Wednesday, August 31, 2022

BISQC, day 3

What? What happened to days 1 and 2? Well, I wasn't there. I'm not there now, either.

In another timeline, I'd be spending this week in Banff, Alberta, at the triennial Banff International String Quartet Competition, as I did in 2016 and 2019, having a wonderful time on both occasions. But a combination of issues, mostly covid, led me to decide to bow out, which means I'm at home and can attend Oxonmoot online as well as experience the blinding heat wave we're expecting this weekend.

And I can watch and listen to the BISQC concerts live online, and they also have the concerts that are over with stacked up for listening, though I haven't gotten to those yet and am unlikely to.

My attempts to watch days 1-2, in which each of the 9 participating groups (a tenth had to drop out due to an injury) played one Haydn quartet and one written since 2000, were sporadic. Such Haydn as I heard seemed rather 19th-century in style, and the new works varied between the painfully dull and the provocatively interesting. But I'm not even entirely sure what I was listening to, because I thought maybe the title cards on the videos got mixed up.

Today, 6 of the groups - the rest, Thursday morning - played in two concerts, each offering one quartet from the romantic/nationalist repertoire, approximately 1825-1920. Two of the groups played Mendelssohn's Op. 13, my favorite quartet that meets that description. Both performances were excellent, and I find the difficulty of making fine judgments when you're not there in person stymies me in ranking them. Maybe the Karski Quartet breathed a little more broadly and connected episodes a little more firmly than the Abeo Quartet, but they were both sizzling and dynamic. The fact that I just heard the Abeo in person play this work twice at the Menlo Festival a month ago didn't stop me in the slightest.

A group whose name is the Opus 13 Quartet did not play Op. 13. Instead, they gave Brahms's Op. 51 No. 1 a livelier, bouncier reading than the Balourdet Quartet did with Op. 51 No. 2. The Animato Kwartet (that's how they spell it) seemed to be enjoying Schumann's Op. 41 No. 1 immensely, while the Terra Quartet gave the most amazingly crisp reading of the scherzo of the Debussy Quartet. It sounded more as if it were by Ravel than by Debussy.

BISQC continues through Sunday. So does Oxonmoot, which starts tomorrow. Then there's the Watership Down half-centenary conference, which is also this weekend and which I've also signed up for. How much of any of these I'll get to - how much I'll be awake for - is a doubtful question, especially as much of Oxonmoot is in the middle of the night in this time zone, but then that's often when I'm awake. So we'll see.

Sunday, August 28, 2022

a taste of the past

Much of the ice cream sold in the grocers I tend to avoid, but of those available in pints (a necessary qualification: I don't want a larger container), besides the ubiquitous Ben & Jerry's, there's a few I particularly like. One of these is McConnell's, which despite its unfortunate name is a very good ice cream. Because I can only find it in a few of the stores I frequent, and because it's of fairly local origin (Santa Barbara), I assumed it wasn't widely available, but according to their website they're found across the US, just spottily.

Usually I get their mint chip or coffee flavor, but I'm here to report to anyone who cares that McConnell's "Chocolate chocolate chocolate" flavor, which is a strong chocolate ice cream with equally strong chocolate frosting and chocolate chips mixed in, is the only taste I've found which can stand comparison with the late Jane Hawkins's classic chocolate decadence. If you miss that, you might like this.

Saturday, August 27, 2022

the number

An article in The New Yorker said that Queen Elizabeth II has had ten prime ministers. "That must be wrong: it's got to be more than that," I thought, having not noticed that the article was a 20-year-old reprint. Once the glacial - that's no longer a very good metaphor, is it? - process of choosing Boris's replacement is finished, that person will be no. 15.

QE2 has been monarch for over 70 years now. Victoria had 63 1/2 years, with ten p.m.s, but much of her reign was occupied with Gladstone alternating with Disraeli and then Salisbury; there were 20 administrations in total. Hanging around waiting for another term is quite obsolete these days: QE2 has had only one recidivist (two if you count Churchill, whose first term was before her time), and that was nearly half a century past.

The other long-reigning monarch of the modern era was George III with over 59 years, including the Regency. He had 14 p.m.s of whom 3 also had repeats. He also had two father-son pairs, of whom the fathers were brothers-in-law and the sons first cousins. British politics is still pretty closely-knit, but not quite that close.

Friday, August 26, 2022

t.p. verso

B. went to the children's bookstore today to get presents for our grand-nieces, aged 8 and 7, whom we'll be seeing soon. One's interested in horses, the other in sharks (ok, sharks), their parents tell us, so we got a book of fables involving horses and one loaded with facts about sharks.

I looked through these prior to their being wrapped up, so that I'd know what would be in the presents with my name on them, and as a library cataloger I noted that all the publication and copyright info which would normally be on the back of the title page (t.p. verso in book lingo) is now at the end of the book, a placement common in early publications and then called the colophon; I've no idea if it still is.

I've seen this pattern in children's books before, but not systematically. I suppose it's to keep kids from being frightened off by all the small print when they open the book up, and it reminds me that one of the purposes of giving physical books to small children is to teach them how a book is customarily put together: the title, the name of the author, the sequence of pages, and all.

This isn't necessarily easy. I was trying to catalog a children's book in Yiddish once, but I don't really know the language and I asked someone who did to transliterate the author's name. They came back with the information that the author's surname was Verlag, at which point I had to give up. Verlag is German for "publisher."

In other technical news, I've finally figured out what's causing my computer to slow down and become sluggish. It's nothing to do with CPU. It's the memory. Firefox, my principal browser, slowly creeps up in memory hoggage. When I turn it on, total memory usage on the computer is usually about 65%. When it gets above 85%, the functions start to slow. But I don't have to restart the computer. Close Firefox, wait for it to shut down entirely which takes several minutes, and then restart it: good as new, for a day or two.

Thursday, August 25, 2022

new car law

California is proposing a law that new gasoline-powered cars will cease to be sold in about 13 years. This is in the tradition of laws (state or federal) that mandated seat belts in new cars, or that required new cars to run on unleaded instead of leaded gas. The car manufacturers whined over those, but they got them done.

What will really enforce this law will be the gradual disappearance, in subsequent years, of gas stations. Once it becomes too difficult to fuel your car, you'll switch. This happened with leaded gas. For many years stations sold both leaded and unleaded, but gradually the leaded disappeared, and if you still had an old car you were out of luck.

We need two things to make an all-electric car environment work. One is fueling infrastructure. We're building that, rapidly. Good. The other is to get the price of electric cars down. Right now they cost about 4 or 5 times as much as a gas car. That's too great a difference. Tax credits will not help the people who need help the most. Technological advances that make them less expensive to build would be ideal. The substitute would be rebates, built into the purchase price so you don't have to fork over the money and apply for the rebate afterwards. In urban areas we're already developing a system where it's easy not to own a car and just rent one when you need it, and that's good, but that won't work elsewhere without a massive rebuilding of the entire environment.

But what I want to know is: what about hydrogen fuel-cell cars? I test-drove one of those, and if they're technically perfected, become available at a reasonable price, and acquire a reasonable fueling infrastructure, I'd much prefer one. They fuel with a physical substance, so it's easier to figure out how much range you have left than psyching out electric charge; and I believe they're less harmful to the environment, without those giant honking batteries and huge electric charges zapping around: hydrogen is very easy to get. And as for hydrogen being explosive, so is gasoline and we manage that.

Wednesday, August 24, 2022

Letters of C.S. Lewis

Whenever I need to consult the original 1966 edition of Letters of C.S. Lewis - usually to quote from W.H. Lewis's memoir of his brother which prefixes the letters - I look through the letters themselves and note the ones whose addressees are anonymized, usually as "A Lady." And then I remember the 3-volume supposedly complete Collected Letters, which eschews such coyness. This time, while I had the 1966 book out of the library, I decided to collate the anonymized letters against the Collected Letters - which I own; it'd hardly be possible to do my research without it - and find the answers.

So "A Lady" refers to various persons; before 1945 it's usually Mary Neylan; afterwards it's most often Mary Van Deusen, sometimes Genia Goelz; for a stretch in 1952-6 it's usually a Mrs Johnson of whom nothing else is known. "A Godchild" in 1949 is Sarah Neylan, who reappears as "A Child" in 1950; "A Child in America" in 1956-7 is Joan Lancaster. I should look some of these people up.

"A Friend, who was troubled about a younger woman's unsuitable devotion" in 1946 turns out to be Owen Barfield. That I really ought to search out in Barfield's biography.

I'm writing about this now because the 1966 book needs to go back to the library.

Most surprising, however, is the presence in this book of 5 letters which, as far as I can find, are not in the Collected Letters at all. Not all the letters are dated, and sometimes finding them in the Collected Letters requires recourse to that work's index, but it's a very complete index, so when I say that somehow these got missed, I can be pretty sure of it. A couple more letters aren't in their proper chronological place in the Collected Letters but were added to the appendix, which suggest that nobody consistently combed the 1966 book when compiling the Collected Letters.

One of the missing letters, of December 1962, has some interesting material on Lewis's intent while writing the Narnian books, and another, of April 1959, is the letter to Peter Bide (unnamed here) in response to Bide's request for prayers for his sick wife, a letter Lewis refers to having written in several other letters of the time, as I found while looking unsuccessfully for it in the Collected Letters.

Tuesday, August 23, 2022

The Sandman

So I finally watched The Sandman ... or part of it. I skipped the episodes covering Preludes and Nocturnes, because I found that book disturbing to read in a way the subsequent ones weren't. I started with the bonus episode, "Dream of a Thousand Cats/Calliope," then went back to "The Sound of Her Wings/Men of Good Fortune" and on to the four episodes that cover The Doll's House.

I guess I don't understand why people are so eager to see their favorite literature filmed. It can't possibly match the one in my head. No human actor could possibly speak in the dark tones I imagine for Morpheus, though Tom Sturridge at least gestures in the right direction. So all I can do is cherish the moments when the adaptation gets it better than I imagined. Such a moment came at the very end of "Dream of a Thousand Cats" which did in motion what the book could only do in words, and with a more subtle back-reference. "Calliope" was pretty well done, and Derek Jacobi bit off the nasty Erasmus Fry as he ought to have been bitten off. And Ric's descent into evil was admirably rewritten to be more subtle and less abrupt than in the book. But Calliope, unlike the picture in the book, didn't look remotely like someone who'd suffered what she'd suffered.

The "Sound of Her Wings" episode felt a little stiff and lifeless compared to the extraordinarily compelling book versions of those stories. Maybe they were trying to be too faithful in the adaptation.

Doll's House was better when it dared to be a little bit original, and worse when it tried too hard. It seems to me the adaptation made three basic changes in the story.
1. To eliminate the old DC character references. I can't say anything about that because I don't know anything about the old DC characters.
2. To cut down the role of coincidence in the story. Unfortunately that was done by increasing the sense of conspiracy. Thus, Jed doesn't hitch a ride with the Corinthian by coincidence: the Corinthian is already looking for him; thus, the conspiracy is after you. Even if Jed had gotten his note to the social worker out, it wouldn't have done any good, because the Corinthian immediately kills her. Way to go.
3. To give Rose more agency. This works well in some parts, such as her first confrontation with Morpheus: entirely original to the adaptation and brilliantly done. But it goes way overboard in the final episode, and it creates other problems as well. Thus, an enabled Rose can't be helpless in the face of the muggers but successfully defends herself to an extent improbable in someone with no training. And worse, it leaves Gilbert with nothing to do in his capacity as her champion and knight-errant. He feels superfluous, and his later reappearance becomes awkward and illogical. And Rose swiping name badges from the reg desk? That ought to have gotten her in deep trouble at any convention, however innocuous.

I liked some of the acting. Stephen Fry, as ever when it's not a Peter Jackson Hobbit movie, was almost ideal: though one was reference to Chesterton was perfect, two was too many. Vivienne Acheampong as Lucienne was excellent as was Mason Alexander Park as Desire - both caught the essence of their characters ideally. Kyo Ra as Rose carried a difficult part with complete adequacy. But the Corinthian wasn't quite creepy enough, and the guy playing Nimrod kept looking as if he was about to turn into Wallace Shawn, which was distracting.

Friday, August 19, 2022

and my street smells much of tar

Last week we got a notice, that the city would be laying a new surface of pavement down on our street. They said this was annual, but I think this was only the second time since we've lived here, and that's 15 years now.

Then the signboards went up on the sidewalks giving the date. No cars on the street. Not inherently a problem for us, because we don't live on the street but in a private cul-de-sac, but it did mean that if we left our cars at home we'd be stuck there all day. Well, most of the time that's what we do anyway, but just in case, I took my car out the previous afternoon and parked it on the next street over.

Turned out we didn't need the car, but at least the work got down, and the street reopened on time. So now it's inky-black in color and smells of tar, even from as far away as here.

Tuesday, August 16, 2022

historical movies

B. signed us up for Netflix so that we could watch The Sandman. She's watched most of The Sandman already; I haven't started yet, because I've spent all of what little time I have for that medium on two movies that were on my "watch these if I ever get Neflix or if they ever get off it" list. Time has been further extended by their being simultaneously interesting enough and wincingly bad enough that I keep turning them off and walking away, coming back and continuing a day or two later.

Both are of a genre of movie I have a weakness for: dramatizations of modern historical events. (I have my standards, though. For one thing I don't like anything in which the characters go around telling each other things they already know so that the audience can catch up, which is one of several reasons I stopped watching The Crown after half an episode.)

Operation Mincemeat. This one I know all about. I've read the books about it, including Montagu's; I've even seen the previous movie. That was partly why this movie wasn't saved by some good dramatizations of particular scenes and some excellent acting. (Colin Firth, now: he's made so many movies in which he plays a repressed man with a strong sense of duty that he's virtually typecast.) The imaginary subplots they added to the story, however, just ruined it. In real life the period after they sent Major Martin off to war consisted of a lot of suspenseful waiting with a slowly dunning sense that the plot worked, that they'd pulled it off. In the movie they run around in a panic over various glitches. It just gives a bad taste to the whole thing. And that's just one of the many, many awful things the adapters did to the story.

The Dig. This one I didn't know much about. I knew about the Sutton Hoo ship burial; I've seen both the treasure in the British Museum and the original site in Suffolk, on which sheep may now safely graze. But I didn't know whose land it had been, how the burial was discovered, or who dug it up. This movie was less inaccurate than the other, so I learned a lot, but it does tend to get fanciful in the same way as Op.M. towards the end. Acting was good: Ralph Fiennes should play more honest countrymen and fewer conniving ex-public school boys. Oh, and the official archaeologist who shows up halfway through? Notice the actor's unusually bulbous nose? So it shouldn't surprise you at all to learn that he played one of the dwarves in The Hobbit.

Thursday, August 11, 2022

it's my Guest of Honor speech

The videorecording of my Scholar Guest of Honor speech at Mythcon, which was in Albuquerque on Saturday, July 30, is now online at the Mythopoeic Society archives, thanks to Society media maven Tim Lenz and official archivist Phillip Fitzsimmons.

The audio is a little choppy - I think it was taken directly from the feed of the portable microphone I was wearing, which is also why you can't hear much of the audience response - but if you hit the download button next to the video, you can get what looks like a transcript but in fact is my actual reading copy of the speech, modified by the cuts and a few small changes I made on the fly while delivering it. (I also corrected one tiny factual error.)

The speech, which is an hour long, is titled "Notes of an Inklings Scholar" and consists of five mini-talks:

1. The Expansion and Contraction of Tolkien’s Imagination
2. A Hobbit in the Legendarium
3. Cursed fate that gave thee to the Moore
4. But did he ever read the book?
5. The Problem of Éowyn

An edited version, somewhat clarified and including full bibliographical references and some additional material in footnotes, is scheduled to be published in the next issue of Mythlore, the Society's journal. In the meantime, for those who weren't there, technology brings us this.

Wednesday, August 10, 2022

oo, Edmund Wilson

So I'm adding the bibliographic references to the part of my paper in which I attempt to explain how Edmund Wilson could get so many basic facts wrong in reviewing The Lord of the Rings when he claims to have just read the entire work aloud to his child.

That required getting out of the library a copy of the collection where he reprinted his infamous review, to check quotations and page numbers. Not too many local libraries still have this book.

But I also want his previous essay collection, the one where he's equally dismissive of mystery fiction and H.P. Lovecraft, because I cite those as further instances of Wilson being abruptly and willfully dismissive of literature not to his taste.

That book is in even fewer libraries, and I'd never gotten a chance to look through it thoroughly before, so I do this time, and I find an article on John Steinbeck from 1940. It's an interesting piece, bringing out aspects of Steinbeck's work I'd never seen discussed elsewhere, even though anybody could have cited Wilson.

But even though it's mostly favorable, it's still sloppy. See the astonishment of Wilson saying that Lenny from Of Mice and Men "has murderous animal instincts." Murderous? Has Wilson read the book? Lenny isn't murderous; that means intentional. He's a gentle giant who doesn't know his own strength. That's the whole thing that makes it a tragedy; if you don't get that, you've missed the whole story.

Then there's this at the beginning of the piece. Wilson is briefly summarizing a series of Steinbeck's books, and he gets to: "In Dubious Battle was a strike novel, centering around Communist organizers and ..."

Wait a minute. "Centering around"? Did the reputedly finest American critic of the 20th century just write centering around?

Who elected this guy to a position of prestige? Could we recount the votes?

Tuesday, August 9, 2022

concert review: Cabrillo Festival

My attendance at Menlo was cut off because my editor sent me over the hill to Santa Cruz for the Cabrillo Festival. Two concerts, Saturday and Sunday evening. When I started out on Saturday afternoon, the beach traffic on 17 was so heavy that I gave up and circled back to take the main back road, Hwy 9. It was long, time-consuming, and twisty, but I've taken it many times before so I knew what to expect, and it was not congested, which is the worst part.

(Additional secret of this route: I get off at Felton, because the lower reaches of 9 are narrow and clotted, and take Graham Hill Road instead, which climbs up the hill and then is a straight shot down onto Ocean Street with little congestion or cross-traffic.)

Cabrillo is a two-weekend program, and while the first weekend went fine, rising concerns about covid transmission caused them to decide to eliminate winds and brass, which can't be played masked, from the orchestra for the second weekend, the one I was covering. So: out with 3 of the 5 scheduled works, and in with 5 new ones instead. It's all covered in my review.

Saturday, August 6, 2022

Music@Menlo, week 3

Returned from Mythcon, I resumed attending events at the Music@Menlo festival, which is three weeks long and was still going on. After a week in the dry baked alien precincts of Albuquerque, and with little music in my life (the rental car, which had one of those "we know better than you do what you want to listen to" preset radio systems, was picky about whether it'd pick up the Santa Fe classical station or not), it was something of a cultural shock to come home and find things as they were.

I'd reviewed two concerts the first week and one the second, but the Menlo publicity people asked if I could do another. The only main concert occurring after I got back that fit my schedule was an austere little program featuring Mozart violin sonatas. Not my usual choice, but I got the Daily Journal to agree to take it, and what do you know, it was quite good.

I wrote this review from memory, with only the online copy of the festival program book for aid, because I'd misplaced my notes and the program book I went with. I found them just after I'd finished, but found it necessary to add only a few words, like "extraverted" (which I thought was spelled "extroverted," and the spellchecker on this program agrees with me, but I guess your editor knows best).

I also got to the big blowout Friday evening Prelude concert by the young professionals, who usually trade off assignments, but this time all 13 of them participated in one concert: three big works that, including intermission, took 2 1/2 hours. Dvorak's Op. 87 piano quartet, much less rattly than it usually comes out, set the evening's celebratory tone with its unaggressive cheerfulness. Shostakovich's String Quartet No. 3 and Brahms's Piano Quintet are darker works, but the players found the light in them. The iron rigidity that features in the Shostakovich is clearly not a native language for the Abeo Quartet, and they struggled a little with that aspect, but their work was emotionally strong. But no stronger than the Brahms which followed, which was just fabulous, especially the coda of the finale, which closed the evening (and, for me, the festival, since I am otherwise occupied during today's final events) with a perfect bang.

Friday, August 5, 2022

Mythcon, day 4

There were no papers scheduled for Monday. This is unusual for a Mythcon. All there was was a Tolkien trivia contest - some of the questions were a little too easy: What do hobbits call a ...? mathom - before the members' meeting. The Council of Stewards, our board of directors, is large enough now that merely introducing them took up most of the time, and much of the rest was devoted to a formal motion to allow the Council to get even larger. I was actually coaxed into voting in favor of this one, ironic as on a previous occasion when the Council was enlarged I was about the only person who opposed it.

However, we did have some time to discuss a major policy question, which is what to do about future Mythcons. Last year we held an online-only event, and this year's though in person allowed remote participation, if in a sketchy way - future years will be smoother. So should we change so that in-person Mythcons are only every other year instead of annually? Arguments in favor included:

1. We're mostly older and slower and not up to doing this that often. (Actually, judging by the number of younger faces on Council, I'm not sure that's so.)

2. Online meetings are almost as easy as in-person ones now. (They do allow you to get to things you otherwise couldn't attend. But otherwise I'm of mixed feelings about their easiness.)

3. The moral question of contributing to climate change by voluntary plane flights. (In my opinion, fighting climate change by cutting back plane flights from every year to every other year is like bailing out the Titanic with a teaspoon - it only wastes your time to worry about it and it insults the scale of the problem with its triviality. If we're not prepared to restructure civilization at the very least - and we're not - we should stop invoking moral imperatives.)

4. The potential difficulty of finding willing and able committees. (I raised that one.)

Nothing was decided - it was only a discussion session - but we also brought up another matter, membership opposition to holding Mythcons in states that prohibit abortion. (It's not just moral opposition. Those are dangerous places for women.) As a non-profit educational group, the Society can't take political positions, but if a significant portion of our membership says "we won't travel to that state," that's an economic argument.

The only nonstop flight home left at 1.15 pm, so we decided not to leave on Monday because it would interfere with attending any of the above, and scheduled ourselves for Tuesday. That left an afternoon free. I'd already gotten to Old Town for some shopping on Friday. Today I spent part of the afternoon at the Sandia Lab's new museum on the history of nukes. Extremely conventional in viewpoint, and with a woman stationed outside the men's room to prevent any adult men from going in while boys were in there: apparently fear of molestation has gotten that psychotic.

Flight home the next day was uneventful save for 1) the far greater intensity and intrusiveness of security at ABQ than at SFO; 2) the extreme shortage of wheelchair pushers when we arrived.

Thursday, August 4, 2022

Mythcon, day 3

Sunday was as busy as Saturday for me. I was on two panels, having suggested both topics - I'm not an old Mythcon programmer for nothing - and persuaded the committee to exploit its Guest of Honor. But first I had to drive B to a nearby church for mass; fortunately traffic is pretty light at 7 a.m. on a Sunday.

Busy but pleasant as the day was for me, it was pretty blustery for the committee, for this was the day that the rented golf cart died, probably from an overdose of shuttling large numbers of people back and forth between the hotel and the meeting space for 2 1/2 days; and it was also the day that one of our senior members, having undertaken the walk, fell down and was discovered lying there and bleeding along the way. Off to the E.R. she was taken, CT scan revealed nothing wrong, and she was OK by the end of the day (many sighs of relief), so why she fell remained a mystery.

Returning to programming, I hadn't realized when I walked into a paper in the first time slot that the presenter would be on a screen, and physically in England I think, while we auditors were in another box on the screen. We heard a discussion of aliens in Lewis's space trilogy which argued that Weston and Devine are the real aliens: can't argue with that.

Next was my first panel, on New Mexico (or "NM" as it's informally spelled locally) speculative fiction authors. I'd been thinking mostly of imported power hitters like Zelazny and Martin (and Walter Jon Williams, who actually showed up in the audience), but I heartily endorsed the pre-con discussion suggestion that we also cover native authors like Rebecca Roanhorse. So we ran the gamut: I made quick introductions to Zelazny and Martin novels with NM or SW settings, and the panelists ran through others, culminating in Author Guest of Honor Rivera Sun's thoughtful meditation on how residence in a landscape changes your perspective on it.

My other panel was "Aliens and Others in the Inklings," and as moderator all I had to do for this one was read off the topic statement from my e-mail recruiting panelists, introduce the three distinguished scholars we got, who each gave a 10-minute mini-paper, and wrangle the question session.

At the voice auction I was less interested in buying anything - I'd gotten a few items from the silent auction - than in seeing how much the extra copies of Tolkien scholarship I'd donated went for (gratifyingly much). Though I don't know why the auctioneer kept insisting that Clyde Kilby's reports on helping Tolkien edit the Silmarillion are unreliable; once the book came out they turned out to be quite accurate.

Sunday evening of Mythcon is the banquet. The hotel wasn't holding it, the meeting site couldn't hold it, so we got a little coffee vendor down the street. Not regularly open for dinner, they will cater private parties, so scattered about at tables both in and outside, the latter under an awning but fortunately tonight's thunderstorm was less severe than Friday's, we dined on a generous buffet serving of NM cuisine, huge lasagna-style trays of red and green chile both meat and vegan, plus pozole, with a little plain food on the side as an alternative, assuming there was any of it left.

Food sculptures, possibly influenced by the new Amazon trailer, tended towards reproductions of post-battle scenes from Tolkien with hominy kernels from the pozole standing for skulls.

Rivera gave her Author GoH speech as is traditional in this spot, her skill as a public speaker partially compensating for the low-powered pocket-sized p.a. system in a slightly noisy outdoor environment. She promoted her cause of non-violent political resistance and urged its representation in fantasy fiction, with plenty of examples illustrating where it's been done.

It was a successful event but tiring, so once more we opted for early retirement.

Wednesday, August 3, 2022

Mythcon, day 2

The concom was very attentive to my needs and requests, which I much appreciate, but otherwise I didn't find the experience of being Guest of Honor very different from my normal Mythcon attendance. Since I'm always there, people are used to me: nobody goshwowed me or asked for my autograph.

The main programming difference was that I had a plenary session for my paper, and that came on Saturday morning. Owing to the pandemic I had two and a half years to decide what to talk about, and I went through several ideas. Abandoning any idea of discussing the conference theme of aliens and others, because I didn't really have anything of moment I wanted to say about it - after some online exchange with the concom, I had suggested I moderate a theme panel, and that came on Sunday - I decided to clean out the back of my refrigerator of academic topics, and cobbled together notes for five unfinished, or too fragmentary to publish, papers on Tolkien or Lewis.

When I test-read the first draft it took an hour, so I cut it by 10%, but I also added bits, especially when I learned I was being placed as the graduation speaker for four Mythies who'd earned BAs or PhDs during the pandemic and never got a proper graduation ceremony. This came now in a makeshift way, with a tiny chorus humming "Pomp and Circumstance" as the grads walked across the front of the classroom.

So I took an hour anyway, remembering to take a Marco Rubio sip of water between each section. There was time for a couple of comments at the end of the session, but what particularly pleased me was afterwards, when a couple of definitely feminist women, a noted Tolkien scholar and a Mythopoeic Award-winning author, both told me I was on the right track with my analysis of what's really burning people who complain about Lewis's Problem of Susan or Tolkien's Problem of Eowyn. There was also a shout-out on Discord is response to my reference to Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

I got to an excellent paper on Tolkien's monsters by a fellow who always gives excellent papers, and B's discussion session on Encanto - she proposed and co-led it - where the most interesting new-to-me comment was a claim that Mirabel misinterpreted Bruno's second vision - it's not Isabela she's supposed to hug, it's (a younger image of) Abuela, whom Isabela rather resembles. Actually, I replied, it's both: when Mirabel and Isabela reconcile, the house's cracks start to heal, until Abuela interrupts and berates them. Good discussion of a provocative and endlessly rewatchable movie.

A few of us old-timers held a "Mythcon memories" discussion session, then B and I took a couple who are friends of ours out to dinner at Albuquerque's finest Italian restaurant, as we were definitely in a mood for something other than NM local cuisine.

After a long day, and not much sleep the night before, I barely survived the brief costume competition, and collapsed into bed about 7:30. I awoke again at 10 p.m. long enough to make a brief appearance at the con suite, briefer because I was almost the only one wearing a mask, and then back to bed.

Tuesday, August 2, 2022

Mythcon, days 0-1

(As there were no functioning business terminals at the hotel, and posting blog entries on my tablet is too difficult, I postponed my Mythcon report until I got home.)

They said it would be easy to fly to Albuquerque. Just take this plane from San Francisco. A brief stop in Burbank - you don't even need to get off the plane - and you're there in less than four hours.

Hah. When we arrived at SFO two hours before scheduled flight time, the flight was already listed as 20 minutes late, and this steadily increased until it settled at one hour. Eventually, clock time caught up with the steadily receding flight time, and the flight actually boarded and took off.

At Burbank, us continuing passengers were at first told to stay on the plane. Then we were told to offload briefly, but we could leave our hand baggage on board. Then we were told the inspectors examining a bird strike had decided we needed a new plane. They'd bring our hand luggage in - you can imagine what a mess of identifying bags that was - and we were to walk down the length of the concourse and wait at another gate for someone to find the time to bring the new plane in from storage.

Eventually we did get to Albuquerque, but over three hours after the original arrival time, and too late - Albuquerque wraps up early - for dinner at any desirable locale. But it wasn't a messup for the ages, and we were intact and ready for Mythcon.

Our hotel, a rather sketchy Hampton Inn in an industrial district east of downtown, had besides no functioning business computers no available appropriate meeting rooms, so the committee had rented the facilities of an on-vacation charter school a block away. Temperatures were in the mid-90s and humid, and the hardy walked back and forth, but the committee also rented a golf cart to shuttle members. We, however (B and I), decided not to rely on this and rented a car, and a good thing too as it turned out.

Registration opened at the school at the crack of noon, with the first papers scheduled for 2 PM. Everyone was, by con regulation, masked during programming; adherence elsewhen was spottier. I attended a fascinating analysis of "Black Finrod," a phenomenon of Tolkien fan artists depicting that Silmarillion elf as black-skinned, for a variety of reasons ranging from increasing the diversity of racial representation in the story to practicing one's artistic technique to, literally, "Why not?"

I should make clear that, despite my postings last week on distinguishing Tolkien's work from fan or media creations, I consider this trend wholly benign. Fan artists are not attempting to codify representation of the characters as film versions effectively do, and most are exemplary in clarifying when they are extrapolating, inventing new ideas, or interpolating their own where Tolkien remains silent. This is exactly the treatment I'd prefer from people engaged in such projects.

At 5 PM began the reception, held on the roof garden of the food hall, repurposed from some small industrial facility, across the street from the hotel. The first hour passed pleasantly enough, then the daily thunderstorm arrived. At 6 on the dot the cold blustery winds arrived. Then came some lightning strikes in the distance, then the rain, first slow then torrential. With the wind. As I pointed out to the co-chair, "If the rain is coming in sideways, then the awning serves no purpose."

A cooler evening gradually ensued, but the party broke up about 9. And so - at least for us - to bed, a theme of early retirement that would become characteristic of this rather unusual Mythcon.

to be continued