Aug 31, 2016

Etymology Expeditions: Nadsat Slang

Did you know that Wiktionary has a dictionary of Nadsat slang? You can click on the link to check it out, but here are a few of my favourites:

Appy polly loggy, apology. A highly exaggerated way of pronouncing 'apology.'

Bezoomny, crazy. Origins in Russian. I think this sounds like a word for crazy should. 

Cancers, cigarettes. Obvious,right?

Eggiweg, egg. Juvenile mutation of 'egg.'

Horrorshow, good, excellent. This just fits the novel so well. It's not just made up by sticking horror+show together, but taken from Russian хорошоxorošó, "well", "good."

Oddy knocky, on one's ownодинокий odinókij, lit. "lonesome"

Pretty cool, right? What's your favourite?

Aug 29, 2016

Science Fiction Classics: A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess

Clockwork orange.jpg
Image from

I picked this book up with some trepidation. It was on my Science Fiction Classics list, and I knew I'd have to read it sooner or later, so I decided to get it over with. I've seen the movie, once, and while I'll concede that it's a work of art, I never want to see it again. The same with the book. This was a hard book to read, in the sense that it made me feel physically sick at times. (Some spoilers ahead, in case you haven't read the book.)

The main character, Alex, a total psycho who has no empathy whatsoever, goes on to commit horrible acts of violence with joy in his heart. Later he goes to prison and is subjected to more violence, just as hard to witness. Talk about unlikeable characters! But there is a difference in medium: to me, the book was easier to stomach And somehow you do want to read on, because Alex's voice is so unique, and his love for classical music creates a nice dissonance in the character, makes him interesting. Even though he's a horrible person, I did feel sorry for him when he was strapped to the chair for the behaviour modification treatments.

The edition I read had a foreword from Burgess, where he said that the meaning of the title was widely misinterpreted. Many people thought "clockwork orange" was a metaphor for a hand grenade, but it isn't: it means a fake orange with clockwork inside, a toy, I guess. It's a metaphor for Alex. The book is about the idea of choice. Can you really be good if the choice is taken away from you? If you're forced into acting like a good man without truly repenting and making a choice to be good, are you just a hollow thing, like that wind-up toy?

The question becomes, is Alex choosing to go through with the treatment a choice to be good? Probably not, considering how the book turns out. Another interesting thing I learned was that when the book was published in America, the publisher left out the last chapter in which Alex is shown growing bored of the violence and dreaming about a family of his own. So that's a different book, and that's the book Kubrick based his movie on.

Another thing that divides opinions is the Nadsat slang, a fictional teenage lingo that's a mix of Russian, Cockney rhyming slang, and Shakespearian English. If you've been reading the blog for a while, you might have noticed that I'm a language freak, so it's no surprise I loved it. It's so cleverly done: you can work out what the words mean from context, and Burgess is careful not to introduce too many new words at a time. I only know a few words of Russian, but I had no trouble following the story. The slang's function is to distance the reader from the violence, and I think it did help a bit.

Okay, writer trick time: one thing that jumped out at me was that Alex addresses the readers as "Oh, my brothers," which is kind of disturbing, like it makes the reader a part of the atrocities he commits. Burgess also used the phrase "What's it going to be then" repeatedly; first, when Alex is at the milk bar with his gang, thinking about what they're going to do that night; then when he's in prison being subjected to the treatment; and, finally, in the last chapter, which mirrors the first, except in Alex's attitude. Very cool.

 I do find the idea that people just grow out of teenage violence a bit unbelievable. Alex isn't a normal person; normal people don't do the things he does. There's something very wrong in his brain. When we feel empathy, what's happening to someone is reflected in our brain. That's how you can feel someone else's pain and empathise. Empathy's probably been a useful trait when people banded together for survival in humanity's early days. Nowadays we know that some people don't have normal responses to distress cues and don't feel empathy, even get pleasure from extreme stimulus, like hurting someone. That's one explanation for psychopaths. That's what Alex seems to be. So no matter what he wants, he probably wouldn't be able to have a normal life without serious therapy.

I can't really say I liked this book, but I can see why it's a classic. Be warned, you need to have a strong stomach to get through this one, but right now I feel that it was worth the nausea.

Science Fiction Classics read 43/193

Aug 28, 2016

At the Circus

Sirkus Finlandia is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year, and the show was even more amazing than usual.

Here are a few pics from the show. 

I couldn't get a very good shot of this act, but this was my favourite. They kept jumping up and running through the windows in the middle.

This lady was amazing, also. I think she dislocated both shoulders at one point. I've never seen anyone stand on their own shoulders before. 

And you gotta love a guy who can shoot a rose off its stem from thirty paces with a crossbow.

If you're in Finland, you should definitely go. 

Aug 26, 2016

Umbrella Cuteness

I love the Japanese Lolita style, especially Gothic Lolita, but it's really hard to get a hold of pieces in the West, especially if you don't know Japanese. Imagine my delight when Baby, the Stars Shine Bright opened a shop in New York, with a webshop, with international shipping! I'll never fit into those tiny dresses, but the accessories. . . those, I'm excited about.

Here's my first purchase: these umbrellas I've been admiring for years. Cute, but practical.

Let autumn come, I'm ready!

P.S. If any of you readers are lucky enough to live in New York City and want to check it out, the shop's address is 158 Allen St. They share the space with Tokyo Rebel, another shop that specialises in edgy Japanese fashion.

Aug 25, 2016

Curiousthings heart Spotify

Finally got Spotify.

Found the Dance of the Vampires soundtrack in German.


(It's Tanz Der Vampire if you want to google it. The English version is on Youtube, if you prefer.)

Aug 24, 2016

Whitman's Civil War: Writing and Imagining Loss, Death, and Disaster week 6

Here are more of my notes from the Whitman class. Bear with me, Just one week left after this! This week's theme was elegy and memorial, and we looked at Whitman's texts that he wrote after the assassination of President Lincoln.

Whitman heard the news of the death while staying at his mother's house in Washington. The lilacs were in bloom early that year, and the scent of the lilacs fused with the sorrow he felt at the news, and so came into being "When Lilacs Last in the Door-Yard Bloom'd," Whitman's elegy to Lincoln. He never names Lincoln, though, making the poem feel universal. Our professors also pointed out that the poem is composed of fragments, which reflects the world fallen to pieces. Whitman also uses a lot of participles, (-ing-words, the verbs that indicate ongoing action), maybe to indicate that the world goes on. Spring in itself is a hopeful time: everything is born again. Every year, spring comes. Does it bring us hope even in tragedy? Another interesting thing Professor Folsom pointed out was how Whitman uses the sprig of lilac, a broken fragment in itself, in a poem of fragments. That sprig is spring without the letter "n" is no accident.

We also read Whitman's newspaper piece on the assassination, which is powerful in a different way.

All this reading on loss can be wearying, so this little poem, so hopeful, is a welcome interlude:

I Heard You, Solemn-Sweet Pipes of the Organ

I HEARD you, solemn-sweet pipes of the organ, as last
Sunday morn I pass'd the church;
Winds of autumn!—as I walk'd the woods at dusk, I
heard your long-stretch'd sighs, up above, so
I heard the perfect Italian tenor, singing at the opera—I
heard the soprano in the midst of the quartet singing;
…Heart of my love!—you too I heard, murmuring low,
through one of the wrists around my head;
Heard the pulse of you, when all was still, ringing little
bells last night under my ear.
           -- Walt Whitman, Drum-taps.

A beautiful way to end the lesson.

This week's assignment was to write a piece on a trauma or conflict that encompasses two or three central sensations.

Aug 22, 2016

Writerly Progress Report

Time for another progress report: what I did this summer, the writing edition. 

I wrote a story in Finnish for the Gothic Fiction anthology and another in English, a bonkers science fiction adventure story that's so out there that I'm not sure I'll ever submit it anywhere. I'll send it to Critters, though. I've got another story outlined and a few more that are in the idea stage. There's another Finnish anthology coming up that's all about crossed genres, so I'll probably try to get something done for that one. Deadline's the end of October. It might mean shoving the English stories on a back burner for a while, which is too bad. 

I also edited the Finnish story I tried to write for the hard science fiction anthology and sent it to the Portti competition. Because, let's face it, it's not hard science fiction. To thine own self be true, I guess. Speaking of competitions, one of my stories made the second round of the Nova writing competition, yay! The winners will be announced in October, but just getting this far shows progress, so I'm pretty happy however it turns out.

I'm also sending out a few English stories, and waiting to hear about those.

I sold some drabbles to SpeckLit, and all of those came out in July. 

On the self-improvement front, I completed K. M. Weiland's course on character arcs and I'm actively participating in the MOOC from University of Iowa on writing about death and disaster. I also read a few writing books and learned about deep point of view. And I managed to read a few more books on my Science Fiction Classics reading list. The Classics list is stalling, because Proust. The first few hundred pages of Sodom and Gomorrah feel like being at a dull dinner party where you don't know anyone and just sit there, listening to mean people gossip about strangers.

I'm also beta-reading a fellow Critter's novel, which is very interesting. I'm learning a lot from doing it, and getting to read a cool story, too. I'm trying to do one critique per week in addition to that, just to keep my ratio up, in case I want to submit something before I finish the book. (Because you get the credit at the end for RFDRs, "Request For Dedicated Readers.") Oh, and I'm also still in the Finnish critique group, of course.

That's all for now. More later. This writing thing's a marathon, not a race, as Chuck Wendig is fond of pointing out.