kaigou: this is what I do, darling (1 Edward armor)
[personal profile] kaigou
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Done Wrong — Eleanor Taylor Bland (mystery)
Dropped. Not really where my brain is at, right now, and this title is fourth in the series, I think it is. Going to try and find the one with the summary/case that was more interesting.

The Steel Remains — Richard K Morgan (fantasy)
Dropped... for now. Just not doing it for me. Story is okay, characters have potential, but it wasn't holding me.

Havemercy — Jaida Jones & Danielle Bennett (fantasy/steampunk)
Dropped. See this exchange for an uncharacteristically (for me) succinct review.

The Hero's Walk — Anita Rau Badami (literary)

GET THIS BOOK. READ IT. It's not slow, it's dense, but it's rich. Emotional without being melodramatic; introspective without drowning in navel-gazing. It's a story of mourning, grief, loss, and how even inside a family, we can still be strangers.

It's about an upper-caste (but hardly wealthy) man who disowned his daughter for marrying a Westerner and ditching her arranged marriage, who after nine years of distance learns his daughter and her husband have died in a car accident -- and his is the only family able and willing to take in the orphaned grand-child. It's about an eight-year-old girl who's lost her parents, her voice, her culture, and her moorings, in that order. It's about a grown woman who's lost repeated chances at marriage thanks to her mother's selfishness, but might not have lost her chance at love. It's about a life-long obedient daughter-then-wife who realizes she's had it up to here and it's time to start declaring, and chasing, what she wants. It's about a younger son, shadowed by his older sister and desperately wanting to make the world better but getting nowhere. It's a lot of people getting nowhere, but that's to be expected when you're not sure how to get there, or if you even have the courage to try. It's a gorgeous, thoughtful story, sometimes-sad, sometimes-wryly-humorous, always human and respectful and ambiguous towards its characters.

This is not a story to swallow whole, or even to chew up in large bites. It's a story to be savored, and a story that lets you in to be the observer in complex and burdened personal histories that make up this strange new land for an orphaned child. It is also not, I should note, saccharine, in any way at all: the grand-daughter is not some bubbly Westernized child who shows up and delights, charms, and changes everyone. The grand-daughter is suffering and struggling with her own grief for her lost parents that's just as deep as her grandparents' grief for their lost daughter.

Honestly, I can't speak highly enough of this story. The plot is simple, though the story gets right into it very quickly -- and then backs up, circles around, to give you a bigger picture to understand each character's reactions and fears -- so it's both slow and quick-moving at the same time. It's written without overly-purple pretensions at poetry; it's just deft and assured writing that carries you along, giving enough description to create the place and time. The craftsmanship in the writing is just that good, that you never stop to say, oh, how the author must have labored over this description! -- which is what I mean by 'pretentious'. The author trusts the power of her story and has the confidence in her own voice to give you the story as it needs to be given, at the pace that works, with the details that belong.

Really. Find a copy, read, and enjoy.

The Devil in the Dust — Chaz Brenchley
Currently reading. Figure it'll kill some time while I wait for the interlibrary loan books to come in, even if I'm less than crazy about the alternate-history/reality version of the Crusades. (The mention of 'Catari' in the first few pages as one of the heretical groups was slight giveaway; the next four pages' details confirmed it.)

Note: all three books are English-language originally (not translated).

Water Touching Stone, by Eliot Pattison, comes with a glossary in the back for Turkic, Tibetan, and Mandarin words. The first novel in Pattison's series, The Skull Mantra, did not have a glossary, and relied on contextual clues to explain non-English words. I've dropped the second book because the writing -- while still gorgeously rendering the Tibetan landscape -- seems to be somewhat lazier. The inclusion of a glossary seems to have given the author more reign to ignore the need for contextual placement. You can just check the glossary, eh? I do glossary checking in non-fiction, and for Fraser's footnotes in the Flashman series; anywhere else, it's intrusive and disrupting my reading, damn it.

I did finish A Companion to Wolves by Sarah Monette and Elizabeth Bear, but mostly by skimming most of the second half of the book. To be honest, I was less than enthused at the inclusion of a dramatis personae before the book began. If a cast-list is the only way to recall which characters are which, then the author's doing something wrong (or more precisely, just leaving out something right).

This is not tangential, but it may be news to any of you who've never read fanfiction author notes. I'd never seen this in published fiction, and it was entirely new to me (and something I saw, and see, as entirely superfluous), but it's somewhat common in some fanfiction genres. At the start of a story, the author graciously inform you in a manner somewhat like the following, that:

"this indicates two people talking"
*this indicates someone's thoughts*
#this indicates people talking on the phone/radio/etc#
~this indicates people talking telepathically~

...and so on. (I have seen stories where the examples go up to six different styles.)

My theory's that a chunk of that comes from the days when email didn't have bold or italic, so you had to fake it in whatever way you could when posting your chapters for an email group. There were no hard-and-fast conventions; authors used different means -- some would underscore: look _at_ this! and some would slash it: look /at/ this! and some would asterisk: look *at* this! I can see how that's a hard habit to break, but I remain baffled as to why anyone would feel it necessary to point out that double-quotes indicate speech. This is pretty much a standard convention (and has been) for over a hundred-plus years of English-language publishing -- unless it's to help second-language fanfiction readers, but even then, wouldn't they have already been exposed to the conventions, in the course of their studies? Etc.

I've seen such treatments in fiction works (although never an explanation at the story's start). Things like telepathic speech getting tildes or carrots or some other rare-keyboard-symbol, but that's really something I've only seen in SFF stories. Most of the time, it's italics that do the work, and the work is going to be one, or more, or all four, of the following types:

Here we have italics to emphasize the point.
I use italics because it's my inner thoughts, she thought.
She'd borrowed Once Upon a Time from the library.
And italics are also for non-English terms like sari and kimono and gele.

Which is how you could possibly end up with a paragraph like this:
I'm not sure I trust that man, she thought darkly, checking the look of her gele in the mirror before tying off her ipele just like instructed in her grandmother's copy of How A Proper Lady Dresses. After all, if the butler hadn't done it, then who had?

I hate reading text like that, because I have to pause long enough to figure out the purpose behind each italicizing. Are the italics meant to indicate (silent) tone (of speech), or are they meant to highlight that it's a word that I should register as "foreign", or are they meant to act as a visual version of yelling or emphasis or just really strong insistence? (At least a book title is usually pretty obvious from context, though I'm not the only one who now bolds titles rather than italicizes, as a different manner of emphasis.)

[Note: these are decided by a house style, I'm told. If you're thinking of fussing, or expecting me to, the author may not deserve all the blame.]

In deep third-person POV, or first-person POV, interior thoughts are usually regular (non-italic) font, because the bulk of the narration (if not all) is the same as any interior thoughts. Either you italicize almost every line of narration, or you let the two become one and skip the fussy italics. That said, I've always felt somewhat stifled when I've been in a formatting (or loss-of-formatting) situation where I couldn't italicize at all. What other simple, non-intrusive, non-add-more-words method is there when a word or phrase needs extra-attention called to it, or when you want to show a character yelling but don't want to use all-caps?

Back to the list of possible uses. The first -- interior dialogue -- is saying, "this is not the same as the narration" (as in distant third-person voices, or omniscient). The third -- book/story titles -- is saying, "this is the Title Of Something" and should be taken as a discreet unit. The fourth -- emphasis -- is saying, "this word or phrase is more strident/emphatic than the text before and after." All are saying: give this part special attention.

Now, look at the second option: foreign words. We are trained to see patterns and expect consistency as humans reading text, ie, expecting words to be spelled the same way, for punctuation to mean the same thing every time, no surprise we'd expect special treatment like italics or bold to also have a consistent reason or meaning. If the connection between the first, third, and fourth is: "this part should stand out", then the pattern of italicizing non-English words is carrying the same message.

Notice this. It's not in English. It's foreign.

It's exotic.

Water Touching Stone, like its predecessor in its series, italicizes all four -- and it does have a boatload of foreign terms, enough to rate three pages' worth of glossary, and references a few books as well. Companion to Wolves uses only the last type (emphasis) as a reason for italics; then again, if you italicized every Norse or Norse-derived term on any given page, you'd be reading italics at least once every paragraph -- and some paragraphs would have every noun italicized. That's a bit much. The publishers would be over their italics-quota inside of the first chapter.

And then there's The Hero's Walk, which uses italics... uhm, almost never. Actually, the book has so few italics that when they are used -- when the protagonist finally loses his temper with his younger son; when the protagonist's sister finally loses her temper with their elderly mother -- that it's almost a shock.

Ah, found a passage with plenty of unfamiliar (to me) words. Not a lot, but what's there... well, read for yourself.
Now that the festival season had started, the temple was crowded with evening worshippers. Women swept by richly dressed in heavy silk saris, smelling of sandalwood, jasmine and incense. They, like Nirmala, carried platters of fruits and flowers. The men looked plain in comparison, as most of them wore white lungis wrapped around their waists and starched white cotton kurtas. There were rows of vendors outside the temple gates, shouting out their wares. More flowers, coconuts, fruit, betel leaves, piles of kum-kum powder in shades of crimson and pink, like mountains in a child's dream—every possible thing that one might need to placate, honour or flatter the gods inside that great stone building with its soaring pillars and dark womb where the chief deity resided in tranquil silence.


Krishnamurthy Acharye, the old priest who had presided over the ceremonies when Maya was born, during the annaprashna when she had her first mouthful of solid food, on her first birthday, and who had blessed her before she left Toturpuram, was waiting for them. He recited prayers for her soul and Alan's, the latter in spite of Ammayya's objections.

"You and I are old enough to know better than to make a fuss over all this nonsense, Janaki Amma," he had wheezed. The priest was one of the few people who had known Ammayya long enough to address her by her first name. "Our gods won't mind if we say a prayer for someone of another faith. I know, I have been talking to them for eighty-five years."

"But he doesn't have a gothra-nakshatra, nothing," quibbled Ammayya. "What was his family name? What stars was he born under?"

"We shall do it in God's name, that will be enough," said the priest. Ammayya had to content herself with eyeing the silver utensils that Nirmala had polished and brought along with the coconut, the flowers, the coins and the pieces of cloth that would be distributed to the poor after the rituals were observed.

Nothing's italicized, here or in the original, although my spell-checker certainly picks them out: lungis, kurtas, kum-kum, annaprashna, gothra-nakshatra... Entire passages can go by with nothing but English, but when the best word is one that's not in English, the author uses that best-word, and you gather it purely by context. And it works.

More importantly, the lack of italicizing says to the reader: these words, and the world they represent and are part of, are not something that require extra-special attention. They're not exotic. They're the proper words to use, so the author used them, but they don't need to be highlighted or bolded or get elevated attention to make sure you don't miss that they're something unusual, or out of the ordinary. Because, in the story, these words are not out-of-the-ordinary. They're not exotic. They just are.

Companion to Wolves is a reverse case of this, like I mentioned above, in that it also attempts to treat its non-English terms as just ordinary (for the story/characters) everyday words. The first problem is that English, itself, is dominated by its Teutonic/Norse roots. There are a large number of Norse terms that, when anglicized, are almost identical in spelling to existing English words -- but radically different in meaning. Do I read "threat" as the English -- statement of an intention to inflict pain, injury, damage, or other hostile action on someone or do I read it as "threat" in the Old English sense (per the book's intentions)? The 'th' would've been written as þ and the meaning was more varied: þréat -- crowd, host, troop, band, body of people, swarm, press, throng; violence, compulsion, force, oppression, punishment, ill-treatment, coercion, calamity.

Which means you end up with passages like the following, since "threat" is going to be ingrained in any English's speaker's mind as having the first-listed (modern) meaning. Only with some effort would we gather (solely from context) the second meaning. [Truncated to remove spoilers.]
That summer, as last, the threat of the trolls continued long past the spring equinox. Grimolfr's wolfheall was fortunate to lose only two wolves and a man; east of them, Thorsbaer lost an entire long patrol. Isolfr and Viradechtis were among the wolves and men sent to assist in hunting down the trellthreat responsible. The Thorsbaer wolfsprechend did not join the patrol, as his bitch was on the edge of season... The Thorsbaer werthreat eyed him and Viradechtis thoughtfully... Everyone knew a new konigenwolf meant a new wolfheall, and Eyjolfr was not the only wolfcarl who could plan ahead.

Vigdis' season came while Isolfr and Viradechtis were on patrol. By the time frost fell, man and wolf were as blooded as any of the Wolfmaegth...

So, sometimes it's "troll" and sometimes it's "trell". Threat is used, here and there, in its modern sense, but most often as the second half of a combo-word where it has its Old English meaning. "Haell" is used repeatedly and consistently, instead of the modern spelling, "hall," even though they fundamentally mean the same thing in context. And "konigenwolf" is only implied for most of the story (and then translated very near the end) as "queen-wolf"; the Old English would have been 'cyninge', but I can see making the 'c' into a 'k' to make clearer the correct pronunciation. Wolfcarl is really simply "wolf man", though I can see avoiding that because it has silly connotations for English readers. And I only got as much as I did because I've spent several years happily buried in Norse and Old English dictionaries in the pursuit of my own writing. I'm still fuzzy on some of the others.

Really, the entire book reads like it's fangirl Norselish. It needed someone with a firm hand to reel some of it back in; when the vast majority of the names are similar in suffix (-ulfr and -olfr being spelling-variants on 'wolf'), you need to draw the line somewhere. Havemercy may have been too clever by half, and too enamoured of its own cleverness, but Companion to Wolves was too freaking enamoured of its Old-to-Modern English dictionary. Its terminology -- even without the italicization -- gets in the way of making sense. Some stories, sure, slow down and enjoy the language, but there's a difference between enjoying gorgeously-written passages and just plain trying to understand what the passage is saying.

I mean, don't we warn new writers away from over-reliance on their thesauruses? Perhaps we should also start warning them away from over-reliance on their foreign terminology search results. Yes, it's commendable to treat foreign/unusual words as 'everyday', if such are everyday for the story or world or characters. But please, remember the readers: if an English word could suffice, we've got a million of them. Seems to me that perhaps the best approach is to remove all those non-English words, and then -- where a precise term is required and no English can satisfy as succinctly -- then use the non-English term.

Without italics.
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kaigou: this is what I do, darling (Default)
锴 angry fishtrap 狗

to remember

"When you make the finding yourself— even if you're the last person on Earth to see the light— you'll never forget it." —Carl Sagan

October 2016

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