das Erwachen stands, they give it an unbalanced structure.

Ruederer narrates the first chapter from the perspective of a very young boy, Peppi, giving readers an unusual view of life in nineteenth-century bourgeois Bavaria. Given that Peppi is a customary diminutive of Josef, and that Peppi’s family name Luegecker echoes Ruederer (particularly in using “ue” rather than “ü”), this chapter is very likely based on the author’s earliest memories. Some of them are slightly horrifying reminders of the accidents that could befall a child even in wealthy nineteenth-century households: falls, spills of boiling liquids, and so forth. Peppi presumably survives to adulthood, even though the chapter ends with his early school years and he is not seen again in the text.

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Permanent link to this article: https://www.thefrumiousconsortium.net/2021/10/17/das-erwachen-by-josef-ruederer/

North by Brad Kessler

I read a lot of books where I praise the empathy displayed, but after reading Brad Kessler’s brilliant North, I realized that there’s another, rarer quality I appreciate even more in writing: the quality of compassion. It’s one thing to understand where another person’s pain is coming from, to find common ground no matter how alien another’s motivations, but it’s altogether something different, something greater, to reach out a helping hand, whether it’s in the form of providing material comfort or even, in a scene here that made me cry, the warmth of a friendly face, as Angela did by showing up at the detention center just to chat with Sahro, just to be a human being connecting with another through kindness and a listening heart.

Sahro is one of our main protagonists, a young Somali Muslim sick of living in fear in her home nation. She and countless others have heard that if you travel to America and request asylum, they will give you a hearing, and that America is a land of good, kind people, where every home has three taps, one for water, one for milk and one for orange juice. As an orphan growing up in a nomadic culture, she’s pretty certain she can brave the perilous journey. But arriving at her destination and being jailed merely for the temerity to ask for help is the rudest shock on a trip riven with more terror than any one person should ever have to undergo.

Up north in Vermont, cloistered monk Father Christopher of the Blue Mountain Monastery is worrying more about his apple orchard during an unseasonal blizzard than the state of the souls of the monks under his care. In fairness, the souls are all in pretty good shape, with the monks all bending their energies to the contemplative life, himself included. He finds that he has a lot more to contemplate than usual, however, when the monastery’s groundskeeper Teddy rescues two women from a car crash in the snow.

Teddy is an Army vet who lost his leg in Afghanistan and has come back to his hometown, taking up his father’s old job as a layman working for the monastery. While his feelings about Vermont are complicated, he knows two things very clearly: first, you always help people stranded in the cold, and second, obedience to the chain of command, while not paramount, is often useful in providing moral clarity. Nowadays, his CO is Father Christopher, so whom better to bring his new charges to?

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Permanent link to this article: https://www.thefrumiousconsortium.net/2021/10/14/north-by-brad-kessler/

Men To Avoid In Art And Life by Nicole Tersigni

One of the most fun things about owning a Sharing Library (which is the un-trademarked name of the more ubiquitous Little Free Libraries) is finding treasures like these generously popped in by an anonymous donor. I’m so glad I decided to peek in to mine when I did, so I could snag this before anyone else carried it away!

Men To Avoid In Art And Life by Nicole Tersigni is a gift book, similar in design to art/coffee table books but significantly smaller in size, consisting primarily of illustrations with pithy captions. The largest chunk of text comes from the foreword by comedian Jen Kirkman, which is of a tone with the rest of the book.

Based on Ms Tersigni’s popular Twitter thread, this tome collects details of classic art (with a very helpful index in the back! I can’t believe I didn’t know Charles van Beveren before this,) often depicting a woman whose expression can be easily interpreted as her being bored or bothered by the man next to her. Each illustration is captured with the kind of misogynistic statements that are all too easy to find appended as supposedly clever comments to innocuous tweets on Twitter. The juxtaposition is often witty, almost always hilarious, and 100% accurate of the experience of most women in the 21st century.

And that’s really why these tweets became popular enough to be collected into a pretty volume you can hold in your hand and flip through at your leisure: the sense of kinship with women throughout history who had to endure the same kind of nonsense we did, with even more limited recourse to fight back. It’s both comforting and vindicating to know that listening to men being shitty isn’t new, that our foremothers didn’t necessarily put up with it lightly, and that we can and almost indeed owe it to them to proclaim misogyny unacceptable, whether boldly through direct political action or more subversively through humor like this.

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Permanent link to this article: https://www.thefrumiousconsortium.net/2021/10/13/men-to-avoid-in-art-and-life-by-nicole-tersigni/

Magic Ramen: The Story Of Momofuku Ando by Andrea Wang & Kana Urbanowicz

I was exceedingly tickled when my older twin, 7 year-old Joseph, came rushing home from school to show me the two library books he’d picked out. One (which I’ll hopefully get to review later) is about a trumpet player like his older brother. The other was this terrific picture book about one of our favorite foods, instant ramen.

In post-World War II Japan, long lines of the impoverished waiting for a simple bowl of, often over-priced, ramen were a common sight. Momofuku Ando was a businessman and inventor who was haunted by this image. In his backyard kitchen, he worked and worried at the problem of creating a simple, nutritious and cheap ramen that was also flavorful, so that the poor could make their own meals at home without breaking the bank or draining their energy cooking. He endured a good number of reversals before finally coming up with a product he thought would significantly change the world for the better.

And change the world it did! Instant ramen — tho not necessarily the kind that he originally created, which remind me more of Mamee noodle snacks than the noodles + soup packets more popular today — were a hit and are now ubiquitous food items worldwide. It was utterly fascinating to read this story and learn about the creation of instant ramen… even if some of what’s presented here doesn’t necessarily jive with the facts. Like, I get why certain references to Mr Ando’s history were left deliberately vague — the bankruptcy is referenced in passing but not the jail time — tho it seems a bit weird that no mention is made of the fact that the first instant noodles were considered a luxury product. The timeline also feels compacted for the sake of the story, which would be fine if that felt more transparent while reading the story itself. All biographies elide time in places, but this felt more fungible than necessary. That all said, as far as showing off how inventors persevere to make the world a better place, this is a well-written, indeed inspiring book for kids.

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Permanent link to this article: https://www.thefrumiousconsortium.net/2021/10/12/magic-ramen-the-story-of-momofuku-ando-by-andrea-wang-kana-urbanowicz/

Tales of the Squee, Pt. 2

That I am spoiled for choice among just the books that I own, to say nothing of any libraries that Berlin might have, can be inferred from the fact that in the four and a half years since I last wrote a coming attractions post, I have read north of 200 books, but only three of the nine I mentioned back in 2017. One of them was great, and two were great fun. I also read and enjoyed the third in the fun set, which wasn’t out when I mentioned the first two.

The Dragon Waiting by John M. Ford

While I can’t say that the number of TBR books has really declined, some of them are at least different. Here are a few in the current piles, along with what I was thinking when I acquired them, or why I have kept them around after they acquired me.

The Lost Pianos of Siberia by Sophy Roberts. Vast expanses! Pianos! Improbable stories, historical curiosities, civilization versus decay. Hoping that the execution lives up to the concept.

The Long Sunset by Jack McDevitt. Possibly the last book in his series about Priscilla Hutchins, interstellar pilot turned administrator turned pilot again late in life. I’ve read the previous seven in the series and enjoyed seeing how Hutch develops, and how McDevitt has developed a galaxy where humanity is mostly alone in the vast deeps of space and time. Puzzles, rockets, sense of wonder. Yes, please.

Mein litauischer Führerschein: Ausflüge zum Ende der Europäischen Union (My Lithuanian Driver’s License: Excursions to the End of the European Union) by Felix Ackermann. This was a present. A German historian and urban anthropologist is living in Lithuania and uses his acquisition of a driver’s license as a springboard for excursions historical, geographical and observational. Hijinks presumably ensue, as do observations. Ackermann was a student under a leading German urban historian (whose work I have admired more than read), so there’s hope that the pithy observations will have sound conceptual underpinnings.

The Dragon Waiting by John M. Ford. A wonderful book by a wonderful writer. Go read this to find out some more of just how wonderful. The Dragon Waiting is a fine place to start reading his work, though really any place is a good place since none of them are quite like any of the others. There’s the book that inspired canon Klingons before Picard ever boarded the Enterprise (and one of the many hidden gems of The Dragon Waiting is that it features a captain, a scientist, a doctor and an engineer who sometimes refer to their joint undertaking as “the enterprise”). There’s the book about elves and bootleggers in Chicago. There’s the lunar revolution book that interrogates and surpasses The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, probably in fewer pages. Ford’s books are cabinets of wonders, and they are finally coming back into print.

The Eighth Life by Nino Haratischvili. A gigantic novel, originally written in German, of Georgian (Tbilisi not Atlanta) families through the twentieth century. The cover promises six romances, one revolution and the story of the century. I have heard great things; it’s not out of the question that we have mutual acquaintances. But oof, 934 pages. I don’t think I’m going to be carrying this one on the daily commute. Unless it’s really good…

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Permanent link to this article: https://www.thefrumiousconsortium.net/2021/10/11/tales-of-the-squee-pt-2/

To the Lake by Kapka Kassabova

In Border, Kapka Kassabova traveled to the corner of Europe where Greece, Bulgaria and Turkey meet to find out how the region had changed since the Iron Curtain had ceased to divide these three countries that have so much shared history. To the Lake takes her further west to where Macedonia, Albania and Greece meet, and Bulgaria lies just a few ranges to the east. The lake in question is Lake Ohrid, which straddles the border between Albania and North Macedonia (which I will mostly just call Macedonia because it is shorter, and because I find the Greek position in the name dispute unhistorical and obnoxious, if revealing). I suppose that an editor prevailed upon her not to title the book To the Lakes because there are in fact two lakes in the region, and they are nearly of equal importance for the stories that Kassabova weaves together into the book. The other is Lake Prespa, and it is divided among Albania, Greece and Macedonia. Prespa lies higher in the mountains than Ohrid. It is less accessible, and far fewer people live on its shores. Waters flow in underground rivers from the higher lake to the lower, taking about seven days to arrive.

To the Lake by Kapka Kassabova

Kassabova’s family comes from Ohrid, going back at least to some time in the 1700s, before her grandmother left for Sofia, before her mother left Sofia for New Zealand a few years after the end of communism, before Kassabova herself left the Antipodes for Europe. In the spring of 1993, about the same time that Kassabova’s family was heading to New Zealand, I was trying to get to Ohrid myself. I got as close as Florina, Greece, which is about 50km southeast of Lake Ohrid’s southeastern corner, as the crow flies. Of course I could not travel by crow, and this was at the height of the name dispute between Greece and collapsed Yugoslavia’s southernmost former republic. Nobody I encountered in Greece thought that crossing the northern border was a good idea. Graffiti proclaiming “Macedonia is only Greek!” was plentiful. The railroad I had heard of between Florina and Bitola across the border hadn’t been in use for many years, I was told. There was no bus service. Eventually, I found someone who spoke enough German — English was not to be found in that place at that time — to tell me that I could hike 10km to the border and take my chances with whether or not I could cross, and who knows what I might find to cover the 20km from the border to Bitola. I decided against this plan. I think I had had enough Greece at that point, because I took buses as fast and directly as I could — which was not very of either — to the port of Igoumenitsa for the crossing to Italy. So I never made it to the Lake.

Kassabova’s return was a very conscious one. After mentioning her grandmother’s origin as someone from Ohrid, she writes “As an adult, I often thought of returning to the Lake properly, but sensed that I wasn’t ready. To journey to the place of your ancestors, you must be prepared to see what it is easier to deny.” (p. 1) She is alerting readers that To the Lake will be a very personal piece of travel writing. She is not a stranger passing through, she is someone with an old and intimate connection, aware of the place’s deep currents, coming back to learn more. And maybe also to exorcise.

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Permanent link to this article: https://www.thefrumiousconsortium.net/2021/10/10/to-the-lake-by-kapka-kassabova/

Piranesi Redux

On April 21, 1990, the second through sixth places on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart of pop music were occupied by “Don’t Wanna Fall in Love” by Jane Child, “All Around the World” by Lisa Stansfield, “I Wanna be Rich” by Calloway, “I’ll be Your Everything” by Tommy Page, and “Here and Now” by Luther Vandross. At the top, in its fourth week on the chart, was “Nothing Compares 2 U,” Sinead O’Connor’s arresting and unmistakable recording of a song written by Prince. More than 30 years later O’Connor still turns up on the radio, and her version of the song stops my heart as surely as it did the first time I heard it.

Piranesi by Susanna Clarke

Piranesi‘s emotional valence is nearly the opposite of “Nothing Compares,” but it stands out from the rest of the Hugo finalists in best novel the way that O’Connor stood out from Jane Child or Lisa Stansfield, or even Luther Vandross. The other novels on this year’s ballot are doing recognizable things: Jemisin’s book is Lovecraftian horror against superheroes who personify cities; Kowal’s is a combination of alternate history, accelerated climate catastrophe, and colonization of the near solar system; Roanhorse’s is fantastic adventure in a setting based on the pre-Columbian Americas; Wells’ is the continuation of a beloved series about a sentient construct. I haven’t finished Muir’s book just yet, but it’s a sequel, a continuation of the science-fantasy horror of Gideon the Ninth.

Piranesi isn’t much like anything else. Like “Nothing Compares,” its execution is stripped down. Piranesi offers readers its title character’s diaries and nothing more; everything about the world has to be inferred from what he chooses to record. It turns out to be enough to leave a lasting impression, maybe even one that will be recalled just as clearly thirty years from now.

While O’Connor’s recording is a study in heartbreak, Clarke’s novel is a study of goodness. As a character attribute, goodness can be tricky to make interesting. Clarke succeeds by letting her readers work Piranesi’s character out for themselves. Where protagonists in another story might boast of their resourcefulness in living for years on what they gleaned from the sea, or others might have bemoaned their fate, stranded in an endless labyrinth with no apparent source of food, Piranesi sees himself as the Beloved Child of the House, richly provided for and given both opportunity and means to explore the whole of creation. As readers accumulate evidence that the Other does not have Piranesi’s best interests at heart, Piranesi himself looks for ways to explain the Other’s behavior that would show him still as good a person as Piranesi. Even when his circumstances change greatly, Piranesi holds on to his fundamental outlook, and to what the House has taught him. He is offered a way out of his apparent dilemma, but he refuses to repudiate what has gotten him so far; instead, he finds a way to incorporate both his nature and the offer.

Piranesi, like “Nothing Compares 2 U,” is unlikely to inspire a wave of similar works. It is so singular as to defy any author who tried, and so complete that it renders the attempt superfluous. It is a wonderful story and an exquisite work of art that stands apart from its contemporaries, and will probably be just as complete, just as arresting thirty years and more from now.

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Optional musical accompaniment to this post: Nothing Compares 2 U.

Permanent link to this article: https://www.thefrumiousconsortium.net/2021/10/09/piranesi-redux/

Black Sun by Rebecca Roanhorse

I nearly noped out of Black Sun about a quarter of the way through, thinking that if I wanted to read about teachers abusing a child in supposed service to a greater cause then I would go back and read The Fifth Season and its sequels, but I don’t. I had given Black Sun a pass — well, not a pass, something more of an abeyance — on the horror of a mother ritually scarring her twelve-year-old son and then sewing his eyelids shut in the first chapter because I thought it was an introduction meant to shock, as indeed it did shock me. But when the child of the first chapter returns, blind of course, in the care of a “teacher” who slaps him hard enough to draw blood and determined to teach him to “Make the pain your friend” (Ch. 4), I was very close to done with this book.

Black Sun by Rebecca Roanhorse

I stuck around for the strength of the world-building, because I liked one of the other main characters, and because I wanted to do the book justice when I voted in this year’s Hugo awards. The world, as Roanhorse notes in her acknowledgments, is an amalgam of fantasy riffs on pre-Columbian civilizations of the Americas, with some sea navigation lore drawn on Polynesian traditions. Roanhorse has some of the problems with warmed-over Englands that I do, though she puts it a bit more diplomatically. “So much of epic fantasy is set in analogs of western Europe that I think most readers believe that all fantasy must be set in a fake England in order to even be considered epic” and “… it still seems incredibly rare to find a fantasy inspired by the Americas.” (Acknowledgments) And though the window dressing is different, the key places will feel familiar to readers of fantasy: the rough side of town, the priests’ tower, the clan strongholds, the gambling den, the council room.

Xiala, the main character I enjoyed most, is a sailor through and through. She’s lusty and free with money on land, feels most at home on the sea, knows how to motivate a crew, and also knows the kinds of superstitions that sailors are prone to believing. One of the problems is that she is Teek, a type of person about whom sailors have a great many superstitions, many of them better founded than ordinary superstitions, and not all of them positive. The Teek homeland is something like a watery Shangri-La, often sought but never found. And there are no Teek men, as far as anyone in Black Sun besides Xiala knows. That’s in addition to the magical powers that Teek are correctly reputed to have.

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Permanent link to this article: https://www.thefrumiousconsortium.net/2021/10/08/black-sun-by-rebecca-roanhorse/