Derik Badman's Journal

2020-09-17 08:07

I've read that the smoke from the wild fires in California is starting to have effects here on the east coast, but I've yet to notice anything unusual here. Intermittent clouds and blue skies have made for sometimes cool but nice weather. A large grey gull likes to perch on the house next to ours, for such a large bird it makes a high pitched squeaky whistle that seems so sound. I watched it take off after a light grey and white gull, follow it down to the beach, and then seem to engage it in some kind of interaction. They walked around on the beach a bit, hard to tell if the smaller lighter bird was just trying to get away or not. Eventually it flew off and the larger gull went off to sit by itself. I've noticed how much the gulls will just stand on the beach facing the wind (not the ocean), often in rather large groups all just standing there. Are they sleeping? Why towards the wind? I'm not sure. (I looked it up later and it is perhaps because going against the win ruffles their feathers and also being in the wind makes it easier for a quick take off in case of danger.) They are excellent at gliding from the roof of a house, they can glide all the way down to the beach and the ocean and swerve around before landing without flapping their wings at all.

I've been struggling through Portrait of a Priestess by Joan Breton Connelly, which I thankfully got from the library. It's interesting work, all about the role of woman in different religious functions in ancient Greece and how much of their roles have been previously downplayed or misunderstood, but it's too academic for me, too much about making the arguments and referencing all the sources, when what I really want is the just the narrative information. It's like I want someone to read it for me and take notes. I'm not sure I'll be finishing, as it is, I've been paging through and skipping parts.

Slightly better but still kind of slow is a collection of Clark Ashton Smith's work The Dark Eidolon and Other Fantasies. I've not really read Smith before, but I'm finding I prefer some of his work to others. The stories that are real world with horror (instrusive fantasy), very Lovecraft, are not to my interest. I do like the one's that take place in alternate histories though, sadly there are so far not many of those in this collection, which also features a lot of Smith's poetry, which I am not expecting I will like. As such, I've been cherry picking which stories I actually finish. I think I'll look up some more specific collections of his work, or else use some lists of the various "story cycles" he wrote and just read specific stories from his collected fiction (which the library luckily has in ebook).

After all this, it was such a delight to start Gene Wolfe's The Wizard Knight in its new omnibus edition. Returning to an author I really love was so comforting, even though I've not read this novel before. It's a portal/quest fantasy about a teenage boy in America who ends up somehow kidnapped by Aelfe's (I think they are based on Norse elves, so not Tolkien-y at all) and ends up in a fantasy world that is a mix of Norse and Arthurian myth. He doesn't remember his time with the Aelfe's in their level of the world and he didn't age during the time, but one of them (who he falls madly in love with) somehow undoes the stoppage of time and he suddenly becomes his actual age (around 10 years older). So he is this boy stuck in a man's body, and he decides to become a knight and try to get this magic sword his Aelfe love told him about. In summary like that it sounds much more conventional and banal than it really is (of course it's Wolfe), though it is not so far as esoteric as some of his other novels I've read. Like all those, the protagonist is the narrator (writing to his brother back in America) and not a totally reliable one. He openly admits to skipping things, or forgetting things. He occasionally mentions characters or events that he hasn't narrated yet. I'm less than 200 pages in of it's 900 total, so it's hard to say too much about it, but I am quite enjoying it.