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Letters to the Editor, June 1998

This a traditional letter column. You are encouraged to write a letter of comment on anything that you find worthy of comment. It will (may) be published in this column along with my reply. As editor I reserve the right to delete material; however I will not alter the undeleted material. E-mail to me that solely references the contents of this site will be assumed to be publishable mail. All other e-mail is assumed to be private. And, of course, anything marked not for publication is not for publication. Oh yes, letters of appreciation for the scholarly resources provided by this site will be handled very discreetly. This page contains the correspondence for June 1998.

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From: Suford Lewis
Date: 05/28/98
Subj: Komarr

I got Komarr shortly before you posted your review and immediately read it through three times. (You knew I was a violently rabid Bujold fan – well it hasn’t abated at all, in fact it’s worse.)

There are worse things that you could be. Bujold is one of the handful of SF authors that I read these days. I get crusty in my senior years.
Your reaction was interesting – you expect in the next novel that Miles and Ekaterin will be married (did you mean already, when the novel begins or at some point in it?), but my reaction is that Bujold is doing Dorothy Sayers (cf Strong Poison) which makes me rather wonder how many novels it will take for them to marry – with Sayers it was around four (I’m not as rabid about Sayers, or I would have an exact count).
I haven’t read that much Sayers so I’m not sure how strong the parallel is. I dug into deja-vu and extracted the articles in the Komarr thread in rec.arts.sf.written; it runs to about 200. There was a lot interesting discussion. Everyone picks up on the Sayers connection (Vorvayne, Vine) and there is a consensus that (a) Ekatrin has to become herself, and (b) Miles has a long way to go towards being a plausible mate.

As a tidbit, industry gossip from Baen (unvouched for) is that the code name for the next book is IMPWED, that Gregor and Laissa get married, that Miles and Ekatrin get married, and that it is a romance with blazing blasters. The mind boggles.

As to my reaction: I am a soft old romantic in these things. I’m want the boy to get the girl – or is it the other way around? But of course I want to see the courtship which promises to be swimmingly rocky. Komarr ends with Ekaterin having a crush on Miles – she doesn’t realize it but we do. She has yet to realize the horrid truth about Miles.

I will resist making a long boring set of parallels between Miles Vorkosigan and Peter Wimsey and limit myself to observing that Bujold is not really writing a series of detective stories, but exploring the kinks in a life. She has possibly set herself up to get them together in the next novel by preventing Miles from making Peter’s mistake of proposing immediately. He wants her to have a chance to find herself as a person first – the gift he has given all his previous loves – even though he knows it could work to his detriment. The reader, with the advantage of hearing the story from both viewpoints has more confidence, but Bujold doesn’t let Miles in on it.

Quite right; she isn’t writing detective stories. Miles is not a bad person and he is quite good about helping other people – in a managing fashion. One trouble is that he doesn’t quite understand that other people aren’t Miles; another is that he sees the world in terms of covert ops and military operations (his technique for getting Nikki out of the bathroom is a scream); and still another is that he operates in the mode of annexing people into his life. He’s good about it; he gives them the chance to go on their own but that’s his implicit objective.

The courtship has not even begun and I expect that to be the subject of the next novel. I had expected it to be the subject of _this_ one, but Bujold kept her psychology honest and didn’t have them read each other’s minds or fall into each other’s arms or any of that stuff you get in “standard” best-seller romances. In fact, I expect she wrote part way through her next novel, realized she didn’t want to make Komarr 600 pages long (or have half of it happen on Barrayar) and found a reasonable stopping point.

One of the subjects of the next novel. Given that the entire action of this novel happens in about a week it would have been quite precipitous for them to fall into each other’s arms.

The first time I read it through, I thought it was slower moving than usual. The second time through, I noticed some interesting details I had missed the first time and couldn’t identify any parts I wanted left out or covered in less detail. I loved the scene with the fall into the pond! I even liked the fact that Miles has much less “heroism” to his part in this one and Ekaterin doesn’t do anything that strains credibility for her part. It needed to be that way – finely detailed.

Well, you know, it seems slower moving but that is a bit tricky. The actual period of time covered is shorter than usual. In most of her novels the moments of terror are covered in exquisite detail and the stretches of boredom are barely mentioned. This a stream of life novel – everything that happens is given equal weight. (Not exactly but you know what I mean.)

I liked the near equal weight given talking small boys out of locked bathrooms and talking terrorists out of their bunker. Of course, it also reminded me of Georgette Heyer’s definition in Cotillion of ~”what a woman needs in a man is not heroism with a sword or pistols but the ability to get a hackney in the rain.”~ I have it on good authority that Bujold is a Heyer fan…

Why am I not surprised. The nifty thing about Heyer is that she has a balance of sardonic reality and slurpy romanticism.

P.S. Your Index of contributors to the May 98 letters says David Lewis (BTW do you know what he is doing these days?) but I find the letter is actually from David Smith.

Thank you – I’ve corrected it. I don’t know about David Lewis. There is a David Lewis that some people think is one of the foremost philosophers of our time but I don’t know if it is our David Lewis.

From: micallef
Date: 06/03/98
Subj: The Face of God

Hello Mr Childers,

I just read review of your book The Face of God –and I can’t seem to find anywhere where I can lay my hands on a copy!

(This letter arrived by some misdirection in my email. I have tried to answer it as best I can.)

There does seem to be some difficulty determining the whereabouts and career of Dr. Childers. There is a home page for him; the biographical information which I quote is not entirely helpful.

“The Food and Drug Administration and the Surgeon General have requested that all details of Mr. Childer’s life be suppressed if this page is going to be read by small children under the age of 60. The NSA, however, has expressed an intense interest in his whereabouts. Although we are not at liberty to discuss any of the details of his sordid personal life we can say that he was a noted critic, reviewer, and author. It is a lie but we can say it. Below are links to some of writings.”

I have located scattered references on the web to his works. The publishers mentioned include The Brookings South Dakota Sheepherder’s Gazette, Burning Cross Publications, Biodegradable Press, The Vanity Press, and Varinoma press. I regret to say that I cannot find addresses for any of these publishers nor can I find any of the mentioned works listed among the books in print. You may have some luck with the bookstores in Harvard Square as evidenced by a note I received from a colleague.

From: Tony Lewis
Date: 06/03/98
Subj: Scams and such

The D-Day scam was to convince Hitler that the invasion would take place where he expected it to take place–at Pas de Calais. The cover plan was Operation Bodyguard (In wartime truth needs a bodyguard of lies–Winston Chruchill–not an exact quote). Bodyguard had additional cover that there would be major landings in Norway; in fact, George Patton (one of Suford’s relatives) was given command of a fake army assembling in Scotland to add verisimilitude…

There is an SF story, The Quaker Cannon, which takes this one step further. IIRC the enemy is leaked the information that the Patton figure is the cover; however the “real invasion” is the cover.

Hitler’s belief in the Pas de Calais invasion prevented Rommel from completing fortifications in Normandy. The decision to concentrate the panzer reserves in the center of France and not release them to the line commanders was typical of traditional German military thinking.

Interesting. Judging from the various scams the British ran during WW II, it would seem that the principal tactic learned on the playing fields of Eton was surreptitious knavery.

On another note–if the philosophical David Lewis is a professor at Princeton, then he is, indeed, our David Lewis–subway fanatic, former MITSFS member, and husband to Steffi Robinson (whose mother, if you remember, was still fighting the Spanish Civil War into the 1960s).

That he is. I recall him muttering about multiple worlds and modal logic when he was at Harvard. He went on to do an opus on the topic. Steffi is much too good for him, but then she is much too good for anyone.

From: Tony Lewis
Date: 06/03/98
Subj: Scams and such

Alice gave me a copy of Childer’s The Face of God for my birthday. She also got me a copy of Hawthorne Abendsen’s The Grasshopper Lies Heavy, one of the best alternate universe novels around. I imagine she found it in some used bookstore in Harvard Square.

That figures. Harvard Square is a serious hotbed of unreality.

From: micallef ([email protected])
Date: 06/03/98
Subj: Reflections on Zhandivar

Hello Richard,

Thank you for the info on Childers what a tease though!

You’re welcome. You should check the link labelled essays; it lists all the essays, reviews, et cetera. About a third of the books reviewed do not exist. In one instance, The Outspoken Princess and the Gentle Knight, the book exists but the reviewer does not.

I must of missed part of this thread — where is the myth of Zhandivar mentioned? You spoke of Chatham is he the romantic poet?

Ah, that is a different matter. Look up Zhandivar. It’s linked into the poetry pages; there is also a link to it in the Reflections on Zhandivar page. Zhandivar is a longish narrative fantasy poem; Reflections on Zhandivar is an explanation of the poem in terms of an invented mythology. Chatham is an invented literary critic. He appears elsewhere as the author of Sons of the Bird, another book which does not exist.

Think of this site as being somewhere on the edge of reality.

From: Reverend Bill
Date: 06/06/98
Subj: latest editorial

Herr Professor:
If we can assume that persons of both genders defecate once a day, as opposed to urinating several times a day then the logical position for the home throne would be up.
–der hubscher Engel

I stand corrected.

From: Ted Samsel ([email protected])
Date: 06/08/98
Subj: Anastasia

I just saw the animated ver with my son and daughter this evening. Was this what you were lauding to the skies? I thought it was pretty good, even though some of the ‘puter animation compilation made my skin crawl. (Hey, I like and can draw perspective, but some of the layering was a bit dense, visually. I.e. too many levels w/o trying to do an MC Escher). Also, I ragged on about the geography. I don’t think there are any gorges of note in the area of Petrograd.

Or were you talking about the Anastasia story in general?

No, I was babbling about the movie. The VCR version isn’t quite as good as the big screen (and it does make a difference whether you are looking at the letterbox or the trimmed version). For most movies it doesn’t matter that much whether you see it on the big screen or on the telly; it does make a difference here. Sheer size makes a difference, particularly with the panning perspective scenes. There are also differences in color values – reflected light vs glowing phosphors. Also some of the detail is lost. Still the VCR version is pretty good.

I don’t say it’s the best movie ever made – I just happened to get hooked on it.

Geography not accurate? Er, that’s a minor detail. The whole story is a fantasy. The real Anastasia story is interesting but quite different. Ignoring that, the details of their trip are a little unbelievable. Okay, a whole lot unbelievable. Three days, including a long stretch of walking, to get from Petrograd to Paris? What about their papers which weren’t any good. And so on and so forth. For that matter what about the demons being able to blow up a bridge but not just blow up the train? Why is it that the dog runs out into the maze and leads Anastasia to Rasputin? There are lots of holes if one wants to look for them.

I will say that I liked the first half of the movie a lot better, particularly the ghostly dance sequence.

From: Evil Jeff
Date: 06/09/98
Subj: Thank you for this site

I happened to see a question from an editor in a garden center product supply magazine which simply stated “Thought for the Moment: What was the best thing before sliced bread?” I liked it enough to use it as a tag line. One of my friends recently happened on this site and told me to check it out. It was great!! Even better, I LOVE LLAMAS!! It was a bit of synergy (if I’m even using that word correctly, better get out the dictionary) to see that.

I must commend you on a very interesting site and I will have a grand time in exploring the items you have offered up for consumption. Keep on writing!!

Llamas are good. Whole stuffed camel is good too, or at least that’s what the recipes page claims. I hope you love for llamas is a, uh, platonic one. Have fun browsing – there’s family fun for all here. Of course some of the families are a little strange.

From: Oscar Beasley
Date: 06/14/98
Subj: Tool List

Loved your site at Saw a reference to it on the LRO Digest and had to have a peek. Well worth the visit!

Thank you for writing; kudos are always appreciated. It is a bit disconcerting where references to this site turn up.

For the curious LRO digest is the Land Rover Owner’s digest.

From: Michael L. Siemon
Date: 06/11/98
Subj: Bringing In The Hay

From Bringing In The Hay
“The other piece is the singletree. The dictionary says that it is also called a swingletree or a whiffletree which is news to me – I never heard of them being called anything but a singletree.”

If you look over soc.history.medieval about 6 months to a year ago, you will find the most obssessive/compulsive discussion of horse harnessing, with this referred to as a “whippletree” — obviously a variant on whiffletree….

Oddly enough, it is whiffletree that is a variant of whippletree. A bit of checking in the dictionary shows that whippletree comes from whip+tree, where the “whip” comes from a particular style of tackle, i.e., a way of rigging a pulley.

Singletree OTOH is self explanatory, particularly if you know what a doubletree is – not to be confused with “The One Tree”.

My father grew up on a farm (southern Nebraska) and most of his elder generation relatives were farmers in Kansas. Reading your account, I am terribly glad I never had to deal with this stuff — I suffered allergy miseries in the (relatively little) yardwork my father insisted I do (making matters worse by insisting that it was fun. Yeah, sure.)

But it was fun. 🙂

From: Lu Marie Ducharme
Date: 06/15/98
Subj: Dinner at Andre’s

I loved it. You made me cry. So full of kindness for all these nice people who are not with you. Thank you!!

Thank you. I’m glad that you liked it. But I have to be kind to those people – if one cannot be kind to oneself, how can one be kind to anyone else?

From: Bill Froeschl
Date: 06/17/98
A Choice That Cannot Be Made

I’m not a philosopher by any stretch of anyone’s imagination but I did read your page about the “Choice that cannot be made”. I didn’t really follow all of your discourse but after reading it a thought occurred to me.

Doesn’t God, or some supreme power ask, er, give us the freedom to make just that choice every day? In each decision we make that involves a choice between ourselves and somebody else, don’t we constantly have to choose between what’s good for us or what’s good for the other person? The sum of these tiny decisions affect the course of humanity and ultimately its fate. If you make just such a choice every day, its not an issue of “you win/I loose” but rather “win/win”. What’s good for the whole is good for me. There is no eternal damnation if I choose what’s right for humanity; it just seems that way. Thus, in my twisted way, I avoid the dilemma.

The choices made in life are a bit different because in the end we die and humanity continues on. Take as an example the planting of a tree whose shade we shall never enjoy. There is no profit in doing such a thing and yet we do it. There is, though, and that is that there is no profit in profit. In the end all profits vanish in the grave.

Now one can argue that there is no gain to be gotten from helping the future for we shall not share it. Conversely we can argue that since that in the end no gain is possible and that since we must do something with our lives we might as well do good. And the answer to that is “why bother”.

So it might be argued yet few reason so. We follow, almost by instinct, Donne’s “No man is an island”. In part we choose to live as part of the whole, as though our actions are in behalf of a larger group with duration past our own, and in part as an individual seeking their own transient gain.

This we can do, and as you say, try to arrange things so that your choices are win/win. In The Choice That Cannot Be Made, however, your fate and that of humanity are as equals; you and the rest of humanity continue on forever. That makes a difference.

Also…It would seem there has to be three entities involved in the choice: the individual, humanity, and the one proposing the choice. Therefor, although the individual may never realize his good if he choose eternal damnation, the one proposing the question will know and so I say that choosing eternal damnation is the right choice, albeit a painful one.

That is an astute observation. I have sprung this on people; I once posted it in a news group, stimulating a lively discussion. No one pointed out that the scene has three actors nor that you are not only making a choice for yourself and others but you are also informing the one proposing the choice of your intent.

The thought occurred to me that God might be pushing you to make a choice because He is not truly all-knowing and needs to know how you will choose. However that doesn’t follow because even if God knows how you will choose he still demands that you actually make the choice. (It’s the old predestination thing; you may be predestined to be saved but you have to ask anyway.)

A way to think about this is that God isn’t really passing the decision over to you; He wants to find out (or have you find out) what your choice would be. That would shift the question over to “What does God want to hear from me?” God, however, has the power to convince us that He is serious about the choice so “what does He want to hear” may not be in the cards.

Jeez, now I feel like I’m back in a college philosophy class. My brain is getting numb again.
Even so.

Date: 06/23/98
Subj: Jesus Christ and Elvis Presley

i think even as a joke this is done in bad taste. as a fan and a church goer i think people should stop comparing the two.

You’re right, of course, it is in bad taste. You understand, I hope, that I am not going to pull the page but I’m quite willing to agree that it is in bad taste.

BIGGAFIVE replied:

i’m sure you’re not going to pull the page because if you would a god fearing person you wouldn’t have put it on there in the first place. i’m not the one who has to answer to this. you are

Definitely a candidate for flakiest letter of the year. The mind shakes to think what he made of Tina.

From: Suford Lewis ([email protected])
Date: 05/28/98
Subj: Did you love me, chocolate?

The wonderful thing about the Chocolate poem is the (unconscious?) parallel between lovers devouring each other and your protagonist eating the chocolates; the obvious foolishness of his question to the chocolate wrappers and the less obviously foolish cry of the break-up survivor of “What did I do?”.

Quite unconscious, I assure you. I wasn’t quite thinking that way – my thoughts were more banal although related. I was playing off on the consumerist mentality of “chocolate induces a chemical response similar to that of falling in love”, ergo “eating chocolate is the same as being in love” and, I suppose, the absurdity of the difference. Only, as you point out, the difference is not all it is credited with being.

Having had no thought of the chocolate’s pleasure during the action of the poem is the parallel to the usual thoughtlessness (or at least unsuccessful attempts at understanding) of lovers during encounters (however complete). The lack of connection is then just the natural outcome – just as it is with the chocolate. It needs the parallel with the lover being gone to be more sharply drawn so it is not merely a silly play on “Was it good for you?”. I think you get that with the protagonist addressing the wrappers on the floor – parallel with inadvertently left behind clothes of a departed lover. Or maybe I am reading in and the parallel needs enhancing…

No, I think you are right. I grant you that I didn’t see that when I wrote the poem but, then, that’s the nature of poetry.

You have a wonderful knack for capturing the consequences of half percieved experience. It makes your stuff very poignant. The protagonists come across as fools when you make them too unconscious – but being a tortured fool is a common human condition… You catch the “What was that?” part of the missed perception that would explain the pain if only the perciever had gotten a better look at it. (Is this making any sense?)

Oh yes. As the very ancient witticism goes, “I am too modest to agree with you but I shall defend to the death your right to praise me.” I believe that you have read George Orwell’s wonderful essay on Dickens. Orwell speaks of how Dickens saw things; he had almost no consciousness of what things are “about”. He didn’t see “the bureaucracy in action” – he saw red tape and sealing wax. He didn’t see “the factory as a generator of wealth” – he saw the physical shape of the factory.

I am not sure that is relevant except that I keep thinking of peripheral visions of the mind.

The more I think about it the deeper your chocolate poem gets … ah, deep chocolate…

Now write a poem of the chocolate being fully and completely experienced, admired, and savored and becoming a part of the experiencer forever… Hoo boy! Steamy!

Oooh. I don’t think I can write it but the idea has merit.

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