Monday, July 25, 2022

Book: The First Mythos

 Gods Of Pegāna by Lord Dunsany, originally published in 1905, Collected and republished by Chaosium in The Complete Pegāna, 1998.

Provenance: Back in the 90s I collected all the Call of Cthulhu Fiction line from Chaosium that I could get my hands on. They were excellent compilations of not only authors contributing to the Cthulhu Mythos but new pieces that expanded out the mythos. One of the books in the collection was The Complete Pegāna, which collects this book with a second novel by Lord Dunsany, Time and the Gods from 1906, and three additional stories from 1919. I'm just going to think about the first published book as a separate entity, and may come back to the others later.

The reason I've  suddenly had an interest in Dunsany comes from discussions with Sacnoth, better known as Dr. John Rateliff. John had written his dissertation on Lord Dunsany, and I've become fascinated by the man and his work as a result. So here goes.

Review: Lord Dunsany is one of the forgotten master of fantasy, invoked but rarely read. Edward John Moreton Drax Plunkett, 18th Baron of Dunsanywas a larger-than-life individual. Nobility, he served in three major wars and was wounded in the Easter Rising. His domain was a castle in Ireland, on the borders of the Pale, which was the English-controlled zone of the island (think of it as a big Green Zone). He ran for Parliament and went on African safaris. He was a master at chess and pistols. Were he alive today (he died in 1957), he would have starred in those Dos Equis beer commercials.

The original Gods was self-published and was well-received, and Dunsany went on to write a number of fantasies, plays, and novels, including The King of Elfland's Daughter, for which he is best -known. But he gets full marks for being one of the first fantasy world-builders with Gods. Unlike previous recordings of legends, folk tales, and faerie stories, Pegana was about the creation and evolution of a imaginary world. 

Pegana as a place was the home of the gods, an Asgardian/Olumpian place apart from the mundane world. It was made by overaarching creator god, MANA-YOOD-SUSHAI, who created the smaller gods, and then went to sleep, lulled by a godly drummer. Those lesser gods in turn created the world, the animals, and humanity. These small gods are demi-urges, creations of a greater creator, and are the one who would be worshipped. For no one worships MANA-YOOD-SUSHAI.

The stories are all incredibly short and literary. Dunsany's language is lyrical and poetic, filled with repeated language and pacing. It has the vibe of the Burton translation of the Tales from the Arabian Nights. Dunsany starts with a description of  MANA-YOOD-SUSHAI, the ultimate creator, who creates smaller gods, then goes to sleep, lulled into slumber by Skarl, his drummer. Dunsany then moves to these small gods - Demiurges who create the world and humanity, then to the extremely localized home gods that make their abode on Earth, and from them to the priests, and to the prophets, and at last to the various kings, before circling back to speak of a very quiet Ragnarok. There is not of expository material here, and much is left hanging (is Skarl the Drummer a small god or something else entirely? Is one set of home gods different from another?), but the language is excellent - it feels good to be read aloud.

Dunsany, interestingly, has a decidedly cynical attitude towards his gods, priest, and kings. His gods fear when MANA-YOOD-SUSHAI will awaken and clear the deck of people, worlds, and small gods. The Priests interpose themselves between man and god and say that only through their organization can their prayers be truly heard (and that keeping those jobs is a priority). And the kings themselves often make remove those priests that get in their way and don't say what it is expected. 

The connection with Lovecraft can be seen in the crafted cosmos with an uncaring overgod - Azathoth is surrounded by his court of demonic pipers much as MANA-YOOD-SUSHAI by his drummer. But Dunsany's smaller gods are much more aware of humanity and use them to play their godly games. The connection to Tolkien, though tempting, feels more tenuous - The professor's approach to creation seems further apart than the Dunsany/Lovecraft version, and is more deeply imbedded in the mythology that was Tolkien's preference. 

Ultimately, Dunsany is remembered as that distant uncle in fantasy's family tree. Important when mentioned, his name invoked among the founders, but otherwise left alone. And the interesting thing is that in creating the first mythos, the first collection of original gods and their stories, he laid the groundwork for the fantasists to come.  

More later, 

Sunday, July 24, 2022

The Political Desk - Swinging Summer Edition

 Ah, it is July. The rain has finally stopped. The temperatures are moving towards balmy. The Mariners are playing above .500 ball, and people are losing their minds over it. Yard signs are sprouting like late-season dandylions. Of course, we have an election. 

Its a primary, There are five offices up for grabs at GrubbStreet. US Senator, US Representation Congressional District Number 9, Secretary of State, and two State Reps for Legislative District Number 11. Our primaries out here are "Top Two", which means the top two voter-getters will go on to the November Election. This usually means an Endorsed Republican against an Endorsed Democrat, but in Seattle it can mean a Centrist Democrat against a Progressive Democrat.

As we have done for years. GrubbStreet is rolling through its ballot, not only giving recommendations but also sending you to other sources so you can make up your own mind. The Voters' Guide is online here, and consists of candidate statements about themselves. The elections office does not fact-check or edit them. Crosscut has put together a nice summary of the major candidates here. The Public Disclosure Commission has its info here, if you want to see who is behind the various candidates in financial support. 

The Seattle Times has been spending the past couple weeks endorsing various candidates - they tend to prefer pro-business, conservative-to-centrist candidates, and will often recommend Republicans. This year, you can hear their teeth grate as they have endorsed primarily Democrats, particularly for the big offices. The Stranger just dropped its recommendations here, and while they are usually rather glib and foul-mouthed, they are currently engaged in their own teeth-grinding frustration as their chosen candidates don't tick all their required boxes.

What about Grubb Street? I tend to lean left and like people who have been doing their job. We are also a little sad that we aren't dealing with any cool battles - we are literally about two blocks away from those districts with hard-core political fights. Here are my recommendations:

United States Senator: Patty Murray has been the incumbent for quite some time, and has been very effective in her role. The Times compares her to previously powerful Washington State Senators like "Scoop" Jackson and  Warren G. Magnusson. Her primary opponent will likely be Tiffany Smiley, who has the support of the State Republican Party. She doesn't have a lot of government experience (Murray was at least a State Representative before running for office), but will likely do what she's told. The OTHER 17 candidates are the standard mix of regular office-seekers, well-meaning souls, one-issue candidates, and cranks (The highpoint is one who is running as the "JFK Republican Party"). So yeah, Patty Murray.

United States Representative Congressional District No. 9. The 9th reaches south from SoDo and crosses Renton along the south end of Lake Washington. We're in the far southeast corner of that area. The district has been well-represented by Adam Smith. I will point that he is being challenged on the Left by Stephanie Gallardo,, who is running on a pro-education platform. I like that, but Ms. Gallardo's resume, like Ms. Smiley's, doesn't have the underpinning I would be looking for. Go with Adam Smith.

The big action, by the way, is just a few blocks away from here in the 8th District, which was rezoned to make a bit more rural and red. Incumbent Kim Schrier (who is again, doing the job) will likely be challenged by GOP Fixture Reagan Dunn, who has spent the past few decades on the King County Council, explaining why he can't get things done (His solution to homelessness - A bus ticket to Spokane). This is a definitely a swing district, so money is coming in from both sides. The Times, which has treated Dunn with kid gloves in the past, has endorsed Schrier this time).

Washington Secretary of State: This position oversees our elections, and has been for many years admirably overseen by Republican Kim Wyman. She did a great job, such that other Republicans got mad at her. She has left to take a position in the Biden administration, and has been replaced by former state senator Steve Hobbs. Hobbs has continued Wyman's policies to guarantee the safety of elections and get people voting (The GOP? Some members have been posting signs near the ballot boxes, declaring that they are under surveillance, in hopes of suppressing the vote). Also good is Julie Anderson, also Republican but running as a nonpartisan, who has run elections down in Pierce County, and has the experience as well. But, Mr. Hobbs has been teaching other state representatives to play D&D, so I've got an inborn prejudice there.

State Legislative District No 11, Positions 1 and 2: Two candidates for each of these positions, so they will go onto the general regardless of what I say here. In Position 1, I go with David Hackney over Stephanie Peters, and Steve Berquist over Jeanette Burrage, but you're going to see them again in the fall.

Again, we are on the edge of this district, and the action is happening next door, which makes up the bulk of Kent and has three very good, experienced candidates running for two slots. It is almost like they redrew the district boundaries just to deny me some cool options.

That's it for this ballot. No judges, no initiatives, no school board or sewer district commissioners. Short and sweet. Get your ballots in by 2 August, and keep an eye out for shifty-looking characters monitoring the ballot drop-offs.

More later.

Friday, July 08, 2022

Life in the Time of the Virus: Endemic

No, it is not going away.

Boy and Moon, Hopper, 1907,
Whitney Museum

Cases went down, deaths went down, but the numbers have slowly been rising again. And the narrative has shifted a bit as well. Last time I wrote on the subject, my social media coverage has slid from "Person hating on vaccines gets COVID and dies" to "Famous person who is vaccinated has COVID, is OK, but is calling in sick for a while." Now I am getting a lot more "Friend/Colleague has COVID, is OK, but feels miserable." 

It does feel like we are undereporting when I compare the number of people I know with people who are being reported with COVID. It is a strong possibility, particularly if the cases among the vaccinated are merely horrible and not life-threatening. Still, there have been over a million deaths in the country since this situations started, with a lot more people sidelined with long-term effects. I know people are griping about how nobody wants to work anymore, but taking a million people out of the workforce has that sort of effect (though someone is probably researching "Animate Dead" to keep the MacDonald's functioning (though a better use of their research time would be "Animate Shake Machine" but then that's another set of gripes.))

The latest wrinkle is not just a new alphabetized variant, like Omicron, but now breaking down into subvariants. The one the is currently on the rise is B.A. 5, apparently named after B. A. (Bad Attitude) Baracus of the A-Team. This latest version is more contagious but less deadly, which is sort of the thing that a virus should evolve into, since an effective virus does not kill the host, but leaves them just wobbly enough to spread it around.

Anyway, a number of friends have called in with COVID over the past few weeks, and they are doing ... OK. Still in the category of "Worst Flu Evah." Our household has been unscathed so far, through both I and one of the housemates works from the home office. The other housemate is doing part time with the Lovely Bride's tax company. One of the housemates got their booster and spent a couple days laid up with a fever (though the fever has broken, and he's doing OK, thanks for asking). The pressures on the medical system has diminished to the point where the Lovely Bride had a knee replacement this past week, and is slowly recovering (She has moved from a walker to a cane, and again, thanks for your concern, but she's doing well.)

The Lovely Bride has also been dealing with a lot of external meetings for her tax groups. Last month, she and I went to a Water Park resort near Chehalis, Washington for a tax convention. I worked from the hotel room while the LB attended classes, then spent a couple hours riding water slides. Still, we emerged from this potential hotbed relatively unscathed. There were few masks, but people were still distancing well enough, though everyone has forgotten how elevators work (but that's another rant for another day.

I have had my second booster (amazingly quick, and got a 10% coupon from the Safeway for groceries), felt under the weather for a day, and moved forward.  Still, I tend to remain masked when out and about. Particularly if the staff is masked up, I will support that in solidarity. The masks really don't bother me - coming from Wisconsin we had these things called scarves, which were standard garb when the temperature dropped below freezing (which is to say, six months of the year). 

This may be as close to the "new normal" as we're going to get for a while. We may slide into annual COVID Vacs like flu shots, and every so often a news report talks about one group or another working on Vaccines. By the same taken, on our way to the theater the other day we saw a small band of protesters at the Gates Foundation (well-organized - pavilion, loudspeaker, matching t-shirts) consumed by a fever-dream of microchips. So we're still going to see people dying out there.

Stay aware, stay safe. More later,