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Monday, 16 January 2017

New home

I have moved the blog to worldpress follow the link below

https://markhayesblog.com/


Saturday, 14 January 2017

Polaris : The Complete Lovecraft #6

'Polaris' takes it name from the north star, that single static point in the ballet of the night sky around which all else appears to revolve. The star so beloved of sailor and navigators in general due to its constancy. It is always there on a clear night, hanging over roughly above the north pole.
For Lovecraftian's, 'Polaris' is also the first of his Dreamlands stories, a sequence all of their own in Lovecraft's mythos. This one written in late 1918 it was first published in 1920 in 'The Philosopher'.
The story was itself alleged to be inspired by a dream, though this could have been part of the pitch from Lovecraft, who was no more above cheap theatrics than any other aspiring author. The claim's of its dream inspired genesis, however, do play into the story itself. It is effectively a dream inspired tale about a dream, so where then does the dreamer end and the writer begin...
More academic credence among Lovecraftian's can be placed on the claim it was inspired in part by Lovecraft's frustration and guilt over not been selected to fight in world war one. H. P. was rejected for service as a combatant for much the same reasons as the character of Olathoe, who the natator of the story dreams himself to be. A point which others have made much of over the years.
It is also doubtless Lovecraft was inspired by his keen interest in astronomy. Choosing 'Polaris' as the object of his narrator's obsession and dreams, has much to do with both the stars fixed nature in the sky and the period of precession (more of which in s moment).


The tale opens with the narrator laying awake, staring at 'Polaris' through his bedroom window, feeling at once uneasy and mocked by the ever-present star blinking at him in the sky. It is not until he falls into the grasp of sleep we discover why.
The narrator's dreams are taking him to another time and place, one before the dawn of recorded history. A city at the heart of a fading Empire that existed, at least in the narrator's dreamings, 26000 years ago. He knows this because of the star, hanging in its normal place above the horizon, that same ever present blinking north star 'Polaris'. 26000 years is, without coincidence, the period of precession. The strange wobble that the Earth had upon its axis that takes 26000 years to complete a rotation.
The 'period of precession' can be measured (see the link to Wikipedia here if you want the science), but to measure its requires a lot of complicated maths of the kind Lovecraft himself never mastered, and was thus denied his childhood ambition to become a professional astronomer. However, astronomy's loss is literature's gain. However, it must be said not poetries.  

the damnable poem

The poem above is spoken by the star itself to the narrator, or at least, it is imagined in his dream. The reference to precession is apparent. The subtext is also clear in its intention, which suggests that the narrator dreams of his own past life, and revisits in his dreams the actions of that life, and the shame his soul feels because of them.
In his dream the narrator does not only dream of the inhabitants of the city, but that he knows them, with a feeling of familiarity that is almost sublime, and as each night passes that feeling becomes stronger. Until he does not merely observe the city but inhabits it himself in his dreams and becomes Olathoe. A weakling, feeble and given to strange faintings, cursing himself that he is left behind while his fellow citizens go off to war. (sounds familer doesn't it). Desperate to serve his city he takes a post as a guard, watching the high passes and poised to light the beacon that will summon the warriors should the invaders arrive. Wherein lays the shame he feels, for in the last he fails in this duty too.

As a tale, it is original in the form of a dreamers dream, yet leans towards myth. But there are issues with it that must be looked at with some context.
Of all the tales so far it is the first that has an unsettling feel to it in the wrong way. The invaders of the ancient city are named as Inutos, a name derived from the modern Inuit. They are described as small, yellow and barbaric, and as being a lesser race than the proud and seemingly caucasian people of the land of Lomar, of which the narrator dreams himself to be. The racism inherent in this description, is unfortunate, in the very least. Lovecraft, in the same way other writers of the period, chose to use Asiatic people as a threatening presence.
The context, which is perhaps forgiving here, is that his imagined city is placed by his tale in North America, and the migration of the Inuit people from Asia to North America happened somewhere within his timeline. To the people of that lost empire, they would be a barbarous invader. As the narrator identifies with the empire citizens his view holds some water, but not the description as it is given by Lovecraft, or indeed the lack of the narrators real-self seeing issue with the way his dream-self feels and describes the foe.

It is, I will grant, a harsh criticism of the story. Some would see it as picking at a small scab in the context of the time it was written. It also has no impact on my score of 4 tentacles out of 6. (Unlike the poem). But while it is the first of the stories I have reviewed to raise my liberal eyebrows a little, it will I am aware not be the last. Regardless, however, it is a solid well-crafted tale and the first of the Dreamlands is a story I enjoy despite its issues.          





Friday, 13 January 2017

Worth more in scrabble...

“England and America are two countries separated by the same language!” attributed to George Bernard Shaw, or possibly Oscar Wilde, or purely apocryphal, as its one of thsoe quotes no one is entirely sure about even the QI elves aparantly.... 
U is worth 1 point in Scrabble, and it occurred to me this means that the word colour is worth 1 point more in Britain than it is in America. I know that's an abstract way, to sum up, the difference between two variants of the same language, but it's probably an important one. Well in international Scrabble tournaments at any rate.
Serious men in cardigans probably debate long into the night, which dictionary to use an adjudicator when the world championships take place.
I was assuming there is a Scrabble world championships because there is an elephant polo world championship. Which is proof if it was ever actually needed of humanities ability to make a competition out of anything. BTW care to guess the 2004 world champions of Elephant polo. Scotland....  If anyone can figure out how that happened, let me know.... But putting strange pachyderm sports to one side. It seemed a safe bet that a Scrabble world championship existed when I was first thinking about this post, and it turns out it does indeed.

a writers tool box....


So somewhere in the world serious men in cardigans must have met around a pop-up table and debated if colour or color should be the agreed word for the championship. After all, there is no doubt the influence it has on the scores. Perhaps if it takes place in the UK they use the Oxford English Dictionary,, and if it occurs in the US they use a Webster's dictionary.... but if that's the case imagine the difference it could make in the world records... Think about it a moment, U may only be worth 1 point, but a Z is worth 10. So you see what you need to realise is that realise is worth 9 fewer points in the UK than realize is worth in the US...  And that's before some smart arse uses it on a triple word score, drops and s on the end and gets the fifty bonus points...
What if it takes place in Nigeria, as it did in 2015 (yes I looked it up, but not going to let facts get in the way). But which dictionary do they use then, and if a UK player takes on a US player .... does the US player have an advantage. Or does it all even out, those 10 point Z's you can use in more places in American English, against all the 1 point U's that suddenly have so many more uses in The Queens original variant?
So yes, it was a slow day at work, and my mind wondered a little...
Regardless, men in cardigans care deeply about these things I have no doubt.

Why is any of this relevant, (except to the men in cardigans)?
Well as I am sure your aware I have published two novels.
What do you mean your not aware of that, it's not like I have never mentioned it before? The links are at the side of the page. Do you think this blog is just here as entertainment and occasional waffling on about scrabble and elephant polo ...

Ahem, sorry, where was I?
Oh yes, as your aware I have published two novels, and like most self-publicists I have done so in my own native language of English. The one with all the U's all over the place and S's in realise... I wrote them in English, which is somewhat universal as long as you know when a hood is a bonnet, and a boot is a trunk. The spelling of words, well that's slightly Tom Ate Toe, Tom Art Toe. And in all honesty, a little confession here, it never occurred to me that I should actually make American additions of my novels with the American English spellings.

Let me say that again, because I doubt I am alone in this. It never occurred to me to make American English versions of Cider Lane and Passing Place...

I self-publish, which if you have read this blog before I am sure you know, and it's a common mistake that happens to most if not all self-publishers. I know this because I have read a lot of Indie novels. The American ones are in American, the British ones are in British, and the Europeans ones all depend on which English teacher they had...
Yet it shouldn't be, because in common with most of my indie author friends who self-publish I want my product to be as good as anything that comes out of a major publishing house. I had Cider Lane reproofed and reissued it to get rid of those annoying typos that crept past the proof-readers and myself that readers spotted, because when you hit a typo it jumps out at you  (The first time you read something, not the hundredth like most authors have their own books).

Yet by publishing in America in British English, I am doing the same to all my American readers. As is almost every indie author. Sure I would not change the title of my book from 'Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone' to 'Harry Potter and the Sorcerers Stone'. Because unlike the American publishers of J K Rowlings work I don't believe Americans are unable to comprehend certain words and their meanings.
Cider Lane, however, is set in Summerset England, where they say Tom Art Toe, and a car had a bonnet and a boot, not a hood and a trunk. So the native vernacular should stay the same, but the spelling of words... that should be another story. After all, all it will take me is a few hours in a word processor set to American English to run through the manuscripts and then fix the typesetting if it needs it.
 
Hence, while it was a slow day at work, I was thinking about scrabble. And how for some of my readers colour should be worth less in Scrabble, and realise should be worth more. If I, and other British self-publishers, are going to sell our wares to Americans we should make the effort to cater to them. To meet them half way across the pond and change the words to ones that they are familiar with. Likewise, Americans publishing to the British-speaking world should do the same. After all, it's only common courtesy.

We may be 'separated by a common language', as someone said even if no one is quite sure who its was. But we are united by a common Scrabble board, let the men in cardigans argue about which dictionary they use, because as writers we should use both...