Wednesday, September 4, 2019

As Above on Manawaker Studios Podcast

Quick announcement - My short story "As Above" was read on the Manawaker Studios Flash Fiction Podcast this week!  Thank you to C.B. Droege for his vocal talents...

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Notre Dame

"History hath triumphed over time, which besides it nothing but eternity hath triumphed over."

Photo: Francois Guillot

The fires remain unextinguished as I write this.

On seeing the images this afternoon of the Paris skyline with Notre Dame broken-backed and engulfed with smoke and flame, I think the particular shock arises from the proof that even such a work of spirit and craft is transient in the phenomenal world.  One is drawn to think that having already endured over centuries, the cathedral should by rights be eternal.

But the experience also came to me with a strong sense of deja vu.  Connie Willis had already struck to the heart of this foundational fault of experience and memory with her novelette "Fire Watch," published in 1982.  

Of love, and memory, and time.  Of what is irredeemably lost, and what can never be lost.

"... what is, like Langby, like all of it, every moment, in us, saved forever."  

Friday, December 21, 2018

Vintage Worlds Published

Happy to receive this in the mail today!

It's nice to finally see my story "Pen Pal" in print and to be able to share it with others.  I was pleased with how naturally this story unfolded and grew from its first seed to become the full tale of sixteen years of friendship and interplanetary crisis.  I still love the narrative voices of Meliari Thulissia and Mary Havens, and I hope that folks will get as much enjoyment from reading their story as I did from writing it.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

As Above

A quick announcement that my short-short story "As Above" has been published by Flash Fiction Magazine at this web address.

Under a thousand words, and, of course, fundamentally a gimmick story indulging my predilection for astronomy.  Yet in developing what it would take to make the gimmick work, there turned out to be some depths and disturbing implications, more topical than I had planned - in the accumulation and arbitrary exercise of vastly uneven economic power, in careening technological advance, in matters of character and personal history and whether to come to terms with loss.

It's common enough to seek to draw down some meaning from the stars into our own lives - perhaps by checking the horoscope column in the morning newspaper, perhaps by firing a red sports car out toward the asteroid belt.  Not everyone's cup of tea, certainly.  But the daydream of somehow, against all evidence to the contrary, finding a way of turning back time and undoing that one crucial mistake - I take that to be universal.

P.S.  While researching the astronomy for this story, I discovered that the superlative Randall Munroe had independently struck upon much the same concept.  For an exquisite visual demonstration of Tighe's task, you need look no further than here.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Thoughts on Der Taucher

I took as my writing project last month a translation of Friedrich Schiller's "Der Taucher" (The Diver) - having recently revisited my version of "Ode to Joy" and remembered the pleasant challenge of transposing from an unfamiliar language within the constraints of meter and slant-rhyme.  I thought I might try again - and picked another of Schiller's poems roughly at random.  Not quite what I expected!

Understand that I had not previously read this or been familiar with the story.  I deliberately didn't look at any other English translations because they would be bound to bias me.  My German is poor enough that just scanning ahead did not give me much more than a few recognizable words. So I found out what was going on one stanza as a time, as I translated each one with the dictionary.  It went something like this:

Stanzas 1 and 2:  Okay.  Nice adventure setup here.

3 and 4: Or, setup for a comedy.  Of errors.

5 and 6: Oh dear. That got... very intense very fast.  I think this is what they call Sturm und Drang?

7:  OMG Shit is getting real!

8:  Jesus Mary and Joseph it is not even halfway over yet!

And it carried on from there...

The big theme is the Romantic awe of the natural world, which is indeed magnificently rendered and of which more in a moment, but first let us pause and acknowledge the indisputable fact that the king's daughter is the only character in the story with the sense that God gave a barnyard goose.  I take no responsibility for poor decisions made by these people.. The diver lad stretches the line between bravery and stupidity out to a vanishing point like a spiderweb.  And the king - well, judging by his behavior, my guess is that goblet had already seen heavy alcoholic use that afternoon.  Dude!  You're sending him down there again?!? I'm not sure the kid even had time to taste his victory champagne.  I guess some guys are just mean drunks

But more seriously... the way Schiller perceives the energies and creatures of the ocean is a strange combination - fearful rapture at the wild chaos, underlain by a kind of existential horror at what exists in the depths.  And it's hardly wrong to do so; since still every winter I read news stories of vacationers swept away by a rogue wave on the Pacific coast.  

But in a way it is also a function of the technological abilities of the time in which he was writing.  In 1797, anyone observing the sea from fifty fathoms down would have done so very briefly before a quick and untimely death; so I guess it stands to reason that Schiller would think of it as an aquatic hellscape.  As the diver looked down into the abyss I was half-expecting to glimpse Cthulhu gazing back at him.  And I am still not quite sure he wasn't.

But I did also grow up watching the undersea world of Jacques Cousteau!  Scuba divers amid brilliant silvery fish schooling and flashing in unison, kelp forests swaying in the waves, luminescent jellyfish gracefully pulsing across the blue... I know that the world beneath the sea has every bit the beauty of a summer forest. And to paint it all in tones of shuddering horror perhaps tells us more about the perspective of the writer than about the reality.  

Not that any part of Earth's natural world is exempt from pain and mortality.  Every fractal beauty and graceful curve is formed out of the incarnate history of the world; these intricate unfoldings, these joys in motion, are exactly what has survived and persisted beyond billions of generations of deaths. 

So, strange to hear the same poet saying

From the breasts of Nature
Every creature drinks of joy its fill.
Good and wicked, each is drawn 
To follow on her rosy trail

yet also

But terrible dread still abides down beneath,
And Man should not tempt the old gods in their might,
And never should crave to display unconcealed 
The night and the horror they've mercifully veiled. 

Both true - inextricably, inexplicably, intertwined.

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Vintage Worlds Kickstarter

 Several cool pieces of news on the upcoming anthology Vintage Worlds, where my story "Pen Pal" will be appearing:

Firstly - we have a cover!  Check out the spectacular illustration below by Matt Forsyth.  I think this really captures the spirit of the Old Solar System. (And seems vaguely familiar...)  I got to see an earlier version, with which I was suitably impressed, but this image takes it to a new level!

Secondly - Founders House Publishing is running a Kickstarter campaign this month to help finance publication and distribution of Vintage Worlds.  Please check out their Kickstarter site for a full description of the project, including biographies of the seventeen authors included, an excerpt from John Michael Greer's introduction to the anthology, and a beautifully done video that was put together by fellow author and video producer Arthur Vibert.  Kudos!!  

The campaign opened a couple of days ago and is running through October 2nd.  So far it looks like it is doing quite well and attracting a good number of supporters; but there is a ways to go, so please feel free to drop in a contribution.!

Thirdly - hmmm.... let's just see if I can link to that video on this page... if it does not work for you, you can pick it up on the Kickstarter site also.

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

The Diver

I'm expecting to have a couple of announcements in the next few weeks. 
In the meantime, here is a translation that I've been working on this month -
a sort of companion piece to "Ode to Joy."  I put down a few related thoughts here.

The Diver (Der Taucher)

by Friedrich Schiller (1797)

Ye squires and knights, into this hungry abyss
Will one of you dare to dive? 
This goblet of gold to the deep I have cast,
And swallowed up by the dark mouth it lies.
Whoever can bring back that goblet to show me
Is welcome to keep it himself, for his only.”  

Wer wagt es, Rittersmann oder Knapp,
Zu tauchen in diesen Schlund? 
Einen goldnen Becher werf ich hinab, 
Verschlungen schon hat ihn der schwarze Mund. 
Wer mir den Becher kann wieder zeigen,
Er mag ihn behalten, er ist sein eigen.

Thus spoke the king as he hurled from the crest,
The precipice steep and stark -
The goblet fell into the boundless expanse 
And sank down below in the maelstrom dark.
I ask you again, now who is the bravest, 
To dive in the deep beneath water and tempest?“

Der König spricht es un wirft von der Höh
Der Klippe, die schroff und steil 
Hinaushängt in die unendliche See, 
Den Becher in der Charybde Geheul.
Wer ist der Beherzte, ich frage wieder,
Zu tauchen in diese Tiefe nieder?

Around him then all of the knights and the squires
Did listen, but spoke no word,
For nobody wanted the goblet as prize,
Each gazing below, where the ocean roared.
And for the third time, the king again asked them,
Will no one here dare to go down in the maelstrom?" 
Und die Ritter, die Knappen um ihn her 
Vernehmen's und schweigen still,
Sehen hinab in das wilde Meer, 
Und keiner den Becher gewinnen will.
Und der König zum drittenmal wieder fraget:
Ist keiner, der sich hinunter waget?

But they all stayed exactly as mute as before.
Then out of the hesitant crowd
A page-lad stepped forth, looking cheerful and pert.
He took off his belt and unbuckled his coat.
With all the men round, and all of the women
Amazed at the sight of this wonderful young man.  

Doch alles noch stumm bleibt wie zuvor,
Und ein Edelknecht, sanft und keck, 
Tritt aus der Knappen zagendem Chor,
Und den Gürtel wirft er, den Mantel weg,
Und alle die Männer umher und Frauen 
Auf den herrlichen Jüngling verwundert schauen.

And so he stepped out on the sheer rocky ledge 
And looked at the gulf far beneath,
The maelstrom now roaring redoubled in rage.
The water surged coiling and whirling in wrath,
And in the dark roll of its thunderous din
Fell back in the foam of the sea's womb again. 

Und wie er tritt an des Felsen Hang,
Und blickt in den Schlund hinab,
Die Wasser, die sie hinunter schlang,
Die Charybde jetzt brüllend wiedergab,
Und wie mit des fernen Donners Getose
Entstürzen sie schäumend dem finstern Schooße.

It roared and it hissed and it boiled and it seethed
Like water compounded with fire 
Till heaven spouts back the sprays and the steams
And floods upon flood with no end to desire;
So longing to birth a new sea from its waters,
Refusing to ever recede in exhaustion.

Und es wallet und siedet und brauset und zischt,   
Wie wenn Wasser mit Feuer sich mengt,
Bis zum Himmel sprützet der dampfende Gischt,
Und Flut auf Flut sich ohn' Ende drängt,
Und will sich nimmer erschöpfen und leeren,
Als wollte das Meer noch ein Meer gebähren.
At last the wild tumult did slacken and pause,
And out of the whiteness of foam
Gaped open a terrible blackening maw,
A pit without bottom like hell-caves below.
And into the draw of the spiraling funnel 
The waves were dragged down in the whirl with a struggle. 
Doch endlich, da legt sich die wilde Gewalt,
Und schwarz aus dem weißen Schaum
Klafft hinunter ein gähnender Spalt,
Grundlos, als gieng's in den Höllenraum,
Und reissend sieht man die brandenden Wogen
Hinab in den strudelnden Trichter gezogen.

And quick with that lull in the surf he did yield
Himself to the will of his God.
And out rang a horrified scream from the crowd
As all saw the whirlpool to seize in its hold
The valiant swimmer; its spinning throat closed in.
No sign of him showed on the waves he was lost in. 
Jetzt schnell, eh' die Brandung wiederkehrt,
Der Jüngling sich Gott befiehlt,
Und - ein Schrei des Entsetzens wird rings gehört, 
Und schon hat ihn der Wirbel hinweggespült;
Und geheimnißvoll über dem kühnen Schwimmer 
Schließt sich der Rachen, er zeigt sich nimmer.

And hollowly over the face of the deeps
The mute empty waters still churned.
Those watching above, with a trembling speech
All whispered, “Farewell to that young gallant heart.”
And hollowly, hollowly sounded the roaring
While still they were held in their anxious forboding.

Und stille wird's über dem Wasserschlund,
In der Tiefe nur brauset es hohl,
Und bebend hört man von Mund zu Mund:
Hochherziger Jüngling, fahre wohl! 
Und hohler und hohler hört man's heulen,
Und es harrt noch mit bangem, mit schrecklichem Weilen.
If you cast the crown itself down in the sea.
And said, “Who will bring me the crown?
That man then shall wear it and shall a king be.”
I'd yet desire not such a bountiful gain.
For all that the rumbling deep may conceal
Not one blessed soul that's alive still can tell. 

Und wärfst du die Krone selber hinein,
Und sprächst: wer mir bringet die Kron,
Er soll sie tragen und König seyn,
Mich gelüstete nicht nach dem theuren Lohn. 
Was die heulende Tiefe da unten verhehle,
Das erzählt keine lebende glückliche Seele.

For unlucky vessels drawn in by the swirl
Are plunged to abysses below,
As torn from their wreckage, the fragments of keel
And mast are tossed up from the tomb by the flow.
Then clearer and clearer the wail of the storm brought
In closer and closer its sound as it rumbled.

Wohl manches Fahrzeug, vom Strudel gefaßt,
Schoß gäh in die Tiefe hinab,
Doch zerschmettert nur rangen sich Kiel und Mast
Hervor aus dem alles verschlingenden Grab -
Und heller und heller wie Sturmes Sausen
Hört man's näher und immer näher brausen. 

It roared and it hissed and it boiled and it seethed,
Like water compounded with fire 
Till heaven spouts back the sprays and the steams
And wells and wells up with no end to desire;
And in the dark roll of its thunderous din
Fell back in the roar of the sea's womb again. 

Und es wallet und siedet und brauset und zischt,  
Wie wenn Wasser mit Feuer sich mengt, 
Bis zum Himmel sprützet der dampfende Gischt,
Und Well' auf Well' sich ohn' Ende drängt, 
Und wie mit des fernen Donners Getose 
Entstürzt es brüllend dem finstern Schooße.

And lo! From the dark flooding womb of the sea
There rose up, as white as a swan,
An arm!  And a glimmering neck bursting free!
With powerful strokes he came swimming straight on,
Unflagging, and there flashing up in his left hand
He happily held out the goblet uplifted.

Und sieh! aus dem finster flutenden Schooß
Da hebet sich's schwanenweiß,
Und ein Arm und ein glänzender Nacken wird bloß
Und es rudert mit Kraft und mit emsigem Fleiß,
Und er ist's, und hoch in seiner Linken
Schwingt er den Becher mit freudigem Winken. 
So deep and so long did he breathe in the air,
And welcome the heavenly light.
From one to another they raised up a cheer:
He's here! He's won free! He has come out alive!
From watery tomb and dark spiraling pool
Has Providence rescued his still living soul.”

Und athmete lang und athmete tief,
Und begrüßte das himmlische Licht.
Mit Frohlocken es einer dem andern rief,
Er lebt! Er ist da! Es behielt ihn nicht.
Aus dem Grab, aus der strudelnden Wasserhöhle
Hat der Brave gerettet die lebende Seele.

And up he climbed, hailed by the jubilant crowd,
And knelt at the feet of the king.
He offered the goblet up with his head bowed.
The king to his beautiful daughter did sign.
She filled it with sparkling wine to the brim
And the youth to the king cried out, turning to him:

Und er kommt, es umringt ihn die jubelnde Schaar,
Zu des Königs Füßen er sinkt,
Den Becher reicht er ihm knieend dar,
Und der König der lieblichen Tochter winkt,
Die füllt ihn mit funkelndem Wein bis zum Rande; 
Und der Jüngling sich also zum König wandte:

Long live the King! What a joy just to breathe
The air in this roseate light!
But terrible dread still abides down beneath.
And Man should not tempt the old Gods in their might,
And never should crave to display unconcealed
The night and the horror they've mercifully veiled.

Lang lebe der König! Es freue sich, 
Wer da athmet im rosigten Licht!
Da unten aber ist's fürchterlich,
Und der Mensch versuche die Götter nicht,
Und begehre nimmer und nimmer zu schauen, 
Was sie gnädig bedecken mit Nacht und Grauen. 
It snatched me below lightning-quick on the current.
I plunged through a rough rocky shaft
And surging against a new upwelling torrent
The turbulent doubled stream raged, and its grasp
Did dizzy me, like a toy top spun and twisted.
It hurtled me onward - I couldn't resist it.

Es riß mich hinunter blitzesschnell, 
Da stürzt' mir aus felsigtem Schacht, 
Wildflutend entgegen ein reissender Quell,
Mich packte des Doppelstrom's wüthende Macht,
Und wie einen Kreisel mit schwindelndem Drehen 
Trieb mich's um, ich konnte nicht widerstehen.
And God in his grace, as I prayed for his help
In my terrible uttermost need
Revealed a coarse reef jutting out from the deep
To spare me from death – so I lunged and I seized.
And near me, snagged up on a coral's sharp tip,
The goblet hung, saved from the bottomless pit.

Da zeigte mir Gott, zu dem ich rief, 
In der höchsten schrecklichen Noth,
Aus der Tiefe ragend ein Felsenriff, 
Das erfaßt' ich behend und entrann dem Tod,
Und da hieng auch der Becher an spitzen Korallen,
Sonst wär' er ins Bodenlose gefallen.

They stretched out beneath me, the mountainous deeps,
In purpling dim mystery,
And though there the ear must close ever asleep,
The eye can gaze down - and it quavers to see
The dragonish shadows like moist creeping efts
Astir at the lip of the fearful abyss.
Denn unter mir lag's noch, Bergetief,
In purpurner Finsterniß da,
Und ob's hier dem Ohre gleich ewig schlief,
Das Auge mit Schaudern hinunter sah, 
Wie's von Salamandern und Molchen und Drachen 
Sich regt' in dem furchtbaren Höllenrachen. 
They teemed in their horrible swarms intermixed 
And massed in black hideous clumps;
The sting-rays and cod haunted submarine cliffs
With hammerheads molded from some formless lump.
And like the hyena, a shark down beneath
Advanced with the threat of his menacing teeth.

Schwarz wimmelten da, in grausem Gemisch,  
Zu scheußlichen Klumpen geballt,
Der stachlichte Roche, der Klippenfisch,
Des Hammers greuliche Ungestalt, 
Und dräuend wies mir die grimmigen Zähne 
Der entsetzliche Hay, des Meeres Hyäne.

I clung there aware of the sundering gap
Between me and all human aid -
Alone in the wilderness of the cold deep,
Among the mute larvae the one soul awake.
Beyond any call from a fair human voice,
The monsters still prowled in their sorrowful waste.
Und da hing ich und war's mir mit Grausen bewußt,
Von der menschlichen Hülfe so weit,
Unter Larven die einzige fühlende Brust,
Allein in der gräßlichen Einsamkeit,
Tief unter dem Schall der menschlichen Rede
Bei den Ungeheuern der traurigen Oede.

I shuddered as crawling beneath me I sensed
A hundred joints stirring to grasp
And seize at me; thus in my terror I loosed
My clutch on the coral and tumbling was cast -
Back into the roar of the whirlpool it threw me;
But toward my salvation, for upward it drew me!” 

Und schaudernd dacht ich's, da kroch's heran,
Regte hundert Gelenke zugleich, 
Will schnappen nach mir, in des Schreckens Wahn
Laß ich los der Koralle umklammerten Zweig,
Gleich faßt mich der Strudel mit rasendem Toben, 
Doch es war mir zum Heil, er riß mich nach oben.

At that the king found himself wholly amazed,
And told him,The goblet is thine.
And I shall bequeath you this ring now besides,
Adorned with exquisite fine jewels that shine,
If you seek again, and will tell me your version
Of what you next find on the bed of the ocean.”

Der König darob sich verwundert schier
Und spricht: Der Becher ist dein, 
Und diesen Ring noch bestimm' ich dir,
Geschmückt mit dem köstlichsten Edelgestein,
Versuchst du's noch einmal und bringst mir Kunde,
Was du sahst auf des Meer's tief unterstem Grunde.

But hearing, his kind-hearted daughter did coax
With charming and flattering voice,
Dear father, leave off from these merciless jokes -
Admit he's already endured with the best.
I fear lest the show of your heart's rough desires
Bring shame to your knights as they govern their squires.”

Das hörte die Tochter mit weichem Gefühl, 
Und mit schmeichelndem Munde sie fleht:
Laßt Vater genug seyn das grausame Spiel,
Er hat euch bestanden, was keiner besteht,
Und könnt ihr des Herzens Gelüsten nicht zähmen,
So mögen die Ritter den Knappen beschämen.

Abruptly the king turned and snatched up the goblet 
And flung it back into the swirl.
If you bring it back and to my hands restore it,
I'll make you the paramount knight of my hall,
Embracing in marriage on this very day
The one who has pleaded so well for your sake.”

Drauf der König greift nach dem Becher schnell,
In den Strudel ihn schleudert hinein,
Und schaffst du den Becher mir wieder zur Stell,
So sollst du der treflichste Ritter mir seyn,
Und sollst sie als Ehgemahl heut noch umarmen,
Die jetzt für dich bittet mit zarten Erbarmen.
His soul with a heavenly tumult was seized,
And boldly it flashed from his eyes.
The beautiful woman blushed under his gaze.
Then paled and sank backward as both realized
That to gain her reward he would hazard it all.
To his death, or his life, he let himself fall.

Da ergreift's ihm die Seele mit Himmelsgewalt, 
Und es blitzt aus den Augen ihm kühn, 
Und er siehet erröthen die schöne Gestalt,
Und sieht sie erbleichen und sinken hin,
Da treibt's ihn, den köstlichen Preis zu erwerben,
Und stürzt hinunter auf Leben und Sterben.

So hearing the surf in its heave and its flow
Proclaiming the thundering sound,
She stoops now and lovingly looks down below.
The onrushing waters reach out toward her hand.
The waves yet surge upward and downward descend,
But still have not brought back the young man again.

Wohl hört man die Brandung, wohl kehrt sie zurück,
Sie verkündigt der donnernde Schall,
Da bückt sich's hinunter mit liebendem Blick,
Es kommen, es kommen die Wasser all,
Sie rauschen herauf, sie rauschen nieder,
Den Jüngling bringt keines wieder.