A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 132: Ship of Magic, Chapter 31

Read the previous entry in the series here.
Read the next entry in the series soon.

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.

Wintrow _1
An image of the boy…
Wintrow_1 by MartAiConan on DeviantArt, used for commentary

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.


I always appreciate whatever you can send along.

A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 131: Ship of Magic, Chapter 30

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.

#jani khuprus from Katrin Sapranova
The fateful meeting…
Image by Katrin Sapranova on Tumblr, used for commentary

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.

I don’t suppose I could get a little help?


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
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?

San Antonio Provides Financing for Source Water Protection | Conservation  Finance Network
Ahhh. Relief.
Image from the Edwards Aquifer Authority’s Flickr, used for commentary.

Help me drill a new well?

A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 130: Ship of Magic, Chapter 29

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.

Actor Profile: Tim Curry
There are worse renditions of such a figure than this one that comes to mind.
Image from Muppet Treasure Island, used for commentary.

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.

Your continued support is greatly appreciated.

A Rumination on Patriot Day

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.

Help is still needed, however.

A Rumination on Who Owns a Story

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.)

Ah, to be so fancy.
Image from Merry Farmer’s website, used for commentary

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.

Helping me have more time to write will help me write more and better, you know…

A Rumination on Labor Day

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.

The "Burger Flipping" Rule — Free to Pursue
Because, of course, this kind of work doesn’t deserve any dignity…</sarcasm>
Image taken from Free to Pursue, used for commentary

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’.

Support my continued labors?

A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 129: Ship of Magic, Chapter 28

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.

“Wintrow Vestrit”
Not really sure if the Vivacia tat’s supposed to be the whole ship or just the figure head. Decided on the figure head.
It’s a good image of the young man.
Image from emmitys on Tumblr, here, and used for commentary

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.

I’ll be holding off for next week’s commemorations, Monday and Friday. I could use a little help in the meantime…

Not Quite Another Office Piece

It has been a while since I last wrote about where I do my writing. Most recently, I opined about culling quite a bit of material from my home office; previously, I wrote about my then-new work office and my home office, with no few others before and amid them. I’m still in both of those offices at present; I am still working at the substance use facility, and I am still living in the trailer. But another place has emerged as a site where I write, and, since I’ve got something of a history discussing such places, I figured I ought to give it a spin.

It looks like this, if less clean and less urban.
Image is Patrick M. Hoey’s on
Car and Driver, used for commentary

I’ve noted that my daughter, Ms. 8, is enrolled in dance and cheer classes and is thriving in them; both remain the case. Of course, with concerns occasioned by COVID-19 and the recommended measures for balancing safety with access to activity, there have been some adjustments to how the classes are conducted. One of them has been that parents of most students in the classes are asked not to sit in the classroom and watch, as had been previous practice. (The dance school where my daughter studies teaches a class for toddlers; that class is the exception). Over the summer, Ms. 8 was in two back-to-back classes, and, as she is no longer a toddler, I have been waiting for her in my car: a red 2012 Ford Focus SEL Hatchback.

Now, as I’ve remarked once or twice, I live in the Texas Hill Country. In that part of the world, summer evenings are hot affairs; the sun is still in the often-cloudless sky, streaming heat, and the warmth it has given to the ground comes back out from it in force, making for a feeling not unlike a toaster oven, if less injurious. (Not “non-injurious,” however; people die from the heat here every year.) I haven’t minded sitting in it, though; I’ve been able to get a parking spot in the shade, and, with the windows down, it’s tolerable enough. (I need to be able to handle the local heat, anyway; I’d not be much good around here, otherwise.) But that’s still left me with an hour and a half or so to fill productively, which is an awkward amount of time for a nap, so that was right out (despite my wanting to take a nap more days than not, anymore).

No, what I’ve tended to do is write while I sit in my driver’s seat with the windows down and the summer air baking. It’s a bit cramped and badly angled for me to write with pen on paper, even if I ought to be better about writing in my journal, and I don’t typically carry a tablet with me; I don’t have a laptop anymore and have not for years, now. But I do have a phone and a reliable connection to the internet through it, so I am able to email poems to myself. They’re usually the short ones I post on my less-formal personal blog, put together several at a time and strangely cathartic; I tend to be in a decent head-space to head home after writing them.

Admittedly, typing into a phone and sending emails to myself are not the kind of things I had envisioned when I started writing about the places where I write. But even in that medium and in that milieu, writing is writing, and it should be clear that I think it a thing worth doing.

I’m in a new fiscal year at work. Care to help me get it started off right?

A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 128: Ship of Magic, Chapter 27

Read the previous entry in the series here.
Read the next entry in the series here.

The succeeding chapter, “Prisoners,” starts with Wintrow incarcerated and facing being sold off as a slave, days after he has been taken. The absence of the priesthood from civil life and aid is noted to him, and Wintrow considers his straitened circumstances ruefully, musing with horror on the dehumanization awaiting him.

Old Gaol - Nantucket Historical Association
Not the kindest kind of view
Image taken from the Nantucket Historical Association, used for commentary; it seemed to fit a sailing novel…

Torg, looking over potential slave purchases, sees Wintrow and delights in the chance to earn a reward. He ensures that Wintrow hears what awaits him, and he leaves him in his incarceration. Wintrow considers his errors in the past days, but hindsight is no comfort.

Aboard the Marietta, Kennit rages as Etta as she attempts to tend to his wound. She leaves his cabin, leaving him to consider his amputation alone–save for his wizardwood charm, which rebukes him for his folly. He summons Sorcor, receiving a report of events after his maiming; the rest of the capture of the slaveship went well. Kennit’s injuries start to tell on him, and Sorcor and Etta make to tend him.

Kennit begins swiftly to work towards returning to active captaincy, and he continues to receive reports from Etta. She notes to him news of two liveships, one of which is the Vivacia. His actions seem to renew his crew’s confidence in his abilities and spirit, and Kennit continues to plot as well as he can amid his injuries.

Wintrow, at last, realizes his errors, and he remains a child even by his own reckoning (which is rare for an adolescent boy and a sharp contrast from his younger sister, Malta, who professes herself ready for adulthood). Hindsight is never a comfort, however, and his horror at what awaits him elicits no small sympathy.

It is tempting, almost, to feel sympathy for Kennit in his present circumstances; Hobb’s descriptions tend toward that end, certainly, and his reactions are understandable, at least. But the same things are true of Kennit that are true of other figures about which I’ve written (for example, here); he is a bad person who has done many bad things, and he is not working to atone for those errors. Sympathy for him would be false, somehow, and even fiction should do better.

What better way to end a month than to send some support along?