Aliens in This World

An ordinary Catholic and a science fiction and fantasy fan.

Thursday, April 03, 2003

A little more measured response....

I sent this letter to a few Harry Potter sites. I plan to send it to some newspapers as well.

I was very disappointed by today's cease-and-desist order against the Dutch translation of Tanya Grotter and the Magic Double Bass, and equally disappointed by the coverage of it as a plagiarism case, especially since the suit was for copyright infringement.

There are many books in this world which share similar setups and comment on each other. David Weber's bestselling Honor Harrington series has been explicitly called "Hornblower in Space" (as was Star Trek, for that matter), and the Hornblower series itself copied the life of Nelson. Calling this sort of time-honored practice "copyright infringement" and allowing one publisher to sue another over it will surely have a chilling effect on publishers in the Netherlands and around the world.

As for the allegations in many articles that author Dimitriy Yemets plagiarized J.K. Rowling in his Tanya books, they are absurd. I've read the whole Harry Potter series many times. I own Russian editions of Harry Potter. I have been slowly reading Tanya Grotter for myself. (The reading level's a bit too high for me without a really good dictionary.) There is no plagiarism of any kind, nor are the plots similar in any but the broadest ways. Yemets doesn't need to plagiarize. He has published over 30 books in Russia, has been writing for many years, and has a beautiful and humorous writing style of his own. He is particularly good at creating interesting characters. To further make my point, let's meet a few....

German Nikitich Durnev: popular member of the Russian Duma and head of the Heartfelt Aid for Children and the Elderly Commission. He hates kids, the elderly, and political campaigns. Perpetually sickly, he looks like a vampire taking bedrest in a cemetery and is a man of 117 bad moods. He dearly loves his nasty, senile dachshund, 1.5 Kilometers.

Ninel Durneva: An enormously fat woman who can't figure out why she never loses weight, though she fasts for half an hour twice a week. She rules the household and keeps up her husband's spirits. She has a horror of germs. Like her husband, she believes in eating only organic food and purified water, none of which is to be served to Tanya. Little does she know that Tanya occasionally tops off the teapot with water from the toilet bowl....

Pipa Durneva: A psychopathic girl who loves to decapitate her dolls and eviscerate her stuffed animals. She has photoalbums full of pictures of herself, a large group of toadies to make Tanya's life hell, and a secret crush on the picture of someone whose initials are "GP" whom she wishes would take her away from all this. (It helps to know that Harry Potter's name is "Garri" in the Russian editions.)

Tanya Grotter: A tiny shy redhead with a smart mouth. She sleeps on a cot on a glassed-in balcony in all but the depths of winter -- and the low temperatures of Russian spring and fall mean ice from her breath covers her thin blanket, while condensation makes her equally thin mattress clammy. After being locked in there for one whole day, she had to go to the hospital with pneumonia for a month; she regarded that month as heaven. Her only real possession is the double bass case in which she was left as a baby at the Durnev's apartment door. In chapter three she manages to summon the magical double bass to her from extradimensional safekeeping. Drawing sound from any string creates unpredictable magical results. It can also fly -- though breaking the speed of sound with it, the instruction manual warns, would have unfortunate results. She is greatly embarrassed by the mole on the
tip of her nose, especially since it tends to change color and size or burn her at unpredictable moments -- and since the Durnevs always tease her about it.

Academician Sardanapal Chernomorov: The world's premier white mage and head of Tibidox, the world's only magic school. Both light and dark mages teach there, and the place is full of monsters, evil ghosts, and baneful architectural features like Statue-Stranglers, the Disappearing Floor and the Ghastly Gate; so it is not safe for the baby Tanya to live there A very short and fat person, he is likely related to the evil dwarf Chernomorov in the legend of Ruslan and Ludmila. When Tanya's father Leopold wrote that he'd managed to create the Talisman of Four Elements, he raced to his side on a rocket-propelled couch, but found Tanya's mother and father dead, Tanya alive in the double bass case, and the whole evil undead army of Chuma del' Torte roaming aimlessly outside their house. Since mages take extended kinship more seriously (they also never divorce or annul marriages, by the way), he figured that a third cousin like German was close enough kin to raise Tanya.

Professor Meduziya Gorgonova: Yes, _that_ Medusa. Sardanapal glued her head back on and turned her back into flesh, fixed her cursed pimples that had been turning people to stone, and taught her how to use her powers for good. When she arrived at Tibidox, the Greek redhead's beauty caused even old Koshchei the Undying to fall in love with her. She has taught at Tibidox for thousands of years, and yes, her hair can hiss, move and bite like snakes. She very nearly dueled with Sardanapal over him sending Tanya to the human world. She rides a flying rocking horse.

Bob-Yagun: Popular commentator of dragonball, the sport in which hungry flaming dragons are both goalie and living goal. He spent several horrifying hours in a dragon's stomach (along with dozens of mages and most of the Vampire and Bald Mountain Witch teams) shortly before meeting Tanya. He ended up with so many bandages she thought he was a mummy. Yep, Baba-Yaga's his grandmother. He dearly loves his little divebomber vacuum cleaner, right down to the air freshener that smells like apricot liqueur.

But there's a lot more I could tell you that isn't in Harry Potter, like the disastrous school field trip to one of the Kremlin's museums, the undead vulture spy, or Mr. Durnev's sudden conviction that he is a rabbit. With Chuma del' Torte gone, light and dark mages maintain a fragile balance of power since each side possesses ten crucial magical items; but there's a twenty-first loose in the world. Meanwhile, Tanya and Mr. Durnev are having horrible visions of a dead old woman whose rotting hands, unattached to her body, reach out to strangle them and make demands.... And I haven't even gotten further than the beginning of chapter 5!

Tanya Grotter and the Magic Double Bass is a very high quality, very funny children's fantasy. I look forward to the day when I can relax and read it in English. ;)

Tanya Banned

You have got to be kidding me. Rowling's lawyers won?! Cease and desist? Obviously someone couldn't read, and could be paid off....

More stories on this travesty of justice:

, AP, Interfax.


If Tanya is plagiarism (actually, copyright was what was being argued, hard as it is to find that in these news stories) any story containing a Dark Lord being fought by a Wizard, a Dwarf, a Halfling, an Elf and a Lost Heir is obviously in line for the chop by the Tolkien Estate. Any barbarian hero with mighty thews must pay off Robert E. Howard, by Crom. Any sharp-eyed detective with odd habits -- especially the producers of Monk -- better hide from the Doyles . And so on, on and on. No genre is safe.

Writers of the world, run away!

Wednesday, April 02, 2003

Dmitri Yemets Interview

Pravda has an article on the Tanya Grotter case in Amsterdam which includes an interview with Dmitri Yemets.

Tuesday, April 01, 2003

Banned in Amsterdam?!

The Hindustan Times reports that J.K. Rowling's lawyers are trying to prevent Dmitri Yemets' Tanya Grotter books from being released in the Netherlands, by claiming they were plagiarized from Harry Potter.

I'm currently gotten through my unofficial translation (if I wanna read it, I gotta translate it) all the way to the beginning of chapter 5 of Tanya Grotter and the Magical Double Bass. As yet, I have not encountered a single plagiarized word or phrase. This is a bogus case, my friends.

Or did Rowling write like this?

At times she took the bow in hand and steeled herself to draw it across the strings. The sounds the instrument gave off were always unexpected and therefore unpredictable. The first time, a swarm of wasps appeared on the loge. The second, it began to smell terribly like food gone rotten, and from somewhere above her head fell a monstrous number of shinbones. The third time, Tanya succeeded in summoning from nowhere a jar full of jam that tasted like frog's eggs. She could have gotten sort of used to this, if the jar hadn't periodically opened its eyes. Tanya stuck it back a little farther in the closet, hiding it in the middle of some old books.

Or like this?

"See that you take ninety grams of ground dinosaur bone, add a few rusalka scales, three fingernails from a kikimora, seven feathers from a white crow, and then dissolve all this in dragon's blood. Carefully stir the resulting solution with a coffin splinter and drink it on the night of the new moon. Got it? And now the rest! Until the following new moon, you will be completely seductive and irresistable. During this time you can take action to get married. True, there is one side effect with this method. After one month thick whiskers will begin to grow on you, and your weight will be increased by forty kilograms. However, if you consider that in the magical community marriages are never annulled, you certainly might risk it. This was the well-known healer Griziana Pripyatskaya...."

*Oho-ho,* thought Tanya. *Among wizards there are still problems similar to Aunt Ninel' could you tell if anyone sold her such a potion back when she was hunting down Uncle German? Very similar, even!*

And Harry's always going on field trips to the Kremlin like this:

"Eh-eh-eh...before you is a rr-ing given by Catherine II to Count Orlov...Selling this ring might have been worth 10,000 p-easants...And this diadem given to the Tsaritsa by Prince Potemkin...From it one might have fetched 15,000 p-easants...."

All these numbers the tour guide uttered so condescendingly and matter-of-factly that at the time he might have been only on a break from busily dealing in serfs, exchanging them on the sly for exhibits in his museum.

I love Rowling dearly, and her lawyers had a bit of a point in Russia (using the lightningbolt font and all....). But their only legitimate argument was the "look and feel" of the cover. The actual book was very much different from Harry Potter. Unless there are a bunch of wizard sportscasters being mistaken for mummies or skinflint hypochondriacal paranoids with 117 bad moods, in some secret bonus chapter of Rowling's books that I haven't yet discovered, where:

From window and cellar to playground and tiny park, on the tops of the trees and in the sky hung with sponges of stormcloud, off cats' eyes and women's purses, from automobiles' exhaust pipes to stores' marquees and all of their summer visitors' scorched noses -- from everywhere, rubbing its carrot-orange palms, stared the tiny young newborn, October.

Monday, March 31, 2003


I think somebody else may have used the same idea and "Protestado" tag somewhere, but this is my version.


Lyrics: Maureen S. O'Brien, 3/31/03

To the tune of "Desperado", Linda Ronstadt or whoever


Why don't you come to your senses,

Admit your defenses of Saddam are wrong?

You want a Hitler?

Look to the guy in mustaches.

You're helping a fascist with your antiwar song.

If you'd been born inside Iraq,

He'd've killed you without blinking.

Be lucky if he'd shredded you headfirst.

Now it seems to me you can't see

Things that don't fit with your thinking.

In Iraq war's bad, but peace there was the worst.


Those folks ain't gettin' no younger.

The fear and the hunger is worse than the grave.

And freedom? Oh, freedom is just a dream they can't wake to.

So for Heaven's sake, you should be glad they'll be saved!


Don't your blood run cold in the LA sun

When you hear 'bout the rapist and the gas and guns?

Not hard to tell the bad guys from the good.

And while you're blaming Bush and Jews,

You're changing all you know is true

For hoods.

(White hoods.)


Why don't you come to your senses,

Get off the defensive and use your head?

Want peace and safety? Want all the world's people's freedom?

You better let somebody free them

(Let somebody free them)

You better let somebody free them

Before we're all dead.