Wednesday, September 29, 2010

September Christian Science Fiction & Fantasy Blog Tour

Venom and Song: The Berinfell Prophecies Series - Book TwoI finally have enough of a breather in my schedule to post regarding the current BLOG TOUR, which is featuring the new book by millionaire playboy Christopher Hopper and Wayne Thomas Batson, who has both "Wayne" and "Bat" in his name, making him awesome.  Curiously, Hopper and Batson have never been photographed together...

Their new book is entitled Arsenic and Old Lace...er, no wait, it's entitled The Cup of Fury...er, no, it's entitled Venom and Song, a nonfiction book making a stirring call for Prohibition.

No, I'm kidding.  It's actually the second book of the Berinfell Prophecy series, which chronicles various predictions regarding the fall of the Berin Wall.

No, I'm kidding about that, too.  The Berinfell Prophecy series is YA fiction about seven magical elves raised in the human world until they came of age and returned to their own world to battle t3H 3v1L Spider King.

Well, that sounds awesome.  Let's check out some other options on t3H bL0g t3Wr:

Jeff Chapman has good things to say about it.  Sounds like the book pulls a few fine twists and delves thoughtfully into its characters:

Initially, the lords understand the conflict with the Spider King as a battle between good and evil. They are the "good guys" while the Gwar and assorted company are the "bad guys." Their Elvish handlers are content to leave them in ignorance, but a chance meeting with a scarlet raptor leads Kat and Tommy to a shocking discovery. The Elves once enslaved the Gwar and treated them cruelly. The Gwar have good reason to feel some antipathy toward the Elves. The revelations, which Kat and Tommy share with the others before approaching Grimwarden and Goldarrow, threaten to wreck the Elves' plans. Jett threatens to leave Allyra and return to Earth. Grimwarden and Goldarrow eventually convince the seven that despite the wrongs of the past, the Elvish cause is just in the face of the Spider King's tyranny and vengeance. "[H]ow much Elven blood must be spilled to pay the debt in full?" asks Grimwarden (p. 179). The seven learn that history is more gray than black and white and that righting past wrongs with more violence and wrongs does not resolve the original issue.  [more...]
Okay, well that's actually all I have time for.  Go check out the rest of the blog tour:

Angela
Brandon Barr
Keanan Brand
Amy Browning
Beckie Burnham
Morgan L. Busse
Melissa Carswell
Jeff Chapman
Valerie Comer
Amy Cruson
CSFF Blog Tour
D. G. D. Davidson
April Erwin
Tori Greene
Ryan Heart
Bruce Hennigan
Timothy Hicks
Becky Jesse
Cris Jesse
Jason Joyner
Julie
Carol Keen
Krystine Kercher
Dawn King
Leighton
Rebecca LuElla Miller
John W. Otte
Donita K. Paul
Chawna Schroeder
Tammy Shelnut
James Somers
Kathleen Smith
Rachel Starr Thomson
Robert Treskillard
Steve Trower
Fred Warren
Jason Waguespac
Dona Watson
Phyllis Wheeler
Jill Williamson

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

News not from the Fish Bowl: Terry Pratchett Makes Space Sword

This is not Lucky.  My professors have felt the need to assign me more of this stuff they call "homework," so I kicked Lucky off the computer on Monday so she couldn't give you your weekly link round-up.  However, when I was surfing the Internet in order to procrastinate doing my homework, I came upon this article about the knighting of Sir Terry Pratchett, who celebrated his knighthood by creating his very own Space Sword of meteoric iron, as reported in News.com.au:

With help from his friend Jake Keen — an expert on ancient metal-making techniques — the author dug up 81kg of ore and smelted it in the grounds of his house, using a makeshift kiln built from clay and hay and fuelled with damp sheep manure.

Pratchett, who has Alzheimer's disease, also said he had thrown in "several pieces of meteorites — thunderbolt iron, you see — highly magical, you’ve got to chuck that stuff in whether you believe in it or not".

After days of hammering the metal into bars, he took it to a blacksmith, whom he helped to shape it into a blade, which was finished with silverwork.

Pratchett has stored the sword, which he completed last year, in a secret location, apparently concerned about the authorities taking an interest in it.

He said: "It annoys me that knights aren’t allowed to carry their swords. That would be knife crime." [more...]

Perhaps the British authorities are taking their cues on what constitutes "knife crime" from New York.

Or vice versa.

One way or the other, to protest this stupid infringement on an American's--or a British knight's--right to bear arms, I'm going to start packing one of these babies.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

News from the Fish Bowl Extra: Astronomer Baptizes Aliens

I was using those blogrolls, Deej!!!

In non-browser-cookie-related news, Guy Consolmagno, a Vatican astronomer, says he would baptize an alien if the alien asked. Here it is from The Guardian:

Guy Consolmagno, who is one of the pope's astronomers, said he would be "delighted" if intelligent life was found among the stars. "But the odds of us finding it, of it being intelligent and us being able to communicate with it – when you add them up it's probably not a practical question."

Speaking ahead of a talk at the British Science Festival in Birmingham tomorrow, he said that the traditional definition of a soul was to have intelligence, free will, freedom to love and freedom to make decisions. "Any entity--no matter how many tentacles it has--has a soul." Would he baptise an alien? "Only if they asked."

Consolmagno, who became interested in science through reading science fiction, said that the Vatican was well aware of the latest goings-on in scientific research. "You'd be surprised," he said. [more...]

Deej is the one studying this stuff, but I sorta thought the traditional definition of a soul was to be not dead. I also thought "entity" meant any unified, existent being, but I'm thinking something got lost in translation here. Maybe he told the reporter a living being with reason and free will has a rational soul, and that he'd baptize that.

What are the implications of Cthulhu converting to Christianity? When he rises from the ocean and drives the world mad, will everyone turn into Carrie's mom? Will the Great Old One offer his victims baptism before swallowing their souls?

Coincidentally, Deej came back from the library today with a smug look on his face and this book in his hands:

Christianity and Extraterrestrials?: A Catholic Perspective

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Oops...The Death of the Blogroll

While attempting to navigate to my own website, I got a message from my browser informing me that The Sci Fi Catholic contains dangerous malware associated with the host for our blogrolls.

I logged in and killed the blogrolls immediately, and they will remain absent until I figure out what's up.

Twice, my antivirus software has had to clean a dangerous rootkit off the computer, a really bad one capable of logging keystrokes and taking screenshots in order to get at bank account info and that kind of thing.

I don't know if this particular malware originates from the blogrolls previously hosted here, or from something else.  I've visited The Sci Fi Catholic and numerous other websites several times, and I've also run my virus checker almost neurotically, sometimes more than once a day, after getting that pernicious virus the first time, but it has not shown up more than twice, so chances are I got it somewhere else, maybe at one of those shady webcomics I visit.  But I recommend all visitors to The Sci Fi Catholic run a virus check.  If you have an infection called rootkit something-or-other, I understand the recommendation is that you change your passwords and monitor your bank account information.

I apologize.  I didn't know we had malware here, and I was under the impression the blogroll host was reputable.  Maybe my browser guardian thingy made an error, but maybe not.  Maybe the "malware" is just some unwanted ad cookies, but maybe not.  I'll keep a closer eye on widgets in the future, and I'll also see if I can figure out what the problem is.

What Do You Mean No Mythology?

Unlike most Catholic bloggers, I'm a Vatican II kind of guy.  Vernacular?  I'm all over that.  Full and active participation?  Absolutely.  Revised Liturgy of the Hours?  Pretty please.  Liturgical dancing?  Um...let me get back to you on that one.

But it finally happened:  I found that sentence in the Vatican II documents that gives me Neo-Traddy fits. There I was reading Sacrosanctum Concilium when I came upon numbers 92c and 93, which are in the section on the revision of the Divine Office.  They read, in part:

...the accounts of the martyrdoms or lives of the saints are to be made historically accurate.

...Whatever smacks of mythology...is to be removed or changed.

Nooooo!!!

See, we all have our goofy hangups. Mine happen to be goofier than most, which is probably why all the saints I most love and admire seem to have had their feast days suppressed.

Speaking of which, I recommend the recent article at Ask Sister Mary Martha on the story of "Saint Guinefort."  Saint Guinefort happens to be a dog.  Notice what the people did when their shrine to Saint Guinefort was burned; you just can't keep a good bit of folklore down.

I'm of two minds on Saint Guinefort.  On the one hand, I think pious folktales are a natural development of robust religion, so though I much appreciate and respect such things as Vatican II's desire for historical accuracy (because who doesn't want solid facts, really?), I figure there has to be some good wholesome place for all those accreted hagiographic legends, too.  But on the gripping hand, I also figure it's probably best for the bishop to step in and tell everybody they really shouldn't be venerating a dog.

Monday, September 13, 2010

News from the Fish Bowl

VATICAN RE-OPENS LIBRARY

After three years of cruelly keeping its hoard of precious texts away from the prying eyes of scholars from the outside world, the Vatican has re-opened its library, according to Yahoo! News in an article given me by a really nice reader:

The Vatican's Apostolic Library is reopening to scholars following a three-year, euro9-million ($11.5- million) renovation to install climate-controlled rooms for its precious manuscripts and state-of-the-art security measures to prevent theft and loss. [more...]

Curiously, the library has re-opened without its former store of rare historical books on Leonardo da Vinci, its medieval histories of Pope Joan, and its commentaries on the Necronomicon. The Vatican denies having ever had such texts in its possession.*

*(Umm, the way I wrote this article was, like, a joke.)


KEVIN McCARTHY DIES

As reported by Cinematical Kevin McCarthy, who starred in Death of a Salesman and Invasion of the Body Snatchers, has died at age 96.


SCIENTISTS MAKE REAL-LIFE TRACTOR BEAM...SORTA

According to ScienceDaily, Australian scientists have created a laser beam that can move small particles up to a meter and a half:

Professor Rode said his team used the hollow laser beam to trap light-absorbing particles in a 'dark core'. The particles are then moved up and down the beam of light, which acts like an optical 'pipeline'. [more...]

They say it won't work in space, though.


SF SIGNAL: WHY NO SPACE-THEMED NOVELS ON THE HUGO BALLOT FOR BEST NOVEL THIS YEAR?

Um...I dunno. Cuz people were reading steampunk, urban noir, and third-world dystopia this year? Read it here.


GAME OF THRONES PREVIEW

Also from SF Signal, see the HBO preview for Game of Thrones. Includes an interview with George R. R. Martin. Why do fantasy writers have so many initials?

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Quick Book Update

Am informed that Karina Fabian's new book, Neeta Lyffe, Zombie Exterminator, originally slated for release in March, is now slated for release in December 1st from Damnation Books.  Remember you heard it here first.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Book Review: The Stoneholding

The Stoneholding: Legacy of the Stone Harp, Book I
Where men are men, women are women, and everybody makes stupid decisions.


The Stoneholding by James G. Anderson and Mark Sebanc.  Legacy of the Stone Harp, book 1.  Baen (Riverdale):  2009.  Paperback.  604 pages.  $7.99.  ISBN:  978-1-4391-3349-1.

(I received a free copy of this novel from the publisher.)

Kicking around and looking at other comments on The Stoneholding, I get the impression this is one of those novels people tend either to love or hate.  I'm not seeing much in the way of opinions in between, so as you read the present review it's worth keeping in mind that your mileage may vary.  I tried to stay balanced as I read, but by the end, I landed in the hate camp.  I have exactly one reason for the hatin', and I suspect whether a person loves or hates this novel will depend almost entirely on how much he cares about that one thing.

Set in a more-or-less standard post-Lord of the Rings fantasy universe, The Stoneholding, first volume of the Legacy of the Stone Harp series, introduces us to the land of Arvon, where the crown prince has been mysteriously missing for several years and the land is now misruled by an evil oligarchy.  This mostly affects the eastern lowlands, while the western highlands, due to their inaccessibility, still enjoy some independence.  The most important of these highland realms is the Stoneholding of the title, wherein dwells the Hordanu, a powerful bard who preserves an eternal sacred flame and a magical gold harp used in an annual ceremony to maintain the world's balance.  After lowland Arvon makes a pact with the evil Gharssulian League, Gharssul's agents extinguish the sacred flame and invade the Stoneholding.  Two chipper young men, Kal and Galli, join with the aging Hordanu Wilum to rescue as many of the Stoneholding's inhabitants as they can, as well as a number of important MacGuffins, before heading into the mountains in the hope of escaping the enemy soldiers and beginning their quest to find the missing crown prince and restore the sacred fire before the world reels into chaos.

Although nothing in The Stoneholding stands out as unique, it has a decent premise and a well-constructed world.  Anderson and Sebanc obviously spent a lot of time figuring out the geography, which gets described in considerable detail, though many of those passages read more like technical descriptions of a map than like word-portraits of a landscape.  The larger cosmology and mythological history, centered around the magic harp, are well-developed and delivered to the reader at an appropriate pace.  The situation the characters face is dire enough to be interesting in itself.  The villain Farabek makes only a brief appearance and spends most of his time monologuing about his evil plans, but he's sufficiently wicked to be mildly entertaining, and he's apparently opened a gateway to the underworld and released some nasty beasties; although that means little in this first novel, it promises some fun in the sequels.

Where The Stoneholding suffers, and in my opinion suffers fatally, is in the characters.  Mind you, I don't expect deep, well-rounded characters in a sword-and-sorcery book (though they are a pleasant surprise when I find them), but I do expect the characters to at least have motives for what they do and to have entertaining if one-dimensional personalities.  But to call the characters in The Stoneholding one-dimensional would be to ascribe at least half a dimension too many to them.  The characters are mono-emotional; they are gifted with one emotion each:  all the young men are chipper, all the old men are melancholy, all the matrons are smothering, all the hard-working farmers are windy, and all the turncoats are foul-tempered.  It is as if Anderson and Sebanc spent a great deal of time building a world, but then forgot to populate it.  As a result, the characters appear to have no reasons for their actions; they are simply moved around by the needs of the plot like pieces on a chess board.

This causes two big problems:  eye-glazingly boring expository dialogue and plot-induced stupidity.

The characters tend to speak for multiple pages at a time without taking a breath, usually to explain the plot to the reader, reveal their nefarious plans just when the heroes happen to be hiding nearby, describe in detail what they've been doing over the last few days, or talk about maps.  Because of the flatness of the characters, I at times got confused over who was speaking, and on one occasion I forgot anyone was speaking and thought we were back to the narrative.  The characters of Kal and Galli, who are chipper young men and best friends, are indistinguishable; I quickly lost track of who was who whenever they were on the page together.  The bouts of dialogue make the shallowness of the characters at times painful:  in an important scene near the novel's middle, the aging Hordanu gives Kal an extremely important job to do, one Kal never expected to get, yet most of the conversation between them consists of the Hordanu describing the map in detail and Kal repeatedly exclaiming the sword-and-sorcery equivalent of "Golly!"  It is supposed to be one of the most important scenes in the book, but it has no emotion.

The lack of even minimal character depth results in an idiot plot.  The protagonists appear to have no wills of their own; they simply go from place to place as the plot dictates.  Whenever there is a serious turn in the story, the characters become moronic long enough to make the stupid decisions that will cause the turn to come about.  This happened so frequently that I began to suspect the big twist at the end of the novel would be the revelation that the characters are at crucial moments having their wills stolen away by a malevolent force.  Allow me to describe the worst example:

The Stoneholding features three or four quislings who decide to sell out to the Gharssulians and have all their friends and neighbors slaughtered.  At one point, the survivors of Gharssul's purge are huddled together in their final stronghold where they will in all likelihood make their last stand.  They have recently discovered that two of their members (I don't remember the names) are among the quislings, so like any good fantasy novel heroes, they let the quislings go free to join with the enemy and tell the enemy where the heroes are hiding, how many are with them, how they're armed, etc.  Another character, who has some kind of unwholesome-sounding name like Flatulorr or Excretoff, or maybe just Turncoat-3, has been seen conversing at length with the quislings.  He has an irascible and peevish personality, just like the quislings.  When speaking of him, other characters say things like, "I think he might be a quisling."  Then our hero Kal finds Turncoat-3 hastily running through an area he shouldn't be in, and Turncoat-3 offers the fumbling excuse that another character who would never entrust him with anything has entrusted him with an important mission.  Kal believes him.  Lo and behold, it turns out that Turncoat-3 has betrayed them all to the enemy.  Later, Turncoat-3 returns, apparently repentant, and Kal believes him, and Turncoat-3 betrays them again.

Mind you, this problem could have been alleviated somewhat if Turncoat-3 or any of the other quislings had even an iota of craftiness, but they are all nakedly treacherous.  I could see their betrayals coming from miles away, yet the protagonists are oblivious.  Although the example described here is the most grievous--and, sadly, the whole story turns on it--it is by no means isolated.  Every advance in the plot hinges on somebody doing something bafflingly stupid.  Even the deus ex machina that causes the novel to dwindle off without a climax begins when Kal foolishly runs pell-mell through a dark cave and falls off a cliff.

Having said all that, I would add that this novel is a first for Anderson and Sebanc.  They both have respectable writing credits already, and it is apparent that they have real skill.  Although it at times strains too hard for an archaic feel, the prose is mostly quite good.  The worldbuilding, as I already mentioned, is competent, but Anderson and Sebanc appear to have a few things to learn about character development, plot construction, and dialogue writing.  I cannot but pronounce The Stoneholding a failure, but I hope--indeed, I expect--that the Legacy of the Stone Harp will improve significantly in the sequels.  Or, even if this entire series turns out to be a wash, I expect the authors to produce more worthwhile work later on.  I certainly hope they produce some stronger novels; they are both Catholic writers, and this book is wholesome without being preachy or pretentious.

Content Advisory:  Contains action violence.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Tune in Tomorrow...

Thursday is the busy day for me here at the seminary, so...no significant post.  However, tomorrow I should (I hope) finally put up the book review for The Stoneholding by James G. Anderson and Mark Sebanc, a review that's been too long in coming.  The review will discuss not only the book but some wider issues about sf in general that I hope will be worth reading, so tune in (possibly late) tomorrow for our next book review.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

News from the Fish Bowl Extra: No Gaming from Fort Gay

According to MSBNC's Technolog, gamer Josh Moore was banned by Microsoft from XBox Live because he put in his profile that he lives in Fort Gay, which is, in fact, where he lives.  After some misunderstandings and bad customer service, Microsoft found itself apologizing to Moore, and to the town of Fort Gay.

Winda Benedetti describes the rationale for Microsoft's strict policy that led to the banning of Moore from XBox Live.   Please pay close attention and see if you can discern the irony of this paragraph:

The fact of the matter is, it can be an ugly, ugly gaming world out there, with all manner of homosexual slurs routinely being hurled about in online multiplayer matches as both insults and attempts at intimidation. (By the way, you Neanderthals that do this kind of thing: You are the pond scum that lives beneath the pond scum.) [more...]

Mmmkay.  The fact of the matter is, it can be an ugly, ugly technology-blogging world out there, with all kinds of slurs...

Coincidentally, The B-Movie Catechism recently linked Joe Bob Briggs's comments on zero-tolerance policies.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Quick Link: Society of Amazonians Found in Amazon

Sci-fi website i09 has a link to a Washington Post article on archaeologists who have found unexpected evidence for a vast sedentary society in the Amazon.

Along the Xingu, an Amazon tributary in Brazil, Michael Heckenberger of the University of Florida has found moats, causeways, canals, the networks of a stratified civilization that, he says, existed as early as A.D. 800. In Bolivia, American, German and Finnish archaeologists have been studying how pre-Columbian Indians moved tons of soil and diverted rivers, major projects of a society that existed long before the birth of Christ.  [more...]

Waitaminnit, I remember this video game.  It was called Amazon:  Guardians of Eden, an adventure game set in the 1930s with a few interweaving plots that lead your protagonist into the Amazon to find a missing research team.  Pretty dang good story in that game, but it has possibly the most frustrating puzzles ever, as it requires you to pick up every last tiny object on every screen because you'll need them fifteen or sixteen chapters later, so if you happened to miss anything, you'll be totally screwed later on.  It says something about the quality of the storytelling that in spite of this frustration we eagerly played through to the bitter end.  Also, I happen to remember that the secret civilization in the depths of the Amazon was occupied entirely by highly attractive Scandinavian-looking women.  Who spoke American English.

The game is apparently abandonware, and is available here.

Monday, September 6, 2010

News from the Fish Bowl

THE BOOKS THAT MAKE CHINA MIEVILLE CHINA MIEVILLE

The Guardian begins a series of podcasts in which Mieville talks about the books that have shaped him.  Hear the podcast here.


HUGO AWARDS

Speaking of Mieville, Cory Doctorow informs that Mieville just won a Hugo for The City and the City, which tied with The Windup Girl, a multilayered tale set in a sleazy future Bangkok, by Paolo Bacigalupi. Also, the webcomic Girl Genius picks up another Hugo, no doubt making the Deej very happy. See Doctorow's article here and the list of winners here.


PROOFREAD

Just do it.


GARY SHTEYNGART EXPLAINS WHY HE LOVESZARDOZ

Wait...there was a novel?  Yes, there is a novel called Zardoz, clearly related to the movie of the same name, which stars Sean Connery in his underwear, making it all right in my book.  The B-Movie Catechism has previously attempted to explain the film. Now Shteyngart explains the book.  Sort of.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Reader Assistance: Recommended YA Fiction

On four or five occasions now, parents have graciously taken the time to write to me and ask for good advice about YA ("young adult," actually meaning older children and adolescents) sf and fantasy for their growing boys and girls. My typical response is to thank them for so flattering me by asking my advice, and then to bow, scrape, hem, haw, and dodge the question as much as possible before offering a few titles I like and then swiftly signing off with a hasty goodbye and an air of embarrassment.

I would like to assemble a list of good, more-or-less clean YA fiction and give it permanent residence on a page here on the blog, but I don't think I can assemble anything but a very short list myself, so I am asking readers to chime in with their recommendations, either in a comment thread here (preferred) or by e-mailing me at dgddavidson@hotmail.com.  I will assemble these, after some review, into a "final" list, which can of course grow and morph and change shape over time.

If you would like to join in, just drop titles and say why you are submitting them.  Science fiction and fantasy are preferred, but other titles may be submitted.  Emphasis should be on novels, but short stories (preferably in anthologies, which are easier to obtain) are acceptable as well, as are comics and graphic novels.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Brit Mandelo on "Queering SFF"

Over at the Tor.com website, Brit Mandelo has an article (part of an ongoing series) entitled, "Queering SFF: Where's the Polyamory?", in which she asks why more sf doesn't contain so-called polyamorous relationships and why, in particular, more love-triangles don't end in three-ways.

Here's a quote:

The original Twitter discussion [that prompted the article] was about love triangles in YA fiction (love ‘em or hate ‘em?), which spurred me to think about the trope as a whole: why does it have to be combative? So many books use the triangle to push plot but would never consider letting the three characters in question come together.  [more...]

It was a curious experience for me to read this article by Ms. Mandelo a day after re-reading the Song of Songs, which is Solomon's.  It is as if I stepped from one universe into another.

I'm not going to focus on the moral issues involved here, particularly the issue of depicting kinky relationships in stories aimed at older children (what the "YA" label actually means), because covering that thoroughly would require a great deal of time and space and would carry the conversation into a realm different from the one I'm interested in at the moment.  Instead, I'm going to focus more heavily on the artistic matters.

The brief answer to the question Ms. Mandelo poses is, because ending a love triangle with a three-way destroys the plot (or subplot) and betrays the reader.

Love triangles are of perpetual interest and popularity in fiction for at least two reasons:  first, they touch on common human experience with which a large number of readers can relate, and second, they produce tension by creating a situation--a competition of sorts--that at least one character must inevitably lose.  The build-up in that tension, with all the opportunities for shippers to argue rancorously on the Internet over who should lose and who should win, creates the pleasure of reading about love triangles.  Twilight is interesting largely because Bella cannot have both her vampire lover and her werewolf lover.  Girl Genius is interesting partly because Moloch von Zinzer cannot have his McNinja girl, his bucktoothed thief girl, and his creepy minion girl.  He must choose, and choose wisely, for just as the true girl will give you life, the false girl will take it from you.

Take any generic Japanese harem comedy as a further example.  Basically an exaggerated love triangle, the harem comedy is a story in which three to seven beautiful but eccentric girls are trying for improbable reasons to latch onto one erstwhile luckless loser.  The harem comedy is interesting and entertaining precisely because only one girl can get the guy in the end; if it were a literal harem rather than a harem comedy, there would be no plot.  If the story ended with the characters deciding to have a four-way, or an eight-way, it might be kinky, but it would be a dissolution rather than a resolution to the storyline, because the storyline is about one girl getting a guy--or perhaps more accurately, one guy choosing the right girl--and to end the story in such a way that the difficult choice does not have to be made, is cheating.  It is a letdown.  It is anticlimactic.  This is because harem comedies, although they have a tendency to get mired in anatomical gags and sexual hijinks, are when stripped bare (so to speak) basically boy-meets-girl stories.  They are love stories.  And love stories are by nature exclusive and monogamous.  More on that a little later.

Take Ranma 1/2.  Please.  How different would the story be if Ranma, instead of constantly fending off unwanted advances and trying awkwardly and halfheartedly to forge a relationship with the girl next door, simply made all comers, both and female?  Again, kinky, but no plot.  Susan Napier in her collection of essays on Japanese cartoons, Anime, has a chapter on Ranma 1/2 in which she makes a complaint somewhat similar to that made by Ms. Mandalo:  Napier complains that Ranma 1/2, even though it constantly depicts characters violating boundaries, particularly boundaries surrounding sex and gender roles, does not do enough to undermine traditional Japanese views of gender, but instead ends up confirming them.  I believe Napier has missed the point; a comical show like Ranma 1/2 cannot help but confirm traditional gender roles because the plot hinges on the protagonist's unintended transformations back and forth from male to female and the social discomfitures these transformations cause.  If all the social norms were swept away, Ranma's accidental appearances in drag and other embarrassing moments would have no ability to shock and therefore no ability to amuse.  Without social conventions to violate--and thereby pay homage to--Ranma 1/2 could not be funny.  If Ranma did not care about his masculinity, he would not be embarrassed and the viewer could not laugh at him.  Ranma 1/2 can only maintain its bouts of comedic boundary-transgression by simultaneously reinforcing the boundaries it transgresses, because it is dependent on those boundaries.  Without social boundaries, there would be no conflict in Ranma 1/2, no humor, and no story.  Similarly, if the "combative" elements were removed from a love triangle, there would be a kinky three-way relationship, but no conflict and no story.

When I think of stories containing relationships that might be called polyamorous, the first thing that springs to my mind is Paint Your Wagon, a so-bad-it's-good musical filmed near my home town (and entrenched in an annual celebration there), starring Lee Marvin and Clint Eastwood, neither of whom can sing.  The story takes place in a California gold rush town, No-Name City, where there are no women until a Mormon arrives with two wives.  After an Irish miner complains, "It's no fair you havin' two of what the rest of us ain't got none of," the Mormon agrees to auction off one of his wives, and she ends up with Lee Marvin's character.  While Marvin is on a mission to kidnap some French prostitutes to populate No-Name City's new house of ill repute, he leaves his wife in the care of his pardner, Clint Eastwood, who promptly falls in love with her.  On Marvin's return, the three of them all decide to be married together, and this unusual situation leads to most of the strained jokes after the intermission.  Yet again, Paint Your Wagon is ultimately a love triangle; in spite of its intentionally boundary-violating premise, which again forms the basis of the humor, the ultimate question to be answered is which guy gets to keep the girl at the end of the film.

I am convinced romance is at its heart monogamous.  This would seem to be best in tune with our biology; romance is about sex, and sex is our method of reproduction, and sexual reproduction can only occur between two people.  But besides this, romantic desire itself seems to have something of exclusivity about it.  The aforementioned Song of Songs, written in a society where polygyny was generally accepted, necessarily has a monogamous bent when it describes romantic love:

As a lily among brambles,
so is my love among maidens.

And again:

My dove, my perfect one, is the only one,
the darling of her mother,
flawless to her that bore her. (NRSV)

Romantic passion inspires vows of fidelity and exclusivity.  When lovers describe what they love about one another, they emphasize uniqueness.

I am not claiming, of course, that only chaste stories leading to happy marriages can make moving love stories.  I am much moved by the story of Abelard and Heloise, a real-life tragic tale as full of melodrama as any bodice-ripper, but which is basically about a tutor fornicating with his student. I am also much moved by the story of Tristam and Isolde, which is about a knight committing adultery with his lord's wife.  I am moved, too, by Romeo and Juliet, which is the story of silly teenagers having a hasty, secret wedding and then offing themselves.  I am even rather moved by Romeo x Juliet, which is the story of silly teenagers having a hasty, secret wedding and then offing themselves...IN SPACE!!!  Also, in that version, Juliet is a superheroine.

But compare those, which are about exclusive love (even the ones with complications like unwanted marriages), to, say, Stranger in a Strange Land, a novel by science fiction's original advocate of polyamory.  I don't mean compare the style, of course.  I mean compare the quality of the stories, specifically the love stories.  In Stranger, Robert Heinlein takes the love triangle and intentionally twists it.  More than one woman is in love with Valentine Michael Smith, and the reader naturally expects that Mike will have to choose between them, but the story takes a turn when Mike finally makes one of the girls in the pool--and we never find out which girl it is.  Heinlein purposely refrains from naming her.  Her identity is unimportant because denying the exclusiveness of romance and opening the story to polyamory means the lovers cannot be unique to each other.  If this were a book about the exclusivity of love, Heinlein could never have gotten away with neglecting to name the girl.  Her identity, her person, would have been everything.

This is a pristine example of exactly what I was talking about above:  to conclude a love triangle in this way is to destroy the plot and betray the reader.  In this case, Heinlein did it on purpose as a sort of twist, but the story that develops from there, whatever else it may be, is decidedly not a love story.  It is more like an anti-love story:  it makes the claim that life would be happier if all the things that go into love stories were done away.

The kind of attitude that leads to the championing of polyamory is, I'm inclined to believe, of the sort that will inevitably lead to a lack of romance in fiction rather than an increase.  At the end of her article, Mandelo mentiones sf author Nalo Hopkinson as one who approves of Mandelo's call for more polyamory.  Some time ago, I had in my possession an interview with Hopkinson featured in the Novel and Short Story Writer's Market.  I no longer have that volume, but I remember the salient parts.  Hopkinson argues that exclusivity in sexual relationships is absurd, akin to making arbitrary taboos dictating that people can only eat in certain rooms with certain other people at certain times of day.

I don't know what this business is about rooms and times of day, and I note, looking at the news articles about obesity, that casually eating what we want when we want where we want with whom we want hasn't exactly been the best thing for our health, but that doesn't matter because the analogy is invalid; eating, at least when engaged in rightly, is a pleasurable activity that keeps the human body in good health, whereas sex is a pleasurable activity that produces other human beings and so should be expected to be freighted with peculiar moral obligations and maybe even some mystical mummery.  But more importantly for this particular essay, Hopkinson's depiction of sex is decidedly unromantic.  Good sex, as she depicts it in this interview, is the orgasmic equivalent of junk food--it is utterly casual and without meaning, and once again the identity of the other person is of little importance.

So, to the question of why more love triangles don't end in three-way polyamorous relationships, the answer is, because that is not a love triangle.

Apology

It has come to my attention, partly through my own reflection but also through a reader comment, that I have been misdirected in my criticism of Catholic author Michael D. O'Brien.  Although I disagree with his opinions, my comments have sometimes gotten personal.  I'm trying to strip personal attacks and rancor out of my writing (as well as out of my personality), so I apologize to readers.  I will seek to keep everything on a more even keel in the future.

Thank you, and I should have a real post up by tonight.  That will, I hope, get us back into a schedule of regular posting.  Also, I am nearly through The Stoneholding by James G. Anderson and Mark Sebanc, a book I was graciously offered to review, and which I have been rather sluggish about completing.  Look for the review sometime this long weekend (fingers crossed).

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Real Content Coming Soon, Really

Okay, we now have a reliable internet connection and the first week of my return to seminary, during which I don't have time to spit, let alone post, is coming toward its close, so there should be some actual content here soon.  Maybe I'll get Lucky on the job; she, of course, has to use my computer, so when I can't post, she can't post.  And as for Snuffles, I don't even know what he does during the school year.  Flies to a library or something.  Come to think of it, I don't know what he does most of the time, and I think I prefer it that way.