Saturday, January 24, 2015

Poet Laureate

From the Book of Zimmerman, Chapter 1974:
Then she opened up a book of poems
And handed it to me;
Written by an Italian poet
From the 13th century.
And every one of them words rang true
And glowed like burnin' coal;
Pourin' off of every page
Like it was written in my soul, from me to you,
Tangled up in blue.
Ol' Bob has never really clarified the issue of the identity of that poet.  The interwebz are full of speculation, but I've never had cause to wonder.  See, I've always known -- pretty much with absolute certainty -- that it was Petrarch that he must have been talking about.  (14th century... 13th century... who's counting?)

Why Petrarch?  Simple... his poetry spoke to me, too, through a wormhole that cut right through 6 centuries and 2 languages.  Definitely the same exact effect as Bob's burnin' coal.  I've been as uplifted as Bob's lyrical narrator,

Blessed be the day,
And the month, and the year,
And the season, and the time, and the hour,
And the moment,
And the beautiful country, and the place
Where I was joined
To the two beautiful eyes that have bound me.

I've been as tortured,

I find no peace, and yet I make no war;
and fear, and hope; and burn, and I am ice;
and fly above the sky, and fall to earth,
and clutch at nothing, and embrace the world.

One imprisons me, who neither frees nor jails me,
nor keeps me to herself nor slips the noose;
and Love does not destroy me, and does not loose me,
wishes me not to live, but does not remove my bar.

I see without eyes, and have no tongue, but cry;
and long to perish, yet I beg for aid;
and hold myself in hate, and love another.

I feed on sadness, laughing weep;
death and life displease me equally,
and I am in this state, lady, because of you.

And I've been given wake-up calls similar to those that Petrarch tried to give the dry scholastics of his day...

Suppose that you have learned by heart the deeds
of illustrious heroes throughout the ages.
What good is this if it does not change
the way you live your daily life?

I also was always touched by the wide-eyed zeal with which Petrarch pursued the goal of being the first Italian poet to be crowned with a laurel wreath since the ancient Roman practice fell out of favor centuries before.  The guy had chutzpah... much like this other guy who just appeared on the cover of AARP's magazine!

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Alpha-Bytes: Somtow's Inquest Script

It's been well over a year since I've done an Alpha-Bytes post (last one was November 2013, I think).  My initial description was that these posts were a place for me to "...gush geekily about my favorite alphabets, ciphers, and alternate writing systems."

Earlier in 2013, I posted about one of my favorite slipstreamish, sci-fi, alt-hist, weird-lit authors: Somtow Sucharitkul.   I bemoaned that I couldn't find any online examples of the alphabet he created for his "Inquest" series of novels and stories.  Well, if you want something done right...

Ai! Click for bigger versions.
The above comes from the prologue of 1984's Utopia Hunters.  Apologies in advance for cellphone-pic quality, but I'm not able to put them through a proper scanner. The next one is from the same book's epilogue:

I'm not sure if all that weeping and yearning is representative of the rest of the books.  It's been almost 30 years since I've read them, but I might give them another whirl if I end up finding them all.  (These were a recent windfall at $1.48 apiece at a used bookstore in my new town!)

Alas, I don't have a one-to-one list of each glyph's phonetic meaning.  A quick scan of these examples tells me that it might have been meant as a far-future evolution of the Roman alphabet.  There are quite a few quasi--almost--sorta similarities between some symbols and their intended vowels or consonants.  Still, the overall appearance is hauntingly alien.

Somtow's exploration of language went even further in 1985's The Darkling Wind.  We saw these glyphs translated into not one, but two different alternate tongues...

Apologies again, this time for cutting off the rest of the Lowspeech and all of the English translation that spills onto the next page.  Later in the book, Somtow explored a graphical layout reminiscent of the one I transcribed in my post about him, this time laying out the relationships between the godlike beings that dominate his Inquest universe...

I have a vague recollection of seeing a page or two in one of the other novels that gives a full description of the script and its quirky phonetics.  If I see it, I'll update!

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Archipelago of Last Years

Well now, it's been a freaky end to a freaky year.  Today was the day the movers delivered (most) of our stuff to our new place in the Rockies.  The word "most" in the last sentence was the source of some of the freakiness, but all is well.

I'm reminded of the Rankin-Bass TV special Rudolph's Shiny New Year.  In that story, once a year ends, its elderly embodiment (who starts out as a Baby New Year) goes into retirement on his or her own private island.  I'm not sure I'd want an everlasting island to commemorate all the drama and stress of my own 2014, but it seems to be leading to somewhere good for my family and me.  So maybe it ought to be cherished, sleepless nights and all.

For this blog, 2014 saw a bit of a slow-down.  There were only 35-ish posts, which is a bit less than half my average of about 80 for each of the previous three years.  Still, I was able to participate in some extremely fun blog-hops, including Squid's Cephalopod Coffeehouse, the nostalgia-filled Then and Now (in which we revisited old faves to see how they held up), and our own Songs of Summer.

I finally managed to work up a full play-by-play example of a "Glass Bead Game."  It was based loosely around Beethoven's 9th symphony, and it used Charles Cameron's fantastically easy-to-grok "Hipbone" format.  Here's a run-down of the 10 moves in that game:
On the fantasy role-playing game front, I didn't get to work much on Homebrew '82, my own fantasy of what this kind of game should be like.  However, I did make some progress in figuring out how I'd run such a game... the making of detailed maps turned out to be not too terrible a task... and I realized that much of the day-to-day world management expected of a Dungeon Master should be outsourced to some very personalized software.

For 2015, the big decision I have in front of me is whether or not to forge ahead with the infamous April A-Z Challenge.  In the previous post, I mused about some ideas for it that came shooting into my brain unbidden last month.  I'll probably wait a bit, to see how drained I get by the first few weeks and months of my new job.  :-)  There's also that fiction piece that's been beckoning to me since Halloween.  Whatever happens, I think it's going to be an exciting 12 months!

Have a Hap-Hap-Happy New Year, everyone!

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Other News: Abby Normal Edition

Okay, just a couple of other updates, mostly in the "life is weird" department.

Despite my crazy situation regarding moving (or maybe because of it), last weekend I was the victim of a two-hour frenzy in which I conceived of an absolutely awesome theme for a month of A-to-Z themed posts... and I managed to fill all 26 slots with cool, alphabetically appropriate topics.

When I used the word "victim" above, I was serious: it came upon me like a tidal wave, to quote Mr. Loaf.  Not completely out of nowhere, since the ideas did build on some other thoughts I've been having.  Still, it was stupefying to see it all coalesce so quickly.  To quote another pop culture icon,

But now, the question.

Should I do it?

I took a break from the April A-Z challenge this year after doing it in 2012 and 2013.  It takes time and energy, for sure.  Some writers may see the word "challenge" and chuckle in comparison to their daily output.  It's apt for me, though -- especially for the new year, in which I'll be dealing with a new job and a new home.  But... but... I'm tempted to give myself something more or less familiar to do, so it's not all newness on every front.

No firm decision yet, but I'll be meditating on it.

The other thing isn't quite news, but it's fun to report on being enchanted by something shiny, out there in the weary world.  Random car-radio dial spinning found me at Emerson College's radio station (which you can listen to online).  I forgot how invigorating and electrifying college radio can be.  This station uses the word "discover" in their logo, and yes, you bet, I'm discovering a lot.  In just a single 24 hour period, for example, I managed to be swept away by...
  • Al Green's soaring original version of Take Me To The River... I had no idea that the Talking Heads version was a remake.
  • Yaz's Only You.  Celestial tintinnabulations that I don't think I've heard before.
  • An all-Hebrew, a-cappella version of Under the Sea from The Little Mermaid.  Youtube doesn't seem to have the exact version that I heard, but there are several others!  Much more fun than it had any right to be.  The word "sardine" remained untranslated.  :-)
- - -

Edit (Dec. 2, 2014):  One more very cool song just discovered on WERS... The House, by Air Traffic Controller.  Don't let anyone say you can't tell a powerful little story in a couple of verses and a chorus.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Round-trip Roundup

In Harlan Ellison's Eidolons, there is an ultra-short story within a story (maybe just 500 words) that begins:
"I awoke at three in the morning, bored out of sleep by dreams of such paralyzing mediocrity that I could not lie there and suffer my own breathing."
The remainder of that paragraph-long piece tells how the protagonist's boredom was "cured" by an unimaginable sequence of horrible calamities.  The piece ends with the only possible reflection:
"Somehow, the universe always provides."
Well, for me, the universe is providing.  :-)  No horrible calamities as yet (fingers crossed), but getting ready to move across country is making for some big-time disruptions that my goodly wife and I haven't experienced since our 20s.  I got home yesterday from a quick trip to sign an apartment lease.  Finding a place that's okay with our four felines was stressful, but luckily the in-person part was completed in just one day.  A red-eye flight got me home before a big snowstorm hit the Rockies.

But!  The chaos of packing has unearthed some interesting artifacts.  I found the colorful plastic name-tag from my first job: picking up garbage at a Six Flags theme park.  (No image to post, but just think of the "pieces of flair" from Office Space.)  I found a copy of the Norse myth play that I wrote at the age of nine.

A more recent layer of strata revealed the robot costume that we made for my son when he was 5 or 6...

A bit of garage mold necessitated a ceremonial disposal, but not before fully documenting the find, like good archaeologists.  :-)

There were also a few things that connect with the history of this blog...

Yup, this was pretty much a true story.  Below is the most surprising find...

...which completes the documentation of the Alphabet of Neptune that I previously revealed to the world.  The above symbol, by the way, is the "Interplanetary Peace Sign."  Nice.  If there's interest, I could conceivably post a translation of the whole booklet.

There hasn't been much time for writing fiction, but on the plane I added quite a bit to the copious notes and outline for the story that I talked about last time.  My characters now have names.  :-)

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Murphy's Law: Halloween edition

Holy frijoles, I can't believe it's been a month to the day since I last posted.  Getting our house packed up for our upcoming move has taken up nearly all of my free time... and we still don't know precisely where we'll be hanging out the "Cygnus Family" shingle come January.

I got the urge to post because, wouldn't'cha know it, fate picks now for the following.  No more than 36 hours ago, I got the first glimmer of an idea to write a story -- part sci-fi, part sci-fact, part semi-autobio.  I've done short form fiction on the blog before (urp), but with emphasis on the short.  This thing is likely to end up being longer than a typical blog post; it may also blow past the canonical 7,500 word boundary between "short story" and "novelette."

I've already amassed something like 2,000 words on the outline alone.  It won't let me alone.

Ah, we'll see if this momentum continues.  But now, to commemorate the impending night of the rending of the veil between worlds, let me just point you to another story, this one completely wordless, that I think captures the heart of the All Hallows season nicely.  With cute kitties!  :-)

Monday, September 29, 2014

The Songs of Autumn?

A few months ago, some of us hosted a blog-hop called The Songs of Summer, in which we waxed nostalgic about a handful of favorite hot-weather songs.  I originally thought of this as a way to share virtual "mix-tapes," but we ended up not using that particular phrase because it may have excluded bloggers too young to know about that particular piece of DIY-cassette history.

But, last weekend, as we've been starting to pack up our belongings for a big cross-country move, lookie what I found...

What could be in that dusty feaux-leather case?  What do you know... a combination of store-bought cassettes and mixy mixes.  (You can spot those from their dot-matrix-printed labels.)

Please click on all these images to make them (slightly more?) legible.
I hope my phone did a decent enough job in rendering these crackled gems.  The above was side one of the case; here's side two:

Too many memories to list them all here.  When I was first getting into Canadian prog-gods Rush, I made the era-spanning tape called "Tempus Fugit," but later it got mothballed as I eventually bought every one of their albums (on CD... but that's a later geologic era).

There are a few that I'm a little afraid to listen to.  The hand-scrawled tape titled "Scrambled Eggs" contains an impromptu collection of sound effects, clips, and recordings of myself & friends doing strange things in a college dorm room.  Were we actually funny?  Like I said, afraid to know for sure.  There's also a mix-tape of love songs from an ex ("A Shade of Music"), but don't flip it over to hear what I assembled after the breakup ("Heart of Darkness").  :-)

I tried to give my artistic side some room to play in making the tape covers.  It's amazing the things you can do with Steve Jobs' original 128K brick...

WBVR was the unofficial name of the collection of music and stereo equipment of a set of 4 engineering & physics students (well, I was the only physicist).  The name comes from the Beave, whom I've mentioned before.  His 45's were the core of the collection.

If you look closely at the Monkees' Greatest Hits (cobbled together from whatever we had... no relation to an actual greatest hits album), you'll see the rainbow logo of Six Flags Great Adventure, which the four of us visited on the emblazoned date to see the Monkees play, along with Herman's Hermits, the Grass Roots, and some other 60s wonders.

I thought I'd give you a look at one song list, this from the tape labeled "Carpe Diem."  (Gosh, I wonder what movie we'd just seen when I came up with that name?)  I always popped this one into the walkman when I needed a bit of an optimistic lift...

...though I can't for the life of me remember why I thought of "American Pie" as an appropriate inclusion for an optimistic, seize-the-day-ish mix tape.  :-)