My Kickstarter, and my LJ.

So...hi. Long time no chat. Pull up a chair. Can I get you a drink?

As you've no doubt noticed, I'm not posting here any more. The blogging bug has relented, and what I have to say I'm saying either on my site or on my tumblr. I'm as active as ever on Facebook and especially on Twitter (@jessnevins), but as a blogger I think I'm in retirement.

But I would like to ask you, however few of you are still reading this, one last favor before I go. I'm currently doing a Kickstarter, for The Encyclopedia of Golden Age Superheroes. Think about chipping in? Thanks!

The Husband's Message

In a recent review of The Word Exchange (W.W. Norton, 2011, ISBN # 978-0393079012) Michael Dirda wrote "This isn't gaily ribboned Camelot or Merrie Olde England...this is a wintry February world of cold iron, gray dawns, stoicism, and lonely exile." He's right, of course. These poems, splendidly translated by a number of talented modern poets (folks like Seamus Heaney), are bracing in their grimness, but several of them are poignant and even sweet, in their Anglo-Saxon way. 

Herewith is "The Husband's Message," as translated by Michael Schmidt:

To you far away     I carry this message
I remain true     to the tree I was hacked from
Wood I am, bearing     the marks of a man
Letters and runes     the words of his heart
I come from afar     borne on salt currents
Hiss.....     in a hull I sought and I sought you
Where would I find you     my lord despatched me
Over fathomless seas     I've come, here I am
Do you think of him still     my lord in your dear heart
Do you recall him     or is your mind bare
He remains true to you     true and with fixed desire
You try his faith     you'll find it stands firm

But hear me now, read     what is scratched on my surface

You, cherished treasure, dear     you in your youthful
Your hidden heart, dear     remember your vows
Your heart and his heart     when together you haunted
The lovely hamlets     the mead hall, the promise
To perform your love

                                             Well, all of that ended
In feud and in flight     he was forced from that place
Now he has sent me     to ask you come to me
Cross the sea, come to me     come here with joy
When to your listening     on the steep hillside
First comes the cuckoo's voice     sad in the trees
Don't pause don't linger     come at that calling
Don't stay or delay     come at that call

Go down to the shore     set out to sea then
To the tern's chilly home     go south go south
Over the ragged sea     south find your lord
Come to him, there     he waits for you wedded
To your sure arrival     no other wish
But only the wish of you     You're in his mind
Almighty God's there     his power rebind ou
One to the other     again as you were
Able to rule then     able to raise up
Your people, comrades     and endow you with jewels
Bracelets and carcanets     collars and combs
He has set aside for you     fair gold, bright gemstones
In a land far away     among foreign folk
A handsome mansion     hectares and cattle
Faithful retainers

                                             though when he set out
Pursued and a pauper     he pointed his prow
Out to the sea     alone set out sailing
Lost in his exile     yet eager to go
Weaving the currents     time in his veins

Now truly that man     has passed beyond pain
He has all he wants     has horses, has treasure
The great hall's warm welcome     gifts the earth yields
Princess, Princess     you too are his portion
Remember the promises     each of you vowed
The sealing silences     he made and you made
A letter, a syllable     nothing is lost
What seem erasures
     are kisses and praying
Are runes that keep counsel
     a promise in touch
A promise in looking
     how staunch he has stayed to you
Above him the heavens     the earth under foot
A man of his word he is     true to your contract
The twining of wills     in those days gone in time

More on "The Husband's Message" at the seemingly-pretty-good Wikipedia entry.


"Ain't I A Woman?"

Many of us read, at some point or another, Sojourner Truth's speech, "Ain't I A Woman?" For those of you not from this country or who were never exposed to it, here's the speech as generations of kids learned it:

Well, children, where there is so much racket there must be something out of kilter. I think that 'twixt the negroes of the South and the women at the North, all talking about rights, the white men will be in a fix pretty soon. But what's all this here talking about?

That man over there says that women need to be helped into carriages, and lifted over ditches, and to have the best place everywhere. Nobody ever helps me into carriages, or over mud-puddles, or gives me any best place! And ain't I a woman? Look at me! Look at my arm! I have ploughed and planted, and gathered into barns, and no man could head me! And ain't I a woman? I could work as much and eat as much as a man - when I could get it - and bear the lash as well! And ain't I a woman? I have borne thirteen children, and seen most all sold off to slavery, and when I cried out with my mother's grief, none but Jesus heard me! And ain't I a woman?

Then they talk about this thing in the head; what's this they call it? [member of audience whispers, "intellect"] That's it, honey. What's that got to do with women's rights or negroes' rights? If my cup won't hold but a pint, and yours holds a quart, wouldn't you be mean not to let me have my little half measure full?

Then that little man in black there, he says women can't have as much rights as men, 'cause Christ wasn't a woman! Where did your Christ come from? Where did your Christ come from? From God and a woman! Man had nothing to do with Him.

If the first woman God ever made was strong enough to turn the world upside down all alone, these women together ought to be able to turn it back, and get it right side up again! And now they is asking to do it, the men better let them.

Obliged to you for hearing me, and now old Sojourner ain't got nothing more to say.

Powerful stuff, you'll agree. I can only imagine how much the crowd must have lost their shit on hearing it.

Only, well, that's not quite how it was. The version we all know was published twelve years after the fact, by an activist who was, shall we say, more concerned with achieving political goals than strict reportorial accuracy. The original version, which I'm taking from here, went something like this:

I want to say a few words about this matter. I am a woman’s rights [sic]. I have as much muscle as any man, and can do as much work as any man. I have plowed and reaped and husked and chopped and mowed, and can any man do more than that? I have heard much about the sexes being equal; I can carry as much as any man, and can eat as much too, if I can get it. I am strong as any man that is now.

As for intellect, all I can say is, if woman have a pint and man a quart—why can’t she have her little pint full? You need not be afraid to give us our rights for fear we will take too much—for we won’t take more than our pint’ll hold.

The poor men seem to be all in confusion and don’t know what to do. Why children, if you have woman’s rights give it to her and you will feel better. You will have your own rights, and they won’t be so much trouble.

I can’t read, but I can hear. I have heard the Bible and have learned that Eve caused man to sin. Well if woman upset the world, do give her a chance to set it right side up again. The lady has spoken about Jesus, how he never spurned woman from him, and she was right. When Lazarus died, Mary and Martha came to him with faith and love and besought him to raise their brother. And Jesus wept—and Lazarus came forth. And how came Jesus into the world? Through God who created him and woman who bore him. Man, where is your part?

But the women are coming up blessed be God and a few of the men are coming up with them. But man is in a tight place, the poor slave is on him, woman is coming on him, and he is surely between a hawk and a buzzard.

Am I wrong, or is the rewritten version the more powerful of the two?

Tim Stapleton's No Insignificant Part.

Tim Stapleton's No Insignificant Part: The Rhodesia Native Regiment and the East Africa Campaign of the First World War does yeoman's work in bringing to light the experience of native Africans serving in the Rhodesia Native Regiment (RNR), a unit of the British armed forces from what is now Zimbabwe, during World War One. Stapleton covers the experience of the RNR in the African campaigns thoroughly and gives a-lot-but-not-too-much detail about the battles the RNR fought in. Stapleton provides context for the RNR and pulls no punches when discussing the racism that the native Africans faced before, during, and after the war.

(The gentleman on the right is an RNR soldier in full kit, circa 1918. He's got a Lee-Enfield, but is in bare feet because RNR soldiers were never issued boots. The British military thought, well, they're all Africans, they've all got tough feet, right? These officers were later shocked to hear the RNR soldiers complaining about having to march over rough ground because it hurt their feet).

That said, No Insignificant Part is mostly lacking the Awesomeness that I hope for in books like this. No Insignificant Part is certainly interesting. It educated me on its subject. But for the most part it lacked plot hooks and anecdotes that made me want to run to my computer and share the stories with the world.

However, there is the case of Sergeant Rita. Sadly (but not surprisingly), there are no photos of him on the 'Net--at least, none that I've been able to find. No sites on him, and no information, either. Quoting Stapleton, "Rita was part of it is likely he was an Ndebele, since most of the first contingent came from Matabeleland and white officers sometimes spelled his name 'Lita' which is Ndebele." 

Because he was literate, Rita was initially posted to the RNR's "intelligence section" and then promoted to corporal. He began leading small reconnaissance patrols and "became an expert at collecting information on the enemy." "Stealth, reliability, and narrow escapes from the enemy became his trademark:"
  • In December 1916, in Songea (now in SE Tanzania), Rita led a recon patrol (as a sergeant he led twenty-men fighting platoons for reconnassaince-in-force missions) and encountered a German force. He "shot a German askari [African soldier under European command--Jess] and was pursued through the bush by about forty enemy soldiers." Rita got away, of course.
  • In late January 1917, at the Siege of Kitanda, a white lieutenant of the RNR led his men up a ridge: "Simpson had been caught in a well-prepared trap; when he advanced up the ridge, he eagerly pursued some fleeing German askari who led his patrol straight into the close range fire of a Maxim gun. Only Sergeant Rita, who was with Simpson's patrol, and a few RNR men made it to the top of the ridge where they took heavy enemy fire but managed to escape down to Kitanda." 
  • After the Siege of Kitanda (entrenched British forces held off attacking Germans), Rita, "who had become a daring and expert patrol leader," was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal "for conspicuous gallantry in action on many occasions. His example and influence with his men is incalcuable." Rita's D.C.M. was the highest decoration awarded to a black RNR soldier.

Rita died in November, 1917 of "natural causes."

Rita sounds like someone deserving of longer treatment, but as might be expected there is little reliable information avaiable on the RNR troops. Few white British writers gave much attention to what their black troops did. The best (tactically) commander the RNR had treated his men like chesspieces and, shockingly, ran away from the RNR when the regiment was struck with influenza. (This is the sort of leadership that the RNR had). And few Zimbabwean writers have been eager to investigate what's been seen as a white man's war that had little to do with Zimbabwe or Zimbabweans. So soldiers like Rita have disappeared down the memory hole--but at least we have Timothy Stapleton to pull them out.

File this under "Papers I'll Never Write."

Which is a mental category I (like most other writers) have for ideas which intrigue me and could potentially be fruitful, but which I will never have the time to write. (Or put together for a presentation at ICFA).

From the North-China Herald, 18 November 1916, in which the author is describing the debut of the tank during World War One:

The land-ship--it heaves and rolls like a ship--sailed on into the village and made the way easy--or at any rate much easier for an assault with the bayonet. You may judge of its weight and power from the fact that it "charged" and brought to ruin a house loop-holed and occupied by the enemy. It sounds rather like "Frank Reade's" famous invention--a great steel car speeding across the wildest west demolishing cities and brushing away tribes of Indians like so many flies.

The "Frank Reade" referred to here is the Edisonade Frank Reade, Jr., who used a armored "landrover" in the story in question.

What's most of interest to me here is the article writer's use of a fictional sf creation to describe an actual piece of technology. I think there's probably an interesting and possibly enlightening paper to be written on the ways in which some science fiction writers and stories have shaped the popular ideas of science and technology by anticipating them, to the point where those writers and stories limit the development of those concepts, both linguistically and ontologically.

This paper idea's still mostly unformed--I'm only on my second cup of coffee after a mostly sleepless night watching over a child whose breathing was difficult, leaving me in a constant state of dread, waiting for that next breath--but I think I've got the kernel of something interesting. Without (for example) the Gibson/Sterling/Stephenson trio, who knows what form the Web might have taken? Without Star Wars, in what direction might Reagan's S.D.I. have gone? I realize that I'm grossly over-simplifying matters, but I think this is an idea which could fruitfully be investigated.

Enh. I'll never know, because I won't be writing that paper.