|From: Glenn Petersen||11/30/2019 9:40:45 AM|
|Sports: The Real Holiday Tradition|
November 27, 2019
Benjamin Baruch Woody
As we gracefully ease into the holiday season it is incumbent upon all of us to count our blessings and truly realize what this time of the year is all about. Sports. Yes, that’s right, sports. Many of you may be terribly excited to sit at the Thanksgiving table and hear Aunt Grunhilda drone on about her time as a young, competitive clogger on the Close Cousin and Hayseed Circuit (sponsored by Martha White Flour), but I am not. When Uncle Dipwalla starts his hysterical comedy routine about the Donner Party, I take that as my cue to slip away and park myself in front of the TV to watch some football. Now this is a blog about literature, art, etc, and not about TV (although some movies will be mentioned), so I won’t bore you with the details of this week’s upcoming games. I am, however very excited to share some of my favorite books and movies about sports.
I firmly believe that the greatest sportswriter of all-time is David Halberstam. Mr. Halberstam is well-known (deservedly so) for his account of the Vietnam War The Best and the Brightest and his stunning retelling of the struggle between the US and Japan for control of the automobile industry The Reckoning. He is also known for what many critics and “experts” say is the greatest sports book of all time The Breaks of the Game. This book is a detailed account of the NBA 1979-1980 season of the Portland Trailblazers and, in particular, their fascinating star Bill Walton. Like most great works of literature, this book is about much more than what is on the surface. It is a wonderfully written account of race relations in the 70’s, what became of the late sixties’ counter-culture in the 70’s, a philosophical rumination on the subsummation of highly skilled individuals for the greater of the whole and the conflicts that arise when someone (a coach) tries to find the right alchemy, and so, so much more. I cannot recommend it enough. However, I actually think one of Halberstam’s least known books is a tiny bit better. The Amateurs is a short book about a little-known or cared about topic, the world of rowing. In this book Halberstam follows 4 completely different men as they strive to represent the US in the 1984 Olympics. The star of the book, Tiff Wood, is one of my favorite characters of any book I have ever read. I have absolutely no interest in rowing, yet I have read this book probably fifteen times. Halberstam uses the 1984 Single Scull trials to examine obsession, sacrifice, pain, iconoclasm, stubbornness, and single-mindedness. He is a master. All of David Halberstam’s books are good.
Later in this blog I will give some lists of favorite sports books and movies, but for now I want to concentrate on a few more of my absolute favorites. One of the best biographies I have ever read is When Pride Still Mattered by David Maraniss. This is the biography of legendary Green Bay Packers head coach Vince Lombardi. Not only is Lombardi a fascinating character, but Maraniss writes wonderfully about the lives of Italian immigrants, the ideas and methods of leadership, the contradiction between private family life and public life, and much more. Just an outstanding book.
Laura Hillenbrand is a genius. I have written about her before, but I do not care. She needs to be celebrated. Seabiscuit is not your traditional sports book, but it is about horse racing and how a particular horse captured the nation’s imagination. It is a mesmerizing account of a certain time in America. Wonderful. My only beef with Mrs. Hillenbrand is that she has only written two books. I know she suffers from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and I wish her the best. The world is a better place with more Hillenbrand books.
Michael Lewis is one of my favorite writers. He can even make high finance interesting. His book Moneyball, which inspired the very good movie, is an interesting look at how analytics and the theories of the great Baseball Wizard, Bill James, were put to use in Major League Baseball. Lewis’ book about football, The Blind Side, is also very good.
As a certified sports fanatic, one would think I have many sports fiction books that I love. I do not. I think that many writers struggle to write about sports in fiction. I don’t know why, other than there are so many true sports stories that are amazing and why not write about one of those? I guess the last sentence could be true about any genre of literature. I do have 2 favorite sports fiction books. The first is W.P. Kinsella’s Shoeless Joe. A perfect little gem of a book, it is the book that the wonderful movie Field of Dreams is drawn from. This book is so full of wonder, magic, laughter, and tears that I reread it every year, and every year it breaks my heart all over again.
The next book may be considered an “outdoor” book and it is about many things. I am including it here because I love it and it is about fishing, which could be considered a sport. A River Runs Through It is another book, and movie, that can break your heart. Also very short, it may be the perfect American Novel. Not one word is out of place or superfluous. Norman Maclean taught Literature at the University of Chicago for 40 years. He wrote one novel in his life. I would like to think he spent 40 years thinking about this novel and making it perfect. I strongly believe that A River Runs Through It has the greatest closing lines in the history of American Literature:
It is those we live with and love and should know who elude us.
Now nearly all those I loved and did not understand when I was young are dead, but I still reach out to them.
Of course, now I am too old to be much of a fisherman, and now of course I usually fish the big waters alone, although some friends think I shouldn’t. Like many fly fishermen in western Montana where the summer days are almost Arctic in length, I often do not start fishing until the cool of the evening. Then in the Arctic half-light of the canyon, all existence fades to a being with my soul and memories and the sounds of the Big Blackfoot River and a four-count rhythm and the hope that a fish will rise.
Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it. The river was cut by the world’s great flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time. On some of the rocks are timeless raindrops. Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs.
I am haunted by waters.
Authors of whom I recommend all of their books:
Richard Ben Cramer
A special obsession of mine are Mountaineering books. Here are the key writers:
and many more. Please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you want more authors.
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|From: Glenn Petersen||12/7/2019 1:12:06 PM|
|How Chinese Sci-Fi Conquered America|
The translator Ken Liu has done more than anyone to bridge the gap between Chinese science fiction and American readers.
By Alexandra Alter
New York Times
Dec. 3, 2019
In the fall of 2012, Ken Liu received an intriguing offer from a Chinese company with a blandly bureaucratic name: China Educational Publications Import and Export Corporation, Ltd. It was seeking an English-language translator for a trippy science-fiction novel titled “The Three-Body Problem.” Liu — an American computer programmer turned corporate lawyer turned science-fiction writer — was a natural choice: fluent in Mandarin, familiar with Chinese sci-fi tropes and culture and a rising star in the genre. Liu had only translated short fiction at the time, though, and capturing the novel in all its complexity seemed daunting.
“The Three-Body Problem” was unlike anything Liu had ever read. A mind-bending epic set in Beijing, Inner Mongolia and on a distant planet, the novel was full of heady technical passages about quantum theory, nanotechnology, orbital mechanics and astrophysics, intertwined with profound moral questions about the nature of good and evil and humanity’s place in the universe.
But as he began translating, Liu was confronted by what seemed like a more fundamental problem: The narrative structure didn’t make sense. The story careered around in time, bouncing between present-day China, as a panic builds among scientists and government officials over a coming alien invasion, and Beijing in 1967, near the start of the Cultural Revolution, when an astrophysicist watches helplessly as her father, a physics professor, is killed by members of Mao’s Red Guard for being a “reactionary academic authority.” The astrophysicist loses faith in humanity and uses a high-power radio transmitter to broadcast a defiant message to aliens in a nearby solar system, an act that has dire consequences.
Studying the novel’s chaotic timeline, Liu pinpointed what he felt was the story’s natural beginning: the scenes of political violence and oppression during the Cultural Revolution, a traumatic moment that triggers the interstellar clash that follows. In a move that was unusually invasive for a translator, he suggested pulling up the historical flashback, which was buried in the middle of the narrative, and turning it into the novel’s beginning.
When Liu proposed this radical change to the author, a rising figure in China’s burgeoning science-fiction scene named Liu Cixin, he was prepared to be overruled. Instead, the author instantly agreed. “That is how I wanted it originally!” Liu recalls him saying.
As it turned out, the Cultural Revolution had torn Liu Cixin’s family apart. He was just 3 when the political upheaval began, and still remembers hearing gunshots at night and seeing trucks full of men wearing red armbands patrolling the city where he lived in Shanxi province. When the situation there became too volatile, his parents, who worked in a coal mine, sent him away to live with relatives in Henan. The brutality of Mao Zedong’s revolution was also central to the story that Liu Cixin wanted to tell in “The Three-Body Problem.” But his Chinese publisher worried that the opening scenes were too politically charged and would never make it past government censors, so they were placed later in the narrative, he says, to make them less conspicuous. Liu reluctantly agreed to the change, but felt the novel was diminished. “The Cultural Revolution appears because it’s essential to the plot,” Liu Cixin told me during a Skype interview through an interpreter. “The protagonist needs to have total despair in humanity.”
When the English translation of “ The Three-Body Problem” was published in 2014, it was hailed as a groundbreaking work of speculative fiction. President Barack Obama praised the novel, calling it “ just wildly imaginative.” Mark Zuckerberg recommended it to his tens of millions of Facebook followers; George R.R. Martin blogged about it. Publishers around the world chased after translation rights, which eventually sold in 26 languages, including Turkish and Estonian. It won the 2015 Hugo Award, one of the genre’s most prestigious honors, making Liu Cixin the first Asian author to win the prize for best novel. It was also the first time a novel in translation had won the prize. The book and its two sequels went on to sell nearly nine million copies worldwide.
Now, Liu Cixin says, he recommends that Chinese sci-fi fans who speak English read Ken Liu’s translation of “The Three-Body Problem” rather than the Chinese version. “Usually when Chinese literature gets translated to a foreign language, it tends to lose something,” he says. “I don’t think that happened with ‘The Three-Body Problem.’ I think it gained something.”
The success of “The Three-Body Problem” not only turned Liu Cixin into a global literary star; it opened the floodgates for new translations of Chinese science fiction. This, in turn, has made Ken Liu a critical conduit for Chinese writers seeking Western audiences, a literary brand as sought-after as the best-selling authors he translates. (Among Chinese sci-fi authors and fans, he is often referred to affectionately as Xiao Liu, Little Liu, to distinguish him from Liu Cixin, who is known as Da Liu, Big Liu.) Liu’s translations have reshaped the global science-fiction landscape, which has long been dominated by American and British authors. Over the past decade, he has translated five novels and more than 50 works of short fiction by dozens of Chinese authors, many of whom he has discovered and championed himself.
Liu with the manuscript of his upcoming novel, ‘‘The Veiled Throne.’’Credit...Amani Willett for The New York Times
This year alone, Liu published three major new translations: “Broken Stars,” an anthology of short fiction by 14 Chinese sci-fi writers; a translation of “The Redemption of Time,” by Li Jun, who writes under the pen name Baoshu, which takes place in the aftermath of an interstellar war; and a translation of Chen Qiufan’s “Waste Tide,” a grim dystopian novel that unfolds on a polluted peninsula on the coast of China, where impoverished migrant workers recycle the world’s electronic trash. Next year, Saga Press will publish Liu’s 624-page translation of Hao Jingfang’s novel “Vagabonds,” a meandering philosophical parable about an ideological rift between a communalistic human colony on Mars and an increasingly capitalistic Earth.
Some of the most thought-provoking science-fiction writers in China aren’t being published through traditional channels, so Liu searches internet forums and social-media messaging sites like Weibo, WeChat and the self-publishing platform Douban. He has found sci-fi stories in unusual corners of the internet, including a forum for alumni of Tsinghua University. Chinese friends send him screenshots of stories published on apps that are hard to access outside of China. As an emissary for some of China’s most provocative and boundary-breaking writers, Liu has become much more than a scout and a translator. He’s now a fixer, an editor and a curator — a savvy interpreter who has done more than anyone to bridge the imagination gap between the world’s current, fading superpower and its ascendant one.
Liu has also grown adept at navigating political minefields, finding ways to transmit writers’ political or social critiques without being too direct. Some of the writers Liu translates use the framework of science fiction to explore the dystopian consequences of China’s rapid economic and technological transformation, setting a story in the distant future or on another planet in order to tackle taboo issues like the lack of social freedoms, the exploitation of migrant workers, government land seizures, economic inequality and environmental destruction. In an odd inversion, some of the stories he has translated into English have not been officially published in China, at times because of their politically sensitive nature. “It’s a very tricky dance of trying to get the message that they’re trying to convey out, without painting the writers as dissidents,” Liu told me over coffee one day, as we sat in the kitchen of his home in Massachusetts. “A lot of Chinese writers are very skilled at writing something ambiguously, such that there are multiple meanings in the text. I have to ask them, how explicit do you want me to be in terms of making a certain point here, because in the original it’s very constrained, so how much do you want me to tease out the implications you’re making? And sometimes we have a discussion about exactly what that means and how they want it to be done.”
It’s no surprise that sci-fi is booming in China, where the breakneck pace of technological transformation can feel surreal. Economic growth has lifted hundreds of millions of Chinese citizens out of poverty, and brought extreme wealth to the upper and political class, but technology has also become a tool of state oppression. Some Chinese factories have outfitted workers with devices that measure brain-wave activity to monitor their emotional fluctuations and alertness. Bird-shaped drones have been used to surreptitiously spy on citizens, and surveillance through facial-recognition technology is widespread. On social media and messaging apps, posts containing certain banned words are automatically censored. China is now also leveraging its technology to conquer the solar system: After lagging behind in the space race for decades, the nation recently made a historic landing on the far side of the moon, where it has plans to build a permanent research base, and aims to have a rover exploring Mars next year.
“In China, there’s this official propaganda position that science fiction is about imagination and this is what the future is all about,” Liu told an audience in New York in April, when he appeared on a panel with Chen Qiufan at the Museum of Chinese in America and spoke about the growing popularity of Chinese science fiction. “In reality, much of the most interesting science fiction is much more subversive,” he continued. “It is a kind of wry commentary on what is happening in society. And because so many things are changing in China so rapidly, science fiction feels like oftentimes the most realistic way to describe what’s happening.”
Ken Liu was born in 1976 in Lanzhou, an industrial city in Gansu Province in Northwest China. His parents moved abroad when he was 4 — his father went to study statistics in East Germany, while his mother pursued her graduate degree in chemistry in the United States — and Liu remained in China with his paternal grandparents, both science professors who were “book hoarders,” he says.
As a young boy, he was a promiscuous reader. He read his aunt’s Taiwanese romance novels, his grandmother’s Mandarin translations of “Sherlock Holmes” and her copy of “Romance of the Three Kingdoms,” a 14th-century historical epic set during the Han dynasty. He read his grandfather’s mathematics and chemistry manuals, which he didn’t understand but tore through anyway. In elementary school, he came across Mandarin translations of American science fiction. He read Philip K. Dick’s “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” and didn’t realize it was science fiction, mistaking the descriptions of a post-apocalyptic urban hellscape where humans enslave androids for a realistic depiction of life in America. He was particularly struck by the notion of a world without animals, where people had robots for pets — “It seemed to fit with my idea of the U.S. as a very high-tech place,” Liu recalls. He also picked up Mandarin editions of novelizations of movies like “The Empire Strikes Back” and “E.T.,” which gave him a taste of American pop culture. Liu remembers being baffled by the big suburban houses in “E.T.,” and by the notion of a holiday where kids dressed in costumes and got candy from strangers. “For me, it was a window into American life,” he says.
Reading “E.T.” didn’t fully prepare Liu for life in America. When he was 11, he moved to Palo Alto, Calif., where his mother worked as a pharmaceutical chemist and his father worked as a statistical analyst. He didn’t speak English and hadn’t lived with his parents since he was a toddler. He enrolled in a public school, where he went by Ken, a name his mother picked because it was the closest English analog to his Chinese name, Yukun.
Books provided a familiar refuge. He learned English in about a year, and soon was reading novels like “A Wrinkle in Time” and “The Yearling,” then moved on to American classics by authors like Faulkner and Melville, and science fiction by Orson Scott Card, Margaret Atwood and Arthur C. Clarke. He excelled in school and went to Harvard, where he majored in English and studied computer science.
When he graduated in 1998, Liu worked as a software engineer, first at Microsoft, and then at a start-up called Idiom Technologies, where he met his wife, Lisa Tang Liu. The work wasn’t glamorous — he built what he describes as “back-office-database-type stuff” — but he liked it: “It was much more fun to work at that level because you’re closer to the machines.” Then the dot-com bubble burst, and Lisa was laid off from her job as a project manager. Liu grew disillusioned with the tech industry and began searching for something new. He went into programming because he liked rules and systems, so he decided to try another rules-based trade and went to Harvard Law School. After graduating, he clerked for a federal judge, then worked as a corporate lawyer specializing in international tax planning and real estate. It was demanding, and not particularly stimulating. Liu, who at that point had two young daughters, and had grown up apart from his own parents, didn’t want to be an absent father. He became a litigation consultant specializing in patent infringement and technology cases — a job that brought him close to machines again, examining source codes and disassembling smartphones and tablets to study the underlying mechanics.
Throughout his shape-shifting professional odyssey, Liu wrote fiction, though he never imagined he could make a living from it. Eventually, he published his short fiction in sci-fi magazines, and won acclaim for his strange, surreal stories, which sometimes take place on distant planets or intergalactic spaceships heading for habitable worlds, but often center on strained family bonds. His 2011 story, “The Paper Menagerie,” about an American boy whose mother, a Chinese immigrant, makes him delicate origami animals that come to life, won the Hugo, the Nebula and the World Fantasy Award, making Liu the first author to sweep the genre’s three major awards for a single work. Four years later, he published “The Grace of Kings,” an epic fantasy novel that drew on both Western mythology and epics and on historical legends about the Han dynasty. In 2017, he quit his job as a litigation consultant to focus on writing.
Liu and I first met on a freezing day in early March in Stoughton, a small town outside Boston where he lives with his wife, Lisa, now a photographer, and their two daughters, who are 7 and 9. Liu — who at 43 is wiry and energetic, with a close buzz cut, thick eyebrows and a round, boyish face — met me at the train station, and had absent-mindedly left his Airpods in his ears. As we trudged through piles of snow on unplowed sidewalks, we talked about a screen adaptation of one of his stories, and his forthcoming translation of Hao Jingfang’s novel, which he compared to Ursula K. Le Guin’s “The Dispossessed.” The novel unfolds in 2201, a century after a human colony on Mars declared independence from Earth, where society has become increasingly technocratic and capitalistic. Liu told me that he isn’t sure how American sci-fi fans will respond to the book, which is more of a philosophical thought experiment than a plot-driven space odyssey. “It’s not the sort of thing popular American taste favors,” Liu says. “It will be valuable for American readers to be exposed to it.”
At his home — a small, cheerful house that’s full of his daughters’ drawings and Lego creations — Liu showed me his office: a dark, cavelike room on the basement floor, cluttered with classic sci-fi and fantasy works by Le Guin, Neil Gaiman, and Tolkien, books in Mandarin by contemporary Chinese authors, computer-programming manuals, a Classical Chinese dictionary, copies of Chinese epics like “Journey to the West” and “Romance of the Three Kingdoms,” an annotated edition of Confucius’ Analects and shelves of Chinese sci-fi magazines and anthologies. Near his desk, he keeps his four Hugo Awards, two for his own short fiction and two for translations.
Liu told me that he never set out to be a translator, a profession that doesn’t pay especially well. “Translation seemed incredibly boring and technical,” he says. In fact, it was a Chinese writer who first discovered Liu, not the other way around. In 2009, Chen Qiufan read one of Liu’s short stories, “The Algorithms for Love,” in an online English-language sci-fi magazine, and sent Liu an email to say how much he liked it. They kept in touch, and a year later, Chen asked Liu for his opinion on an English translation of one of his stories, which he had commissioned from a translation company. Liu wasn’t impressed and offered to edit it, but ended up redoing the translation from scratch.
The story, “The Fish of Lijiang,” takes place in a future China, where corporations manipulate their employees’ sense of the passage of time in order to boost workers’ productivity. Liu’s translation was published in the sci-fi magazine Clarkesworld in 2011, and won the Science Fiction and Fantasy Translation Award for short fiction the following year.
Liu realized there was a growing appetite for Chinese science fiction. As he read more of it, he was stunned to discover a huge and diverse body of literature — works that ranged from hard sci-fi, surreal horror and cyberpunk to dystopian alternate histories, political satires and chuanyue time-travel tales, a popular sub-subgenre in which a modern-day protagonist is transported back in time, often to a Chinese dynastic period. “I had no idea there was a vibrant science-fiction community in China,” Liu says.
At the time, few people outside China did. Before the success of “The Three-Body Problem,” Western publishers and literary agents were largely oblivious to the proliferation of sci-fi in China. “Ken Liu was basically working by himself,” says Mingwei Song, an associate professor at Wellesley College who specializes in modern Chinese literature. “Only a few people outside China saw the rise of science fiction there. After his translations, it suddenly became visible.”
For Liu, the discovery felt more personal. He got the same giddy feeling he had as a boy when he first read Chinese translations of American science fiction, a sense that he had entered a portal into another world. Reading science fiction written in his native language gave him new insights into his former home, a place that had changed almost beyond recognition since he left.
Liu’s approach to translation is unorthodox — perhaps because he came to it somewhat late in his eclectic career. Strict fidelity to the source material is not his chief goal, nor is producing a smooth, Americanized version. “It’s not a sentence-by-sentence or word-by-word recreation,” he says. “It’s about, how do I recreate the overall effect?”
Rather than glossing over cultural and colloquial nuances that would be lost on most Western readers, he tries to highlight them. To the irritation of his publishers, he sometimes resorts to footnotes to explain unfamiliar terms or episodes from Chinese history, rather than omitting or Anglicizing them. In his recent anthology, “Broken Stars,” he used footnotes to explain the principles of Chinese alchemy, to describe how an agrarian rebellion against the Tang Dynasty in the ninth century led to the dynasty’s demise, and to unpack a rather layered “inside joke for Chinese sci-fi fans.”
Some cultural references remain untranslatable. In his introduction to “The First Emperor’s Games,” a satirical story by Ma Boyong that hinges on the delightfully absurd premise that China’s first emperor was a video-game addict, Liu notes that “much of the humor of the story depends on knowledge of Chinese internet culture and ancient Chinese history, so liberal use of Wikipedia may be necessary for some readers.”
The only times Liu got evasive during our conversations were when I asked him about the political implications of his translation work. Dissident writers have been jailed in China, and Liu often worries for the safety of the authors he works with.
“These writers are very creative and courageous in doing what they do, but as somebody who is not subject to the same constraints and the same kind of pressures that they are under, I try not to bring them trouble with what I’m saying,” Liu told me when we were sitting in his kitchen, speaking quickly and somewhat urgently, but taking, as he often does, extreme care with his words. “As a translator, it’s very easy to slip into the role where you feel like you’re explaining, or are in a superior position to the author to say what you think they meant to say, or to say what you think ought to be said. I think it’s very dangerous. When you’re translating somebody from a different culture, who is subject to a different political system and who is writing for a different audience than you are, you have to be very careful about not substituting your voice for the author’s voice and not taking away the author’s prerogative to tell the story she wants to tell.”
Sometimes the writers Liu works with feel they have more freedom in an English translation to draw pointed parallels to contemporary Chinese society. When Ma Boyong published his 2005 short story, “The City of Silence” — which takes place in the year 2046 in a repressive country where censorship is so extreme that citizens can only use words from a list of approved, “healthy” phrases — he set the story in an alternative New York to avoid directly evoking China’s suppression of free speech. For the English version, Liu and Ma worked together to restore what Ma originally wanted to convey, and New York was changed to “the Capital of the State,” making the similarities to China’s censorship apparatus more explicit.
Recently, rising political tensions with and within China have made Liu’s translation projects even more delicate. This year marked the 30th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square protests, a grim milestone that brought fresh crackdowns on free speech, as state censors have grown even more vigilant, all against the backdrop of a trade war with the United States and mass protests in Hong Kong. Some writers who once felt bold enough to tackle political and social issues, however obliquely, have been reluctant to publish their work, or have started self-censoring to avoid trouble.
“The political climate inside China has shifted drastically from when I first started doing this,” Liu says. “It’s gotten much harder for me to talk about the work of Chinese authors without putting them in an awkward position or causing them trouble.” Liu usually travels to China at least once a year to network and meet new writers, and has attended the Chinese Nebula and Galaxy Awards, the country’s most well known science-fiction prizes. But this year he was denied a long-term visa, without explanation, prompting him to cancel his planned trip.
In another alarming setback, when his American publisher tried to send copies of his recent translations to writers in China, the shipments failed to arrive. It was unclear whether the books were seized or simply disappeared into a bureaucratic black hole. Liu finally managed to get copies distributed through visiting Chinese friends, each of whom carried a few copies back in their suitcases. In April, when I met Liu at the Museum of Chinese in America, he seemed irritated by the cumbersome workaround, which he called “preposterous.”
But later, when I asked if he felt he was being blacklisted by the Chinese government because of his translation work, Liu deflected and declined to speculate. “I don’t want to magnify the problem,” Liu told me, as we sat in a cafe a few blocks from the museum. “If the authors want to say something daring, then I will honor that, but I’m not going to impose my own politics on them. There’s a lot of room to say what you want to say if you leave things ambiguous.”
In his recent anthology, “Broken Stars,” Liu published his translation of a dystopian novella by Baoshu, titled, “What Has Passed Shall in Kinder Light Appear.” In the narrative, history runs backward, and China devolves from a superpower into an impoverished, unstable country, as the protagonist grows older and lives through pivotal events in reverse chronological order, witnessing the 2008 Beijing Olympics, then the Tiananmen protests, the Cultural Revolution, the years of famine and the Japanese occupation. The story’s narrator, “a rising star of science fiction,” at one point makes a metafictional observation about the risk he’s taking by writing about politically taboo subjects, noting that some critics claim “that my work was an example of capitalist liberalism and contained metaphors criticizing the Communist Party.”
Baoshu’s novella was never printed in China. Liu’s English version is the only officially published edition. When I asked Liu about whether publishing an English version was risky for Baoshu, he paused, weighing his words carefully, and finally said simply, “I’m glad I can bring this work out.”
|RecommendKeepReplyMark as Last ReadRead Replies (1)|
|To: Glenn Petersen who wrote (9096)||12/7/2019 1:26:06 PM|
|I am surprised the Chinese communists allowed this book to be published. The main premise is Mao's Cultural Revolution was so evil that it convinced a Chinese genius that humanity should be destroyed so she invites an alien race to come here and do the job.|
Also introduced me to the idea of the Dark Forest.
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|To: DMaA who wrote (9097)||12/7/2019 2:17:51 PM|
|From: Glenn Petersen|
|“It is consistent with all of the facts and philosophical principles described in the first part of this article. There is no need to struggle to suppress the elements of the Drake equation in order to explain the Great Silence, nor need we suggest that no ETIS anywhere would bear the cost of interstellar travel. It need only happen once for the results of this scenario to become the equilibrium condition in the Galaxy. We would not have detected extraterrestrial radio traffic- nor would any ETIS have ever settled on Earth- because all were killed shortly after discovering radio."|
My sentiments exactly. ET was a fantasy. First contact - until we have weapons that we cannot even currently imagine - will not end well for humanity.
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|From: Glenn Petersen||12/24/2019 9:47:36 AM|
By Vladimir Nabokov and Dmitri Nabokov (trans.)
The New Yorker
December 21, 1975
Photograph by John B. Carnett / Getty
After walking back from the village to his manor across the dimming snows, Sleptsov sat down in a corner, on a plush-covered chair he did not remember ever using before. It was the kind of thing that happens after some great calamity. Not your brother but a chance acquaintance, a vague country neighbor to whom you never paid much attention, with whom in normal times you exchange scarcely a word, is the one who comforts you wisely and gently, and hands you your dropped hat after the funeral service is over and you are reeling from grief, your teeth chattering, your eyes blinded by tears. The same can be said of inanimate objects. Any room, even the coziest and the most absurdly small, in the little-used wing of a great country house has an unlived-in corner. And it was such a corner in which Sleptsov sat.
The wing was connected by a wooden gallery, now encumbered with our huge north-Russian snowdrifts, to the main house, used only in summer. There was no need to awaken it, to heat it: the master had come from Petersburg for only a couple of days and had settled in the annex, where it was a simple matter to get the stoves of white Dutch tile going.
The master sat in his out-of-the-way corner, on that plush chair, as in a doctor’s waiting room. The room floated in darkness; the dense blue of early evening filtered through the crystal feathers of frost on the windowpane. Ivan, the quiet, portly valet, who had recently shaved off his mustache and now looked like his late father, the family butler, brought in a kerosene lamp, all trimmed and brimming with light. He set it on a small table, and noiselessly caged it within its pink silk shade. For an instant a tilted mirror reflected his lit ear and cropped gray hair. Then he withdrew and the door gave a subdued creak.
Sleptsov raised his hand from his knee and slowly examined it. A drop of candle wax had stuck and hardened in the thin fold of skin between two fingers. He spread his fingers and the little white scale cracked.
The following morning, after a night spent in nonsensical, fragmentary dreams totally unrelated to his grief, as Sleptsov stepped out into the cold veranda, a floorboard emitted a merry pistol crack underfoot, and the reflections of the many-colored panes formed paradisal lozenges on the whitewashed cushionless window seats. The outer door resisted at first, then opened with a luscious crunch, and the dazzling frost hit his face. The reddish sand providently sprinkled on the ice coating the porch steps resembled cinnamon, and thick icicles shot with greenish blue hung from the eaves. The snowdrifts reached all the way to the windows of the annex, tightly gripping the snug little wooden structure in their frosty clutches. The creamy white mounds of what were flower beds in summer swelled slightly above the level snow in front of the porch, and farther off loomed the radiance of the park, where every black branch was rimmed with silver and the firs seemed to draw in their green paws under their bright, plump load.
Wearing high felt boots and a short fur-lined coat with a caracul collar, Sleptsov strode off slowly along a straight path, the only one cleared of snow, into that blinding distant landscape. He was amazed to be still alive, and able to perceive the brilliance of the snow and feel his front teeth ache from the cold. He even noticed that a snow-covered bush resembled a fountain and that a dog had left on the slope of a snowdrift a series of saffron marks, which had burned through its crust. A little farther, the supports of a footbridge stuck out of the snow, and there Sleptsov stopped. Bitterly, angrily, he pushed the thick, fluffy covering off the parapet. He vividly recalled how this bridge looked in summer. There was his son walking along the slippery planks, flecked with aments, and deftly plucking off with his net a butterfly that had settled on the railing. Now the boy sees his father. Forever lost laughter plays on the boy’s face, under the turned-down brim of a straw hat burned dark by the sun; his hand toys with the chain of the leather purse attached to his belt; his dear smooth, sun-tanned legs in their serge shorts and soaked sandals assume their usual cheerful widespread stance. Just recently, in Petersburg, after having babbled in his delirium about school, about his bicycle, about some great Oriental moth, he died, and yesterday Sleptsov had taken the coffin—weighed down, it seemed, with an entire lifetime—to the country, into the family vault near the village church.
It was quiet as it can only be on a bright, frosty day. Sleptsov raised his leg high, stepped off the path, and, leaving blue pits behind him in the snow, made his way among the trunks of amazingly white trees to the spot where the park dropped off toward the river. Far below, ice blocks sparkled near a hole cut in the smooth expanse of white, and, on the opposite bank, very straight columns of pink smoke stood above the snowy roofs of log cabins. Sleptsov took off his caracul cap and leaned against a tree trunk. Somewhere far away, peasants were chopping wood—every blow bounced resonantly skyward—and beyond the light silver mist of trees, high above the squat log huts, the sun caught the equanimous radiance of the cross on the church.
That was where he headed after lunch, in an old sleigh with a high straight back. The cod of the black stallion clacked strongly in the frosty air, the white plumes of low branches glided overhead, and the ruts in front gave off a silvery blue sheen. When he arrived, he sat for an hour or so by the grave, resting a heavy, woollen-gloved hand on the iron of the railing, which burned his hand through the wool. He came home with a slight sense of disappointment, as if there in the burial vault he had been even further removed from his son than here where the countless summer tracks of his rapid sandals were preserved beneath the snow.
In the evening, overcome by a fit of intense sadness, he had the main house unlocked. When the door swung open with a weighty wail, and a whiff of special, unwintery coolness came from the sonorous iron-barred vestibule, Sleptsov took the lamp with its tin reflector from the watchman’s hand and entered the house alone. The parquet floors crackled eerily under his step. Room after room filled with yellow light, and the shrouded furniture seemed unfamiliar; instead of a tinkling chandelier, a soundless bag hung from the ceiling, and Sleptsov’s enormous shadow, slowly extending one arm, floated across the wall and over the gray squares of curtained paintings.
He went into the room which had been his son’s study in summer, set the lamp on the window ledge, and, breaking his fingernails as he did so, opened the folding shutters, even though all was darkness outside. In the blue glass the yellow flame of the slightly smoky lamp appeared, and his large, bearded face showed momentarily.
He sat down at the bare desk and sternly, from under bent brows, examined the pale wallpaper with its garlands of bluish roses; a narrow office-like cabinet, with sliding drawers from top to bottom; the couch and armchairs under slipcovers; and suddenly, dropping his head onto the desk, he started to shake, passionately, noisily, pressing first his lips, then his wet cheek to the cold, dusty wood and clutching at its far corners.
In the desk he found a notebook, spreading boards, supplies of black pins, and an English biscuit tin that contained a large exotic cocoon which had cost three rubles. It was papery to the touch and seemed made of a brown folded leaf. H’s son had remembered it during his sickness, regretting that he had left it behind but consoling himself with the thought that the chrysalid inside was probably dead. Sleptsov also found a torn net; a tarlatan bag on a collapsible hoop (and the muslin still smelled of summer and sun-hot grass).
Then, bending lower and lower and sobbing with his whole body, he began pulling out one by one the glass-topped drawers of the cabinet. In the dim lamplight the even files of specimens shone silklike under the glass. Here, in this room, on that very desk, his son had spread the wings of his captures. He would first pin the carefully killed insect in the cork-bottomed groove of the setting board, between the adjustable strips of wood, and fasten down flat with pinned strips of paper the still fresh, soft wings. They had now dried long ago and been transferred to the cabinet—those spectacular Swallowtails, those dazzling Coppers and Blues, and the various Fritillaries, some mounted in a supine position to display the mother-of-pearl undersides. His son used to pronounce their Latin names with a moan of triumph or in an arch aside of disdain. And the moths, the moths, the first Aspen Hawk of five summers ago!
The night was smoke-blue and moonlit; thin clouds were scattered about the sky but did not touch the delicate, icy moon. The trees, masses of gray frost, cast dark shadows on the drifts, which scintillated here and there with metallic sparks. In that plush-upholstered, well-heated room of the annex, Ivan had placed a two-foot fir tree in a clay pot on the table, and was just attaching a candle to its cruciform tip when Sleptsov returned from the main house, chilled, red-eyed, with gray dust smears on his cheek, carrying a wooden case under his arm. Seeing the Christmas tree on the table, he asked absently, “What’s that?”
Relieving him of the case, Ivan answered in a low, mellow voice, “There’s a holiday coming up tomorrow.”
“No, take it away,” said Sleptsov with a frown, while thinking, Can this be Christmas Eve? How could I have forgotten?
Ivan gently insisted, “It’s nice and green. Let it stand for a while.”
“Please take it away,” repeated Sleptsov, and bent over the case he had brought. In it he had gathered his son’s belongings—the folding butterfly net, the biscuit tin with the pear-shaped cocoon, the spreading boards, the pins in their lacquered box, the blue notebook. Half of the first page had been torn out, and its remaining fragment contained part of a French dictation. There followed daily entries, names of captured butterflies, and other notes:
Walked across the bog as far as Borovichi . . .
Raining today. Played checkers with Father, then read Goncharov’s “Frigate,” a deadly bore.
Marvellous hot day. Rode my bike in the evening. A midge got in my eye. Deliberately rode by her dacha twice, but didn’t see her. . . .Sleptsov raised his head, swallowed something hot and huge. Of whom was his son writing?
Rode my bike as usual. Our eyes nearly met. My darling, my love . . .“This is unthinkable,” whispered Sleptsov. “I’ll never know . . .”
He bent over again, avidly deciphering the childish handwriting that slanted up then curved down in the margin.
Saw a fresh specimen of the Camberwell Beauty today. That means autumn is here. Rain in the evening. She has probably left, and we didn’t even get acquainted. Farewell, my darling. I feel terribly sad. . . .“He never said anything to me . . .” Sleptsov tried to remember, rubbing his forehead with his palm.
On the last page there was an ink drawing: the hind view of an elephant—two thick pillars, the corners of two ears, and a tiny tail.
Sleptsov got up. He shook his head, restraining yet another onrush of hideous sobs.
“I-can’t-bear-it-any-longer,” he drawled between groans, repeating even more slowly, “I—can’t—bear—it—any—longer . . .”
It’s Christmas tomorrow, came the abrupt reminder, and I’m going to die. Of course. It’s so simple. This very night . . .
He pulled out a handkerchief and dried his eyes, his beard, his cheeks. Dark streaks remained on the handkerchief.
“. . . death,” Sleptsov said softly, as if concluding a long sentence.
The clock ticked. Frost patterns overlapped on the blue glass of the window. The open notebook shone radiantly on the table; next to it the light went through the muslin of the butterfly net, and glistened on a corner of the open tin. Sleptsov pressed his eyes shut, and had a fleeting sensation that earthly life lay before him, totally bared and comprehensible—and ghastly in its sadness, humiliatingly pointless, sterile, devoid of miracles.
At that instant there was a sudden snap—a thin sound like that of an overstretched rubber band breaking. Sleptsov opened his eyes. The cocoon in the biscuit tin had burst at its tip, and a black, wrinkled creature the size of a mouse was crawling up the wall above the table. It stopped, holding on to the surface with six black furry feet and started palpitating strangely. It had emerged from the chrysalid because a man overcome with grief had transferred a tin box to his warm room and the warmth had penetrated its taut leaf-and-silk envelope; it had awaited this moment so long, had collected its strength so tensely, and now, having broken out, it was slowly and miraculously expanding. Gradually the wrinkled tissues, the velvety fringes unfurled; the fan-pleated veins grew firmer as they filled with air. It became a winged thing imperceptibly, as a maturing face imperceptibly becomes beautiful. And its wings—still feeble, still moist—kept growing and unfolding, and now they were developed to the limit set for them by God, and there, on the wall, instead of a little lump of life, instead of a dark mouse, was a great Attacus moth like those that fly, birdlike, around lamps in the Indian dusk.
And then those thick black wings, with a glazy eyespot on each and a purplish bloom dusting their hooked foretips, took a full breath under the impulse of tender, ravishing, almost human happiness.
(Translated, from the Russian text of 1925, by Dmitri Nabokov, in collaboration with the author.)
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|From: Tom Clarke||12/28/2019 7:19:50 AM|
|Chili’s Menu, by Cormac McCarthy|
by Justin Tapp
Southwestern Eggrolls – $9.95
In a tortilla made by the boy’s abuela he watched her, with her armfat and canvas apron, cast frijoles negros upon flecks of cilantro like ash fallen silently on a bed of rice, tiny bones chalkwhite against an avocado ranchero sauce creamy in the light of the coals like the obsidian-flecked desert where God has forsaken all life. Outside a pale starving gallena quickens a lizard to its last writhing gasps. Evening creeps in, a single lobo cries out across the mesa as the sun dips bloodred below the thin black spine of the mountain where death will come again many times in the dusty clockless hours before twilight.
Cajun Chicken Pasta – $14.95
He was a flatboatman from Louisiana and all the cocheros said he took pride in how many Mexicans he had killed in the war at Alamogordo, but he was the only one who had a chance of leading them across Comanche Territory on the Rio Tecuate. He spoke in Creole, cursing the still waters under the moon, endless depths capturing the light like a field of pitch, swallowing forever into black oblivion. As they headed south downriver he smoked banana leaf cigarettes and drank whiskey on the deck, stealing chickens from pasajeros at the tip of a colt .45 when he was bored or hungry. In the distance a fire burned. Fire, chaos and cleansing and rebirth, hatred of Righteousness manifested in Nature Absolute, great equalizer that burns in the hearts of all things known and unknown, in the universe having no analogue, unspeakable and calamitous beyond all reckoning.
Mix-n-Match Ribs Platter – $19.99
It was just after sunset when they came upon the wagon. Two vultures screeched at them as they approached, mottled skin quivering with each gasping cry. Frost covered the bodies, glittering like infinite diamonds in the fading light. They were so hungry they didn’t even wait for the fire to finish cooking the flesh before they were tearing into it, glistening rivulets of fat dripping off their dry, cracked chins, heads back, hulking down the rancid meat like ancient owls. The burro had been dead for no more than a day. The others, longer. A trail of dried blood and arrows led away from the overturned wagon and into the mesquite thicket below. But they didn’t notice this. They were hungry, and as they feasted the rib bones cracked with a haunted resonance that echoed across the flat breaks into the canyon and mingled with the thunder roiling in the coming blackness.
Big Mouth Southern Smokehouse Burger – $14.99
The charred black bones of the farmhouse coughed and hissed and exhaled into the early morning fog, ghosts of smoke swirling whitehot against the sun, contrast in defiance of God ordained. The sheriff rested his head on his hand and dug his foot into the soft patter of ash where all that had been lie transformed in heavenly splendor to witness the Holy wrath of all that this house had contained. Generations of violent echoes reverberated in these halls, tearing asunder those wretched institutions, consumed entire in final resolute compliance with the rich matrix which seeks to reckon all forces into balance.
California Turkey Club – $12.99
Starlight streaked the tarblack sky and set alight a new world order that rotated and remained just out of mortal reach. They worked night and day, carving the guts of the earth, giving up bits of gold like ransom, Promethean secrets plundered in service of Man’s purpose, hawk and serpent locked in eternal battle, without emotion yet determined to fight until death or victory overtakes and none remain divided from their origins, blood and sweat and tears the atonement of mortal blessures for which the wages are death.
Molten Chocolate Lava Cake – $6.95
There is no salvation in sweet indulgence, no deliverance in submission to the eternal beckoning which beleaguers all in time and temperance. Of tender mercies there can only be acceptance of that which forever hums of mystery and of all things lived and unlived to yearn equal for which all things require. The ultimate destination is the unknown and unknowable truths gleaned not from the blood of sinners but from saints innumerable casting forever that infinite redemption which all beings seek to achieve and whose purpose inures within one a meaning of self.
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|From: LindyBill||12/28/2019 12:34:33 PM|
thefederalist.com In 'Blue Moon,' Jack Reacher Is Back
Blue Moon is the latest best-selling thriller in the Jack Reacher series by author Lee Child. If you’ve somehow missed the previous 23 Reacher books in a series that began with 1997’s The Killing Floor, you may have seen the movies (2012’s Jack Reacher and 2016’s Jack Reacher: Never Go Back). If not, you’re missing a fascinating creation, a truly original character.
A rangy, intimidating 6’5” former military policeman, Reacher is hypercompetent with his fists and a first-class marksman. He’s a math whiz and quick to make deductions. He is also deeply odd: He goes through life carrying literally no baggage — no luggage besides a toothbrush. He wears no watch, but keeps a reliable “clock in his head.”
He doesn’t like staying anywhere long, drifting from town to town, and can make amusing if not convincing rationalizations for not doing laundry, instead buying cheap new clothes again and again and binning the “old” ones. His past is mysterious but not particularly dark. He is stoic and fearless and runs toward danger, not away from it. And he really likes his coffee.
Child must have figured he was on to something, because since that first effort he’s been putting out a book a year, reliably pleasing an increasing number of fans. Child was born in England and had a long television career there before moving to the United States, but his Americanisms ring mostly true, and he manages to appeal both to millions of readers and the English literary set, such as author Phillip Pullman and the London Review of Books. Perhaps it’s because beyond the thriller trappings, Reacher is an old-fashioned archetype.
In a 2012 interview Child described his character as “the noble loner, the knight errant, the mysterious stranger, who has shown up in stories forever… He is a truly universal character… I’m writing the modern iteration of a character who has existed for thousands of years.” Reacher is old-fashioned. No shades of gray here, no sense of moral corruption you’d find in a “sophisticated” John le Carre novel; Reacher is never tempted to go dark.
The Reacher series has other distinguishing wrinkles: The books often aren’t fast-paced in the way genre blurbs seem to demand, but deliberate and detail-oriented, as readers survey the scene along with Reacher. There is often a strong element of mystery, and half the pleasure is watching Reacher making deductions, figuring things out. I prefer Child’s heartland thrillers (e.g., Worth Dying For) over his international intrigues, and find his third-person P.O.V. more effective than his occasional first-person tales — Reacher reveals his character through action, anyway.
Child says his secret is to write the fast parts slowly, and the action scenes put in mind the John Wick movies — no quick cuts. The other half of the pleasure is the frisson of expectation when a well-deserved comeuppance to a baddie is in the works, the fights unfolding like a ballet.
We meet Reacher the way we do in many of the books, on a Greyhound bus headed in a general direction but no place in particular. He alights semi-randomly in a strange new town somewhere in the heartland.
In Blue Moon, Reacher gets off to halt the impending mugging of a vulnerable-looking elderly man carrying a big envelope of cash, and lands in the middle of an emerging gang war. Reacher escorts the man back to his home, meets the man’s wife, and learns the story that put them at the mercy of sadistic loan sharks. Reacher is atavistically drawn to even up the score in his laconic way. One of Child’s signature sentences is “Reacher said nothing.”
The Ukrainian gang owns the west side of town, the Albanians the east, scrapping for control of the city’s commerce. Reacher hits it off quickly with his waitress, Abby (for a gangly, menacing loner, Reacher gets a surprising amount of romance). Soon he’s gathered a rag-tag team consisting of Abby and some of her suspiciously resourceful friends, who get a lot of mileage out of assumptions, guesswork, and disparate clues.
The mission expands to taking on the whole rotten edifice. The body count gets ludicrous, as confusion sewn by Reacher & Co. begets violence. Throughout, Reacher remains extraordinarily efficient, just on the human side of Superman.
There is more cold brutality in Blue Moon that his other books and a higher body count, although not all of the carnage can be laid at Reacher’s Size 12 feet. Some online reviews dislike the more savage Reacher. Paradoxically, there are also more lyrical and ruminative passages than usual. The wisdom of age, perhaps?
At one point Reacher thinks, “Not bad for an old guy,” but otherwise Child is subtle in portraying a Reacher older and wiser than in previous books (Child’s novels skip around chronologically). Maybe it’s the way he repeats clichés, or seems to pine for Abby, but the character truly feels older and grizzled, maybe a little less self-sufficient. While staying well within his winning formula, Child also stretches his creation, a little. Reacher even dances, briefly.
So how does Blue Moon rank in the Child oeuvre? Around the middle. (Check out The Federalist’s comprehensive Reacher overview.) The “fake news” subplot feels thin and rushed. Also, Blue Moon skips some of Child’s old tricks that make the other books so satisfying — putting Reacher in a corner and watching him scheme and fight his way out. Here the odds feel too even, Reacher a touch too ruthless. Still, it delivers soul-satisfying revenge in spades.
What’s next for Reacher? Besides Child’s current book-a-year schedule, there is an Amazon Prime series in the works; Reacher is leaving the big screen for now. I thought Tom Cruise did a fine job as Reacher in the two movies, but Child doesn’t agree, and he has a point: Cruise is cute, compact, and no more than 5’8.” Jack Reacher is 6’5”, rangy, and by his own admission, no dreamboat.
The move makes some sense. Most of Child’s tales are set in the heartland, with no international intrigue in expensive foreign locations, and little of the typical whiz-bang action sequences theaters were made for. So the small screen may be a better fit for our big guy.
But until the next on-screen iteration of Reacher lands on a streaming service, it’s worth grabbing paperback of Blue Moon, which should be readily available at an airport or train station during holiday travel. It should satisfy the many Reacher fans out there.
Copyright © 2019 The Federalist, a wholly independent division of FDRLST Media, All Rights Reserved.
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