Tuesday, September 18, 2007

The Star to Every Wandering Barque

“The Star to Every Wandering Barque” by James Stoddard is a story featured in the October/November 2007 issue of Fantasy and Science Fiction. It’s a brave story for Stoddard to write and for F&SF to publish, as it is not at all cynical, as many of us are these days. Some of us might think it na├»ve, but I urge you to read it.

The title comes from Shakespeare, I believe, and the star is referring to love. We must work to get attitudes like those expressed in the story to be the prevailing attitudes of our global society. It always seems to me that those who should be our leaders are the people who would least want to have to deal with the historical trappings that come with being those leaders. The jobs seem too dirty for those among us who could actually bring a sense of responsibility to them. Beyond our veil of cynicism and ego, perhaps there is a place like Stoddard describes. Not the kind of writing you see very often.

If you want to read quality writing on a regular basis, you can’t go wrong with F&SF. Try it. If you like it, subscribe.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

How Green Was My Valley

The Ramayana was supposed to be my next topic - I've got three or four planned out.

But I'm learning blogging doesn't really work that way. You can't plan a topic and then just produce a few paragraphs on it. For one, it may not do the topic justice. The Ramayana is so sweeping and amazing, that I really need to come up with an angle.

So - I ended up pulling out a movie today that came with a set I bought for a class. An old classic (?!) - "How Green Was My Valley". Surprisingly enough, one of the major themes is absolutely relevant to what I want to explore here.

Basically - the industrial revolution and the growth of coal mining, along with associated labor problems, led to the deterioration of a small Welsh town. Now I'm no Luddite - technology is good.

But I feel technological growth at the expense of our ecological environment has a saturation point at which the scales begin to tip. When the pressures of labor and economy also begin degrading the social structure, then it is time to evaluate how to use all of our amazing technology to scale back our effect on the environment. The key is to do it while still allowing all living humans around the globe to live in a decent manner.

With global wealth distribution the way it is in our world right now, we have a long way to go.

Interesting that the solution for Huw in "How Green" eventually was to leave. At that time, there were places to go where you could escape black air, dust and the death of most of your family. In our world, those places are few and far between. And you best be one of the wealthy to enjoy them for any length of time.

I could probably go into the interesting religious themes expressed in the movie - one that goes by the heart and not the rules - but that's for another post.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007


“The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada” is a modern western, and for me, is, oddly enough, equal parts David Lynch and Todd Solondz. But with it’s unflinching look at attitudes toward immigration and the humanism we may all have within us somewhere, the mythic West is used to explore politics and oppressions that we are concerned about today. The brutal realism with which the characters are portrayed does not make for fun or casual viewing. If you have not seen this film, and chances are good that if you only see films at the theater you missed this one, be warned of mild spoilers ahead.

The idea of “Jimenez”, the small and beautiful town that Melquiades says he is from, is an interesting concept to explore. Pete discovers that Jimenez is a ruin of crumbled stone walls in the middle of a small glen of trees. The name is made up. Also made up is Melquiades’ relationship with the woman and children whose picture he shows to Pete. He claims them as his family, yet they have never heard of Melquiades Estrada.

Living a quiet life in America, where Estrada stays low-key and must deal with the pressure of being found and forced back to Mexico, he has created a mythical life, an oasis in his mind that makes him happy. His life in Mexico must have been as solitary as his apparent exile in America. We begin to wonder exactly what Melquiades did in the ruins he named Jimenez and how he came to be there. We can believe that the solitude and natural beauty of the place created a safe haven for him, perhaps the only one he has ever known.

Or is Jimenez a symbol of lost dreams? A dead and crumbled town standing in for happiness could point to a life of hardship that never had a moment of real happiness. His choice of lies may indicate that even his inner life has been beaten into submission.

Every character in “The Three Burials” creates a fantasy world. But none ever achieve any permanent connection to it. Beauty remains fantasy just as reality remains harsh.

The creation of a comforting place, where one can relax and allow our troubles to dissipate, is what many of us aim for. Hopefully that place can be real and not just a fantasy. If it doesn’t exist around us, perhaps we need to create it for ourselves. But even then, its existence may be fleeting.