18 September 2008

Yahweh, Ares, Ganesh et al

Heavens, I didn't realise I'd left it that long between updates again. I'm going to try not to do that sort of thing now I've finished the novella.

I've been mostly in post-Greenbelt, post-novella, post-generally-busy-summer recovery recently, so there hasn't been a great deal to report. (Catching up with the events of the summer, on the other hand, might take some time. There've been two weddings, for a start, one of them my little-sister-in-law's. But they're too sizeable to tackle today, so will have to wait.)

Now I'm evaluating current and future writing projects, trying to work out what I should be doing next. There's talk of a short story commission, the continuing saga of one particular ongoing project which I've mentioned here occasionally, and the small matter of still wanting to get some mainstream S.F. publishers interested in my idea about getting paid lots of money to write some novels. I might also be involved in next year's one of these.

I'm still reading The Great Transformation: The World in the Time of Buddha, Socrates, Confucius and Jeremiah by Karen Armstrong. Which is fascinating, but very, very long, and the prose is on the arid side. Admittedly an attempt to trace the development of spiritual and religious thought in Israel, Greece, India and China between 1500 and about 200 B.C.E. was always going to be a bit of a mammoth undertaking.

I'm over halfway through, but so far it's the early stuff which remains the most interesting, looking at the original belief-patterns (for instance an increasingly absent and abstract sky god replaced by various more local and dynamic warrior-gods), which underly faiths as diverse as the Hindu and Olympian pantheons, Judaeo-Christo-Islamic monotheism and the apotheistic[1] belief-systems of Buddhism and its relatives. I'd have been interested to know more about how (if at all) this related to the oldest complex religious system for which we have extensive evidence, Egyptian polytheism... but one of the book's weaknesses is that, while it's very strong on the individual histories of its four "Axial peoples", it does less work in placing them in their global context or even tracing lines of influence between them. Still a fascinating read, though.

As if this wasn't enough to be getting on with, I've also finally immersed myself in modern S.F.'s own A la Recherche du Temps Perdu, Kim Stanley Robinson's Three Colours Mars trilogy. I'm two-ninths of the way in, and -- although as ever I enjoy Robinson's prose, his politics, and his sense of humans as creatures shaped by and shaping the environments they inhabit -- I'm finding both the volume and the detail exhausting.

It's an immense feat of worldbuilding, but I can't help suspecting that I've read the interesting bits of it already, in the portions of The Memory of Whiteness set on a terraformed Mars. If it had been me, I'd have written my equivalent of Blue Mars (or, knowing me, some kind of far-future Ultraviolet Mars) and left it at that, but Robinson is intent on showing us his working. The way he envisages Mars as a landscape is nothing short of visionary, but do we really need to see so much of the process whereby he gets there?

Perhaps we do. I gather Blue Mars has utopian aspirations, and I've talked before about how Robinson's previous utopia, Pacific Edge, works only because of the groundwork laid by its predecessors in the Orange County Trilogy -- the bleakly post-apocalyptic The Wild Shore and the seductively dystopian The Gold Coast. Presumably something similar is at work here.

But in the meantime, I find myself really yearning for a short book.

In other news, B. and I have a new favourite restaurant, happily within walking distance, which does fantastic Indian food that (the chef maintains) you might conceivably find actual Indians eating. There's an abundance of veggie stuff on the menu -- the chilli paneer is particularly marvellous, but the range of various creative breads is also wonderful. (If the elephant-god logo looks a little odd, it's because it's also spelling out the Sanskrit syllable "om". Which is cool.)

If you're ever in Bristol, it's well worth a visit. If you're not, envy us.

And finally -- goodness me, tomorrow is International Talk Like a Pirate Day. These things seem to come around again so fast, don't they?

[1] OK, so "apotheism" may not actually be a word. But its literal Greek meaning of "away from god[s]", and its combined connotations of "atheism", "apathy" and "apotheosis", seem to apply pretty well to Buddhism's insistence that the gods are irrelevant and that humanity's goal is union with an ultimate yet impersonal state. So I'll be using it. Cheers.

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