If you have spare time this upcoming weekend — at pretty much any hour of the day or night, regardless of your time zone — than may I recommend Flights of Foundry? The Dream Foundry, an organization dedicated to helping newcomers in any field of SF/F (not just writing but illustration, comic books, gaming, and more), has organized a virtual convention for this weekend, with presentations, panels, readings, workshops, and kaffeeklatsches. Because this is not solely targeted at North American attendees, they have programming more or less ’round the clock — note that you can set the program to be displayed in your own time zone, for greater convenience. It will be run through GoToWebinar (for the presentations and panels, because that can handle larger groups), Zoom (for the readings and kaffeeklatsches, because it’s better for interactivity), and Discord (for casual hanging out and also submitting audience questions to the panels). My own activities are as follows:
- Saturday, 10 p.m. UTC/6 p.m. Eastern/3 p.m. Pacific: Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Folklore (presentation)
- Saturday, 11 p.m. UTC/7p.m. Easter/4 p.m. Pacific: Geography, Maps, and SFF (panel with Jeremy A. TeGrotenhuis, Henry Lien, K.M. Alexander, and Marie Croke)
- Sunday/Saturday 5 a.m. UTC/1 a.m. Eastern/10 p.m. Pacific: reading (I will almost certainly read from The Mask of Mirrors!)
- Sunday, 6 p.m. UTC/2 p.m. Eastern/11 a.m. Pacific: kaffeeklatsch (limited attendance)
Note that while Flights of Foundry is free to attend, it is not free to put on. So if you’re in a position to donate, please do; you’ll have the opportunity during the registration process.
The title of this post comes from my sister, who is the reason I’ve been watching so many operas the last two months.
The Metropolitan Opera was one of the first performance organizations to make shows available online, as part of the efforts to relieve quarantine tedium. Since mid-March, they’ve been streaming one opera each day, drawing from their stable of HD rebroadcasts (usually shown in movie theatres). My sister, being an opera buff, suggested this as a good way to sample the genre — and I was all in favor, since this didn’t mean getting up at an early hour for a cinema screening or wedging myself into the absurdly small seats at the War Memorial Opera House in San Francisco.
What I have learned: in direct contrast to my usual taste in movies and TV shows, I could not care less about most of the tragedies . . . but man, bring on the comedies.
This isn’t just because right now I’m more keen on amusing stuff than its depressing counterpart. It’s because I like plot and good dialogue/lyrics, and comedies, by their nature, tend to require more of that than tragedies do, just to make their engines run. Also, I just kind of don’t give a crap about most of the tragic characters? They make bad choices for reasons I don’t find very sympathetic, and then they die. And I’m hit-or-miss on the music itself (which is, after all, the point of opera); I often like the choral pieces, but I’m not hugely fond of the general techniques of operatic singing, so lots of the arias and duets don’t really engage me. Of the tragedies I’ve seen, Carmen tops the list by a mile because its music is so damn good, but the rest . . . eh.
Comedies, though! We’re at a point where I will agree to watch pretty much anything that involves Juan Diego Flórez: I saw two operas with him in a leading role (La Fille du régiment and Il barbiere di Siviglia), and promptly agreed to watch Le Comte Ory without knowing anything more than “the poster shows Juan Diego Flórez in a nun’s habit.” Nor was I disappointed. In fact, if you get a chance to watch it, do; it isn’t Flórez’s most sympathetic character, but on the other hand they took the scene where (by the script) Ory goes to seduce the countess and in the dark is deceived into holding the hand of his page (a trouser role, i.e. a woman playing a male character), and turned it into an unrepentant queer bisexual threesome: Ory unwittingly gets into bed with both countess and page, somehow fails to notice that there’s a second person there as they roll around in various configurations, sees his page when the lights come up, and then promptly shrugs and leaps back into bed with them both, because why not.
What have I seen so far? Prior to quarantine and the Met’s free streams, I’d seen rebroadcasts of The Magic Flute (Mozart) and Tosca (Puccini), and in the SF theatre I saw Manon Lescaut (Puccini), Turandot (Puccini), Carmen (Bizet), Hansel and Gretel (Engelbert Humperdinck), and a new modern opera, Dream of the Red Chamber (Bright Sheng). I regret to say that last one was kind of terrible; I could not bring myself to like it no matter how much I wanted to. Since the quarantine began, I’ve watched:
- La Fille du régiment (Donizetti) — loved it, and kudos to Natalie Dessay for managing to sing like that while also engaging in absurd quantities of physical comedy, including being carried offstage sideways.
- Il barbiere di Siviglia (Rossini) — I would buy a recording of this staging if it were available for purchase, but it seems not be. Not just fun characters, but really excellent set design and so forth.
- Le Comte Ory (Rossini) — less of a good plot, but on the other hand, queer bisexual threesome.
- La Cenerentola (Rossini; also with Flórez) — didn’t like the staging of this one at all, unfortunately. It was mostly just unattractive.
- Il Trovatore (Verdi) — tragedy. Meh. Good job on the Anvil Chorus, though, and it was nice to see a Korean singer as Manrico.
- Der Rosenkavalier (Strauss) — reasonably good, but it dragged on a bit too long to hold my interest.
- Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg (Wagner) — SPEAKING OF DRAGGING ON, GOOD LORD, RICHARD. I actually quite liked this! . . . except it’s literally five hours long. If somebody could figure out how to do an abridged version, I would eat it up with a spoon — because the material is good! I just want less of it.
- Falstaff (Verdi) — also very fun, and based on The Merry Wives of Windsor. I was dubious at first of the 1950s aesthetic to the staging, but it worked.
- Les Contes d’Hoffman (Offenbach) — we actually skipped Act 2, because my sister has seen this one and said it was incredibly boring compared to the rest of the opera. (Partly a matter of how it was staged.) I really liked Kate Lindsey as the Muse, and may wind up getting a short story out of it.
- Le Nozze di Figaro (Mozart) — an older production (from the late ’90s). This one’s interesting because narratively, it’s a sequel to The Barber of Seville, though Mozart’s opera was written thirty years before Rossini’s. Almaviva is an ass here, but it’s very fun watching the women conspire to trick the men (something it has in common with Falstaff).
- L’amour de loin (Kaija Saariaho) — this is modern, and by all rights I should not have liked it. The staging is gorgeous, using strings of programmed LEDs to mimic the sea; the music, however, is spectral, which means it’s discarded all your bourgeois notions like “melody” and “rhythm.” But it made pleasant enough background noise, and I appreciated that the characters were, as my sister said, more self-aware than about 95% of opera characters, despite also being on their way to tragedy. Also, this is only the second opera by a female composer that the Met has ever staged, and the previous one was in 1903. So that’s a thing. (Female conductor, too.)
Technically we also watched the first act of Borodin’s Prince Igor, but really we were just waiting for “Polovtsian Dances,” after which we quit out of it. (The plot bored us and the actual dancing was . . . not good?) And we watched the very beginning of Bizet’s Les pêcheurs de perles, just because the staging during the overture was absolutely brilliant: a perfect combination of lighting and wirework to make it look like you were watching pearl divers deep underwater.
Am I a fan of opera now? As a blanket statement, no; the entire swath of tragedy is still mostly uninteresting to me, after an initial sample where I assumed that was what I would like. But I have enjoyed enough of the comedies that I’m more actively interested in watching them, if the chance arises — which it is very likely to do for a while yet. If you want to dabble your toes in the waters of opera without having to leave your couch, this is a good opportunity to do so.
When all this quarantine business was just getting started, Maya Chhabra had a very clever idea: just as Boccacio’s Decameron was based around the idea of a group of quarantined people in a time of plague telling stories to entertain each other (think Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, but in a house), she would start up a charity Patreon for a New Decameron, posting short stories, poems, and novel excerpts from participating writers, with the bulk of the proceeds going to Cittadini del Mondo, a charity running a library and clinic for refugees in Rome.
While I’m here, I’d like to say something else. Right now and in the next few weeks, a lot of areas in the United States are loosening their pandemic restrictions. In far too many places, they’re not doing it because the disease has been confined to a traceable amount, nor because they’ve got sufficient testing to catch and suppress future surges; they’re doing it because, well, we’ve been doing this for a while now, and we’re bored, or because any number of bodies are worth sacrificing on the altar of our economy. If you live in an area where the virus is still a threat, I urge you to remain as locked-down as you can. Both to protect yourself from the people who think this has all been blown out of proportion and it’s “just a bad flu” (or worse, that it’s a politically-motivated conspiracy), and to do what small part you can to blunt the impact of opening up too much too soon. The New Decameron has been running for fifty-four days now; that’s fifty-four days’ worth of content to entertain you at home. After which there are many ebooks and streaming media and other ways to alleviate the boredom. If you’re someone who can’t remain sequestered at home, I hope you’re able to stay safe regardless.
At home, obviously — like a truly staggering percentage of the planet’s population. But it’s been near-total radio silence around here, apart from links to the weekly Patreon posts, so I figure I should update.
The good news is, the silence has not been due to any sort of illness with me or mine. Instead . . . you know all those people posting about the stuff they’ve finally gotten done around the house or the new bread-baking hobby they’ve picked up? That is not me. Through a confluence of factors (some of which were my fault, some of which weren’t), I got behind on drafting Night Parade — which meant that circa early March, I had to put my head down and start charging ahead at speeds nearly unprecedented in my writing career in order to get it done by deadline. (The only comparable instance even in the running was during my senior year of college, after I turned in my thesis and then a novel fell out of my head in about seven weeks.) We’re talking working at at least 150% my normal pace for weeks on end, with no days off anywhere in there. Oh, and partway through that time I had to drop it for five days so I could copy-edit a 214K-word novel, which is about 200% my normal pace for a task of that kind.
Yyyyyeah. It’s been a busy time around here.
The good news is, Night Parade is done and turned in on time (a day ahead, even!), The Mask of Mirrors is copy-edited, and Tachyon gave me until early May to handle the proofs for Driftwood, because I think the Look of Utter Panic I got when those were sent to me a couple of weeks ago was visible even in email. And we’re all healthy here.
We’ve been weathering lockdown fairly well. I work from home anyway, and so does my husband more days than not; my sister (who lives with us) does not, but she used to, so on a domestic level this is a familiar routine. The big changes for me are that I can’t go to the dojo, and I can’t have in-person gaming. Both of which I miss rather acutely, but I’m not among the people who have had to figure out how to do their job from home while also wrangling kids doing distance learning, etc. We’ve figured out how to make online gaming work about as well as it can — the trick is to reboot our Discord video call every 40 minutes or so, as soon as it starts to get choppy — and over the winter I purchased a folding exercise bike that’s put about 500 miles on the odometer in the last two months, as all three members of our household have been making use of it. I’ve also been doing a lot of online teaching, fitting the already-existing theme of 2020 being the year I teach a lot more than I have lately. I did four of Clarion West’s free one-hour workshops, on a variety of worldbuilding themes, and there’s a plan in progress for a six-hour workshop in the near future — that being another thing that got delayed until early May so my brains wouldn’t liquify and pour out my nose. And I’m working for the Kelly Yang Project, teaching creative writing to a kid in Hong Kong.
Free time? What’s that?
In all seriousness, I have also been giving myself a break with some entertainment. Not a whole lot of reading, simply because my brain’s reaction to text on a page is NO NO MAKE IT GO AWAY, but TV shows, video games, and (most unexpectedly) opera, because the Met has been making one opera available for free every night for weeks now. Maybe look for some posts on those in the upcoming days, as I regenerate my ability to word.
Right now, though, I’m doing my best to take a break.
This year we have an extension on filing our taxes, but the New Worlds Patreon is going to discuss taxation anyway: what we tax, how we pay, and how this can actually generate story. Comment over there!
Brennan (the Memoirs of Lady Trent series) plays with the concept of secondary-world fantasy with this fresh, immersive introduction to the land of Driftwood, a patchwork world where other fantasy worlds come to die. As each otherworld is pulled toward the Crush, the churning center of Driftwood where their last vestiges mix and crumble before vanishing forever, its inhabitants must adapt to life in Driftwood or disappear along with their homes. The novel’s form mirrors the cobbled-together nature of its world, composed primarily of self-contained episodes unified only by the shadowy figure of Last, the sole survivor of a world that Driftwood consumed long ago. Many who pass through Driftwood seek Last’s aid, desperate to preserve their cultures and stop the inevitable and believing he knows the secrets to surviving the Crush. Brennan skillfully builds a multiplicity of worlds, painting each unique and fully developed culture with bold, minimalist strokes and, though readers don’t get to spend much time with any single character, rendering each member of the sprawling cast with impressive nuance and subtlety. Exploring found family, adaptation, and hope in the face of apocalypse, Brennan imbues this high-concept fantasy with a strong emotional core. Fantasy fans will be thrilled.
. . . I might have had some discussions with Jaymee Goh, my editor, about the relevance of the subject matter in the current political climate. That was before the pandemic got rolling. I wish it weren’t even more relevant now, but as pull quotes go, I’ll gladly own “hope in the face of apocalypse.”