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World Fantasy 2010

Thursday November 04, 2010 @ 12:32 PM (UTC)

I’m not one for con reports, as a rule. For one thing, after a con I generally collapse and sleep for two days. For another, it makes me feel bashful to list all the fine people I met and so forth. Bad enough that going to a con perforce involves (at least for we people of relatively restricted acquaintance) a certain amount of the middle-school sensation of standing in the cafeteria with a tray, scanning the tables. Having to list everyone publicly afterwards adds an added layer of anxiety-dream to that.

But one of the people I met at this World Fantasy was Ferrett Steinmetz, whose story “Under the Thumb of the Brain Patrol” appeared in the October/November Asimov’s with my “Termite Queen of Tallulah County”, and his con report, focusing on events rather than lists of people, inspired me. I think a smattering of events would give a better idea of the experience, anyhow. So: this is not exhaustive. I met many people and had many conversations, experiences, and plates of flaming cheese which I shall not mention here.


Things that Happened at World Fantasy.

Sheila Williams Lunch: Finally, I got to meet the editor of Asimov’s in person! This allowed for far more chatting than e-mail does — yes, I know e-mails can be long, but they constantly confront you with their growing length, which is somewhat inhibitive. Sheila was just as kind and gracious as I had always suspected. And I promised her I will try to finish this novel I’m writing so I can get some more short stories finished. (No goal could be closer to my heart, to tell you the truth.)

Locus stuff: A Locus booth in the dealers’ room gave me the opportunity to put my March resolutions about subscribing into effect (plus I got a free issue! Beat that, internet convenience!) Plus I got to meet some folks from Locus, and I got my photo taken by a Locus photographer. They were taking pictures of “up and coming” spec-fic writers. Does this mean my photo will appear somewhere? I don’t know! It’s a mystery! I also got to meet Gardner Dozois, who gave me that review mentioned in March. He is very affable and we had a great chat.

Practiced introducing self: This is a big deal for me: introducing myself with the slightest of openings (“Hi, you said you liked my T-shirt when we shared an elevator car earlier.”) or no opening at all (“Hi, you are Gardner Dozois.”). I tried to encourage myself with a spirit of inquiry, but since it went well each time, my experimental data condemn me to wander the world, forcing my acquaintance on new people. Curse you, science!

Ellen Kushner Reading: I went to a reading by Ellen Kushner, where she read part of a story from the upcoming Welcome to Bordertown anthology and half of a very artsy chapbook story a friend of hers published in a limited edition. Of course, I had to buy one of the lovely things in the dealers’ room so I can find out what happens (and drool over the illustrations.) Somehow I’d managed not to previously connect the dots that Ellen Kushner is the host of a show on NPR, which explains (although causality could go either way here) why she’s the most graceful conversationalist I can recall.

Made important travel mistakes: My sadder but wiser conclusions include: travel earlier in the week rather than early in the morning. Book hotel rooms well in advance so you don’t have to leave while the con is still in full swing. Set an alarm for 24 hours before any Southwest flight so you can actually check in in a timely fashion.

Made pact to take over the world: One of the fabulous new people I met, Emily Jiang, is a fellow genre-warrior with every intention of continuing to write on both sides of the imaginary literary/speculative border and breaking down the wall between. We decided to team up and take over the world. You’ve been warned.

Regionalisms: flimsy footwear

Monday November 01, 2010 @ 08:35 PM (UTC)

At the horrendous hour of 4:25 am on Thursday, I was trying not to fall asleep in the shower or fall behind in my travel itinerary for World Fantasy Convention. I looked down at my feet, and by some miracle managed to think the complex thought “I don’t like to shower barefoot in hotels.” This led to the even more complex question of what to do about this problem, which led to my wondering if they sell the proper footwear at the airport and in turn to my making a small resolution. No matter how sleepy I was, I wasn’t going to embarrass myself by asking after the object in my native dialect.

Floating Havaianas Again

You see, this informal footwear, a foam sole with two plastic or cloth straps which radiate from the space between the first and second toes, has gotten me into trouble before. Growing up as I did in Oregon, we called these things “thongs”. Signs at the local Bi-Mart advertising a sale: “THONGS $1.99/PAIR”. Mom, always worrying: “Thongs are for the beach or the pool! Don’t wear them all the time, they’ll deform your toes!”

I learned that this was not the term the rest of the country used when I went to college. Yes, in the schoolyear which would see the release of the Sisqo song about that OTHER sort of “thong”, I was an intensely prim 17-year-old very fastidious about her feet, and all the Midwesterners laughed and laughed. “What? What’s wrong? It’s a thong. What do you call them?” I think my ears may have out-heated the radiator that day.

Anyhow, I managed to unearth some feeble manicure-shop freebies Thursday morning, and didn’t have to ask any airport shop clerks about “flip-flops” (as I’ve learned to call them). But I did enjoy the memory, because it triggered another one: reading Craig Lesley’s The Sky Fisherman. Craig grew up in a different part of Oregon from me and from my parents, but this novel of an Oregon boyhood was palpably in my home language, the dialect of the adults pervasively familiar. Of course, by the next time I had a chance to talk to Craig, the only example of this I could remember was that remarkable piece of footwear, the “thong”.

Stop laughing!

Horror frames, revisited

Wednesday October 27, 2010 @ 09:02 PM (UTC)

I wrote pretty extensively on the use of framing in classic horror fiction some time ago, and it’s returned to mind: I just started listening to an audiobook of Dracula.

I read Dracula for the first time as a teenager on a trip to Wyoming, carting along the only copy the library had, a large print trade paperback. I read it (when I should have been resting up for the next day’s exertions) late at night, on the outskirts of a small town where nightly I could hear the howls of coyotes. It was delicious, and the large print, by increasing the rate of page-turning, perhaps added to the suspense.

I’m rereading it, of course, for its own sake and mine, but this form was suggested to me by my dad, who said he’d listened to a narrated version of it once and found it fabulous. So here I am, sitting down to listen (and sew a button onto my coat), and I notice at once the frame story, a little introduction. I have transcribed this, because the first few online texts I consulted (for instance, Project Gutenberg) did not have this paragraph. Perhaps I had better research the publication history a bit!

How these papers have been placed in sequence will be made manifest in the reading of them. All needless matters have been eliminated so that a history almost at variance with the possibilities of later-day belief may stand forth as simple fact. There is throughout no statement of past things wherein memory may err, for all the records chosen are exactly contemporary, given from the standpoints and within the range of knowledge of those who made them.

What a different sort of frame story this is! Rather than trying to sucker you into (as described in my previous blog post) a believable outer reality so that you will more readily except the inner story, it simply begs you to believe the inner story as literally true. Facts, not fancy. And how? With an appeal to documentation — since it’s an epistolary novel, hardly a surprise — and to modernity. We are understood to doubt the story because it contradicts our “later-day belief” (‘latter’? Remember, I transcribe.) and the things which should reestablish the veracity of the narrative are “contemporary”. In the sentence, of course, it means contemporary with the events depicted, but I find the choice of word suggestive. We are meant to believe these things happened to contemporary people, something underlined by the next lines: “Jonathan Harker’s Journal: kept in shorthand”. Recently I heard this peculiar detail called out by my learned friend Mike: shorthand, at the time, was modern, a new technology of the pen.

An interesting little frame, however it ended up inserted into the narrative. It draws our attention right away (as Mike drew mine) to one of Stoker’s thematic preoccupations: modernity. This little introduction prepares our minds just as we are about to meet Harker, with all his talk of crossing from West to East, his anxiety about the paucity of high-quality maps of the area and the timetables of trains. (“It seems to me that the further East you go, the less punctual are the trains! What ought they to be in China?”)

Before we even begin, we have this reassurance, a hint of what is to be contrasted with all Harker’s comfortable, plausible, bustling Western modernity: a very British vision of the East as Other, irrational, ancient, threatening, full of Victorian fears. Such a reassurance, that these things did happen in precisely this way, carefully and rationally set down by modern, trustworthy sources (in shorthand!) is less a reassurance, and more of an invitation to fear….

I’m about to leave for this year’s World Fantasy Convention, so I may not blog any more this week. If so, I must make bold to wish you all in advance a spooky and delightful Hallow-e’en!

Word envy

Tuesday October 26, 2010 @ 05:29 PM (UTC)

Every time I listen to the Franz Ferdinand song “What You Meant,” I am struck by the opening line: “As I took step number four/ Into the close of your tenement”. It’s obviously not American English. The band is Scottish, so this isn’t simply the matter of, as George Bernard Shaw* had it, England and America being separated by a common language. Scotland has its own English as well as its own Gaelic.

In Scottish, the word “tenement” is, according to the OED, used primarily for a single edifice subdivided for multiple tenants. Each subdivision is a “house”, even if it’s quite small (In England, the OED informs, this is precisely reversed.) A little different from our American sense of the word, which falls under the OED’s more general denotation “A building or house to dwell in”, but in my experience of modern usage has a connotation of being run-down or slummy.

But that’s not the part of this phrase that appeals to me, while it is part of its strangeness to my ear. The word is close. The first definition is “1. gen. An enclosed place, an enclosure.” and it’s interesting to see all the other definitions depart from this in a series of semantic narrowings, or as the OED puts it: “2. In many senses more or less specific…” You can almost see the lines of the enclosure jump around as you run down the several meanings and shades of meaning for this one, now largely marked with the shameful “Obs.” for obsolescence or confined to local shadings: the continuation of #2, “An enclosed field (now chiefly local, in the English midlands)”; #3b, “A farm-yard” in Kent, Sussex, and Scotland.

But it’s #4 that fits snugly with our tenement:

4. An entry or passage. Now, in Scotland, esp. one leading from the street to dwelling houses, out-houses, or stables, at the back, or to a common stair communicating with the different floors or ‘flats’ of the building. Also variously extended to include the common stair, the open lane or alley, or the court, to which such an entry leads.

This is what I wish we had: a word for an entryway that sounds this cozy, that seems to emphasize by its sound and its accidental neighbors in etymology, nearness. And I don’t think we do, for all my maundering about the OED’s captured language as birthright. I don’t think this use of “close” is at all active in my part of America, or that you could rationally expect any random conversational partner or reader to grasp this meaning. It’s too bad. I reached for “close” today as I worked on my novel, took it down, looked it over, and found that its plug was not adopted for American sockets.

*Apparently: this is one of those quotes attributed to almost everyone witty who has lived in the last few centuries.

Austenian theories

Saturday October 23, 2010 @ 11:57 AM (UTC)

Theory #1: Your favorite Austen novel has a heroine whose personality is akin to yours. It has long been my theory that which Austen novel one prefers could be used as a personality category. Perhaps not as useful as Myers-Briggs, but useful all the same. In truth, I have not collected enough data to support or disprove, and since I formulated this theory in my teens, I am willing to confess I may have been more motivated by a desire to compare myself to Elizabeth Bennet than by the demands of purest science.

Theory #2: You can determine your favorite Austen novel by rereading any of the others. This is especially important if #1 is to be believed: we need a way of experimentally determining someone’s favorite, rather than trusting them when they say “Oh, not Emma,” thinking I don’t want Felicity to say I’m an Emma! This I only recently realized. Every time I reread another Austen novel, I find myself longing to reread Pride and Prejudice as soon as I finish. Therefore, whether or not #1 allows me to flatter myself, Pride and Prejudice must be my real favorite.

Of course, since I just came up with #2, I’ve no idea whether this longing occurs to anyone else. Well? Gentle reader, my eagerness to hear your views can well be imagined.

A lean, cadaverous figure

Wednesday October 20, 2010 @ 03:35 PM (UTC)

I’m in the midst of two rereads right now: I’m listening to an audiobook of Mansfield Park and blazing my way through the entirety of The Chronicles of Amber. (So far I’ve noticed the restrained and slightly circumlocutory nature of Austen affecting my personal communications more than Zelazny’s mixture of the sardonic and lyrical.) I’m thoroughly enjoying my return trip through Amber and Chaos, and finding things I don’t remember noticing before.

Take this passage, for example, as Corwin descends into the fastness below Amber:

Twisting and winding through the gloom. The torch and lantern-lit guard station was theatrically stark within it. I reached the floor and headed that way.
“Good evening, Lord Corwin,” said the lean, cadaverous figure who rested against a storage rack, smoking his pipe, grinning around it.
“Good evening, Roger. How are things in the nether world?”
“A rat, a bat, a spider. Nothing much else astir. Peaceful.”
“You enjoy this duty?”
He nodded. “I am writing a philosophical romance shot through with elements of horror and morbidity. I work on those parts down here.”
“Fitting, fitting,” I said. “I’ll be needing a lantern.”
He took one from the rack, brought it to flame from his candle.
“Will it have a happy ending?” I inquired.
He shrugged.
“I’ll be happy.”
“I mean, does good triumph and hero bed heroine? Or do you kill everybody off?”
“That’s hardly fair,” he said.
“Never mind. Maybe I’ll read it one day.”
“Maybe,” he said.
-Roger Zelazny, The Hand of Oberon

I’m not sure how the significance of the dungeon guard’s name escaped me as a teenager and college student (perhaps I did see it, and had just forgotten) but now I find this colloquy very pleasing. Not only does it provide a light beat just where one is needed, but the joke rewards a close reader. It’s not jarring and can even be justified in-universe — if there are (at least) two Lancelots du Lac in the multiverse, why not two toiling authorial Rogers?

I always enjoy meta-discussion of stories within fiction. (“You and I, Sam, are still stuck in the worst places of the story, and it is all too likely that some will say at this point: ‘Shut the book now, dad; we don’t want to read any more.’” – Tolkien) Making fiction is making meaning, and I feel it makes a narrative richer to have the characters realize that, realize how much even they/we are engaged in telling, justifying, framing things as we go about their/our business. Here it’s fascinating, in the midst of a series so varied in texture, setting and moment, to have an idea of how the author sums it up, what he thinks he is about. It’s playful and daring in a way I associate with Zelazny.

It’s enough to tempt you to meet your own main character and tell them what you are presently writing about. (Would you dare? Note that Roger, here, holds a position where in the first book he presumably {SPOILER} guarded the captive Corwin for four years and few of us have dealt more punishment to our characters than Zelazny has to Corwin.) Of course, most of us wouldn’t be so bold and Puckish as to include this exercise in our published works. And as for me, to my regret, it would be rather glaring if I included a bit player named “Felicity”!

New Etiquette Rule: Kittens vs. babies

Monday October 18, 2010 @ 02:42 PM (UTC)

As we all know, technology changes the way humans communicate. New communication means new etiquette. Some of this is more or less known already: the use of Bcc when emailing groups is discreet and considerate. The blink tag is the equivalent of bringing a vuvuzela to a garden party. But I have devised — or should one say discovered? — a new etiquette rule.

Rule: While it is acceptable to impart news of a human birth without photographs, it is improper to send or post news of a pet adoption without same.

Explanation: The arrival of a baby is a major effort: usually tiring and medical, if not traumatic. The newly arrived baby is not yet at his or her best and most photogenic. A new kitten (or puppy, I suppose) is not usually adopted until already weaned, furry, playful and delightful, and the humans by whom it is adopted are by no means incapacitated by the advent. Thus, there is no reason not to include a photo with the announcement, and a strong reason to do so: the terrifying prospect of inducing prostrating kitten letdown in your friends and associates. Send a photo! Strike a blow against kitten letdown.

I have no new kitten to announce, but since I’ve said “kitten” approximately 16 times, I will allay your potential kitten letdown through the use of a photo of a kitten who is no longer a kitten and no longer mine:

Many ways to sleep when you are a fluid kitten

"Only a novel!" Part I

Thursday October 14, 2010 @ 03:05 PM (UTC)
photo of 2 books, Room of One's Own and Northanger Abbey, and a postcard of a satirical etching of reading women from 19th c.
A Room of One’s Own, Northanger Abbey, and a postcard from the Lit Chicks exhibition.
Here was a woman about the year 1800 writing without hate, without bitterness, without fear, without protest, without preaching. That was how Shakespeare wrote, I thought, looking at Antony and Cleopatra; and when people compare Shakespeare and Jane Austen, they may mean that the minds of both had consumed all impediments; and for that reason we do not know Jane Austen and we do not know Shakespeare, and for that reason Jane Austen pervades every word that she wrote, and so does Shakespeare.
-Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own

Whenever anyone mentions Austen and Shakespeare in a breath – and they often do – I think of this section of A Room of One’s Own. Above you see the heart of Woolf’s comparison. Of Shakespeare she earlier writes, “All desire to protest, to preach, to proclaim an injury, to pay off a score, to make the world the witness of some hardship or grievance was fired out of him and consumed.” In Chapter Four, she argues that many female writers’ work is distorted with bitterness and anger at the oppression they have suffered as well as hampered by those obstacles. But Austen, she says, was unharmed as an artist.

It would be easy enough to argue with Woolf’s entire line of reasoning. In modern novels, digressions such as the example she quotes from Jane Eyre, where she decries the restraints on women (“…they need exercise for their faculties and a field for their efforts as much as their brothers do; they suffer from too rigid a restraint, too absolute a stagnation, precisely as men would suffer…”) may not be seen as detracting. One might say that in an age when the model of the artist as genius has retreated, it’s hard to argue that this writer or that writer “got his work expressed completely” as she does of Shakespeare, or that a work which has digressions on the oppression and circumscription of women is growing outside some knowable and natural platonic shape, putting out tumors of misshapen anger. The idea of self-perfected artists putting forth perfect art, however appealing it may be to Austen and Shakespeare devotées like myself, seems a little improbable today.

The Multnomah County Library exhibit I discussed yesterday classed Austen with Shakespeare in the first case of objects, thus bringing this whole line of thinking irresistibly to mind. As I proceeded, I thought about the exception to Woolf’s praise of Austen that I’d recently discovered, and in Case 3 of the exhibition, there was the very quote I had in mind!

You see, I recently reread Northanger Abbey and realized that Austen isn’t entirely “without bitterness” and “without preaching”. Her later books, quite possibly, but in Northanger Abbey, her first completed, she hadn’t yet fired it all out and consumed it. And certainly, she doesn’t express any fiery frustration at the lot of Woman. No, her ire is for the oppressors of the Novel! I will quote at length:

Yes, novels; — for I will not adopt that ungenerous and impolitic custom so common with novel writers, of degrading by their contemptuous censure the very performances, to the number of which they are themselves adding — joining with their greatest enemies in bestowing the harshest epithets on such works, and scarcely ever permitting them to be read by their own heroine, who, if she accidentally take up a novel, is sure to turn over its insipid pages with disgust. Alas! if the heroine of one novel be not patronized by the heroine of another, from whom can she expect protection and regard? I cannot approve of it. Let us leave it to the reviewers to abuse such effusions of fancy at their leisure, and over every new novel to talk in threadbare strains of the trash with which the press now groans. Let us not desert one another; we are an injured body. Although our productions have afforded more extensive and unaffected pleasure than those of any other literary corporation in the world, no species of composition has been so much decried. From pride, ignorance, or fashion, our foes are almost as many as our readers. And while the abilities of the nine-hundredth abridger of the History of England, or of the man who collects and publishes in a volume some dozen lines of Milton, Pope, and Prior, with a paper from the Spectator, and a chapter from Sterne, are eulogized by a thousand pens — there seems almost a general wish of decrying the capacity and undervaluing the labour of the novelist, and of slighting the performances which have only genius, wit, and taste to recommend them. “I am no novel-reader — I seldom look into novels — Do not imagine that I often read novels — It is really very well for a novel.” Such is the common cant. “And what are you reading, Miss — ?” “Oh! It is only a novel!” replies the young lady, while she lays down her book with affected indifference, or momentary shame. “It is only Cecilia, or Camilla, or Belinda”; or, in short, only some work in which the greatest powers of the mind are displayed, in which the most thorough knowledge of human nature, the happiest delineation of its varieties, the liveliest effusions of wit and humour, are conveyed to the world in the best-chosen language. Now, had the same young lady been engaged with a volume of the Spectator, instead of such a work, how proudly would she have produced the book, and told its name; though the chances must be against her being occupied by any part of that voluminous publication, of which either the matter or manner would not disgust a young person of taste: the substance of its papers so often consisting in the statement of improbable circumstances, unnatural characters, and topics of conversation, which no longer concern any one living; and their language, too, frequently so coarse as to give no very favorable idea of the age that could endure it.
-Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey
[emphasis mine, to show the approximate quote used in the Library’s exhibition]

Here is a digression indeed! And every bit as long, I judge, as the passage in Jane Eyre Virginia Woolf disapproves (though Austen has placed it at the end of a chapter, thus escaping the “awkward break” whereby Woolf declares Brontë’s “continuity is disturbed.”)

Now perhaps even the scrupulous Woolf would pardon Austen’s vigorous asides in defense of the novel, since they come throughout Northanger Abbey and the perusal of novels does figure quite prominently in the plot, albeit not in the a uniformly positive light. But it seems that Austen was not entirely unscratched by the hardness of the world, and did pick a fight or two. Of course, by standing up for the respectability and literary worth of the novel, she was joining a battle in which she could make a difference: one you could fairly say that she won.

I digress still further – and perhaps engage in preaching and bitterness? – in the stunning conclusion to “Only a novel!”. Stay tuned!

Anomalous Austen

Wednesday October 13, 2010 @ 04:25 PM (UTC)

If you’re in Portland this Fall and have an interest in literary history or Jane Austen, I recommend stopping by this exhibit upstairs at Central Library, “Lit Chicks: Verbal and Visual Satire in the Age of Jane Austen”. (There’s a reception Thursday, October 28, 4:30–6 p.m — sadly, I will be out of town at a convention.)

My friend Kelley and I stopped by here the other day for a quick peek, and I definitely want to go back. This is part of the description the library gives:

This exhibition puts Jane Austen and women writers of her time in context by displaying manuscript letters and first editions of plays, poetry, and early epistolary “novels” written by Austen’s predecessors, as well as first editions of novels by Austen and women writers who were inspired by her. Women’s periodicals of the day, items from Regency-period life, and later Austen editions and biographies add to the context.

This immediately reminded me of Joanna Russ’s How to Suppress Women’s Writing, which I read last year. In Chapter 8, “Anomalousness”, Russ writes that one of the various ways in which women’s writing is dismissed and winnowed from the literary canon is by rendering it “anomalous” or singular. Single works by remarkable authors are isolated — I daresay many people with BAs in English don’t know that Charlotte Brontë wrote not one novel, but four and a half. But more importantly, perhaps, and more pervasively, those authors who cannot be forgotten or expunged are themselves rendered singular: the long line of female writers that emboldened an Austen or a Brontë to pick up her pen, and moreover to seek publication, are removed.

Russ quotes Claudia Van Gerven’s paper on “Lost Literary Traditions” (which, in a painful irony, I cannot find):

…the inclusion of only the most extraordinary women [but not only the most extraordinary men]…distorts the relevance of those few women…who remain. Since women are so often thus isolated in anthologies…they seem odd, unconventional, and therefore, a little trivial…
(bracketed note in Russ)

and further:

Since women writers are thus isolated, they often do not fit into the literary historian’s “coherent view of the total literary culture.”…As each succeeding generation of women…is excluded from the literary record, the connections between women…writers become more and more obscure, which in turn simply justifies the exclusion of more and more women on the grounds that they are anomalous—they just don’t fit in.

I remember my undergraduate class on British Writers, which I believe covered up to 1800, and I can’t recall a single work by a woman that I read in it. I was pleased to fill in gaps in my literary knowledge: I read works, like Paradise Lost and Faustus, and even Rape of the Lock, which are often referred to or quoted elsewhere. Most of these gave me little reading pleasure. Most of them (sorry, Marlowe fans — and yes, I know the text we have is mangled) did not seem to my subjective eye “great”. And yet they are assigned, recognized, mulled over: canonized.

Just as Van Gerven says, the male writer appears to us in a family tree. The female writer does not — and as a result there are richnesses and allusions made by the few “remarkable” women in canon that the averagely educated reader will not spot. The goddesses of our recorded literature, emerging “like Athena from the head of Jove” as Russ says (I would have gone with Zeus), are without mothers, without sisters.

So let’s see that quote from the library again:

This exhibition puts Jane Austen and women writers of her time in context by displaying manuscript letters and first editions of plays, poetry, and early epistolary “novels” written by Austen’s predecessors, as well as first editions of novels by Austen and women writers who were inspired by her. Women’s periodicals of the day, items from Regency-period life, and later Austen editions and biographies add to the context.

You can’t read the copy of Camilla on display, nor indeed Lover’s Vows, but there’s something thrilling about seeing so much context, so much evidence (not to mention the voyeuristic thrill of reading these authors’ letters and judging their penmanship). And who knows, maybe a few of the visitors, some of the more Austen-mad perhaps, will track down one of Frances Burney‘s books, or Maria Edgeworth’s. Maybe the enduring appeal of Athena can drag her handmaidens and midwives out into the light.

Coincidental magic

Friday October 08, 2010 @ 04:03 PM (UTC)

I’ve been thinking recently of the roleplaying game Mage: The Ascension (don’t run, non-gamers!) This game and its fellow supernatural-hidden-under-our-world games were big in the 90’s (hmm…do RPGs telegraph bestselling novel genres of the next decade?), and Mage was one of my favorites. The premise was basically that the world runs on consensual reality, and magic is only impossible because most humans have been deeply convinced it is. If a strong-willed magic worker manages to do something obviously “impossible” (like turn a vampire into a lawnchair) in front of non-supernatural witnesses, the universe smacks the mage down with the force of humankind’s collective disbelief. The only dodge is to make the magic seem vaguely plausible — “coincidental”, as the game puts it.

Why have I been thinking about this? Because I think the internet is upping our collective weirdness tolerance. I personally have seen zombies, and even had them flail against my car (I think they were mad I was laughing instead of frightened.) and the same day witnessed a band of semi-armored zombie-hunters stalking around 11th and Burnside. Improv Anywhere creates temporal folds that only Mages with advanced Time skills could match, not to mention freezing 200 people in a train station.

All I’m saying here is that thanks to the internet, the collective belief of the people is a little more stretchy. Next time you think you might have to turn bullets into butterflies or punch through stone, have a friend bring a videocamera. When you next find yourself fighting zombies in Pioneer Courthouse Square or disassembling the Man’s robotic minions in full view of a schoolbus, yell “FLASHMOB” first! If people still seem genuinely freaked out, try doing a little bit of the Thriller dance. That should change any bystander from organ of the collective banality and stodginess of the universe to an embarrassed giggler ready to recount this “weird event” to their co-workers.

Go out there and be magic, people! It’s totally coincidental.

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