blackleg: in labor, a scab; in cards, a cheat; in zoology and botany, a bacterial or fungal disease fettle: condition; or, to finish a cast piece or repair a furnace by removing extra material espalier: a shrub or tree grown flat against a wall, or the framework used to do so caducity: the quality of frailness or elderliness, or being transitory or perishable poll evil: a condition among horses in which the back of the head swells revetment: angled fortification to absorb the force from a body of water marcescent: withering but not yet dropping (e.g. leaves in early fall) withes: supple twigs or rope made from such; also spelled withies electrolier: a chandelier with electric lights rather than candles dottle: the plug of ash and tobacco left in a pipe after smoking hod-me-dod: a snail, or a girl’s curls. In Norfolk, a hedgehog. carlin: in Scotland, an old woman; also, a pug cairngorm: a smoky yellow or dark quartz enfeoff: to grant someone a feudal estate fulgurant: like lightning, flashy or dazzling writhen: twisted, wound, or cortorted swot: scholar or studious person yegg: a burglar or safecracker
The Gygerkarte, or Gyger Map (and detail), made in 1667 by Hans Conrad Gyger and one of the first ever to represent a landscape in this intricate and accurate fashion.
I’ve found that when it comes to science fiction, I have a soft spot for time travel. Although the concept is, of course, fundamentally hokey, I enjoy a clever take on it that subverts your expectations about what the causes or consequences of it could be. These three novels, all released in the last two years, achieve that with varying levels of success — but still have tying up every loose end, which really is the duty undertaken by a novelist undertaking an intricately plotted mind-bender.
I read them in the order listed, and of the three, I think The Gone World is the best of them, with Recursion a close second, and The Light Brigade trailer rather far behind them. I’ll try to avoid major spoilers, but part of the trouble of each is its ending, so I must speak in general terms about that.
Goldmund’s melancholy, barely-there compositions make excellent background music, but occasionally one emerges with a clarity of theme that demands attention. This one reminds me of Hauschka’s “Paige and Jane.” (bandcamp)
talapoins: small African monkey with olive fur and webbed hands; or in Thailand, a monk santon: a certain type of Muslim monk or hermit, sometimes regarded as akin to a saint calcine: to heat a metal and achieve reduction or drying, often leaving a residue, calx wenny neck: having or resembling a fatty cyst (wen); or, an overcrowded large city antimacassar: protective covering for the top or back of upholstered furniture parterre: patterned flower garden; or rear, ground-level seats in a theater brickbat: piece of brick used as a weapon; or, a blunt criticism or remark macadamize: to pave using broken stone (macadam) and asphalt or tar palempore: Indian bed covering or cloth, often with a flower pattern aigrets: ornament made of or resembling a plume (i.e. of an egret) tamarisk: shrub with small leaves and light pink flowers serail: women’s living quarters in old Islamic society tecthtrevan: mobile throne reserved for royalty rede: advice or interpretation (or to provide it) apricate: to sunbathe or expose to sunlight giaour: derogatory term for a non-Muslim mulct: to obtain by fraud; or, a small fine sea fencibles: defensive naval units tarradiddle: a trivial falsehood dwimmer: illusion or magic
The Night Land is an astonishingly original, imaginative, and bizarre piece of fiction — one of the most memorable books I’ve ever read. And yet, so powerful are its idiosyncrasies that I would hesitate to recommend it to anyone.
Hodgson was among the progenitors of what was called for some time “Weird fiction,” an ur-genre which translated to modern parlance comprises horror, science fiction, fantasy, and others not common at the time, though with serious literary pretensions, to differentiate it from the lurid and numerous stories and novellas appearing in pulp magazines.
He is best known today for a few of his stories of nautical horror (“The Voice in the Dark” and “The Derelict” for instance) and the genre-flouting The House on the Borderlands, whose divagations in deep time and space place it in a lonely hinterland halfway between supernatural horror and a long-form narrative of a DMT episode.
The Night Lands inhabits a similarly unusual conceptual Venn diagram: A three-way combination of historical epic, hard sci-fi, and travel diary. The final product is more than the sum of its parts, and deserves to be numbered among the founding documents of science fiction — yet Hodgson’s styling and narrative choices are so frustrating that I sometimes wished I could imitate the protagonist and project my own soul forward in time so as to escape his unceasing exposition.
The book begins with a framing story of the protagonist, who remains nameless throughout the hundreds of pages. He is a strong young man of the 17th century who falls in love with a woman who, he finds, experiences eerily similar dreams of a strange world where it is always night. Soon the narrator finds himself in that world, laboriously explaining the apparent coexistence of his soul and mind in both worlds with the passion of one describing a religious experience.
I now rambled about in great uneasiness from the coffee-house to the promenade, from thence to the museum, from the museum to the tavern, from the tavern to the exhibition of wild beasts, and at last to the playhouse, but I could nowhere find tranquillity.
Lawrence Flammenberg, The Necromancer; or, The Tale of the Black Forest
Angel Olsen – “Lark” All Mirrors
One of the best album openers I’ve heard in some time, “Lark” puts Olsen’s almost Parton-esque crooning in juxtaposition with orchestral strains, backed by pulse-like percussion that promises a heart attack and delivers one about a minute in. (artist website)
A soothing demonstration of fluid dynamics from Cambridge (link)
aludel: bulbous glass vessel open at both ends used to collect condensates roundelay: poem with a regularly repeated phrase; also, a circular dance athanor: steady-temperature heating element for chemistry or alchemy fazart: hermaphroditic fowl; also, a weakling or coward (also faisard) meacock: a meek, effeminate, or henpecked man (meek + peacock) smaragd: emerald (from lat. smaragdus, to flash or shoot lightning) brail: small ropes used to haul in a sail, or a small net for fishing byrny: chain mail shirt covering the upper arms to below waist misprision: failure of office, especially in preventing treason cymophane: a translucent yellow gem in the beryl family thripping: snapping one’s fingers (onomatopoeic) gramercy: exclamation of thanks or emotion haskardly: coarse, unpolished, or vulgar carcanet: decorative women’s circlet stour: turmoil, conflict, or dust cloud matrass: long-necked glass flask greengage: a type of green plum mediamnis: canal or dyke (lat.) supervivid: surviving (arch.) footling: trifling or silly sithence: since (arch.) colubrine: snakelike cupshotten: drunk
cotter: part used to fix two other parts together or otherwise prevent their motion sprue: channel in a mold through which molten metal flows; or, a tropical disease wickiup: a simple (often Native American) hut or shelter made of mats or brush skiffle: jazz or rock-derived music using improvised instruments; or, a light rain replevin: recovery of goods unlawfully taken (security deposit often required) malversation: improper professional behavior, esp. in public office manciple: steward of provisions for a monastery, college, or court sizar: a student at Cambridge or Trinity receiving an allowance spancel: the act of or knotted rope used in hobbling an animal yamen: in imperial China, the office or residence of an official fard: facial cosmetics, esp. white, or the act of applying them pulque: lightly alcoholic fermented drink made from agave pampooties: rawhide slippers worn in the Aran islands scrog: short or naturally stunted trees or undergrowth thrapple: the windpipe, or to throttle (it, presumably) catty: a Chinese weight measure of about 680g/1.5lb archimandrite: head of one or several monasteries corposant: St. Elmo’s Fire (lit. ‘holy body’) diffide: to distrust or act distrustfully picul: 100 catties
There is little else to do but write this clear explanation of everything that has happened to me since the misfortune of birth. He that has fared better, and without deceiving himself, let him utter his jackass cry.
Robert Aickman, The Fetch
Anenon – “Mansana” Tongue
A lonely, quietly wild wind solo metamorphosizes into something more layered and yet also more delicate. When I’m not paying attention and this track comes on, it always arrests my attention halfway through and I can never remember how the transformation took place, or when. (bandcamp)
quiddity: the essence of or a distinctive feature of something, or a trifling legal issue emprise: an endeavor or exploit, or the qualities that drive one to them squail: to throw something awkwardly, esp. weighted sticks at animals malanders: blisters or crusty eruptions on a horse’s neck or knee madstone: a stone believed to have antivenomous properties quintain: a target set up for knights to tilt at, or the sport itself keelpin: a small peg on cargo that locks it in place in the hold gastine: a wasteland or desert, or the pillaging of something erysipelas: a skin infection also known as “St Anthony’s fire” pritchel: a punch or shaping tool used in metalworking plethoric: overabundant, in blood or just in general turves: plural of turf; units or blocks of peat glede: archaic name for the red kite, a bird opiparous: sumptuous or luxurious snite: to blow or wipe one’s nose eyot: an island, variant of ait colophony: rosin or resin weel: a deep pool ratchel: gravel
For art is like a living organism — better dead than dying.