You know: in a foolish, undiscriminating way, I've been happy these last few months. I don't know why. I just am. I love my friends; I love my pupils; I love what I read; I -- dammit -- love my thoughts. I love the taste of oranges.
Thornton Wilder in a letter to Gertrude Stein, Aug 14, 1936

Tuesday, February 12, 2013



Ahriman. The zoroastrian epitome of evil, a devil; juxtaposed with Ahura Mazda or Ohrmuzd, the epitome of good, though this dualism was toned down somewhat by Ferdowsi, who was Muslim.

A'sha. Poet whose name means "the night blind."

bulbul. A thrush, or oriental bird, sometimes called nightingale of the East, admired for its song.

Jamshed. Legendary Persian king said to have lived for a thousand years and ruled for many hundreds during the golden age; he had command over angels and demons. Near the end of his rule, he sat on a jeweled throne and was raised to the heavens; for this and other kinds of hubris he eventually fell out of favor with the creator.

Laila and Majnun. A tragic Persian love story, along the lines of Romeo and Juliet.

Qais. Bedouin poet  of the seventh century who fell in love with Laila (see above) and became known as Majnun or "madman."

Sanubar. Any cone-bearing tree; a fir. Often used metaphorically in Persian to mean an attractive young person of either sex.

Zal. Legendary Persian warrior. Born albino, he was rejected as an infant for his defect by his father (although they were later reconciled). Rescued by a Phoenix-like bird called the Simurgh, who gave him magic feathers to burn when he needed help. Later on, when his wife Rudaba had difficulties giving birth, the Simurgh instructed Zal to run one of the feathers across her belly, which was how his son Rustum, who would himself become a great warrior, was born.

Selected from the glossary to
Bunting's Persia, translations by Basil Bunting, edited by Don Share
Flood Editions, 2012

Sunday, February 10, 2013


Yes, it is a terrible cover
I cringe at author events when some one in the audience asks, Where do you get your ideas? But when I read what Ore's novel, or series of linked stories, was going to be about, I admit I wondered, How does someone think up this stuff?

Vel is a 15,000 year old man who never ages past the prime of his young manhood. He is not immortal, since he could die of an injury or by violence, but except for growing a new set of teeth every century or so, he stays both in excellent shape and immune to disease. He is also a traveler in time and space, a skill he discovered by accident but that has proved handy over the millennia. While other clans are starving during hard times in the Pleistoscene, he can run out for pizza or kill an auroch. In 18th century London, he advises his relatives who run the antique business that supports the family: Buy Hogarth. Invest in woolen mills. Snatch up copies of Gulliver's Travels, the anonymous author is really Jonathan Swift.

And he is gay. HIs homosexuality is accepted by his clan. It is neither unusual nor of particular interest. Men like Vel cut down on the competition for women, and Vel and those like him can both hunt with the men and care for children who might otherwise we be strangled at birth as that one-too-many child for a still nursing mother.

As for his longevity -- most of the clan die young so there are not many elders to comment on Vel's preternatural youth. For a time at least. And for the first 13,000 or more years of his life, the fact that he is "magic" is considered a blessing by his clan. Remember those take out pizzas and fresh auroch steaks. And I admire Ore for not attempting to explain her absurd but enjoyable premise. What explanation would not be either hopelessly convoluted or silly. And just slow things down. How many genre writers today would see Vel as the potential protagonist of a series of bloated 800 page novels? Ore wraps things up in 150 pages.

The narrative incorporates mammoth hunts, the Stonewall riots, sodomy laws in 18th century London, various brief episodes from other time periods, and Vel's present-day, long-term relationship with Thomas, a local policeman in Somerset, where Vel's family maintains an ancestral home. Some of the story concerns the practicalities of Vel's situation -- he has realized that he can only reappear as his own nephew so many times and thank God New Jersey, in the 1960's doesn't require photo I.D.'s for a driver's license. Ore can be very funny with other almost throwaway details, such as Vel's introduction of modern-day lube to medieval sodomites. They are too pleased to ask questions

But the central narrative of Vel's relationship with Thomas is sexually robust and realistic, as Thomas comes to terms with the fact that he will age while Vel stays young. "..I wanted him to remember me in 10,000 years," Thomas confesses. But he realizes that Vel must have worked out the mechanism for moving on to other lovers when those times arise. The final scene, involving Thomas's death, is moving and complex.

In a brief afterwards, Ore describes the book as a form of slash fiction, that branch of fan fiction that imagines same sex relations between established characters; i.e., Capt. Kirk/Mr. Spock (boring), Starsky/Hutch (who hadn't already guessed?). She says that she did not want to go the popular route of starting a YA series, and since she had written some pornography in the past, this story line presented itself. (Had some of the sex scenes here been her first foray into pornography, she would have proven herself a natural at it.)

But this is not slash fiction proper. These are not established characters and the millennia-spanning time frame places the book in another genre. I am not sure what that genre might be, but Ore has made it her own. She titles her afterwards, "Slash is for Girls," and her publisher is a feminist press from Seattle . Apparently the market for slash fiction is girls, and it is unlikely that straight male readers are going to respond too enthusiastically to the more graphic moments in this book. (See other reader reviews for further details.) But in Centuries Ago and Very Fast Ore plays an excellent game of physical detail and heady ideas. It deserves a wide audience.

(Follow the Highly Recommended label for more highly recommended reading.)

Sunday, February 3, 2013


Wyvern speared by angels, Liber Floridus, 1448
A smallish winged dragon usually with a serpent's tail. In some legends they fell to earth and burrowed into the ground to guard treasure. They were very aggressive and often used in heraldry. There is some speculation that they were based on very early discoveries of fossilized pterosaurs.