Aliens in This World

An ordinary Catholic and a science fiction and fantasy fan.

Saturday, December 20, 2003

Watch Out for Those Nuns....

I was reading the Judge Dee mystery The Willow Pattern, which includes a female character who fights with "loaded sleeves". Basically, she puts little lead balls into the "pocket" of space inside her voluminous hanging sleeves and then whops people with them as necessary. Anyway, I ran across this rather interesting postscript in Robert Van Gulik's author's note at the end:

The art of fighting with loaded sleeves has survived till recent years. I was told during my stay in Peking in 1935 that the formidable reputation this art enjoys among the Chinese lower classes saved the lives of six western Catholic nuns during the Boxer troubles of 1900. The sisters were set upon by an angry mob when they were on their way to the fortified cathedral. Expecting to be slaughtered, they resignedly raised their folded hands, commending their souls to God. Suddenly one of the ruffians who was about to attack them shouted, "Look out! They've loaded sleeves!" The mob drew back and made way for the sisters, who safely reached the cathedral. What happened was that, when the sisters raised their hands, the breviaries they were carrying in their sleeves swung to and fro; their attackers...concluded that the sisters had 'loaded sleeves'.

Thursday, December 18, 2003

Magical Jesuits...Ooookay.

The collaboration team behind This Rough Magic sounds like some really dumb joke: "An Australian, a Trotskyite labor organizer-turned-editor, and Mercedes Lackey walked into a bar...." Unfortunately, it's a bad joke on us. Editor Eric Flint has his name on at least 25% of Baen's published books nowadays; Mercedes Lackey is the fantasy world's saddest victim of the Brain Eater and recently wrote a book with a magical abortionist heroine ("....she would treat the women who came to her for treatment of their "female complaints"-including inconvenient or unwedded pregnancy...."); and Dave Freer...well, heck, he could be good, but we'll never know. His name only appears on books in conjunction with Eric Flint's.

The best thing I can say about this book is that it's not the Ghu-forsaken sequel to Schmitz's light and lovely novel of the 1970's, The Witches of Karres. Which they are also writing. Ewwwwwww. Well, at least they can't make me read it.

This is alternative world fantasy of the sort where all the names are changed slightly for no reason whatsoever I can see. (Unless it's to prevent them from having to do any research?) So read Loyola for Lopez (oooooh, man, that's a terrrrrrible name to give a Basque! Have they leaden ears?) It may be a sequel to their Shadow of the Lion book, but I was so insulted by Baen's refusal to admit on the book that parts of it had appeared previously as Lackey's work on Cherryh's Merovingen Nights anthology series ("But people might not have bought it if they knew that!" said, I'm not kidding) that I've never actually read Shadow of the Lion. Anyway, here are your promised magical Jesuits.

This Rough Magic
Autumn, 1538 a.d.

Eneko Lopez was not the sort of man to let mere discomfort of the body come between him and his God. Or between him and the work he believed God intended him to do. The Basque ignored exhaustion and hunger. He existed on inner fires anyway, and the fires of his spirit burned hot and bright. Some of that showed in the eagle eyes looking intently at the chalice on the altar. The low-burned candles and the fact that several of the other priests had fainted from exhaustion, cold or hunger, bore mute testimony to the fact that the ceremony had gone on for many hours. Without looking away from the chalice upon which their energies were focused, Eneko could pick up the voices of his companions, still joined in prayer. There was Diego's baritone; Father Pierre's deeper bass; Francis's gravelly Frankish; the voices of a brotherhood united in faith against the darkness.

At last the wine in the chalice stirred. The surface became misty, and an image began to form. Craggy-edged, foam-fringed. A mountain . . .

The air in the chapel became scented with myrtle and lemon-blossom. Then came a sound, the wistful, ethereal notes of panpipes. There was something inhuman about that playing, although Eneko could not precisely put his finger on it. It was a melancholy tune, poignant, old; music of rocks and streams, music that seemed as old as the mountains themselves.

There was a thump. Yet another priest in the invocation circle had fallen, and the circle was broken again.

So was the vision. Eneko sighed, and began to lead the others in the dismissal of the wards.

"My knees are numb," said Father Francis, rubbing them. "The floors in Roman chapels are somehow harder than the ones in Aquitaine ever were."

"Or Venetian floors," said Pierre, shaking his head. "Only your knees numb? I think I am without blood or warmth from the chest down."

"We came close," Eneko said glumly. "I still have no idea where the vision is pointing to, though."

Father Pierre rubbed his cold hands. "You are certain this is where Chernobog is turning his attentions next?"

"Certain as can be, under the circumstances. Chernobog...or some other demonic creature. Great magical forces leave such traces."

"But where is it?" asked Diego, rubbing his back wearily. "Somewhere in the Mediterranean, an island, that much is clear. Probably in the vicinity of Greece or the Balkans. But which? There are a multitude."

Eneko shrugged. "I don't know. But it is an old place, full of crude and elemental powers, a repository of great strength, and . . ."

"And what?"

"And it does not love us," Eneko said, with a kind of grim certainty.

"It did not feel evil," commented Francis. "I would have thought an ally of Chernobog must be corrupted and polluted by the blackness."

"Francis, the enemy of my enemy is not always my friend, even if we have common cause."

"We should ally, Eneko," said Francis firmly. "Or at least not waste our strength against each other. After all, we face a common enemy."

Eneko shrugged again. "Perhaps. But it is not always that simple or that wise. Well, let us talk to the Grand Metropolitan and tell him what little we know."

First off...does anybody out there believe that any version of the Jesuits would be doing magic that involved wine in a chalice? Visions in bowls of water, fine. But not in a million zillion trillion alternate universes would Eneko de Loyola cruise this close to blasphemy.

All I can say is that maybe the writers'll learn something from spending time with the Jesuit founding fathers, if only in the most peripheral way. However, these writers being who they are, if the book ends up with the Jesuits as some powerhungry mob committing human sacrifice (under mind control, of course; mustn't offend the Catholics) and the day being saved by an atheist scientist or something, I wouldn't be too surprised.

But then, I ain't reading this book, either...just bringing it to St. Blog's attention.

Tuesday, December 16, 2003

A Russian Arthurian Filk

"Gvinivera" (Guenevere) is a song by the well-known Russian filker Skady (L. Smerkovich). She seems to have put out about five albums, including her newest one, Doors (available from Kazan filk publisher Fangorn Audio). Anyway, I don't know if I've always missed her poem Bryn Merddin, which contains the lyrics to "Gvinivera", or if the poem just wasn't up on Arda-na-Kulichkah yet; but now that I've found said lyrics, I'm finally able to understand the Russian filk video I downloaded so long ago. Since the song suits my mood, I did a translation.

The music video in question is still available from Fangorn Video's Palantir (video download) page. I believe the song was recorded in 1999 by Linwen (E. Sovnik) by the Fangorn folks; she also reads a brief explanatory prologue. If you can't read Russian well enough to find it on the page (no shame, that), the download URL is here. 14.6 MB. But do visit the site and check out the charming videos from Russian conventions and outdoor live-action roleplaying events. They've got gorgeous scenery and fun fannish people galore. (Filkers shouldn't miss the excerpt from the Russian filk opera "Templar" (Tampl').)

Lyrics and Music: Skadi (L. Smerkovich)
Performed by Linven? (E. Sovnik?), Kazan, 1999
Unauthorized translation: Maureen O'Brien, 12/16/03

Camelot is unyielding and resistant,
Britannia's turned as powerful as her laws...
But what has caused this caring that's so persistent
That you can never pull free from ruling's claws?
And everyone, from beggar to cavalier-a,
Knows who has brought these sorrows down upon you --
The beautiful Queen Guenevere-a,
The beautiful Queen Guenevere-a,
The beautiful Queen Guenevere-a,
Beautiful...but to King Arthur, not true.

So strong and numerous, they come for fighting;
Against the Saxons, warbands'll follow you.
But who's this who beside you's fought like lightning,
But now won't even raise his eyes into view?
The champion, the flow'r of knighthood, hero
And old friend who more close than your kin became...
But the queen, ah, she loves Bedivere-o,
But the queen, ah, she loves Bedivere-o,
But the queen, ah, she loves Bedivere-o,
And I doubt if anyone's to blame.

You go on campaign far away from your kingdom,
To kill the Goths and thus serve the Holy Dove.
You go away and give them both their freedom;
Why, I suppose that that is what is called love.
In spite of holy goals, you're still out there sinning,
So why should you feel guilty about this thing?
Oh, tell me now, clearsighted seer Merlin,
And answer me indeed, court prophet Merlin,
I ask, knowing the answer, o wise Merlin --
Who on earth is this unlucky king?

Adventures in Hymnwriting!

This is obviously not very churchy, and the parody is a pretty obvious one. But I think people might like singing it.

Gethsemane Garden
Lyrics: Maureen S. O'Brien, after Yeats and Irish trad.
Music: "Down by the Salley Garden", Irish Trad.

'Twas in Gethsemane garden that He and I did meet.
He said, "Please watch beside me," but I slept at His feet.
I went out and betrayed Him as I kissed Him like a friend,
And I, being proud and foolish, did harm I could not mend.

I followed Him out of the garden, and denied Him before cockcrow.
I slapped and mocked and marched Him through the town streets, to and fro.
And I asked, "What's truth?", not listening, and then I washed my hands;
And I, being scared and foolish, "Crucify him!" I did demand.

I flailed Him, then I crowned Him with thorns pressed on His head.
And then I crucified Him, to hang till He was dead.
But He said, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do!"
So I, being cruel and foolish, did more to prove that true.

'Twas in the graveyard garden, back to me then He came.
I thought He was the gardener, till He called me by name.
And I thought I'd done things to him that He could not forgive;
But He, so wise folk think him foolish -- said He'd died so that I could live.

You Cannot Serve God and Spam

Through Slashdot, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution tells the story of a supposedly nice Catholic little old lady...who thinks it's okay to make all our lives Hell.

The walls are covered with paintings of Jesus, the Virgin Mary and assorted saints. A devout Catholic, Fox works through her church to feed the hungry and volunteers at a senior citizen center once a week. But when the neighbors' windows are dark, the lights stay on until all hours as Fox's computers invade millions of unsuspecting in boxes...The several million spams she sends out each night....

I do feel for her health problems. I honor her for her charity work; clearly she does have a heart. But the Mafia gave to charity, too. There are plenty of other Internet-based businesses -- including ones that market by email -- which do not involve spamming. Furthermore, she taught others to spam. She's making money by abusing the privilege of access to the Net while doing her best to ruin the Net for everyone else. It's as if she were dumping sewage into the drinking water of not just one town, but of every town and village across the world.

And look, I know Jesus loved tax collectors, so I'm sure he'd have dinner with this lady as well. But he'd also tell her to stop sending him junk email. Maybe we should all send her some nice, respectful Christmas cards telling her the same thing. (Though I wouldn't enclose your email address....) :)

(Btw, the spunky anti-spam grandmother in the story sounded like a very nice lady indeed.)

Monday, December 15, 2003

Saddam Filk

"There's Tikrit by the Tigris River" by Laura Gjovaag, to the tune of Frank Hayes' "There's a Hole in the Middle of It All". Heh.

I knew I knew her last name from somewhere when I was reading about the comic shop shredded inventory debacle she was trying to publicize and stop. Finally it dawned on me that I remembered her from Doctor Who fandom. (Not that I met her personally, you understand. But I knew her name from the zines.)

It's a small Web, after all.

Sunday, December 14, 2003


Naturally, I am glad that Saddam has been captured -- alive, which makes it even sweeter. He doesn't realize quite how lucky he is. Unlike Hitler, Stalin, and Mao, or his own sons, he's going to have time to repent of his deeds before he goes to meet his Maker. (And yes, we should love our enemies. But we should also love to see them caught!)

Today is Gaudete Sunday -- the third Sunday of Advent, when all the dark warnings that one should mend one's ways before God comes again are broken by the command to "Rejoice!" Our pastor didn't actually mention Saddam's capture, but I thought he got rather into the "Rejoice!" portion of his homily. Imagine my surprise when a lady at the bus stop told me what'd happened! (Heh-- I was so dead this morning that there was no point turning on the news. I doubt I would have comprehended the news programs if I had.)

The people of Iraq have lived in the darkness for many years. I do not think they were indecorous to scream and shout and dance with joy. Indeed, I think they were right to open their hearts and rejoice, for God has done great things for them and means to do more. It is an honor for the US, the UK, and the other gallant members of the Coalition to have been of service to the Iraqi people. It is a shame that we didn't do something about it before. But what matters now is what we do tomorrow -- and what we do today. Enjoy the moment, everyone. To quote Tolkien:

And the Tree that was withered shall be renewed,
and he shall plant it in the high places,
and the City shall be blessed.

Sing all ye people!

And the people sang in all the streets of the city.