Another year of recs

With a day to spare (why do I always leave these so late, even when I know what I’m going to be writing about?), I’ve finished and posted the last of my recommendations for this year. As advertised, it’s the last of the classical “primary sources” recommendations: Virgil’s Aeneid, rounding out the set begun with the Iliad and the Oydssey.

*click*

When you have a worldbuilding problem for a story you’re not really
working on at present, to which your mind returns periodically to niggle
at it in search of an answer, it is very satisfying to find oneself
niggling at it once again and this time having the answer fall into one’s
lap. And while it may not be satisfying to realize your failure to see
said answer before came about because you let yourself fall into a rather
stereotypical trap of perception, it’s somewhat nice to also realize that
means you’ll have an opportunity to make a quiet demonstration of a point
to which you have always spoken in support.

In other words, most hunter-gatherer caloric intake comes from the
gathering, not the hunting. And I’d forgotten that.

Go about your business. All is well with the world now — or at least
with that world.

Apocalypto

Grar.

So very nearly good. I can forgive it things like architectural features apparently drawn
from about 1500 years of Mayan history. I can, if I try very hard, dig up a Mayan city still
occupied around, y’know, that time. (Though they could have made my life far simpler
in that respect by filming in Nahuatl instead of Yucatec. Then I wouldn’t have spent five
minutes after the credits snarling and flailing about Aztecs.) I could maybe even let go of
the weirdness of a large Mayan city apparently being surrounded by hunter-gatherers at no more
than two days’ distance. (What, did they all survive off that one cornfield?) And hey, some
of the things I thought were inaccuracies turned out not to be!

But grar.

I debated long and hard whether or not I wanted to see this movie, given Mel Gibson’s
personal disagreeability to me, given the potential (and, I’m afraid, actual) colonialist
overtones of the story. In the end I went because I’m a Mesoamerican geek, and because I
wanted to tell Hollywood there’s at least one more person in the world who will happily watch
movies in obscure Central American languages with actors nobody’s ever heard of. And I don’t
regret going, and I really almost like the movie. But it isn’t what you’d call the best
representation of Mayan culture; the aforementioned hunter-gatherers make it look more
primitive than it needed to, and it doesn’t give the context that human sacrifice
needs.
(Okay, so my article is Nonfiction Lite, but it sums up much of what I would
otherwise have to repeat here.) Few people watching that movie will know or care about the
cosmological framework in which sacrifice generally fit, nor the ways in which the epidemics
that appear to have preceded the physical arrival of Europeans on the mainland sent
people into a frenzy that was to normal behavior as the apocalyptic cults and flagellant
societies of plague-era Europe were to normal Christianity before everybody started dying.
Few people will think to make that comparison to our own history, and therefore to understand
how Europeans wouldn’t come off so well were we to make this kind of movie about them during
the Black Death. Instead, we get Noble Savages (the hunter-gatherers, whom I actually quite
liked aside from their anachronistic subsistence strategy) fleeing the pointless sadism of the
Evil City Folk. Things lack context, and sometimes sport inaccuracies while doing so. It isn’t a great combination.

And yet. And yet. The cenote outside the village, the jade in the nobles’ teeth, the
atlatl. The murals with elements taken from a site my sophomore
tutorial leader excavated
. The actor whose profile is about the closest you can get to
Mayan without practicing cranial modification on an infant and then waiting twenty years for
him to grow up. There were so many details that were good, and Gibson filmed the movie in
freakin’ Yucatec
. It came so close to being a film that would make me melt in geeky glee.
I just wish I didn’t have to feel so ambivalent about it.

A Life in Music

December is my month for nostalgia, for making at least one retrospective post about
something. I keep feeling like it should be about writing, since my first novels came out
this year, but my heart isn’t really in it; I’ve been talking about writing a fair bit all
year, so I don’t feel like I’ve got something I really need to say and haven’t.

So instead, this post is about gaming, and specifically about two interrelated bits of
nostalgia. Last night I finished making the last soundtrack for Ree, and wanted to post the
full track listing for anybody who’s interested — mostly for those who have copies and might
want to know what the songs are; if you don’t know the character or the game, a random list of
songs probably won’t mean much. Page down for the actual nostalgia, and an explanation of why
it ran to five CDs in the end.

Track listing . . . .

I’ll be a real teacher!

Just got official notice that my course proposal for Collins, the honors dorm here on
campus, has been accepted. Next fall I’ll be teaching “Fairy Tales in the Modern World,” a
class on contemporary retellings of folktales. It’s mostly literature-based, but I’m slipping
in what I can about movies, role-playing games, and the like.

I’m both very excited and a little nervous. I’ve got four years of teaching experience
under my belt, but it’s all as an assistant to a professor, so this will be my first time
running my own course. The cool thing is, enrollment is limited to 20, so it will also be my
first chance to really get to know my students personally, give detailed feedback on papers,
etc, rather than plowing through sixty student assignments and teaching three sections. Since
a lot of the students are going to be freshman and sophomores, this means I have a shot at
actually influencing how they approach their college education. (Yeah, yeah, delusions of
grandeur, I know. But I have hopes.)