segunda-feira, agosto 15, 2016

Cognitive SF: "Savages" by K. J. Parker (aka Tom Holt)

‘“Right,” Joiauz said, in a rather high voice. “Let’s start with the war, shall we?”’

I’m not sure whether all writers consciously play with SF using specific materials or not. Do they all know where the story is going or do they just make it up as they go along? Sometimes we get clever writers; sometimes intellectuals, and sometimes emotional ones. My kind of writer is the one we get the feeling does not know where things are headed. This kind of writer when starts out to write, a lot of times does not know where things are going to go and is not clear what the lead character’s voice has to say. Art, and writing in particular, is the means the writer has of reaching transcendence. When I’m reading J. K. Parker’s work I always get the feeling the right tone of voice (and sometimes the ending), is a matter of emotional focus, imposed by the needs of the story rather than by considerations of publisher expectations or markets, or by conscious attempts to subvert those expectations. K. J. Parker (Tom Holt in high-revving mode), market or publisher demands become essentially irrelevant to the way the story is being told. In my mind, the best SF is not straight fantasy, straight Science Fiction, straight Dark Fiction, or Mundane Fiction. The writers that are able to transcend either genre are the ones who recombine or tease out elements of all those genres to really good effect. Parker writes, seems to me, as if there are no conventions to be followed; rather only the cognitive and emotional effects of his stories are important. This fact alone is what makes Parker write superior SF and not the crap that we see coming out of the Nebula and Hugo ballots.

After getting that out of the way, this is not the best Parker has ever written. He has written much better stuff, but even 2nd rate Parker is better than some of SF fodder being published nowadays under the speculative label. Where did Parker start missing the train? When he relied a little too strongly on coincidence or unbelievable setups, as well in some of the info-dumps in which, for instance, the Aram Chantat political system is explained. The operative phrase here is “not at his best.” Even so and in today’s SF landscape not many writers are able to write the way Parker does, even when he’s not at his best: a particular passage comes to mind when some of the characters are passing through the countryside in a carriage and there's a bit about how the land looks so long after the devastating effects of the war, i.e., the way it changed the landscape in a way that all traces are obscured and in some cases utterly obliterated. I can't do the prose justice; you just have to read it. Parker is almost always able to weave the meticulous details of world building into the Story without turning it into pulp fiction. Thank God, Parker is still resisting introducing magic into his books. Let’s see how long it lasts…  

SF = Speculative Fiction.  

sábado, agosto 13, 2016

Minor Spy Fiction: "A Divided Spy" by Charles Cumming

A Manuel Antão short-story based on "A Divided Spy"

Now listen carefully 007. This might look like a perfectly ordinary steam iron, but if you turn the setting to cotton and then press the stream button…

A/N: The following story is a sequel to "Forbidden Passions of João."

You might be able to understand this story without reading what went first, but you won’t get all the references and “multi-layered subtext” I put in. If you don’t read the earlier stuff, take that into account when reviewing, that what seems to be mistakes might be me being something terrible deep…

Bella woke up naked and very horny one winter Sunday....
It was a dark and snowy night. Bella had been bored, so bored, you wouldn’t believe it.
She had been there together in the room with João and Ana. Normally they could perfectly entertain each other (as they very much did the night before), but not this time. And to make matters worse, it was almost impossible to go to town. It was too snowy, too dark.
“Urgh,” said João, “I wish the evil vamp would attack. At least we’d have something to do.”
Ana agreed, “I agree,” she said and started throwing the carpet at the wall, just to catch it again when it bounced off. “Uuuurgh,” she then said as well, because she agreed with João, “Don’t you have anything better to do, Bella Swan?”
"Well, I could do you again." Bella said who felt very lesbian at that moment.
Ana liked that very much and for a moment, they did each other (under the approving gaze of João who whipped out his Baloney pony and played along on the beat of the others.
But admittedly, that only entertained them for the next three hours. Something else had to be found, Bella knew.
Isabella Swan’s gaze went down the room, past curtains and a stack of Barbie dolls. Then her eye fell onto a lone empty bottle they had used to play with the evening before.
I know,” said Bella, “How about we play...............spin...the....BOTTLE!”
“What a superb idea.”
“Oh yeah!”
Sónia and Luis also peaked up, “Yeaaaah!”

So they all sat down and the raven-haired brunette took the bottle first. Hilariously, it landed on Luis, but the raven-haired brunette thought Luis was quite a bit too creepy and she really didn't want to kiss the man. She hoped the others might have mistaken it for landing on Ana, but judging the howls of laughter and the rising anticipation in the room, they probably didn't.
"But, but don’t you all see it really landed on Ana?"
"Laaawl no, u should kiss Luis," said Ana. The fact that she said it, made Bella Swan feel rejected :( 
But then, all the sudden.... The evil vamp attacked!
MG! We are almost there", Swan said after traveling for ages.
"GOOD GRIEF, I didn’t think we had journeyed this far!"
They sat down for a rest break and to plot their trajectory into the evil one’s HQ base.
"We must find the Condoms.
"I forgot all about that", said Bella Swan, who was generally considered a moron, so we all laugh at them for forgetting. HAHA! Funny hu?
"HAHA, you remember now"
What happened next was so cool you will like it a lot, basically, it went like this:
(Authors note: the following is written from Ebony’s perspective. I did this so I could “get into” the character’s head more)
In gym class I ran around dressed in my gym clothes.
I was playing dodgeball and the slutty cheerleaders kept throwing balls at me really hard like bitches, but I was dodging them at the speed of light.  
Laurial came over to me and tried to hit me over the face with her massive hard balls but I slapped her in the face.
"WTF you freaky furry barbarian bitch!" she shouted with her ugly face flapping like a big bag.
"Leave me alone yeah?"
"No. I’ll never leave u alone because you are so weird! What has happened to your face it’s like you’re from another planet, you’re so pale and delicate its freaking everyone out and we all hate you and we are secretly all jealous."

I was so mad I pushed her but when my hands touched her arms her skin started to blister and froth in a totally gross way and then she got struck by a bolt of lightning. She wasn’t dead or anything but she looked totally disgusting and she got taken to the hospital.
After gym class I sat in the changing rooms naked after everyone has left and cried because I felt so sorry for what I had done to uncle Larry and to Laurial.
I was sat there next to my short leather mini-dress and red ripped tights and a skull necklace and a gothic top hat with feathers on it.  Suddenly I heard a voices from behind me.
"Tiaa? Tiaa? It is I Edward Cullen!" said Edward Cullen.
I turned to look at him and he gasped in a high pitched way and fell over onto the floor. I was mad at him and totally upset about stuff so I didn't check to see if he was ok. He got up in a minute.
"I fainted Tiaa, thou is so exquisitely sexy and bangable that I lost consciousness. Thy face is even more filled with shinning glory than before; I am amazed," but then he noticed I was crying tears of soft blood. He said "what is wrong with thee?" said Edward.
"I killed someone Edward! I killed my uncle and drank his blood and I think I made Laurial get struck by lightning".     
"It’s ok Tiaa. These things happen. He was evil and no one cares about Laurial." Edward says as he put his arms round me.
"Still what I did was awful and anyways GET OFF ME!" I stood up and shook him off me. "Don’t come near me ever again! I haven't forgiven you for what happened last night! We did the sex thing and you left me there in the forest!"
"I'm sorry! I cannot stay away from thee and yet I cannot be with thee either" he cried and threw his hands up and wept.
(Authors note: ok, just to be clear, this all happened a few hours ago, and doesn't relate to this story, but I thought you should know.
Only it was even cooler because I didn’t have to write it! When it was in my head the words didn’t get in the way. Excuse me if I skip the words occasionally, it’s to save me time.
Ok, after they finished the tricorder they went to the base where the final battle started when they got there. Don’t worry! The bad guy dies!)
“We are almost there I…I can sense it." He walked around, stopping where it hurt the most, turned, and moved forward. "You are in great pain; must you do this to yourself?" said sidekick. “Yes, I must. I must endure it. I must head towards the pain, it’s the only way of finding him."
So they proceeded. This went on for some time.
They walked about for a bit, stopping outside a tall skyscraper.
"Victoria....he is here", said the humble girl Jr.
As they entered there was lots of Space Ninjas.
So they swung back their trench coats and murdered them all with their concealed pulse pistols of awesomeness.
They stepped over the dead bodies and made their way forward.
"Let’s take the ventilation shaft!"
"That’s a good plan, so we can sneak to the roof undetected."
So they got into the ventilation shaft.
Ana needed to remove some cloths in order to fit. So did Sónia, who stripped to her flower patterned bra. João joined in by removing his pants (even though he didn’t need to because he was skinny and would fit in fine anyway without the need to remove his pants).
The misunderstood beauty just took all the clothes off, it was easier. Her womanly curves bounced as she squeezed herself into the passage, pressing her bosom up against the ventilation shafts wall.
They traveled up to the roof thus avoiding the security systems because they were smart.
“We are here,” said Bella Swan crawling out of shaft, and putting her shirt on.
"So you have come," said a voice booming from the sky.
A shuttlecraft appeared above them.
The evil vamp laughed at them from it.
"Ha Ha Ha Ha."
"I could gun you all down from here with my lightsaber, but I would rather do this...personal style."
She leaped down and landed at the far side of the rooftop.
"Ready?" she said, still laughing.
Bella removed her shirt and flexed her abs.
"Yes. I am ready. I was born ready."
With that they leaped at each other, metaphorical guns blazing (they were really clubs…).
"I kill you dead."
The evil vamp head butted Isabella in the chest.
Bella fell backwards in pain, punching a few times before crashing to the ground.
"Ha Ha Ha Ha," laughed the redhead.
"You could never have defeated me; so why did you even try?"
"I had too, for all that is good and just in the world."
"Well now you will die. Goodbye."
Victoria leaned over the raven-haired brunette holding his penis.
"Quick Bella Swan use this!" said Ebony, chucking a nearby Crucifix towards Isabella.
Bella grabbed it and chucked it towards Victoria hard, knocking her backwards...
"Goodbye, the evil vamp has had a nice fall!"
"We are safe now, she fell to certain doom."
João and Luis got out from the corner where they were cuddling. "Thank you, you saved us all."
"Don’t mention it."
But then! Victoria appeared! She had landed in her rocket that was hovering nearby.
"I will get you next time! I will kill you all because I’m a super-spy!!!"

(Not To be continued)

NB: All the "errors" in grammar are part of the story... just so you know...

quinta-feira, agosto 11, 2016

Shakespeare in Hopscotch Mode: "Cimbelino" by William Shakespeare, António Pires (Stage Director), Teatro do Bairro, and Act for All School

(Entrance's front door to the theatre)

I've just got home from having seen Cymbeline. This is the first time I’ve watched this play (either on stage or on screen) and It’s just very fresh in my mind because I’d also just read it. There are some outstanding performances: Carolina Crespo as Imogen is outstanding and her relationship with José Pimentão as Posthumus is the emotional and beating heart of this production. Iacomo’s “comic” interjections and intonations were also very funny. Yes, there were ideas in abundance and some didn't come off so well (the action around the battle scene in particular lost itself more than a little in visual symbolism). Nevertheless, this is a production well worth seeing - it's also encouraging to see the significant number of actors in the company this year that are just coming out of this particular acting school – “Act for all School” (only Adriano Luz as Cymbeline and Rita Loureiro as the Queen, João Araújo, João Barbosa, and Ricardo Aibéo are professional actors). This production has given an invigorating another feel to the celebrations of the 400 years of Shakespeare’s demise.

This staging was a "showcase of Shakespeare's plays," where one can recognize Romeo and Juliet, Othello and some other of his works. According to the stage director, António Pires, he wanted to play to interact with the memories of the viewers - fetching references to paintings, but also with the songs that populate our imagination, as well as with fairy tales, and popular tradition.

The decisive factor for me to have enjoyed it (it’s not one my favourite plays), was the space where the stage was set, at the Carmo convent ruins; making the action of the play outdoors, allowed the natural “colours” (the play was performed at night), the black sky, and the ruins very much a part of the text.

I'm glad that they made the effort to stage this rather obscure play; many of these plays have many hidden gems. While the "Cymbeline" plot is contrived, I enjoyed it for combining themes and characters that were obviously borrowed from his other works. In this version of "Cymbeline," I had shades of “Othello” (Iacomo as Iago), “King Lear” (Cymbeline betrayed by his wife and step-son), “The Merchant of Venice” (Imagen disguised as a male youth), etc. As one of his late plays, it was both a tribute and a clever parody of Shakespeare’s own canon.

The original Elizabethan text was shown on the front wall of the ruins at the same time the actors were saying their lines. It was the first I saw something like this in a Shakespearean staged play in Portugal (it’s quite common in our Opera houses). I loved it! For my particular type of brain it was a treat. Listening to the text with one part of my Portuguese brain, and at the same time reading the text on the wall with the English part of my brain, produced a very weird but nevertheless very rewarding experience. Henrique Braga’s rendering is the translation I’d have liked to be able to do. It‘s not Shakespeare, but it’s not supposed to be. I’ve always maintained that Shakespeare in a foreign language is not Shakespeare, merely a rendering of the original text into another language. Shakespeare’s peculiarity lies in his words, i.e., in the power and beauty of his phrases in English. Yes, Shakespeare says stuff, some of it rather good, and quite interesting, but the real genius lies in the how, not the what. Considering the amount of text that Shakespeare 'reworked' (let's not forget that Shakespeare was, in effect, writing 'early-modernised' versions of old stuff, and I don't mean this in any way pejoratively), any translation of Shakespeare runs the very real risk of fulfilling Plato's criticism of poetry itself. This is ironic considering we're discussing poetry, but if anything is close to the ideal form of poetry, it's Shakespeare. I ought to go all Shakespearian at this juncture, but my memory deserts me. You can no more translate Shakespeare than you can Schiller or Celan. 

(The beginning of the play)

It is great that other people other than the English love Shakespeare, but the magic is in the unique construction of the words and phrases he used in his prose and blank verse, as delicately crafted as the finest sculpture and in many ways more important than the more obvious theatrical devices of plot and characterisation. He was not a mere storyteller and no translation - even into modern Portuguese, no less - can hope to capture his achievement. It can still make for damned fine theatre, but it is not Shakespeare. Of course the "profound and poetic use of the English language "gets lost in translation", and can only to a certain degree be replaced by a profound and poetic use of the Portuguese (or any other) language, if it is a good translation. So you have an advantage if you are able to enjoy Shakespeare in the original Elizabethan English. But there obviously remains enough of Shakespeare in any good translation, that he can fascinate people all over the world. What you translate of course changes the culture you translate into, but the act of translation also forces you to sometimes stretch, sometimes re-invent the possibilities of our target language. In as much as Vasco Graça Moura, Sophia de Mello Breyner Andresen and earlier translations did just that, they created a whole new Portuguese poetic idiom, "all ours" indeed. (Which modern translators find it hard to emancipate themselves from, by the way; but there are many excellent "poetic" modern versions.) All but four of his plays borrow plots from other sources, likewise with characters. One could rewrite the plays substituting modern English for the Elizabethan original, but that would be another form of rendering. I’m a die-hard Shakespearean. This means the Englishness of his plays must be kept at all costs. On the other hand, this does not mean I’m going to stop seeing Shakespeare’s plays in other languages, namely in Portuguese. I just know it’s going to be a different experience altogether. The level of fruition is just going to be on another plane of analysis. Kudos to Henrique Braga’s rendering of the Elizabethan text into Portuguese. I still feel the essence of Shakespeare's language evades translation even if the meaning is captured. From basic things like the rhythm of "To be, or not to be" compared with "Ser ou Não Ser", to the countless words Shakespeare invented for his own purposes, for me there's just no substitute for the originals. I think for a Portuguese reader moderately equipped with English, the effort required to read Shakespeare in the original is akin to the effort a native English speaker makes to understand Chaucer. In both instances it's possible with a bit of work, if you're really into it, as I am.

(One of the Gothic pillars on the right side of the theatre)

On a side note, it was only by watching this play that something about the 5th act crystallised in my mind. How was Shakespeare able to interweave strands of narrative elements drawn from Boccaccio, French medieval romance, Holinshed and various other sources? There are people saying Shakespeare was not an original writer. Bah! Everything was drawn together with mind-boggling skill. Producing a coherent work of art from an array of reworked source material is a complex business; it's just not as simple as saying that Shakespeare didn't write his own stories, and therefore the language is everything. Things are not as simple as that.

NB: Play seen live at a packed Carmo convent ruins in Lisbon, on the 9th of August 2016.

quinta-feira, agosto 04, 2016

Writing About Stuff: 10 years to the day

I'm not sure how much longer I'll keep on doing this. I'm not even sure the days of the personal website/blog are not over. Nowadays it's all about the sound byte. Nothing else matters.
As I've said previously on this same blog, writing is an outlet for my creativity and also an eternal personal project where I can deal with stuff that interests me (books, technology, Computer Science, Shakespeare, Theatre, Opera, you name it). It goes without saying, it's also my own personal megaphone with which to share my insanely fustian thoughts with the world. Writing stuff and publishing it also finds a way to connect me with other like-minded folks online. You know who you are.


#Hits (roughly 98 000):


#Number of pages (A4 format) and words written:

(out of which 81 890 were about Shakespeare - 27,2 % - 73 posts)
(300K words correspond to 1000 pages in a paperback, using 300 words per page; a 200 page book template would amount to 5 books...) 

#Number of Words written per Year = 30 000

#Number of Words written/per Month = 2 506

#Number of Words written/per Week = 626

segunda-feira, agosto 01, 2016

Literature Without Balls: "A General Theory of Oblivion" by José Eduardo Agualusa, Daniel Hahn (translator)

(Cover from the Portuguese Edition by D. Quixote Publishing House: “A Teoria Geral do Esquecimento”)

Published 2015 (English Edition), published 2012 (Portuguese Edition)

“If I had the space, the charcoal, and available walls, I could compose a great work about forgetting: a general theory of oblivion.”

I read this in the original Portuguese when it came out in 2012. And as soon as I got the English edition, I just had to re-read it, not because the book is a masterpiece (far from it), but because I was curious to know how Daniel Hahn had been able to render the Portuguese into English. And so on with the task of reading both editions in parallel. When I got to the 3rd chapter, something jarred my reading of the English edition. I'll transcribe the text from the Portuguese edition first:

“Monte regressou ao carro. Os soldados empurraram os portugueses até ao muro. Afastaram-se alguns metros. Um deles tirou uma pistola da cintura e, num gesto quase distraído, quase de enfado, apontou-a e disparou três vezes. Jeremias Carrasco ficou estendido de costas. Viu aves a voarem no céu alto. Reparou numa inscrição, a tinta vermelha, no muro manchado de sangue, picado de balas:
O luto continua.”

In Hahn’s translation this became:

“Monte walked over to the car. The soldiers pushed the Portuguese men up against the wall. They took a few steps back. One of them pulled a pistol from his belt, and in a movement that was almost absent-minded, almost annoyed, he pointed it and fired three times. Jeremias Carrasco was lying on his back. He saw the birds flying high in the sky. He noticed an inscription in red ink on the bloodstained, bullet-pocked wall:
“The struggle continues.”

In bold where the problem lies. “Luto” means “to mourn” not “to struggle”. I quite understand, Hahn wanting to extend the metaphor, but it shouldn’t be done at the expense of having a “proper” translation. There’s a world of difference between “to mourn” and “to struggle”. I’d have translated as “The mourning continues”, but maybe it’s just me being picky.

What about the book itself? Was the nomination for the shortlist of the Man Booker International 2015 deserved? I’m not sure. I’ve never been a huge fan of Agualusa’s fiction. After Saramago and Lobo Antunes, the literature in Portuguese has been on the path of too much lightness, with the exception of Gonçalo Tavares, who sometimes relies too much on Kafka. Mia Couto hovers above them both in my humble opinion

I thought the way the main character’s isolation, while the war was taking place outside, was depicted quite interestingly, but this time round, as before, I think there was something missing. Perhaps more sincerity, engagement, and maturity in the narrative. Most of the literature in Portuguese being produced nowadays is more worried about the aesthetic and the form than to creating credible characters. In essence some of the most recent literature in Portuguese has become too Flaubertian, turning books into limited and self-aware cryptic narratives. After reading two or three I can discern a notorious absence of independence. They’ve all become “The New Authors of the Portuguese Language”, stamping them with “They are now the new kids on the block”. This kind of thing is never good. Compare the Portuguese Literature with the Cuban. Each Cuban author was able to maintain a proper voice, keeping all the flavour of each author’s idiosyncrasies. Compare Guilhermo Cabrero Infante, Pedro Juan Gutiérrez and Leonardo Padura. We cannot even say they came from the same literary mold. I call the kind of literature being written now in Portuguese as “Literature-Without-Balls”. Literature with nice turns of phrase is not enough. Gutsy authors is what we really need.  Stringing nice sentences together lacking in colour and vitality is démodé and boring as hell.