In my first post to this webspace, I noted a desire for this website to do a number of things: host research projects, connect to writing samples, offer course materials, and maintain a professional portfolio. It is doing that, but I thought I might make it a bit easier to navigate. (There is a navigation menu at the top of the page, but not everyone seems to find it amenable to use.) So, if you are looking for
Read the previous entry in the series here. Read the next entry in the series soon.
The chapter that follows, “Storm,” starts with Wintrow tending to those chained in the holds of the Vivacia as heavy weather approaches. His ministrations are not always appreciated, and Wintrow muses on the changes in his situation before talk of his old monastery attracts his attention. The talk leads him to one who claims to be a priest of Sa; the putative priest implores Wintrow for some metal implement to use against the chains that bind those in the hold. Wintrow agrees to do what he can for those enslaved alongside him.
Above deck, Gantry and the Vivacia confer. The ship reports being able to understand one of the trailing serpents in some strange way; Gantry is confused, and he does not heed the sense of apprehension the ship feels. He also balks at Wintrow’s request to have one of they dying enslaved brought out onto the deck to die, though Wintrow is, with the ship’s help, able to persuade him to take a look at conditions below deck. When he does so, the putative priest, Sa’Adar, takes the opportunity to disable Gantry and begin to rise up against their captors. Wintrow falls into analysis paralysis as Sa’Adar works on the takeover.
Aboard the Marietta, Kennit orders pursuit of a liveship in the storm. He considers Sorcor and Etta as they move to his command, the lingering pain of his amputation vexing him as the Marietta bears down on the liveship. Pursuit is joined, and Kennit coaches Etta as she steers the ship towards her intended prey. She exults in his attention.
It is not directly stated in the present chapter, though it is heavily implied, that the liveship the Marietta has in sight is, in fact, the Vivacia, the pursuit of which is a (contrived, though everything in a novel necessarily is) coincidence of Kennit’s desires and Sorcor’s. The Vivacia does not seem to be living up to her name, for the most part, understandably in the circumstances, and I find myself once again reading the book in a frame of mind reminding me of a romance novel. I am not as versed in that genre as I am some others, I admit, and perhaps that is a failing on my part, but I have to wonder if Hobb is working towards some critique of the genre in the Liveship Traders series.
A while back, I wrote a short piece looking at “Poem #264” on Pen to Paper, a website that hosts works by the site owner and a number of others, including myself. Because I can never seem, in fact, to leave well enough alone–why else would I still be writing things that look like academic papers months after exiting academe?–it seemed to me to be a good time to go back to that blog and pull up another piece. In this case, it’s Luna’s “Poem #335,” the most recent of the site owner’s own verse on the site as of this writing.
The poem, composed of three non-rhyming quatrains of uneven line-length, adopts a second-person stance that appears to be a reflexive address; that is, the narrator appears to be talking to themself. (Yes, I know the singular “they” and its derivatives annoy, and I know it is easy to assume that the narrator shares the author’s gender unless there is textual evidence to the contrary. Still, for reasons I have addressed, I use it here.) The subject is a change in orientation towards writing, noting a shift from release to rebuke and a tendency to move away from writing therefore–with a cover story offered as justification for the motion.
As I read the poem, I am reminded of comments I have seen from other writers, namely that revisiting old works is not a good idea–and the problem the narrator of “Poem #335” cites is one occasioned by reading back over their own words. They cannot shout back from a page that is never turned, after all. Given my own propensity towards looking back at my own work, though, I cannot find fault with the narrator–or the addressee, if I am wrong about the narrator talking to themself–doing the same thing. It is often helpful to have a sense of context and continuity, after all, and it’s hard to achieve those without looking back over older work. (Hell, it’s hard enough doing so with the backward look. I’m pretty sure I demonstrate that difficulty.)
I also note that a focus of the poem seems to be that the narrator / interlocutor seems moved towards numbing and distancing. The feigned writer’s block is a defense against the emotions occasioned by writing; it is easy to read “the smoke and alcohol, / the hobbies and oversleeping, / [and] the binges and the purges” of the first stanza similarly. Working in substance abuse treatment as I do, I can attest to the frequency of recourse to chemicals to blunt the pain or ennui of daily life; having been a fan, I can attest, too, to the distance afforded by over-engaging in a hobby. I have to think the others work in much the same ways. All such matters are temporary, fleeting, and it is clear to my eye that the narrator is pointing towards a similar transience of feigned writer’s block; it can only stave off emotional engagement for so long, for so much effect.
It is also true, however, that doing the work of writing or of reading may well not be so cathartic as might be hoped and has been posited by any number of commenters. Wrestling emotions out onto the page–printed or pixelated–does not always empty the head and heart of them; sometimes, even if such opponents are pinned, they retain a grip on a joint or the throat, and being laid out does not mean they let go. So there is that to consider, as well.
Read the previous entry in the series here. Read the next entry in the series here.
The following chapter, “Ships and Serpents,” begins with Wintrow and the Vivacia conferring about their respective perspectives. The ship notes that, in the absence of Wintrow, she had begun to become aware of something she cannot put into words, some sense of identity other than that of herself as a liveship awakened by the blood of Wintrow’s kin. They are disturbed by the captain’s approach to the foredeck.
Said captain rails against a crew that struggles to maintain order and good form while the ship they sail is unwilling to cooperate. Mentally, he rails against his son for not meeting his expectations, as well as against his wife and her family for the same. The ship and the trailing serpent also attract his ire, and he assaults Wintrow, making to pitch his still-fettered son overboard to the waiting sea-creature.
The serpents themselves are confused by the Vivacia as they follow her out of Jamaillia Bay and on her northward journey. One follows her as a food source; Maulkin and others follow her as a sort of echo of a pivotal figure. But they do so with hesitation, uncertainty.
Aboard the ship, a fracas ensues as Gantry answers the ship’s summons and tries to calm matters. Gantry works to put matters to rights as the captain considers what he had been about to do and the ship herself tries to puzzle out what she felt when she slapped at one of the trailing serpents. The captain looks on with patriarchal disgust as the mate tries to restore some semblance of calm and order to the ship, and he rails at the lot of them before stalking back to his cabin.
After, Wintrow considers matters as the ship makes what progress she can, given her cargo and crew. He and the ship fall into an angry existential argument, from which they emerge suddenly into an uneasy self-questioning and contemplation.
Aboard the Ophelia, Althea finds herself confronted by the liveship; her disguise is of no avail to her. The ship plays with her regarding her secret, winning far more than she gives up, and Althea learns something of the liveships’ community. She muses on what she has lost from not having asked for aid, and the ship presses on.
If there is a central theme to the chapter, it is encapsulated in the passage aboard the Ophelia, and it is the theme spoken to by the old adages of carpe diem and memento mori. It is the reminder that the present is of value, that being present is of value. Things are lost by absence, never to be reclaimed, even if the absence is needful or helpful–and especially when it is not, and not asking for aid often makes for absences that are not needed or helpful. As someone who has been away, perhaps too much, I find the reminder…uncomfortable, but I also know that being made uncomfortable is a good thing every now and again. Reactions to it are not always so, as the world shows far more often than could be hoped. But perhaps such discomforts can lead to better ends.
Read the previous entry in the series here. Read the next entry in the series here.
The next chapter , “Defiance and Alliance,” opens with an account of the beginnings of trouble aboard the new slaveship Vivacia. As slaves are being loaded onto her, one opts to die quickly, jumping overboard and drowning as the chains about him pull him under. Serpents rouse to eat the flesh, and Torg lashes the slaves together in anger. Wintrow sorrows with the others’ dehumanizing sorrows, which the ship causes him to feel more keenly, and most of the crew begins to chafe at the change to their work.
The Vivacia considers her captain and his jealous ire at Wintrow. She has the captain bring the boy to her as she considers her changed relationship to him more closely. His attempt to leave has hurt her, but she makes herself something of a nuisance until he is brought to her.
In Bingtown, Keffria and Ronica make ready to receive the Rain Wild Festrew Traders; their preparations are noted. What she knows of the Festrews, as well as of the situation with Malta’s dream-box, is rehearsed, as are her continuing annoyances with Ronica, and she longs for her husband to take over running things. At length, the Rain Wild Traders arrive–but it is not only a Festrew, but Jani Khuprus, as well, whom the Vestrit women greet.
After pleasantries are exchanged, the reason for the Khuprus visit is made clear: the dream-box. Khuprus, through her son, Reyn, is aware that the box has been opened and the contained dream shared. More, the debt for the Vivacia that had been owed to the Festrews has been transferred to the Khuprus Trader Family; the debt would have been forgiven as a marriage gift. With Malta not yet eligible for marriage, however, the arrangement is in substantial peril, and tensions suddenly rise sharply. Caolwn Festrew brokers a compromise, however, to which Keffria agrees.
For all the problems inherent in making marriage an economic contract, the present chapter does present an interesting conundrum in the interaction between economics and amorousness. Admittedly, the amorousness in question is itself problematic, evoking the doomed and hormone-driven inanity of Romeo & Juliet in a twenty-year-old becoming infatuated with a girl barely into adolescence (Caolwn Festrew’s comment about being married at fifteen notwithstanding). Even so, it highlights the fundamental irrationality of finance–namely that people, even people as ostensibly money-savvy as a group that defines itself via its mercantilism, are not rational actors.
It also brings up an interesting bit of anachronism. While the Six Duchies, existing in the same narrative universe, appears to operate at a nebulously medieval European level of technology, the Traders and Jamaillia operate at what seems for the most part to be the Age of Sail, some centuries later. (The lack of gunpowder weaponry continues to be an interesting quirk, to be sure.) The disparity can be explained in some of the same ways that the technological disparities between the Mediterranean region and northern Europe during the traditional later medieval period can, of course, but neither of the periods was noted for encouraging romantic marriage among its upper classes–which the Traders are. I find myself again strangely in mind of a romance novel as I reread the chapter, and I have to wonder at some of the genre boundaries that seem still to linger for me.
Are my springs drying out Their aquifers growing empty from Too many drilled wells Going too deep Pumping each more than its portion? Am I beset by too bright a sun Subject to too many cloudless days when What I need is rain? But if I know well Who and what Has sunk each shaft into me I am far less certain who has assumed the role of Masaka Named in revulsion Before whom do I stand To be burned away? Who shines so brightly So harshly In my life? Or is my pale skin So thin That it quails even under dimmer lights That the flesh beneath grows brittle Under a fading lamp?
Read the previous entry in the series here. Read the next entry in the series here.
The chapter that follows, “Dreams and Reality,” starts with Keffria and Ronica confronting Malta regarding the dream-box that had been sent to her and that has been marked as missing. Keffria is satisfied by Malta’s responses, but Ronica is not and tries to impress upon her granddaughter the seriousness of their situation. Their confrontation causes Ronica to reassess Malta and lay bare more of the Vestrits’ knowledge to her. The exchange continues, and Ronica leaves the room; Malta exults in her perceived victory and lashes out at the servant, Rache.
Amber confers with the Paragon, asking the ship after itself in some detail. The ship grows upset at the notion of being sold away from the Ludluck Traders, and Amber relates something of the prevailing straitened circumstances–for them and their peers. The Paragon makes mention of the Rain Wild Traders, about whom few outside Bingtown know, and Amber voices a fantasy that the ship pointedly rejects.
Away, aboard the Marietta, Etta tries to minister to Kennit’s injury; he rebuffs her forcefully. Sorcor, when he answers his captain’s summons, agrees with Etta that the amputation needs to be re-made, more of the leg cut away to allow the rest of him to heal, but he also stops such talk when bidden and makes his report on the state of affairs about his crew. Kennit resumes his plans to seize a liveship; Sorcor begins to object until Kennit manipulates him into compliance. Kennit’s wizardwood charm chides the captain after the mate leaves in a paroxysm of loyalty.
Kennit being on a crutch calls up one of the tropes associated with pirates of the age of sail–not unjustly. Any work with heavy moving objects has the potential to cause injury; work with heavy moving objects and minimal safety equipment carries the risk of grievous injury, yet the work must still be done. And Kennit, being an amputee and leaning on a crutch, calls to mind two literary forebears, in particular: Robert Louis Stevenson’s Long John Silver and Herman Melville’s Captain Ahab.
Thinking on the matter from the perspective of having read the Liveships novels before, as well as Moby-Dick (somehow, Treasure Island has escaped me to this point, though a copy is on one of my bookshelves at home), I think there’s something to be said for how Kennit refigures the character types of the earlier works. I’m not at all sure I have the notes that would let me work through that idea well, though; they might have been culled. But then, they might not have…
Someday, I hope to have the leisure to pursue such ideas again. Someday.
I have commented elsewhere (here, here, here, here, here, and here, if not in other places, as well) on some of the significance of the day; I am not equipped to do more than “some,” of course, having been relatively removed from the losses of the day, although not from the fear. I still feel the shame of that fear, in fact, and some of the things that my youthful self was led to feel and believe, if briefly, based upon it. And, looking back, I am not entirely pleased that I seem to have returned again and again to the metaphor of wounds scarring and not healing. It is apt enough, perhaps, but perhaps trite or cliche, and those who have died deserve better than the cliche I am too apt to give.
No picture today. None is needed.
Still, the events now nineteen years ago mark me, as they mark many others–because I know well enough at this point to know that I am not special in far, far more ways than I am. They are not the only ones, of course; I remember Columbine from afar, and less vividly Oklahoma City, and less vividly yet Desert Storm, even if the last touched closer to me than the latter two. And the financial downturns have had more direct effect on me, I think, though their details remain all too murky. To move to a different metaphor, they are not so much the ink upon my pages as the binding of them; the pulp of which I am formed is sourced elsewhere, and the ink itself is made of many smaller marks, but without the binding, the individual leaves fall apart. The winds are ever-blowing, and falling pages blow away.
My entire adult life has taken place in the context of 9/11 having happened. I do not know that I will ever have enough distance from that to be able to understand it, really–and, again, I am relatively removed from the events of the day, having staggered out of a percussion class taken when I entertained the fantasy of becoming a band director to face the reality of pervasive fear that others had had to endure for far longer. For those who were closer to it, are closer to it…
There is always something else, though, always some other unbeatable enemy that still has to be fought because “we can’t let the bastards win.” Patriot Day kicked off perhaps the second forever war of my recollection (I was late into the War on Drugs, about which little is spoken anymore, even with me working in substance abuse treatment), but it was not the last one; the War on Terror proceeds, and another is getting good and started in mainstream view, though it has been going on less overtly for far, far longer than should ever have been. The old fear that has never really subsided is being stoked again and fueled and fed anew, and I and others are still far too much prey to it.
We have learned little if anything, and none of it of use.
It may well be the case that I have more stories to tell than I tend to think of myself as having. I’ve lived a relatively sedate life–which is good, because I do not handle excitement well–but some attention has still managed to attach itself to some of the little vignettes I’ve put together and put out in this webspace and others. They’ve tended to be more or less about me or things I’ve seen or experienced, and I’ve worked to anonymize others in them to the extent reasonable. (Talking about my daughter as my daughter only hides her so much, even under a pseudonym, but I’ve had hundreds of students, so “a student” could be easily hidden, for example.)
One problem I run into as I consider bringing out some of the stories from my life that have stuck with me is that I am not sure they’re mine to tell. Those that had been narrated to my by those now gone are among them; do I have the right to tell one grandmother’s stories when four of her children are still living and I am not the eldest of her living grandchildren, or should I pass on my great uncle’s wisdom or “wisdom” when his own kids and grandkids are still around?
More pressing, of course, are those that bear in on the yet living who would recognize themselves in the stories. Admittedly, some of that issue is fear; I know I do not come out well in all of the stories I could tell, and I know I am not the only one who would not. (Honestly, how many of us are proud of everything we did as kids or younger adults?) I live again where I grew up, and I am not the only one who does; some of the folks still around might well take exception to having things dredged up, even under pseudonyms, in a place where a causal search of newspaper records would provide some telling links between people. Some of the issue, too, is that I may well not be the best person to tell the story. I might have watched while others acted, for example, or acted in such capacities as kept me from seeing larger movements and contexts. (Indeed, I know for a fact that I did that a lot; I still miss a lot of the surrounding information.)
And then there is the biggest issue: do I remember things well enough to tell them? For most of the more nearly interesting parts of my life, an ever-increasing distance exists from then to now. (As I note above, I live a sedate life; I could add sedentary to it with ease. It does not make for interesting stories, in the main.) Details fade, and it is in the details that stories live; without them, what can I offer? Without them, should I seek to offer? And if I cannot offer them, well…I might own it, but selling it would not be possible.
I have written in another place about Labor Day, about the commemorations of working folks and the organizations that allowed them to gain some traction against the rapaciousness of ownership and management that plagued days past, as well as the consumerism that has risen to take the place thereof. We are united more in buying the products of labor devalued than in promoting the dignity and worth of that labor–and, maugre the heads of those who want to talk about “respect” for the worker, the only measure of regard that seems to matter remains money, and most folks chafe at the cost of even “skilled” trade-work, let alone the “low-skill” work that makes most of their days proceed smoothly and well.
As I might have noted elsewhere, I’m in a pretty good professional position at the moment. I head a nonprofit agency, small though it be, and it’s one that does good work. If there’s some difficulty in the offering, that’s true in most places. I am treated well by my employers (I answer to a board of trustees), and I work to treat my employees well (it’s a small nonprofit, so I can’t pay as much as might be hoped, and there are limited benefits, but I do what I can for them). I, at least directly, am relatively insulated from the conditions organized labor sought to address and still, in the limited ways available to it, works to amend.
It has not always been so, of course. I have been a union man (UAW Local 2110), and I have worked the kind of “low-skill” service jobs that attract so much attention through their employees’ calls for parity and higher wages. I have noted in those jobs the demands for perfection in every action; every footstep taken must be perfect, every gesture done just so, or “Let me talk to your manager” rings out in a quiscaline chorus that is all too familiar a refrain. “Low-skill” work isn’t, not when any perceived–not actual, just looking like it might be–misstep means the money stops.
As you ply the sales today, those who will, remember that the day is not supposed to be for you. It is supposed to be for those who have to face the croaking, rasping calls of “I know the owner” again and again. It is supposed to be for those whom I am told are moving towards striking tomorrow and the next day–and at whom you should not vent your anger. Because you are more like them than the ones against whom they strike, and their success will do more for you than the others’.
Read the previous entry in the series here. Read the next entry in the series here.
The next chapter, “Vicissitudes,” opens with Wintrow being taken to be tattooed as one of the Satrap’s slaves. Thus marked, he is returned to the pens where the slavers keep people imprisoned, smarting from the pain of the tattooing and from not being redeemed by his father. He rebukes himself for having had hope of rescue.
At anchor in Jamaillia Bay, the Vivacia mulls over her separation from the Vestrits. Gantry, the first mate, tries to console the ship, to no avail. She presages doom to him, but he does not take the warning.
Elsewhere, Althea–posing again as Athel–attempts to sign onto the crew of the Tenira liveship, the Ophelia. She manages to talk her way into a berth among the crew, and is told to report to the mate, Grag Tenira. Happy at her success, she makes to retrieve her kit, noting to herself that she will not see Brashen again.
Brashen, meanwhile, seeks a berth on the coastal trader Springeve. He suspects it of trafficking with pirates and is reluctant to engage, but financial straits and a dearth of his preferred stimulant, cindin, motivate him. Through bravado, he manages to secure a solid berth at the ship’s mate, and he makes to report to his new ship, thinking a bit of Althea and wondering if he will still be known in the Pirate Isles.
Wintrow wakes, still a captive, and learns more of his situation from another held with him. He is soon herded off and assessed, as if so much livestock, and soon is put up for auction. Kyle sees him and offers an insultingly low initial bid; it does not pass. At length, he is sold, Torg taking him in hand and hustling him off to be tattooed again, marked as slave to the Vivacia, herself.
In the Farseer novels, Hobb positions her protagonist as distinctly other than the typical fantasy hero. I’ve argued the point, so I’ll not rehash it–but I will note that Wintrow seems to be in much the same mold, made even more so in the present chapter than he had been by the earlier parts of the novel. By being made a slave, and one not even claimed by his father, he is placed into a particularly abject position, one even more tenuous and precarious than his predecessor, Fitz. It marks him as perhaps the focal character of the Liveship Traders novels, as well as reinforcing just how execrable Kyle Haven and the institutions in which he participates are.
Given continuing events surrounding the composition of this little piece, I have to think that more people need to be reminded more forcefully of that execration and its lingering effects.