Weird fiction and rowan trees
dancing after Lughnasadh
It’s a weird time. The media reports weird happenings, our politicians hold weird opinions, our friends and family believe the fantastical, and we’re becoming (I suspect) a little peculiar ourselves. These past few weeks I’ve decided to embrace the enticingly unsettling nature of fictional strangeness — mysteries that don’t have a solution and things to ruminate upon at 1am when my inner policeman is already asleep. Here are my top five recommendations for those times you find yourself in a similar mood:
The Rhysling Anthology is published annually, a poetry collection of the speculative fiction kind. From the website:
The Rhysling Awards are named for the blind poet Rhysling in Robert A. Heinlein’s short story “The Green Hills of Earth.” Rhysling’s skills were said to rival Rudyard Kipling’s. In real life, Apollo 15 astronauts named a crater near their landing site “Rhysling,” which has since become its official name.
Not all of the Rhysling poems fit neatly into a spec-fic mould, but that makes the collection all the more interesting. Here’s a sample of one of the poems.
This video is nine years old now and I still love it. Learn about the Centrifuge Brain Project here:
Sayat Nova was an 18th century Armenian poet and composer who made the dangerous mistake of falling in love with the king’s sister. As a result, he lost his position at court, becoming first, an itinerant bard and later, a priest. The delightfully odd 1969 Soviet-Armenian film “The Colour of Pomegranates” is a cross between a biopic and a performance piece, and it’s available here:
I recently finished a book by that hornéd god of weird fiction, Mr China Miéville. It was “This Census Taker,” a 2016 novella nominated for both the Hugo and Locus Awards, a tale about a young boy who lives a bleak life of subsistence farming on the side of a peculiar mountain. The boy’s father is a key-maker, a man who shapes keys to fulfil people’s desires, an ominous figure growing increasingly threatening as the boy becomes more isolated. While “The Census Taker” was interesting, just one year later Miéville published “The Last Days of New Paris,” one of my favourite weird fiction books — a two-timeline story about an alternate reality in which WWII continues into 1950 while nightmare visions of surrealism stalk and warp the war-torn streets of Paris. If you’re new to Miéville, however, I recommend beginning with one of his slightly less peculiar works, “The City and The City.”
Sevdaliza is a 34-year-old Dutch-Iranian triphop artist. Both her music and its accompanying videos skip unnervingly along the edge of the uncanny valley. See for yourself, though be aware that the content of some videos may be disturbing, with “Human” probably being the safest introduction.
The green note: rowans
Berries have come early to the rowans of Edinburgh this year. A few trees have already shed or partly-shed their leaves following August’s drought, making it easy to spot the blackbirds and thrushes bobbing up and down atop heavy bunches of bright red fruit. Caorann is the Scots Gaelic for rowan, pronounced ‘charoon’ with a soft ‘ch’ as in ‘loch,’ a word useful in divining Scottish place names and not much else other than the simple pleasure of saying it aloud. Historically, rowans in Britain have had associations with both magic and health. Their wood was used in divination rods, (allegedly) in druidic seasonal ceremonies, and rowan trees were judiciously planted near houses for protection against witches, ghoulies, and ghosties. There are records of rowan wood in ceremonies at Lughnasadh (Lùnastal), a festival otherwise referred to in its Christianised form of ‘Lammas,’ and known for bread and very pagan-looking corn dollies. Healthwise, rowan was a traditional remedy for rheumatism, the high vitamin C content of the trees’ berries helping to reduce the pain of joint-affecting diseases like rheumatoid arthritis. Rowan twigs were used to stir milk, the ascorbic acid acting to prevent the milk from curdling. Magic, eh?
I’ll be back next fortnight with some discussion on the balance between man and nature — and our strange but persistent belief that these are opposing forces. In the meantime, I’d love to hear about the weird things you’ve been watching, doing, reading or listening to. Leave a comment below, if you’d like to.