Notes from New Sodom

... rantings, ravings and ramblings of strange fiction writer, THE.... Sodomite Hal Duncan!!

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Lost in Translation

A while back I posted, for interest's sake, some of my responses to questions sent by the German translator of VELLUM, Hannes Riffel. Now, Hannes is working on INK and has kindly agreed to let me do the same again. I think it's a neat way to give an insight into the intricacies of the translation process and cast a little pen-light on some of the details without too much blather and self-importance (some of those "details" being, after all, fuck-ups and follies on my part.) Though anyone who hasn't read INK yet might want to beware of spoilers. Anyway, all page numbers are from the UK edition.

p 30: "We only tried to give you what you want ... the meaning of fiction in your factual lives." I don't understand the second half.

It's a nihilist/existentialist thing. Facts have no "meaning". Life has no "meaning". Only fiction has meaning. So the bitmites have reshaped the factual world so it has the meaning of fiction -- heroes, villains and all that jazz.

p 35: "strands of skandas" Hindu god? But what are the "strands" (dto.: "skanda strands" on page 38)

In Buddhist philosophy the five skandas (with a small "s") are what makes up the self. See this link:

I'm not clear on some of the distinctions a Buddhist would make between "physical form", "sensation", "perception", "conception" and "consciousness" (like between sensation and perception or conception and consciousness), but the idea here is of the self being separable into strands (streams, the discrete but interwoven, linear *experience*) of feelings, thoughts, memories, ideas, and so on. The idea is that in the post-Evenfall Vellum it's not just the world that's been deconstructed; humans have too. So you get these wraithike scraps of torn-up identity, strands of skanda.

And (just as an add-on) you get some of those strands that have woven themselves back together into the semblance of agency, the sylphs. But it's a multiple perspective agency, skanda strands of memory from multiple origins -- hence the shift from third person to first-person plural. And you get other skanda strands which have attached themselves to a semblance of form but remain, to all intents and purposes, lacking in that agency, bereft of any real consciousness; those are the shabtis.

p 36: "faun" -- is that a colour as well?

Oops. That's meant to be "fawn", which is, yes, a shade of brown. Bollocks, I always get the baby deer and the mythical creature confused.

p 36: "king" among all those animals means what?

Exactly what it says. King's are just another "noble beast" to be skinned and stitched into the harlequin's suit, far as Jack's concerned. The logic is sort of: well, kings claim the divine right to rule, claim to be distinct from common humanity, with their "blue blood" and all; so, if they have *different colour blood*, they're, like, a different species altogether; so that makes it OK to hunt them down, kill them like the animals they are, and wear their hide like you'd wear the leather of a cow. There's a sort of whimsical notion of hubris at play there, in the idea that the very act of setting yourself up as a king is an invitation to be slaughtered as a beast. It's also a foreshadowing of Pentheus's death at his mother's hands, the way she sees him as a lion to be hunted.

p 37: "city known as Themes" -- any allusions in this name I should know about?

Thebes >> Themes in the rewrite of THE BACCHAE, as an allusion to "theme" in literary terms. It's part of the whole wordplay-system, like Rome becoming Rhyme, Greece becoming Verse and so on, in the historical texts excerpted in the faery chapter of VELLUM.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008


First off, Spain's entry. Keep a careful eye on the backing dancer in pink. WTF?! Did she have a stroke halfway through? Is it a set-up or is she on something? Who can say? All I know is this is good old-fashioned Eurovision nonsense as it's meant to be done. Only thing is that means it has, by definition, a really high stupidness/irritation factor. Also the singer loses points, despite the mad-uncle-trying-to-do-a-Zappa-impersonation-in-an-Elvis-wig look, for talking rather than singing.

Next we have France's entry. It's like the Flaming Lips! But with helium! Good song, good madness quotient (nice beard action on the backing singers, and listen for the singer's random pitch alterations even regardless of the helium), but... well, it's just a little too knowingly arch and ironic. I'm sorry, but the Eurovision is no place for pomo indie hipsters. Also, a French Eurovision entry that's not in French! Feh! What would France Gall say? Was "Poupée de Cire, Poupée de Son" in English? No, I think not! And that had dwarves dressed as babies!

At number three we have Azerbaijan. It's angel meets devil in a Goth rock spectacular! "It's scary," according to the Boy Kitten (though I think he means in an "American children's beauty pageant" way rather than a "watching The Shining on acid" way), but just listen to that opening falsetto, I say! Great costumes, right down to the coloured contact lenses (nice detail!). Costume change for the devil, in fact! Yes, this year the Azerbaijanis out-rocked the Finns, who just didn't quite cut it in the Overblown Rocktastica stakes (sorry, my Nordic amigos). Still, it's clearly proven now, I'd say, that all Goth rock must be sung in a guttural Eastern European accent. So it has been spoken, so it shall be done!

In second place: Latvia. Pirates! Pirates, pirates, pirates, pirates, pirates!!!! "We will steal the show! Jolly Rogers ho! Pirates are what we will be!" How could you not love them? Listen to that unbearably catchy and anthemic chorus. Look, the main singer even has a prop sword! They have the verve. They have the vigour. having missed a few of the entries at the start of the show, this was originally my top choice. I mean... it's pirates! I know there'll be some of you out there thinking, but the pirate craze is over, dude. That's so last year. Well, fuck that shit. Arrrrrr, I say. Arrrrrrrrr!

"But how could the pirates not win?" I hear you ask. "What could possibly be better than Baltic pirates with fake swords and really bad singalong tunes? Well, folks, the winner is... and imagine the drumroll here... Bosnia-Herzegovina. It's just... I don't know what to say... madder than badgers and catchier than chlamydia. I mean, honestly, it's a fucking great song. Plus it's in Foreign! (Croatian? Maybe Serbian? I don't know. But they definitely get extra points for their blithe disregard for Anglocentrism) Plus the lead singer is like some bastard offspring of Captain-Sensible and that guy from Sparks (only coy instead of creepy). Plus the mad woman dancing in the background is like KatieJane Garside's lunatic second cousin. Watch the bit where she runs down towards the audience to throw the bouquets over her shoulders! Watch it again! Isn't it awesome? Huh? Huh? Isn't it? And her flailing flapping stompy kiddy dance. Yes, as shocking as it may sound coming from me, this is better than pirates!

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

The Green Fields of France

Julie K. Rose interviewed me recently for her Writers and Sountracks podcast which ye'll find links to here on the associated blog. The interview won't be up for a while, but doing it got me thinking. One of the songs I put on the soundtrack is a song I remember from childhood, "The Green Fields of France" by Eric Bogle. My dad, as I recall, used to play one of the more traditional folk versions of this quite a lot, either The Fureys or The Corries, I guess, and I guess in a lot of ways it sort of sunk in, permeated my consciousness, and may well have a lot to do with the attitude to WW1 and war in general that comes through (rather strongly, I suspect) in VELLUM.

Anyway, as a result, having not heard the song in donkey's years, I thought I'd track down the lyrics which I only had the vaguest memory of, and see if the song itself was floating about on YouTube. And it was. Better still, I hadn't realised there's actually a Dropkick Murphys version of it. I'm not entirely averse to a bit of folk, but this more ragged and bitey version is definitely more up my street. I still think it's a fucking awesomely powerful song, so I thought I'd share it with yez. The two videos are both yer standard YouTube montage thingy, but I think their both pretty good. With the first, I think it's nicely put together, and I kinda found myself getting quite emotional towards the end. The second is rougher round the edges, and it uses some imagery that's not for the faint-hearted, to be honest, so be wared before you watch it. But I think the very end images of Curious George, the Chimp Who Became President, is... well... highly apt.

And the lyrics... well... they speak for themselves.

O, how do you do, young Willy McBride
Do you mind if I sit here down by your graveside
And rest for a while in the warm summer sun
I've been walking all day, and I'm nearly done
And I see by your gravestone you were only nineteen
When you joined the great fallen in 1916
Well I hope you died quick and I hope you died clean
Or, Willy McBride, was is it slow and obscene

Did they beat the drums slowly
Did they play the fife lowly
Did they sound the death march as they lowered you down
Did the band play the last post and chorus
Did the pipes play the flowers of the forest

And did you leave a wife or a sweetheart behind
In some loyal heart is your memory enshrined
And though you died back in 1916
To that loyal heart you're forever nineteen
Or are you a stranger without even a name
Forever enshrined behind some old glass pane
In an old photograph torn, tattered, and stained
And faded to yellow in a brown leather frame

Did they beat the drums slowly
Did they play the fife lowly
Did they sound the death march as they lowered you down
Did the band play The Last Post and Chorus
Did the pipes play The Flowers of the Forest

The sun shining down on these green fields of France
The warm wind blows gently and the red poppies dance
The trenches have vanished long under the plow
No gas, no barbed wire, no guns firing now
But here in this graveyard that's still no mans land
The countless white crosses in mute witness stand
To man's blind indifference to his fellow man
And a whole generation were butchered and damned

Did they beat the drums slowly
Did they play the fife lowly
Did they sound the death march as they lowered you down
Did the band play The Last Post and Chorus
Did the pipes play The Flowers of the Forest

And I can't help but wonder oh Willy McBride
Do all those who lie here know why they died
Did you really believe them when they told you the cause
Did you really believe that this war would end wars
Well, the suffering, the sorrow, the glory, the shame
The killing and dying it was all done in vain
Oh, Willy McBride it all happened again
And again, and again, and again, and AGAIN

Did they beat the drums slowly
Did they play the fife lowly
Did they sound the death march as they lowered you down
Did the band play The Last Post and Chorus
Did the pipes play The Flowers of the Forest

Sunday, May 11, 2008

SF Promised Me a Flying Car

I want it, and I want it NOW!

One like this:

Post-Weird Thoughts

Just a quick heads-up: looks like there's a new blog that readers of me strange-fictional ramblings might find interesting, by Jacques Barcia and Fabio Fernandes. It's called Post Weird Thoughts, and you'll find it here.

As you were.