Johannes Punkt’s Flaskpost

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Descriptions of Strangers

For a few years now I’ve meant to have a side project where I describe strangers in more or less literary ways. This month, for some reason, I started doing that and I shall quote here the first three (and so far the only three) descriptions of strangers.

Just observed a lady ring the hotel reception-style bell at a train station bakery over and over, the bakery looking strangely empty. I peered over the counter, no bodies. Just junk space architecture; abandoned place in the middle of a crowded station bristling with purchase, consumption and destination.

Eventually a baker arrived from stage right, wearing a service worker plastered-on smile and tilting her head back unnaturally like a mannequin, ready to take the lady’s order, teeming with rage or frustration at something the lady could not and cannot know.

It was enough to have me break out into prose.

hotel reception-style bell

On the train north this morning: a woman in a salmon cardigan, black parka moulted around her body in her seat. Straight hair reaching past her shoulders. It’s been maybe three months since she blonded it last and the effect is a gradient.

Baby with a big red pacifier and sleepy eyes sits in her lap, in an exoskeleton of dark blue with pale pink patterning.

The mother is holding her phone, casing cracked like a refrozen pond, at eye-level for the little one while she herself stares absent-mindedly out the window, having barely snow-dappled landscape drifting by for entertainment

exoskeleton

The corner of the square with the hostile blue lights shining. Crime reduction lights, like from under a flying saucer stunning us into deference. He was shouting into a mobile phone. Face barely visible under the hood of the black parka, with the blue contours from the landing lights.

He held his phone away from his face and greeted me, asked if I needed any help, which is how they ask to sell me drugs now.

I told him I was good and he nodded, put the phone back to the side of his face and walked into the light.

crime reduction lights

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22-nov-2017

I’m only allowed
to say that I love you in
dependent clauses.

First Lines

November is coming up and you don’t have a first line clear in your head for NaNoWriMo? Worry not, I’ve got you covered, for certain values of “I”, “‘ve”, “got”, “you”, and “covered”. I’ve also divided them up into different categories to help you along the way.

How about the classic main character’s full name and profession?

Angelo Simone combed algae until it looked like human flesh for a living.

You paid Mary Chang-Swanson £1224.91 to take over your identity and she lived your life better than you until you ran out of credits.

Marcus Solin went every day to the Undentist to earn his filthy lucre.

Or what about an alluring question to draw your readers in to your story?

What exactly is a three-headed tuvkin?

How did Emmet Mason escape the Westfall Jester School?

Have you tried turning it off and then back on again?

If that’s not your style, it’s hard to go wrong with a good in medias res.

I came back home with the owl stuffed into my jacket like I was smuggling it across the border, willing it to not make a single sound.

The library exploded awesomely but tragically.

She swallowed the poison, which action really only made sense in context — I can see how you might be confused right now.

Or you could take a page out of famous writers like Tolstoy, Austen, and others I can’t think of right now and start your novel with a sweeping statement only to paint the devil into the details for the rest of the book.

The best way to make money is always illegal.

Any sufficiently advanced form of syphilis is indistinguishable from Roy Elkins, my third-grade maths teacher whom I loathe.

Tunis is the 114th best city to live in, according to the Mercer Quality of Living Index.

Have fun writing!

Review: Provenance by Ann Leckie

At some point I will write a very blog post. A incredibly blog post — about how to translate things. I have a draft of the post. But right now it’s easier to just post a review of something else. Books! They’re fun. Mild spoilers below, and some speculation about the foundation of the Unites States of America.

ProvenanceProvenance by Ann Leckie
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Uncertain about what to focus on in the review. I admire the thematic precision implied in the title: everything that happens is so tightly wound around, so clearly fuelled by, the theme of provenance. Through the concept of ‘vestiges’ — memorabilia, essentially, of anything that happened and which accrue value — Leckie talks about how we make history and inject history onto objects. How the past is malleable: several or most of the vestiges pivotal to the culture of Hwae are actually fakes manufactured for various political purposes. History is just politics. The commentary is obvious, especially when it comes to the document of the Declar- er, the Rejection of Obligations. It’s a physical document that declares the independence of the planet of Hwae from an empire across the sea (the sea of vacuum). And it’s a fake. I think it’s pretty obvious what Leckie is implying: the United States Declaration of Independece is a big phony lie cooked up by liars and served with a side of lie, and science fiction is the only safe way to get this theory out there past the United States Goskomizdat.

Or, in a less facetious interpretation, assigning cultural sacredness to objects alters the perception of the events. Time warps the course of events. It’s stressed in the book that it’s the words that matter, not the paper they’re printed (written?) on. There are proper ways of remembering the past and respecting history. Like in the Ancillary trilogy, Leckie includes an undercurrent of social justice (although I hesitate to use that term because of how the internet works with its toxic tentacles poisoning words left right and centre). There are injustices, and they get addressed. Never solved, but they get airtime. There are never any quick solves.

Also there were aliens and intrigue and character arcs and such, that was cool too.

View all my reviews

Real Reviews and Such

Reader, I am writing to say that for some reason I’m using Goodreads now and writing reviews of things I read there. The some reason is that I want to make sure I learn something from each book I read or something. Or at least each book I finish. Also, if you look at my reviews you’re not allowed to judge me for how few books I read or something like that. I’m a complicated maelstrom of soggy emotions and sometimes I don’t read books, okay. Right now I’m reading loads though.

www.goodreads.com/user/show/33168595-johannes-punkt

Here’s my latest review, of Alastair Reynolds’ Poseidon’s Wake. I’ve just copypasted the thing on Goodreads that says “blog this review” so I hope it looks nice. (I don’t actually believe in rating things with stars, but, y’know.) EDIT: Okay it didn’t look nice so I’m fixing it.

Poseidon's Wake (Poseidon's Children, #3)Poseidon’s Wake by Alastair Reynolds
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Man, what an anticlimax. I was looking up synonyms for “anticlimax” because the word didn’t contain all the nuances I wanted and I stumbled over “bathos” under ‘related words’, and well, bathos is also an appropriate word to use when talking about this book. It’s like the lack of awards and overwhelmingly positive hard-sci-fi reader responses fizzled out Reynolds’ enthusiasm for this series and left all the characters flat and bathic, the emotional scenes mostly off-key. Though they hit a few notes right, that feels more like a statistical certainty than an understanding of humanity and emotions. I don’t expect prose mastery from Reynolds and I get none. In this book’s defence, I guess, it is very easy to read the sentences. Because there is no weight behind them, nothing that can make me stop and contemplate. I just don’t believe the words.

And now you’re thinking, why read space opera if you’re looking for emotions and prose? Well, this is supposed to be Reynolds’ softer sci-fi, and space opera is based on character, and I was led to believe based on the first — amazing — book in this series, and based on what the book is clearly aspiring to do, that I should expect at least some of these things from this series. Instead I get another one of Reynolds’ signature moves: an ancient alien race has discovered an impending doom and it has far-reaching consequences for the future of humankind. This time, that race has buggered off or whatever. I wanted the arc of the Uplifting of elephants to be more satisfying, but it feels to me like it finished like someone ending my breakfast by putting out their cigarette in my orange juice. The first book ends with Geoffrey realizing he thought his Butler was an elephant-killer and that’s why the elephants killed him (long story but it has telepathy). The elephant arc ends with similar themes drawn from that moment: humans have endowed elephants with sin and free will and all those other things that burden us. But it feels wrong. It hits the wrong notes. An unsatisfying fugue dissolving in the evening. I can’t even bring myself to analyse it more than this. Goodbye.

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Untitled

I cannot promise you I’ll write about this
I cannot promise you I won’t

Nettle

Found a nettle growing under a bridge. Start of summer, I was out looking for shards of your heart between the cobblestones.

A single nettle. Tall, even gangly. Like someone had dropped a needle there and walked away. Sat on my haunches by it, feet pointing at Chimère St. and Byson across the canal. Reached out a hand as if picking a flower for a lover, gloveless. Held it between thumb and forefinger and anticipated the sting, brushing it up and down my underarms over the area where your tattoo goes. Expecting, in vain, the skin to react at all.

Another Villanelle

It’s fair to say I know a thing or two
about the art of leaving something good.
However, I would like to stay with you.

I may not be deserving, sweet, or true
but with me you’d be unmisunderstood.
It’s fair to say I know a thing or two

about the bitten hand. And I may woo —
I too have stooped to doing what I could,
however I would like, to stay with you.

It won’t redeem my soul, that benthic blue
ifreet, for never knowing what it should.
It’s fair to say. I know a thing or two

about the wish economy though, too;
I’ll spend the night that I saved up. I would,
however, I would. Like, to stay with you

is sweeter than a world-engirdled view.
So of this hollowness, pariahhood,
it’s fair to say I know a thing or two.
However, I would like to stay with you.

~

Another exercise in making the same words mean different things. With the help of Richard Kirby on the refrain.

Abscission

A haiku for the wrong season.

~

If you need somewhere
safe to come down, I wrote my
address in your phone.

Augury

One day a stray walked onto the set in the middle of a scene, distracting the actresses. It was unclear how it could have got there, as no-one had seen it before it stalked into frame. We kept the film rolling, though. We got distracted – the director too, despite his reputation. That’s how it looked for a split-second. But he stayed himself. Maybe for headlines, maybe he’s just like that. He gutted the dog right there with a knife that he apparently carries on his person at all times, spilling the entrails like vague futures all over the plastic carpet.