Aliens in This World

An ordinary Catholic and a science fiction and fantasy fan.

Saturday, November 08, 2003

Tanya Grotter: Good News, Bad News

Good news: The first Tanya Grotter book has been released in Belgium by Roularta. Bad news: The edition consists of only a thousand copies.

Bad news: The Dutch appeals court prohibited the first Tanya Grotter book from being released on grounds of copyright violation. Good news: On that same day, author Dmitrij Yemets finished the seventh book in the series, Tanya Grotter and the Centaur's Shoes.

Good news: With the release of the sixth Tanya Grotter book (TG and the Hammer of Perun) this summer, over a million copies of the books have been sold in Russia. Bad news: I don't have most of them, and there's still no news of them coming out in English soon. (sad puppydog eyes)

(Oh, yeah, and good news: Mr. Yemets wants to send me some Tanya Grotter books! Bad news: The Russian post office is not exactly lightning-fast....)

Crossing Over with Paul Gadzikowski

It occurs to me that I haven't previously mentioned Paul Gadzikowski, massive crossover fanfic writer and cartoonist. I was thinking about him Friday because I was trying to find his cartoons about St. Pudentiana the Faerie Bane (who's an alternate universe Buffy). (Here's the real St. Pudentiana and her church in Rome. Hellmouth not included.)

When I wandered over I found no Faerie Bane cartoons, but this week he had up (among many other things) a rerun of a wonderful one called "Comparative Religion MASH-Style". Since it'll soon be down again (Gadzikowski changes his cartoons every week) I quote the dialogue:

Hawkeye: If God exists, he must be heartless to let this go on.
B.J.: Nah, God just knows you have to let your kids make their own mistakes.
Col. Potter: I see God as one of those C.O's who handpicks his staff and then leaves them alone.
Margaret: Nonsense! God believes in more discipline than that.
Charles: What God believes in is rendering unto Caesar what is Caesar's.
Klinger: Hey, God runs a clean game.
The 5th Doctor from Dr. Who: No, no, an elephant is like a rope. Wouldn't you say, Father?
Fr. O'Malley: A tree. An elephant is like a tree.

Besides his wonderful fanfic and ever-revolving cartoon assortment, you'll also find a rather odd series called King Arthur in Time and Space. If you've got a good grounding in Arthurian legend, have watched large amounts of Doctor Who, Star Trek (all the series), and other sf/f shows, and don't mind an art style that goes from realistic to distinctly'll enjoy yourself immensely! If not, try reading the fiction parts before looking at the cartoons.

Gadzikowski has also recently been displaying cartoons based on some friends of his...some of whom I know, and one of whom is my music producer. Yet I'd been reading his stuff for yeeeears, and hadn't realized he was actually a Friend of a Friend. SF fandom is sometimes a startlingly small world. So mind your P's and Q's, young grasshopper.

(Mind you, it's nothing to my parish, which has presented me with no less than a pastor whose mother lives on my old street, one of my junior high English teachers, and a couple of great-aunts a couple times removed that I never knew I had...but scary nonetheless.)

Friday, November 07, 2003


A transcript of President Bush's speech on democracy. Good stuff. Via lots of postings yesterday on The Corner.

Historians in the future will reflect on an extraordinary, undeniable fact: Over time, free nations grow stronger and dictatorships grow weaker. In the middle of the 20th century, some imagined that the central planning and social regimentation were a shortcut to national strength. In fact, the prosperity, and social vitality and technological progress of a people are directly determined by extent of their liberty. Freedom honors and unleashes human creativity -- and creativity determines the strength and wealth of nations. Liberty is both the plan of Heaven for humanity, and the best hope for progress here on Earth.

Fan in Prison: "The Stainless Steel Mouse"

"The stainless-steel mouse" is her cyber nom de plume. Her name is Liu Di, and in the one picture available, she has a young face and a wide, shy smile. Until the authorities tracked her down a year ago Friday, she was one of the most famous Internet web masters in China."

Her handle is of course a reference to Harry Harrison's charming stories about the Stainless Steel Rat, Jim DiGriz, who took that name as a thief, cracker of safes and systems, and genial rogue in a science fiction world where crime had become almost unknown. Slippery Jim ultimately goes to work for the government, to protect ordinary people from the much meaner rodents out there. (And he does it with style.)

Liu Di too sounds like a patriot and a woman of talent. In a better China, this gentle gadfly would be someone that her government respected and learned from. In this one, she is in prison.

Free the Stainless Steel Mouse!

Thursday, November 06, 2003

Adventures in Hymnwriting

This one's really quixotic. It has long occurred to me that we don't have any hymns at my parish for our patron, St. Albert the Great. Furthermore, I'm cantoring for one of the Masses on his feast weekend. This actually pushed me into writing something to sing before Mass. The chances that I'll get to do it are fairly slim, but what the hey. It's worth showing the music director, anyway.

Btw, I did research for this. UD has English translations of some volumes of Al's De Animales and one of those "Classics of Western Spirituality" books which included his lecture on Dionysius' Mystical Theology. I also collected quotes from various sources which sounded cool. Unfortunately I didn't get much for the Holy Spirit verse down below -- ironic given that this was apparently one of Al's specialties. Verse two is at least within spitting distance of an actual prayer written by the man, and verse one is sorta munged together from several quotes I ran across.

Hymn for the Feast of St. Albert the Great
Lyrics: Maureen S. O'Brien, 11/5-6/03
(Verse 2 after St. Albert; all verses based
on quotes from him to some extent)
Music: ttto "Alleluia, Sing to Jesus"

Praise to You, Lord, great Creator.
All of Nature's as you planned
And in studying its workings,
We can see Your artist's hand.
Reason runs through all Creation;
Revelation's truth, the same;
While the skies proclaim Your glory
And the stones cry out Your name.

Hail, world's Savior, Word of the Father;
Hail, true Victim, Flesh that lives,
Really man and God entirely.
All of You to us You give.
Grafted in You, worthy off'rings
In Your temple may we be,
And, incarnate in Your Body,
Share in Your eternity.

Of beyond the cosmos' borders,
We must speak in borrowed words.
Of You and Your heavenly dwelling,
Eyes have not seen, ears not heard.
Of what's past our comprehension,
Holy Spirit, give us sight --
Of that Love between three Persons,
All one God, in reachless light!

What do you folks think -- is the theology okay? Is "reachless" an acceptable substitute for "inaccessible"?

Wednesday, November 05, 2003

Ronald Hutton, Debunker of Historical Nonsense

It occurs to me that I haven't written much about Ronald Hutton. He's one of today's greatest living historians, doing incredibly useful work. His initial specialty was in researching the real time of origin of British holidays and customs. However, this led him to debunk many holiday customs now called pagan or prehistoric as being recently instituted for very different reasons. For example, many Southern England towns, like Ottery St. Mary (inspiration for Ron Weasley's hometown Ottery St. Catchpole) roll flaming tar barrels through town. As this site notes, the standard explanation now is that it's an ancient rite done to cleanse the streets of evil spirits. In actual fact, it was initially an anti-Catholic demonstration invented for Guy Fawkes Day, but was continued because it was fun and looked cool. Naturally, nobody wants to say "Oh, yeah, we're basically remembering our forefathers' KKK-like actions", so they fall back on the pagan explanation. (Sort of a baby, bathwater solution when it comes to religion....) Check out his accounts of how many villages still celebrate the kindness of Queen Catherine of Aragon.

Anyway, this debunking of pagan stories brought Hutton into contact with an awful lot of neopagan folks. (People tell me, btw, that "neopagan" is now considered a derogatory term in neopagan circles. Well, I'm sorry, but I'm not going to allocate the word "pagan" entirely to folks from America and Western Europe. That'd be kinda silly.) Hutton got interested in the tangled world of where all these Wiccans and modern Druids came from, and has become a historian of these new religions instead. Rigorous research and documentation has continued to characterize his work as far as I've read it.

Now, mind you, debunking the myths of neopagan origins is not going to make neopagans go away. There's a lot of power also in the idea that you can make up your own religion and liturgy, and that attracts just as many people as the pseudo-historical "ancient traditions passed down through the centuries". But given the large amount of neopagan ritual glommed from Catholicism and the relatively fast growth of neopagan groups, it's probably a good idea to read up on these things. A little more knowledge and understanding never hurt anybody.

Tuesday, November 04, 2003

Waving Happily at Bill Cork et al

First off, I'd like to explain that my use of the word "prolegomena" in the post below is entirely due to Lord Peter Wimsey and his biographer Dorothy L. Sayers (Queen of Geeks). If I had only known as a girl that she'd been very fond of fast motorcycles, I would have achieved an even higher plane of girl-geekness. So it's the Anglican rather than the Lutheran theologians who over-impressed me in this case.... (Sherlockians are also rather given to use of the word.)

Second, I feel a bit dim for not having noticed that Right Wing Film Geek made at least one of my points back on the 28th. Sigh.

I have to confess that I like my martial arts and samurai films as plotty as I can get them. Layers upon layers of characters with backstory...yeah, meaty goodness. Also, if you can give me characters who love each other and yet are bound by cruel fate to fight and kill each other.... Well, geez, don't you think it would have been even cooler if Shakespeare'd had Juliet running around dressed as a boy and getting in a Montague/Capulet streetfight with Romeo? Doesn't the abortive duel in Twelfth Night indicate that Shakespeare probably agreed?

Okay...maybe it is just me.

Book Report

For the last couple days, I've been listening to Cloud of Sparrows by Takashi Matsuoka. It takes place in 1861, as one of those arty young bishonen becomes daimyo and has to hold together his clan despite the enmity of the shogun's men and the chaos unleashed by contact with the West. While hosting three Christian missionaries at his house, along with the odd geisha and ninja sworn to kill him. Oh, and did I mention the young lord also is said to have visions of the future?

This is a wonderful book to hear on tape, as the hidden pasts and motives of each character are gradually revealed, while in the present they carry on the sort of understated, meaning-charged conversations that I like best. Each section permits the reader (or hearer, in this case) to see a little bit of what is about to happen, but not how or why. Later, the author returns to the action from a different point of view and lets you in on it. This device is used so skillfully that it is captivating instead of annoying. Irony is rife, characters are worth caring about, and in general it's a wonderfully plot-driven story which surprises and delights.

(Oh, and lots of people die, many in unpretty ways. This should not be surprising in a story including both samurai and guys from the Old West.)

Quote for the Day

"Love must bestow itself as a gift; if it ceases to be a gift, it ceases to be love."
-- St. Albert the Great

Monday, November 03, 2003

Halloween Weekend Wrapup

Father Martin once again had an impressive, scholarly, holy, yet simply expressed homily on Sunday for All Soul's Day. (On Purgatory! I think this is the first time since I was a kid that I've heard a homily on Purgatory!) He chanted very nicely, and much incense was breathed by all. We in the choir did a good job, too. A very nicely solemn solemnity.

However, I was much distressed by the annual dogpile on the ancient Christian festival of All Hallow's Eve. This is the kind of stuff I would expect from Puritans, not good Catholics. Catholicism is the denomination that is supposed to support holy day festivals, Carnival, and the creativity of folk art and tradition.

Furthermore, I am sick and tired of all this Wiccan- and Puritan-inspired ripping on the Irish Halloween traditions. For your information, Eire was the land of saints and scholars, universities and missionaries when the rest of Western Europe was the land of barbarian pagans. I think after fifteen hundred years or so, we can safely say that Ireland's customs are Christian, don't you?

And if you can't, I suggest you look at Mexico's extremely Christian customs of visiting the graveyard and having a picnic with lots of sugar skulls and skeletons for a memento mori, instead of all this boring, modern, made-up "let's dress up like saints" crud.

I don't demand smells and bells all the time, but a little fun and drama won't kill you! Sheesh, Jesus Himself was a pretty dramatic storyteller.

UPDATE: I forgot to mention that many Halloween customs (children dressing in costumes and trick-or-treating, for example) were instituted as recently as the 1920's and 1930's. They were supposed to be a wholesome, safe, Christian alternative to having adolescent and adult males running around pulling seriously destructive pranks, shooting off guns (Detroit's "Devil's Night" still does that), and doing the odd bit of your-money-or-you're-pranked extortion wassailing. Now people have forgotten what their grandmothers did and call it ancient and pagan. For details, I suggest reading Ronald Hutton's wonderfully researched and documented book The Stations of the Sun: A History of the Ritual Year in Britain. Hutton debunks a lot of this sort of thing, restoring the merry traditions instituted in late medieval, Restoration, and Victorian times to their proper places in history. (Frex, Morris dancing is far from prehistoric.)