Sunday, April 15, 2012

Why a duck?

How about that weather, eh? On Friday it rained so hard here in Orange County that I thought the sky was falling. It lasted less than 15 minutes, but for that time was like having a tin bath poured out on you from on high, with added wind. I think the threat of the Evil Foreign $2BN-costing Psyllid - yesterday's So Cal scare - has significantly receded as the psyllids must have all drowned. And there were hundreds of tornadoes east of us yesterday.

So much for blog posts saying how nice the weather was.

Although I swore off reading the SF blogs a month ago, I find myself still reading them, but with a curious detachment. One post recently - can't remember what the ostensible subject was - degenerated into a cat fight OOPS NOT A CAT FIGHT because someone used the word "pussy" to describe cowardly behavior, by which, he explained later, he meant a fraidy-cat. Too late, though. He was caught using a taboo word, which some people use to mean female genitalia, in a non-positive sense, which is of course an offense requiring re-education.  On another SF blog, a writer posted a "what do you all think?" article which brought out the commentariat in droves. Some of them were right in what they thought, and some were wrong, and the OP happily slapped a ruler across the knuckles of the wrong ones. Some of them said some oddly non-PC things that could have been references to the female of the species, but this is a very different blog and no-one stopped them. In fact, I think that most of this set of commenters only ever even see women when their nurses wheel them out into the grounds in their bath chairs and leave them to shake their canes at passers-by and complain when the rugs fall off their laps.

A science fiction fan yesterday. Photo from buyvintage.

A rather more pragmatic friend told me to just stop reading comments, and I'd be fine. So, In an effort to get out more I started reading a book - one of those paper thingies with the pages and cover art. I've always wanted to get into Magical Realism, because it sounds like something I should like, but when it comes to it, I can never be bothered. I bounced so hard off the Gormenghast trilogy years ago that I still have the lump on my forehead. Any number of  SF-type fantasy worlds, the M John Harrisons and Angela Carters and their ilk, have gone unread. I can't read the books although I like each individual sentence. Inasmuch as I ever understand the sentence. I think I struggled through One Hundred Years of Solitude, but I might have cheated my not reading the middle.

So, since we have some China Mieville on the stacks, and since he is the Greatest Author Ever as far as I can tell by the number of awards he's won, I decided to jump right in and read Perdido Street Station. I got exactly as far as the third paragraph on the first page of the introductory bit in italics, which reads in part:
Behind me the man tugs uneasily at his rudder
The mental image it conjured up gave me a fit of giggles that lasted five minutes and left me wheezing breathlessly with tears running down my cheeks. I haven't had a laugh like that in years. [1]

After I'd recovered, I attempted to read on and got to this bit, which is describing the city,
That is what protects me here...the anguish that has brought me to this great wen, this dusty city dreamed up in bone and brick.
What's a wen? I asked STB.  At the back of my mind, the word reminded me of the Ancient Egyptian letter W, which is drawn as a quail chick.[2] After a few clarifications ("I didn't say 'What's a when'" etc.) he thought about it and decided it was a kind of a duck.  That fitted in with my thoughts, so:
That is what protects me here...the anguish that has brought me to this great duck, this dusty city dreamed up in bone and brick.
That didn't seem quite right so I looked it up and apparently a wen is
A harmless cyst, especially on the scalp or face, containing the fatty secretion of a sebaceous gland.
(Free Dictionary.)
That is what protects me here...the anguish that has brought me to this great harmless scalp cyst of oogy squishy matter, this dusty city dreamed up in bone and brick.
That's better!

STB says the book gets more hooky once Our Hero gets into the city and stuff starts happening. I'll try.

[1] I did pitch a giggle fit earlier the same day when I read The Thread Where Experts Look At A Picture of Led Zeppelin And Tell You All About It on the unofficial collectors' message board. The questioner posted a picture of Jimmy Page on stage with his guitar and said, "What song is that?" A few minutes later the answer came back. "Something with an A in it." (A major is the second most common guitar chord in rock music.) They did narrow it down to the date, venue and one of three songs at a certain time in the show later on, though.

[2] Now I come to look it up, the word WN is spelled "hare" in Ancient Egyptian.  That's more "UN" than "WEN" though, I think.


KaliDurga said...

"Why a duck?" initially sounded to me like something from a Marx Brothers routine.

And if it hadn't been for the character of Steerpike, I would have thrown the first Gormenghast book across the room. Never did finish the second or begin the third.

Peromyscus said...

Now I'm even less determined to read Titus Groan.


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