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Hi again, guys (no gals yet?)
Re Issue 14: the highlight for me was Terry's story, the best I've read from him for ages. Marguerite Laurence's left me cold, to be honest, although it was beautifully written. Robert Hood's was entertaining, but didn't quite meet the expectation of the title. And Mary Dennison's story - despite using an idea used before (by Pete D Manison, a US writer) and probably the worst VR plot-device ever - was quite enjoyable.
Non-fiction was up to its usual high standard. Robin Pen seems to be trying to cover more and more with every "Embuggerance", with the result that he seems to be dealing with less, in terms of depth; but then, I guess there hasn't been much around for him to sink his teeth into. I'm sure the coming boom of sf film will give him something to talk about.
One of the most interesting things in this issue - and yet, perhaps the most easily overlooked - was Lucy Cohen Schmeidler's article "An Almost Common Language". One indication of the influence of US science (and mainstream) fiction on Australian writers can be obviously found in the characters and settings we choose for our own stories. American locations are found frequently, as are American characters and language. This may not seem unusual; after all, many of us know Americans, or have been to America, so our personal experience may lead us in that direction quite naturally. The same applies for Britain (which would probably rank third after Australia and America) and the British. But where, then, are the characters of other nationalities that this assumption would lead us to expect: the Greeks, the Italians, the South Africans, the Japanese, the Indonesians, and so on - the people that many of us encounter every day? How many Latin Americans or Canadians appear in Australian sf stories? What about Australian Aborigines? Our multicultural society has much to offer in the way of diverse characters and language, and sometimes I can't help but feel frustrated at reading about WASPs in nearly every story I pick up in an Australian magazine. Although I'm not suggesting that we should adopt a tokenist attitude to characters, it would be nice to see a little variety.
Of course, this criticism applies to myself as much as it does to anyone else. My own story in Issue 14 featured more than a few Americanisms (well, a lot - but it was a stylistic decision, okay?) and I had no doubt that I was risking getting a few wrong. However, having a partner who lives in Texas, and who helped in the editing process, should have ironed out most of the bugs.
While I am not suggesting that every Australian writer should go to such an extreme simply to get American language right, I do suggest finding a pen-pal who would be prepared to vet dialogue and text. If it must be done, it must be done right.
And that's it from me.
In another letter, Sean mentions printing irregularities in Issue 14. We're always trying to improve our print-quality, and the process used to print this issue should make a significant difference in that regard. Or so we hope.
Other Aurealis news: we recently gained a bookstore/specialty newsstand distributor in the US, and we are currently negotiating with a national bookstore distributor in Australia. We also launched our Aurealis School Short Story Competition earlier this year with a promotion in secondary schools.
Anyway, keep up the good work!
The Tom stories have been hinting for some time now that Tom is artificial life, a 'replicant' created as part of ongoing tribal experiments. Tom's obscure and inaccessible origins support the idea of tribal life factions protecting themselves from payback (the "factions and forces" mentioned in the Eidolon 12 interview). Keep in mind, too, that Dowling likes to hide things within ever-deeper levels of meaning. There are a couple of very deep clues pointing towards Tom being artificial life: "Tom" is a Greek derivative from an Aramaic word meaning 'twin' and suggests that the champion of artificial life is, in actuality, a twin of life itself; Tom's given colour is blue and it is the Blue Fairy who changes Pinocchio from a puppet into a real boy. At all levels, everything appears to point towards Tom's artificial origins.
Or so the author would like us to believe. I admire the clever use of misdirection in the scaffolding of the Tom stories and I am generally delighted whenever any author successfully deceives me. But now that the general shape of Tom's journey through future stories has been made evident in "A Woman Sent Through Time", I have some concerns that Dowling's use of light and shade to confuse the reader has strayed from duplicity to disinformation. Dowling appears to be maliciously frustrating the heart's desire of his perceptive readers (are there any others?) to have at least some idea in advance of what it is, exactly, that is going on. Surely, this is not too much to ask this deep into the cycle?
Dowling's chiaroscuro writing has simply become too duplicitous. That which the author presents to the reader as being in the shade is in fact in the light. The true clues to Tom's origins are hidden much farther back in the monochrome background and nowhere is there any warning that the author uses not light and shade, but shade and black. (Possibly Tom's role change from the Blue Captain to the Leopard is a hidden signal to focus on the "black spots" of the storyline for Tom's secret).
The true key is perhaps contained, not in "A Woman Sent Through Time", but in "The Babel Ships". The shape of the key is the Genesis deep-space series. That this story does indeed reveal the true genesis of Tom is strongly supported by the name of Anoki, which is not that far removed after all from 'Anki', the Sumerian god of genesis. If "The Babel Ships" is indeed the true key, what then does it mean? We know from the story that ". . . the Genesis series was . . . designed to convey tailored . . . lab-life to interstellar destinations". And there lies the secret of Tom's origins and the meaning of the three signs of Ship, Star and Woman's Face.
Tom is not a 'twin' of life, he is true life from a twin planet, as a result of the Genesis project. The Castaway machine showed Tom's life cancelling at 6 or 7 years [of age] not because this was the time of his inception but because it was the time of his arrival upon the Earth, when he was removed from his decades-long sleep between the stars as a 'cold-person'.
Looking at Tom as an interstellar visitor gives different meanings to the three signs, at both a physical and spiritual level. At a physical level, Ship conveyed Tom from his interstellar home to Earth, Star is the place of his birth and Woman's Face is the captain of his deep-space voyage. (That the interstellar captain is a woman perhaps means that Tom comes from a matriarchal society, a nice counterpoint to the heavily patriarchal Ab'O States.)
At a metaphysical level, Ship is the ship of Odysseus and Tom is that Greek hero in his quest for arete. According to Campbell, arete is the "patriarchal notion of virtue", or of masculine pride in excellence arising from "a life lived according to its nature". Tom Rynosseros is identified as Odysseus both by Ship and by his quest for the Arete sign. A deeper clue is given to the reader in the double-s occupying the exact middle of both 'Rynosseros' and 'Odysseus'. (As with the Sumerian god 'Anki' being translated into 'Anoki', keep watch for a future character called Nemo, Greek for 'no man', the name chosen by Odysseus on the island of the Cyclops).
Star, at the metaphysical level, represents Vairochana, the Solar Buddha (in Japan known as the Great Sun Buddha). Tom is Vairochana and the ring of Belltrees throughout Australia forms the Flower Garland within which he sits. Through his championing of artificial life, Tom observes the teaching of the Avatamsaka Sutra, that no single being exists in and of itself, and promotes the goal of the Mayahana, of establishing the harmonious totality of all things. Tom's mission as the Solar Buddha is to break down the patriarchal Ab'O society and to reverse the attitudes towards artificial life, allowing all life to be lived according to its nature. In this way will he gain arete.
The triangular Arete sign - a patriarchal symbol - on Woman's Face represents the mountain of Anki, of which the upper half was male and the lower, female. In terms of Tom's quest for knowledge, the triangle also represents the trivaga of the Buddha, the three impediments to the attainment of enlightenment: love and pleasure; power and success; lawful order and moral virtue. "Shatterwrack at Breaklight" was a significant Tom story in that it allowed Tom to strive against and overcome the temptation of love and pleasure. Similarly, "Going to the Angels" allowed Tom to progress past the need for power and success and "Ship's Eye" advanced him beyond the need for lawful order and moral virtue.
I do not expect Terry Dowling either to confirm or deny these observations, as he has his own timetable and agenda. However, Tom Rynosseros, Interstellar Agent, is as good an explanation as any behind the mystery of Tom's past and meets all the requirements of being a simpler solution than that currently being suggested to us by the author. Why the loss of memory? Simply put, to be successful Tom has to work as part of Earth society and so needed his ingrained biases towards the equality of life, the normality of a matriarchal system etc. removed at the beginning. He is 'programmed' in ways that he does not know to allow him to accomplish his work, and the three signs are a strong part of that programming that will allow him to eventually achieve anamnesis.
I would like to mention my views on the Terry Dowling/Paul Linebarger debate. Terry Dowling makes a poor Cordwainer Smith, but then again Cordwainer Smith makes a very poor Terry Dowling. While Locus has referred to them both as talespinners, Dowling is a mythographer and Linebarger was a folklorist (Gene Wolfe is a talespinner). Commercial considerations aside, there should be no reason for any continued comparison between two authors with such different goals. Let that be the basis of any further discussions.
We would be pleased to hear from other readers who have an opinion on the interpretation of Terry's Rynosseros cycle.
It was great to see a new Eidolon, and also to see that the quality continues to come right up to standard. My favourite, this issue, is "To Dream of those Elysian Fields", admittedly for purely personal reasons. The emotional and societal impact of this story [in the context of] an ageing culture is a hefty wallop. Very few people in our community can be completely dislocated from the thrust of this piece . . . almost all of us are coping with ageing family members, and for some of us it's become a cause for concern. We're not exactly racing down the road toward "To Dream of those Elysian Fields", but I'd be lying if I said I couldn't see it coming.
The item in Eidolon Issue 14 that piqued my interest most was Lucy Cohen Schmeidler's short article, "An Almost Common Language". Ms. Cohen Schmeidler is spot-on target, and [provides] some excellent examples of the difficulties arising when a common language diverges in isolation. American and Australian English are two very dissimilar dialects. How well Australian writers manage American English depends on our grasp of a fundamentally similar but superficially different form of expression. Sometimes we do it well . . . sometimes not [so well]. But it's important to point out that Americans speak Australian just as badly! This is not an article, so I can't launch into lengthy illustrations, save possibly to point to Hollywood TV as the worst offender. Not only are Aussies often used as comedy relief, but when they are significant characters, casting directors seem to prefer to hire Cockneys - because they can't tell the accents and idioms apart! Worse, they hire US actors, who seem to be 'doing' the Cockney accents/idioms and passing it off as Australian. To true Aussies it's only laughable for the first few minutes; then it grates, and becomes insulting. At least, the US public is expected to accept this as a reasonable representation of an Australian . . . or else not care that it isn't. To be fair, Hollywood moviedom is less insulting: mostly they ignore us. (Can't count Mel, who's American and rarely here; he didn't arrive till he was twelve and left again before he was thirty.) Australian readers; if you can find a copy of the novel Playing in the Sand, you'll see how badly this writer (American or English, it's hard to tell) speaks Australian. Sorry, I can't quote the author's name; the book infuriated me so much that I took it to a book exchange long ago. [Its] dialect, culture and geography were closer to those of Mars than to the ostensible South Australia, and the book was obviously written from maps and a quick viewing of The Sullivans. This is a common problem among writers, who must write from foreign perspectives sooner or later lest their scope become suffocating. The important point here is that Aussie writers are not the only (or even worst) offenders!
Why do local writers want/need to write about American characters in US settings? I'm only hazarding a guess, but it's an educated one. Referring to a previous item in Eidolon 14 - "In Print" - I see that not one story by an Australian was sold to one of the top-paying magazines in America during the period covered by the column. Most writers write for money . . . or, at least in the hopes of earning some. When magazines like Analog, Asimov's, F&SF, Omni and Pulphouse might pay $1,000 for a story, the temptation is for writers to target them as the best markets. When Eidolon starts to pay up to eight cents per word that'll change. Until then, working writers surely must [produce] the most marketable commodities they can, and most of us would assume that American readers prefer to read about Americans doing things in America! (This can't be a universal viewpoint, but I've heard this from the horse's mouth - American editors.) The fact that no Aussie story was sold to a top-paying US magazine last year may or may not be significant, or even relevant. But it's a fact to conjure with, and may indicate that US editors offering rich royalties desire or require 'local' content, location or characterisation. I'm in no position to judge, but it makes you think. I don't say all American editors are parochially disposed, but the more liberal souls may only offer meagre payment, or even payment in copies. When writing is a hobby, any airing is a joy; fanzine publication is just as wonderful. When writing becomes a job, the picture changes, regrettably. In a perfect world, Eidolon would pay eight cents per word - yeeaaaayyyy!
With very best wishes, and looking forward to your next issue,
We too look forward to that day, JJ. Sadly, with our circulation, it may be some time off!
I like your new review format. Livings writes good reviews, and his connecting commentary is fun. I noticed that all three Australian authors whose books are reviewed in this issue had earlier Eidolon reviews by outside "name" reviewers. I think the current, excellent staff reviews are a sign of the magazine's growing maturity and self-confidence.
My only complaints, and they're minor, are that you introduced typos in both my letter and my essay, and Britishized my spelling, which is something I was told you don't do when a writer is American. The first time you did this to me, it was at two removes and I'm sure you never saw my words as written. It was in your Issue #12 interview with Terry Dowling, when you quoted him quoting "a letter from New York". The typos could have been avoided by your proofreader reading over his/her output and being more familiar with the writers cited, as in the "correction" of Voermans' to Voerman's.
Lucy Cohen Schmeidler
Every story in this issue features travelling in a major way. What's more, three of the five examine the effects of time on relationships, and three of the five involve positive depictions of lesbian relationships (while a fourth at least implies same). None of this influenced us in our decision to accept the stories: Eidolon rarely intends thematic links between its stories.
The Editor's role should be that of universal translator; someone who shapes language and ideas so they're easily assimilated (and thus enjoyed) by as large a body of people as practicable. By fitting spelling to readership we're helping get the message across. The same role involves selecting stories we believe 'work' and will thus best entertain and communicate any message they may have. It also leads to me liberally editing letters to add sense or to clarify where I feel it necessary.
Language is simply a useful means of translating one person's thoughts into something another person can understand. As such, it's the sense that's important, not the words. Of course, an Editor must try to preserve the original "character" of a letter (and this is the reason we leave fiction alone), lest the writing becomes the bland, grammatically-standard stuff of textbooks, and sense is actually lost for lack of contextual clues present in the style.
Those typos were introduced by our overworked keyboard operators (read "editors"). Proofreaders? That must be me . . .
Dear Editors (there are so many of you now!)
Has Martin Livings been taking Robin's drugs? (Mind you, the notion that Robin needs drugs to write how he does is also a "common phallusy"!) Seriously though, Martin's reviews gave me a great deal of pleasure. However, I thought he was a bit harsh on Mortal Fire; I have only praise for it.
The letters [held] more excitement than usual, and it was good to see. Ellen Datlow's comments, I feel, also apply to the Australian sf being published. As to the material Eidolon is publishing: stuff the statistics; I'm convinced that what you're publishing is damn fine, and I often don't notice the gender of the contributor. If it's the best, you have my vote to print it; it doesn't matter if it's by a male, female, Australian or otherwise.
Finally, Lucy Cohen Schmeidler's mini-article. I loved it! I've noticed that many Australian authors are receiving a bagging over the use of "Americanisms" (ominous background music). I don't see what the problem is. It's almost as if Australian stories need to contain an obligatory remark about meat pies or the footy! There is too much narrow-mindedness; every story doesn't have to be so "God-damn Australian" but, as Lucy says, use them right.
Have a nice day!
Russell B. Farr
Dear Richard, Jonathan and Jeremy
I did get through Sean Williams' story (now he counts as an improved new writer) and loved the ideas behind it. He also has a comfortable, raw style that doesn't leave me guessing. Oh, and tell Robin Pen that I fell for the Blade Runner Director's Cut crap and it cost me money I would rather have spent on some other form of masochism. I think I'll stick to watching the video copy I have at home and just turn down the sound for the worst of the [voice-overs] - and maybe I'll splice in a couple of unicorn scenes from Ridley's Legend. And tell Fancher that he's a dickhead. If Deckard is a replicant then why is he the biggest wimp of the movie? Stick with the obvious. The girl is the unicorn - but she dies soon after, due to her inability to manufacture an essential amino acid. (Anyone else out there actually read Cretaceous . . . ah, Jurassic Park?)
Cheers . . .
Amos T. (Tim) Fairchild
Originally appeared pp. 103-108, Eidolon 15, July 1994.
Copyright © 1994 Eidolon Publications. Individual contributions are copyright to the respective authors.
Reprinted with kind permission of the authors.