Wednesday, September 2, 2015
By way of background, the Houston Ballet puts on several dance talks each season that are free and open to the public; these may feature the company's Artistic Director (Stanton Welch), ballet historians, dance and/or literary scholars, conductors, dance teachers, and, of course, dancers. The talks are held on weekday evenings, usually leading into a specific production, and are about an hour long. They take place at the Houston Ballet Center for Dance, which is the fairly new and quite gorgeous rehearsal space for the company, located on Preston Street in downtown Houston.
Last night's talk served as an introduction for the season's opening production of Manon, a three-act ballet created by choreographer Sir Kenneth MacMillan in 1974; it is set to music by Jules Massenet and based on the 1731 novel by Abbé Prévost titled L'Histoire du chevalier des Grieux et de Manon Lescaut. Rather than a lecture, the talk consisted of a panel discussion led by Elizabeth Klett, a professor of Literature at UH-Clear Lake whom we saw speak last year on interpretations of Shakespeare in ballet. For this talk, she was joined by Assistant Conductor Ned Battista and répétiteur (*) Bruce Sansom -- a terrific combination, because between them they could speak authoritatively on the literature, music, and movement of Manon.
Dr. Klett began with some background on the novel, which she points out has not one but two title characters: des Grieux and Manon. The multi-part work was considered quite racy at the time due to Manon's questionable morals. Dr. Klett also referenced a June 2006 New York Times article about three different dancers' interpretations of the character, who transforms from innocent girl to celebrated courtesan to impoverished prostitute over the course of the ballet.
Dr. Klett then invited Ned Battista to speak to the music, which was particularly fascinating. Although Jules Massenet (1842-1912) had composed an entire five-act opera for Manon, which was first performed in 1884, MacMillan decided he wanted to use different music -- but by the same composer -- for the ballet. As a result, every note of the ballet's composite score was written by Massenet, but not one note of it came from Massenet's opera. Instead, MacMillan hired musicians to comb through Massenet's catalog of work to find pieces of music to fit the ballet he envisioned, a difficult task considering that the pieces needed to sound organically cohesive.
Mr. Battista also noted that the ballet makes use of what some have derisively referred to as the "calling card" technique, in which each character has a distinctive motif, a la Wagner's Ring Cycle. (I hope it doesn't horrify any ballet or opera enthusiasts for me to say that my first experience of this technique came when I saw The Empire Strikes Back at age twelve; in addition to the more heavy-handed Darth Vader theme, I can also recall the gentler motifs for Princess Leia, Han Solo, and Yoda.)
This provided a segue for Dr. Klett to ask Mr. Sansom about similar motifs in the choreography, and he explained that Manon repeats, once in each act, the same sequence of steps yet with different interpretations depending upon her circumstances at the time (innocent girl, celebrated courtesan, and somewhat enfeebled prostitute). He also spoke about his own experiences dancing in this ballet, having performed many of its roles, including that of des Grieux.
The talk ended with questions from the audience; my favorite was when a woman asked Mr. Battista about working with dancers as opposed to singers. He answered that the conductor does have to watching the dancers closely, stating (more colorfully than this) that if the dancer is a little bit behind tempo, you have to pull up and not let them (or make them) crash. I loved the answer because it showed how strongly he felt that it's a give and take process, and they're all there to work with each other. Rigid adherence to having one's own way, he said, is not the way to make art.
Houston Ballet's Manon will run from September 10-20, 2015.
[* a person who teaches the steps and coaches the interpretation]
Monday, August 31, 2015
August was a fragmented month for me in terms of reading. I spent most of the month recovering from having all of my wisdom teeth extracted; the healing process was slowed a bit by trips to Las Vegas for a wedding (yay, SCOTUS!) and Spokane, Washington, for the World Science Fiction convention. For that reason, my short fiction reading this month was weighted heavily towards flash, and I had to play catch-up several times to get back on track.
And I'm happy to say that I'm there now; I read 37 stories in August and am up to 311 for the year to date. The best part is that I'm still having a lot of fun with it. Here are my four favorite stories that I read this month.
(alphabetical by author)
In this short story, time travel exists, and is applied to fix medical errors that were made in the past -- not with better technology (it's forbidden to use new cures in the past, due to timeline issues), but simply in those cases in which preventable mistakes were made. The main character, Loren, gets permission to prevent an insulin injection being given to a non-diabetic patient, but she has an ulterior motive for requesting this particular assignment.
I love time travel stories when they offer me something new to think about, and this story has several angles that I found intriguing: using time travel for this particular purpose, the effects the process has on the time travelers themselves, and the way in which society has accepted the risks of the technology because they can universally agree that people shouldn't lose loved ones when they don't have to. It's a lovely story.
[Published on Strange Horizons, August 17, 2015. Read or listen to the podcast here.]
[Story illustration by Chris Buzelli.]
Sometimes humor is just the thing you're looking for in a story. The best humor, though, is wrapped around a kernel of emotion, as is the case with this charming story set in the world of Tina Connolly's YA fantasy novel Seriously Wicked. This short piece is about Camellia, a mundane girl who chafes at her guardian's wicked witch lifestyle. Camellia always feels out of place among the kids who are all learning hexes, but it turns out she has her own arsenal of weapons that she can fall back upon when needed. The story's illustration, by artist Chris Buzelli, is perfect.
Amazon notes that Seriously Wicked is appropriate for grades 6 and up. Since I'm the cool (weird?) aunt who buys books for my nieces and nephews, I'm doubly glad to have read this short story, because now I know that the novel Seriously Wicked will be a good gift choice. And if I happen to read it before sending it on to its intended recipient ... well, I can't be held responsible for that.
[Published on Tor.com, August 26, 2015. Read here.]
At only 800 words or so, this flash piece packs a lot of punch. It's narrated by a male college student, who like many others is fascinated by an object that is discovered "half buried at the bottom of an ocean trench." I don't want to give too much away, but I will say that I thought the author built suspense and conveyed emotion incredibly well for such a short piece.
[Published in Every Day Fiction, August 12, 2015. Read here.]
This month's issue of Crossed Genres contains three stories around the theme of "Portals." (I've not yet read the other two.) I was intrigued by this piece's title, and enjoyed its premise of U.S. post offices being open on Sundays -- staffed by only two employees apiece -- so that customers can come in person to see if they have any letters from the dead. I enjoy stories in which people matter-of-factly accept what to us would be extraordinary circumstances, and I liked the apparently random nature of many of the letters and packages. I also thought the story, without being too heavy-handed, commented thoughtfully on what we do and need for comfort when we've lost loved ones.
The only thing that didn't work for me was the pseudo-"manual" structure of the story. Lots of great stories these days adopt forms such as lists, encyclopedia entries, and so on. In this case, the story has subsections titled "Appendix D - Uniforms", "Appendix E - Purpose", and so on, and the prose that follows does touch upon the named subject. But for the most part, there's no excerpt of an actual sentence or two from the manual; the sections go straight from the heading to the narrator relating events and occasionally directly addressing the reader. In a few cases, it seems as though the sentence is directly from the manual ("In case of inclement weather, the Copperlin U.S. Post Office closes when other government agencies close. Please check your local radio or television station for news of closings or delays."), but there are no quote marks or italics and the text moves without a paragraph break into the narrator's voice once more, which made me stop and wonder whether the narrator wrote the manual.
For those reasons, I would have preferred for the "manual" aspect to be either more or less pronounced. I still definitely recommend the story, however.
[Published in Crossed Genres Magazine, August 2015. Read here.]
Other stories read in August 2015:
(alphabetical by author)
- "Sexual Liberation for Married Ladies" by April Aasheim (2015)
- "Sproing!" by Joan Abelove (2000)
- "Nightly Sin. Morning Penance." by Maria Clark (2015)
- "Anika's Fall" by Jennifer Cokeley (2015)
- "Valley of the Black Pig" by Scott Crowder (2015)
- "Métier" by John Deal (2015)
- "How I Saved the Galaxy (on a Limited Budget)" by Aidan Doyle (2015)
- "Queenkiller" by Adam Thomas Gottfried (2015)
- "A Safe Space" by Joyce Hansen (2000)
- "Conspiracy Theory" by William Hertling (2015)
- "Reverse Logic" by Sierra July (2015)
- "Road Test" by KJ Kabza (2015)
- "Ballerina" by Jess Kapp (2015)
- "(Not) for Sale" by Barry Koplen (2015)
- "The Job" by Joe R. Lansdale (2015)
- "Ruby on the 67" by Ursula K. Le Guin (1996)
- "Blow" by Gerri Leen (2015)
- "The Ladies' Aquatic Gardening Society" by Henry Lien (2015)
- "Duel Identities" by David Lubar (2000)
- "Greyback in Blue" by A. Lee Martinez (2013)
- "The World of Darkness" by Lois Metzger (2000)
- "Crimson Cotton" by Macy Mixdorf (2015)
- "Class Clown" by Jim Pahz (2015)
- "The Cubicle Witch" by James Luther Reinebold (2015)
- "They Call Me Wizard" by Robert Lowell Russell (2015)
- "Thirteen Diddles" by Jon Scieszka (2000)
- "He Who Watches" by Alex Shvartsman (2015)
- "Aliens at the Flea Market" by M. Earl Smith (2015)
- "Dinosaur-Man" by Rhys Thomas (2015)
- "Final Cut" by Rich Wallace (2000)
- "Ask Not for Whom" by Jason D. Whitman (2005)
- "The Millennium Party" by Walter Jon Williams (orig. 2002; reprint 2015)
- "Four Seasons in the Forest of Your Mind" by Caroline M. Yoachim (2015)
List of the sources from which these stories came:
(alphabetical by anthology title, magazine title, website name, etc.)
- Asimov's, June 2015
- Baby Shoes (anthology), edited by Dani J. Caile and Jason Brick, 2015
- Crossed Genres Magazine, August 2015
- Daily Science Fiction, various dates
- Every Day Fiction, various dates
- F&SF, May/June 2015
- Fireside, July 2015
- Lost & Found (anthology), edited by M. Jerry Weiss and Helen S. Weiss, 2000
- Perihelion SF, August 2015
- Robots versus Slime Monsters (collection) by A. Lee Martinez, 2013
- Strange Horizons, August 2015
- Talebones 30, Summer 2015
- Tor.com, August 2015
- Unlocking the Air and Other Stories (collection) by Ursula K. Le Guin, 1996
Thursday, August 27, 2015
(ETA: Ack! Scott, Denise, and Silven -- another "group" in that they're all former Houstonians now transplanted to the Pacific Northwest. What is wrong with me?!)
It was really weird when we saw one of Paul's NASA colleagues there. Her name is Jenny and she was there representing the astronaut guest who had to "phone it in" (in the good way, i.e. pre-recorded messages) because he was on orbit. Best excuse for canceling an appearance ever. (He even presented one of the Hugo Awards!) But anyway, I saw Jenny and just completely blanked on who she was because she was completely out of context for me.
Anyway, the other reason for this addendum is that I forgot to mention when I was at the brewery for "Drinks with Authors" that I met a civilian. He was in town for business, and had wandered in, and it was an open event so he thought it would be fun to hang around. We chatted while we waited in the (very long) line to get drinks, and he said he thought this was the coolest thing ever. He asked me what made me want to write, and I said I specifically wanted to write science fiction and fantasy because I wanted to be part of the conversation.
People write books and stories. Other people are influenced and inspired by them, or don't like them and write something different in response. Other folks write reviews and can discuss the fine points of a fictional universe from dusk until dawn. It's all a conversation, a special one, and I wanted and want to contribute to it. Admittedly, this year's conversation has been more tempestuous than usual, but it's still worth the effort.
We've returned home safely from what I think was my eighteenth World Science Fiction Convention: Sasquan, which took place in Spokane, Washington last week.
My first Worldcon was in 1993. I was living in Grand Forks, North Dakota, having finished grad school but still waiting for my then-boyfriend, now-husband Paul to finish up there. Although I had vague dreams of being a writer, I hadn't yet done much about it, and so I went very much as a fan the first time. I remember being goggle-eyed at everything, including meeting the fan Guest of Honor, the late jan howard finder. I met many other people at that first Worldcon with whom I remain friends to this day.
(And as an aside, I was still living in North Dakota the following year, when Worldcon was conveniently in Winnipeg, the closest big city to Grand Forks. Seriously, how convenient was that?)
I still love Worldcon. Now I find myself there as both author and fan, and I still get as much out of it as ever. These are some of the highlights for me this year.
I know a lot of folks weren't thrilled with the prospect of getting to Spokane, as its airport does not boast a lot of direct flights. Fortunately, we had a very attractive alternative: we flew into beautiful Vancouver, British Columbia and visited Paul's parents, who then lent us one of their vehicles to drive down to Spokane. We hadn't been on that long a car ride together for a while and boy, was I ready for some real scenery! (Houston to Dallas, a trip we take several times a year, is a little ... dull.)
So, instead of taking the main highway, we took Route 2 through Stevens Pass, and saw some gorgeous mountains, the "Bavarian" village of Leavenworth that has been mysteriously plopped into the middle of Washington State for some reason, orchards galore, and then lots of lonely wheat fields up on a plateau that reminded us of our North Dakota and (in Paul's case) Manitoba days. There was already a little haze in the air from the fires, which would get much worse over the next few days.
And in the best serendipity ever, as we neared Spokane, I turned on Paul's cell phone for the navigation, and saw a text from our Houston friend, Greg, asking if we'd gotten in yet. I said we were about 20 minutes out, and he said he was just de-planing.
Ten minutes later, I realized we were passing the airport. In an "I could have had a V-8!" moment, I called Greg back and offered him a ride if he hadn't already made other arrangements. He hadn't, except that he and his plane seatmate, who was also going to the convention, were going to share a cab. Since we had plenty of room, I said his new friend could come with us ... and it was our old friend, author and Alaskan David Marusek! We truly could not have planned this if we'd tried.
PERFECT. Seriously, a big shout-out to the Sasquan staff. We got in line for pre-registered memberships behind about 30 people and were through in about 3-5 minutes. Easiest Worldcon registration ever for me. (That first con in 1993? I stood in line for 2-3 hours. Heck, last year in London I stood in line for an hour and a half.)
Another fun item for me this year was "Trailer Park," which was the short form title for "Keith and Alan's Movie News and Previews: Trailer Park Edition." In previous years, "Trailer Park" has been a selection of movie trailers, and often has been disappointingly heavy in both horror and video game previews, which are of the least interest to me. This year, Keith Johnson and Alan Halfhill interspersed the trailers (which were mostly not for horror films and video games) with news and gossip from the movie industry and even the theme park industry, which seems to be incorporating more movie-related attractions than ever. Unsurprisingly, a lot of the material focused on Star Wars and the Marvel Cinematic Universe. And I was just fine with that. I haven't enjoyed "Trailer Park" this much in years. It also included a trailer for a Chinese film combining live action and animation about monsters, which looked terrific. (Sorry, I don't remember its title!)
I tried to get to a mix of author and fan events this year. Author events included "Drinks with Authors" at a nearby brewery, Clarion West, Fairwood Press, the SFWA suite, and the very tail end of the Hugo Losers Party (the official one, not the private George R.R. Martin one). The Hugo Losers Party was held at Auntie's Bookstore, which I thought was an inspired idea. And while I thought that GRRM made a lovely gesture in having a party to celebrate lots of folks, including those who would have been on the ballot had it not been hijacked, I felt very sorry for the organizers of the official losers party. I believe this party is usually put on by the next year's Worldcon staff, in this case the folks from Kansas City/Mid-Americon II, and I found it unfortunate that their hard work in putting on the party wasn't appreciated as it should have been, when the whole mess had nothing to do with them. Just more of the unfortunate collateral damage, I suppose.
Fan-wise, I spent all of Thursday night at the Texas party, put on by Randy Shepherd (Chair of LoneStarCon 3), Tim Miller (frequent FenCon chair and Texas SMOF), and other assorted Texans. Randy gave out "hero" awards to folks who'd been instrumental in making LoneStarCon 3 the success it was; the awards were bronze-cast statuettes of an astronaut reading a book -- the very same astronaut figure that appeared on the Hugo Award base for that Worldcon, which was designed by Vincent Villafranca. That is one of my all-time favorite Hugo bases, and I thought it was a terrific way to thank the key LoneStarCon players.
Other nights, I got to the Helsinki party (where I watched the last two Hugo awards being given out on the television), a New Orleans for 2018 party, and a San Jose for 2018 party.
Speaking of parties, early on I made the call to stay in the convention hotel (the attached Doubletree) rather than the party hotel, in part because a lot of author events end up being held away from the official con party hotel. I was a bit worried at the distance, though, because I knew I would of course want to visit the party hotel frequently.
I needn't have worried. Sasquan promised shuttles, and by God, there were shuttles! And not just tiny, infrequent mini-vans, but full-size shuttles that ran 24 hours a day. After 2 a.m. they weren't as frequent, but I was still able to catch shuttles with ease that late and even later (I stayed up until 4 a.m. my last night). Seriously, another great job by Sasquan.
Winner aside, as far as I'm concerned, that was the most exciting site selection in years. I mean, it's hard to go wrong with Helsinki, Japan, Montreal, and D.C. as your choices.
There was also no shortage of jewelry, t-shirts, costumes and accessories, puzzles, and games in the dealer's room. Seriously, you can't believe the variety in a Worldcon dealers room until you've seen it.
All fun and no work makes Amy ... lazy, I guess? So I tried to get some "work" in. Okay, it's not really work, but I did attend the SFWA Business Meeting, which was completely painless at only an hour long. I think it's a worthwhile organization, and important to attend the meeting so that a voting quorum can be achieved.
Not quite as painless, but so worth it was attending my very first WSFS business meeting, in order to listen to the debate and vote on the "E Pluribus Hugo" proposal that if passed will change the way Hugo nominations are counted. I will not attempt to explain it in detail here, but I will say that I've discussed it in depth with two of its creators, and I think it's quite brilliant. It would allow slate nominated works on the ballot, but is designed in such a way to keep them from sweeping categories. Instead of 15% to 20% of nominators getting 100% of the five spots in a category, they would likely only get one slot, which is, appropriately, 20%. Which means that even folks who want to run slates, which most Hugo voters oppose on principle, will still get a voice, as they should.
Both the "E Pluribus Hugo" proposal and the "4 and 6" proposal passed this year; this means that both will be voted on at next year's business meeting in Kansas City. While I like the intent behind "4 and 6", under which a person can only nominate 4 works in a category but 6 works appear on the final ballot, I think it can easily be gamed by two different but coordinating slates -- and in fact, that's what happened this year, since the tearful juvenile canines and the mouth-frothing juvenile canines are so intent on pointing out that they were different from each other.
I urge folks who plan to attend the Kansas City Worldcon to educate themselves on this issue. And thanks to Kevin Standlee for his skillful handling of an emotionally-charged meeting.
What I Missed
I'd intended to take advantage of Sasquan's film festival, having enjoyed Worldfest-Houston the past two years, as well as the Golden Blaster Awards as part of last year's Eurocon in Dublin. But when I looked on a wall chart, I saw that most of the slots were a minimum half hour and many were an hour, whereas I tend to prefer lots of quite-short films. I noticed one session that listed many films together, which is what I was looking for, but I had a conflict; my husband went and said it was entirely horror, so it's just as well I didn't see that one. Ugh, there's just so much to do at a Worldcon that I didn't manage a single film session.
Similarly, I had a handful of panels that I'd marked down as "must-see" ... and didn't see them. I'll do better next time, I swear.
And like an idiot, I slept through my alarm and missed the Codex Writers Group breakfast. That's what I get for staying up until 3 a.m.! But I did meet many of my new online acquaintances in person for the first time this year, which is always fun.
What I Would Have Liked to Miss
The smoke. On Friday when I went in to lunch, I hadn't noticed anything. Two hours later I came out and couldn't believe how strong the smoke smell was. Then I went into my hotel and thought "Am I smelling this inside?" And then I went in the convention center and was really gobsmacked -- the entire Exhibit Hall was like the inside of a big old fireplace. Scary stuff. Luckily, the worst of it seemed to be gone the next day, but I feel for anyone with asthma -- that can't have been good for them.
And I would have preferred to miss a particular tearful juvenile canine. (Sorry, couldn't resist!)
Best part of Worldcon, always.
Just for a start, I got to reconnect with several Clarion West classmates and fellow alums, including Paulette Rousselle and Allan Rousselle, who brought their three kids, with whom I had fun talking Marvel movies. The Rousselles were kind enough to include me in a group meal with Connie Willis, and I swear, I could have spent the entire convention just listening to that woman. Between her graciousness and her sense of humor, she's one of the most fun people I've ever met. If anybody can make getting bitten by a bat funny, it's Connie.
I got to see (although not enough of) the "Wharf Rats", a group with whom I've been hoisting beers (well, wine for me) at Worldcons since 1998 in Baltimore; folks in this group come from Ireland, Dublin, Texas, Baltimore, St. Louis, and California. I got to see Lee and Russ from Houston, and give them the latest update on the semi-feral kitten they entrusted us with three years ago. I got to ride not once but twice on airport runs with David Marusek, because in yet another coincidence, he ran into us right before we were ready to leave the convention. I got to see the lovely Francesca Myman (Clarion West classmate, and designer of all those gorgeous Locus covers we've been seeing lately), plus Gail Carriger, Matt and Tracy Rotundo, and Mark Boeder. As mentioned, I met many Codexians in person for the first time. I got a book signed by sometimes-Houstonian Carrie Patel, and saw her husband Hiren Patel as well. I saw Jim Van Pelt, Patrick Swenson, and Ken Scholes for the first time in a while, and got to talk a little opera with Fairwood Press author Louise Marley. I saw Rob Sawyer and Carolyn Clink, but only separately, leading me to believe they are really alter-egos of each other and can never be in the same place at the same time. I saw Lori Ann White after several years, and I got to hang out with Shoshana, whom Rob introduced us to in Denver some Worldcons ago. Shoshana makes the most amazing headdresses you've ever seen and is always the best-dressed person in the room.
I also got to meet an online friend from LibraryThing named Annie, and in the small world that is fandom, found out that she'd been working closely with my friend and writer Keith Watt, who was the driving force behind "E Pluribus Hugo." And Keith brought his wife Sally to her first, but hopefully not her last, Worldcon. And (now Full) Professor Laura was there -- the one who introduced me to Keith in the first place. Seriously, your Worldcon family just grows and grows.
And finally, I met Bret from Colorado, who was kind enough to bring books with two of my stories in them for me to sign, which of course was a thrill in itself.
Right after I arrive at a big convention like Worldcon, I have a few hours of mild anxiety in which I wonder why I came, and I worry I won't have a good time. And as soon as I walk into the dealer's room for the first time, that feeling goes away. I get this big stupid grin on my face when I see the book dealers (especially the ones with lovingly protected second-hand books) and the hall costumes. And it never takes more than two minutes to run into a friend. You also get the pleasure of being able to tell an author in person, in an informal setting, how much you enjoyed one of their books -- and trust me, that means a lot to them.
(Apologies because I know I missed some folks, both in this post and at the con itself!)