Category: Stuff

Review: The Black Tides of Heaven (Novella) J.Y.Yang

My Hugo reading has been somewhat disrupted by a brief overseas trip and a short shift of location. JY Yang’s novella unfortunately got particularly disrupted by that. I had started reading it, got distracted (it didn’t really grab me initially) and I returned to it a couple of weeks later feeling guilty.

The novella had got a lot better in the intervening time, a stories somehow manage to do even though they are just sitting there waiting for their reader to pick them up again. There is no easy way to distinguish “this book isn’t engaging me” from “I’m distracted”, so either the second half of the novella is better than the first or I became sufficiently focused to appreciate it. But every review can’t be a review of the reader, although in truth every review is of an event that exists between the story and the reader.

The Protector of the Kingdom is a powerful despot of a kingdom – a fantasy land with a Chinese aspect, as well as influences from South Asian and Middle-Eastern mythology. To her surprise the Protector gives birth to twins, causing a minor change in her many and complex plans. Cynical and manipulative, the twins are just chess pieces in the Protector’s many machinations but the story follows them as two people as they grow from infants to adults.

The scope of the novella is huge, and it covers a lot of ground in a short time. We learn about the magic system, aspects of the religious orders, ethnic minority groups, internal conflicts, fantastic beasts, and a broad picture of richly imagined fantasy world. It is probably too much for a novella that also has to encompass the childhood, adolescence and early adulthood of two central characters. Even so, that the novella doesn’t collapse under its own weight is a testament to the efficiency with which all this background is introduced.

As I said above, I found the second half easier to engage with than the first. It focuses more on Akeha, the surpising “spare” half of the twins, who in post-adolesence decides to be confirmed as a male (gender is assigned post-childhood in this world). Fate, prophercy, control and inevitability (whether magical or political) play out as important themes but, again, I think their impact as ideas get lost amid the scale of the story.

The Black Tides of Heaven is the first in a sequence of novellas set in the same world. I haven’t read the sequel The Red Threads of Fortune, which apparently follows the other twin Mokoya after the events of this story. I feel though I would have enjoyed this as a longer novel with a less fragmented sense of time. There were parts were I would have been happier to linger longer with the characters as they were.

Interesting in scope, and definitely Hugo worthy, it felt to me as edited highlights of a deeper story that I’d like to immerse myself in. I’ll definitely read the sequel.


Welcome to the Thunderdome of Ideas!

Listen all! This is the truth of it. Fighting leads to killing, and killing gets to warring. And that was damn near the death of us all. Look at us now! Busted up, and everyone talking about the end! But we’ve learned, by the dust of them all… the internet learned. Now, when ideas get to fighting, it happens here! And it finishes here! Two ideas enter; one idea leaves!

And we have a great fight tonight! Over in the left corner we have your old favourite, you know it, you love it, you depend on it to keep your granny alive, it’s the one, the only, UNIVERSAL HEALTH CARE! [crowd roars]. And tonight’s desperate contender on the right, in the never-ending war of ideas is TURDS ON TOAST!

[Mayhem ensues but after a long and sticky battle Universal Health Care defeats the concept of serving turds on toast.]

And wasn’t that an epic battle boys and girls! Good news everybody, turds on toast has been forever defeated in the Thunderdome of Ideas! Farewell, bon-voyage, adieu! By the laws of the Thunderdome, it may never compete again!

[Crowd goes wild with relief.]

Time for the next bout! Once again, in the left corner we have your old favourite, you know it, you love it, you depend on it to keep your children from an untimely death, it’s the one, the only, UNIVERSAL HEALTH CARE! [crowd roars again] And out next contender from the right is SHIT ON SLIGHTLY BURNT BREAD! Let battle commence!

[Mayhem ensues but after a second slightly longer and stickier battle Universal Health Care defeats the concept of serving shit on slightly burnt bread.]

Well boys and girls, mounseers and madames, was that not an epic battle to warm the cockles of your heart! Once again, Universal Health Care emerges victorious in the battle of ideas. Bloodied but unbowed! By the laws of the Thunderdome serving shit on slightly burnt bread may never compete again!

[Crowd goes wild with relief.]

Time for the next bout! Third times the charm, in the left corner we have your reigning champeen, you know it, you love it, you depend on it to keep your partner from cancer, it’s the one, the only, UNIVERSAL HEALTH CARE! [crowd roars again] And out next contender from the right is POO IN A PANINI! Let battle commence!

[Mayhem ensues but after an even longer and stickier battle Universal Health Care defeats the concept of serving poo in a panini. A visibly exhausted Universal Health Care treads wearily out of the dome.]

Now was that not an epic conflict! Is it just me or are the challengers getting stronger? Yet once more, Universal Health Care emerges victorious in the battle of ideas. Tired, scarred but what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger! By the laws of the Thunderdome let us never again contemplate putting poo in a panini! That whole idea is GONE, it is DONE, it is NO MORE!

[Crowd cheers but with less gusto than before.]

Final bout for the evening! This fight decides everything! Can anyone defeat our mightiest hero! You know it, you love it, you depend on it to keep your chronic illness manageable, it’s the one, the only, UNIVERSAL HEALTH CARE! [crowd cheers aprehensively] And out next contender from the right is JUST PLAIN FAECES! Let battle commence!

[Mayhem once again ensuesbut Universal Health Care is exhausted from fighting and Just Plain Faeces lands a fatal blow to its funding. Universal Health Care goes down and is dragged out of the dome. The crowd groans in disappointment.]

And aren’t we all sad to see Universal Health Care beaten like that? Commiserations boys and girls but the Thunderdome of Ideas doesn’t lie! Our champion for tonight is JUST PLAIN FAECES! Without wholesome bread to hold it back the shit really managed to hit the fan! It’s tough but fair! It’s just human waste served up as food! It is literally shit! Tonight’s winner JUST PLAIN FAECES!

Notable Cats in History

OttoVonTalkcatCato Von Sprechendekatze (1840-1867) the self-styled Vice-Chancellor of Schwarzburg-Sondershausen. Despite the Germanic styling, Cato was an English cat of French descent. He became obsessed with Otto Von Bismarck and set out to style himself and his career on the famous Prussian “Iron Chancellor”. In 1867 he declared that he would “do for Schwarzburg-Sondershausen, what my beloved Otto has done for Prussia!”. Sadly Cato had a panic attack as he boarded the Channel Ferry at Dover, fell overboard and was eaten by a band of rabid sea-otters (a common occurrence in the 1860s).

Famed for his poor grasp of European geography, Cato was remembered in death by a small statue in Dover harbour which was sadly demolished in 1883 by the good townsfolk of Dover in a bid to appease the “angry volcano gods” in the wake of the eruption of Krakatoa.

SebastianTheGiant Sebastian “The Giant” Fitz-Parlerchat (1869-1930) scion of the Anglo-Irish Fitz-Parlerchats, Sebastian eschewed the aristocratic life and sought his fortune in the circus. Due to his large size and blonde hair, he performed as the “Sebastian the Toffee-Nosed Lion” both in the big top and in music-halls.

Here he is seen in later life visiting Egypt with two members of the Bortsworth Explorer Club. Sadly Sebastian had to wear a lead to ensure he wasn’t accidentally shot as a lion.

Sebastian died in 1930 after a heavy night of absinthe and laudanum. He can still be seen in the orgy scene D.W. Griffith’s 1916 film “Intolerance” waving a cigarillo.

Jor-Dan, King of the Lobester Men – Chapter 2

Good morning dear readers. It is I, your humble cat of letters, Timothy. When last we spoke I was recounting my fraught conversation with the librarian at Bortsworth Library. I say “librarian” but he was wearing a US Marine general’s uniform and carrying a fire-axe, neither of which compy with the Bortsworth City Council’s dress code for employees which specifically forbids dressing in the military uniform of foreign countries – I should know, it was because of my brief stint as a park ranger where I appointed my self Generalissmo Tim and adopted the 1979 sartorial style of Flight Lieutenant Jerry Rawlings, former President of Ghana in a bid to wrest control of Bortsworth Village Green from the rampant chaos and corruption of an entrenched cadre of squirrels, that the council had passed that specific clause in the dress code. My actions in the park did not proceed as well as Flight Lieutenant Jerry Rawlings’s coup but like Rawlings, I eventually stepped aside and let democratic control of the park become the norm, in a display of magnanimity that I do not believe was fully appreciated by the Human Resources department of the Council. I pointed out to them quite sternly at the time, that as a cat their remit clearly did not apply to me but with that, they threatened to refer my case to animal control and let me tell you “due process” is a not term those guys understand.

Where was I?

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The Grinch that Stole Football

I don’t like mean spirited posts but I have mean spirited side. I was glad (and remain glad) when Margaret Thatcher died and I’m happy when England gets knocked out of the World Cup.

In the first case, I’d rather not be happy that somebody is dead as a general principle. The second case is more complex. The national excitement and happiness when England is doing well internationally in football is infectious and it can create an apparently positive coming together of people across the nation (in so far as England is a nation). But I watch Grinch like from a distance at the happiness, knowing that it is not just short-lived but it is a borrowed euphoria as if drug induced. The crash that follows is deep and miserable.

I hate football.

Now, you might have already observed that I’m not much enamoured of any sport, whether of a participatory nature or a spectatory one. Certainly, my general disinterest in sport is part of my mean-spiritedness towards all things soccer*. Certainly sport was a hated aspect of school and childhood but it wasn’t the playing of football that was the issue there (we mainly played Rugby League – or bad approximation of it – in PE) nor the way sport took over the TV (cricket was a bigger intrusion – consuming TV time during summer). However, the issue I have did start in childhood.

What I hate about football in England is the mandatory nature of it. That began in childhood where everyone in the playground was expected to have some sort of affiliation with a football team. Liverpool, Everton, Manchester City or Manchester United. Different sets of allegiances to different reds or blues. I picked, essentially at random, Liverpool.

Football then was very rife with violent fan culture, a fact that alienated many people from the sport. It was (and remains) a fandom (so to speak) where the far-right recruited and around which factional loyalties were expected. However, over the years, the sport managed to rehabilitate its image, brining in more middle-class fans and broadening the fan base beyond male fans. By the 1990s, more women followed football in the UK and there was a renewed and wider interest.

That broadening only made things worse for me. Football was everywhere (or so it seemed) and conversation would turn more frequently to football and basic social glue required knowing who David Beckham was and what was happening in the Premier League and so on and so on.

Weirdly, this is less of an issue in Australia, a nation far more sports obsessed and far more caught up in confusing sporting achievement with patriotism. The difference antipodally is no one sport is king. In England, football has a special place and it is why I think I have a deeper and better reason to hate football.

As far as England or the wider UK competing for things, I’m normally happy when it wins. Eurovision Song Contest? I think the country is poorly treated by the votes. England wins the Ashes? Good for them (although I may say that quietly around Australians). Rugby Union? Hoorah, well done and all the rest. But football and the World Cup in particular? No, England as a nation, has a problem.

The problem is not just that it England’s fortune in the World Cup are too tied to perceived national pride but also a deep seated belief that the game itself *belongs* to England. It’s riven through the talk of English football on a world stage – almost absurdly as cricket and Rugby are in many ways more closely tied to Englishness – the Anglosphere countries are not great soccer nations *aside* from England. English colonialism spread cricket more than it spread football.

But somehow English patriotism and football have become entwined in a particular way and it is an association that seems incapable of escaping the nastier side of English patriotism. Amid the happiness at doing well is that notion that England is not just trying to win something but trying to win BACK something. That idea always carries with it a sense that the something was unjustly taken (because if it is ours and somebody else has it then it must have been stolen). If it was unjustly taken then it must have been because of a national failure of will or spirit or something, as well as the nefarious actions of the foreigners.

England as a nation still doesn’t know how to just be.

I get why many on the left love football. I get the urge to take back the culture of the sport from the right. I get its deep roots as an expression of English working class city culture (although, the smaller industrial towns of the North where historically more enclaves of Rugby League than football, hence the transported obsession with Rugby League in New South Wales also). Yet, the emotional highs and lows of English football on the world stage are never healthy, precisely because it can’t escape the problem that England doesn’t have a way to be positive in its nationalism.

So, I’m sad that people are sad but in the end that happiness that was lost will serve Croatia better than it will England.

I’ll continue to scowl from my mountain top.

*[“Soccer” is a perfectly reasonable thing to call the sport and don’t let English people tell you otherwise. It is itself an Englishism to distinguish association football from other codes of football such as the various Rugbies.]

Cattimothy House Presents…Jor-Dan, King of the Lobster Men

Timothy the Talking Cat’s Thrilling Undersea Adventure!

jordanofthelobsterpeopleRumours tell a tale of hearsay and word of mouth and of misbegotten words of unclear provenance. Tall tales of stories part-forgotten and half-remembered. Aye, aye and shiver my timbers, it is I, Timothy the Talking Cat, bringing you a story of deep-sea adventure!

Who can say what lurks in the hidden depths of the ocean? Not I! I can’t swim. But I assume there are lots of fish and what cat can resist the idea of an endless supply of fishy treats. To satisfy my proverbially fatal curiosity, some months ago I set off on a quest to learn more of what was under the ocean depths.


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