Wednesday, October 20, 2010

New reviewer, Deirdre M. Murphy and a two-for review

Science Fiction and Other ODDysseys welcomes yet another reviewer! Meet Deirdre M. Murphy, another Broad Universe member with big ideas and big, bad skills.

As a writer, musician and artist, Deirdre has spent most of her life squeezing her creative pursuits into whatever nooks and crannies of “spare time” she can create. When she was a kid, she wanted to learn everything and read all the science fiction and fantasy ever written. As an adult, she realizes that’s not a realistic goal, but she believes in dreaming big.

This year, in addition to pursuing traditional publication, Deirdre has been involved in creating Torn World, an online science fantasy shared world. She blogs at Deirdre’s work can be found online and in print, including stories in Crossed Genres magazine, in The Best of Friday Flash, Volume One, and upcoming in the Magicking in Traffic anthology.

Deirdre lives in a Victorian house overlooking rose and herb gardens. She has three cats, an ever-changing number of tropical fish and dabbles in taming feral kittens.

Her debut review is a two-for.

The Aphorisms of Kherishdar by M. C. A. Hogarth

tsekil [ tseh KEEL ], (adjective) -- sick; refers only to soul-sicknesses

"Our lord is sick," the noble said, and added, "Speak."

"How did it begin?" I asked, my eyes focused politely on the House marking on her stole. She was our lord's sister, the quick wit and sharp edge to her brother's gentleness.

"He has been out too often," she said. "Surveying all that must be done in the district and conferring with others whose districts are unsettled. His mind is disordered... he broods." She sighed. "You are one of his favorites, Calligrapher. Heal his spirit."

In America we are all given words to live by. Most of those words are cold and stark, outlining duty as narrow and comfortless, imagination as wasteful, and beauty as frivolous. Artists are seen as empty-headed dreamers, destined to starve in a basement or attic, somewhere out of the way.

In this beautifully illustrated book, M. C. A. Hogarth shows us a people who look to their artists for wisdom; where these guiding words are rendered as works of art, to be hung in a place of honor in their homes where they can inspire its occupants and visitors to live more beautiful and harmonious lives. Don't get me wrong, duty is important to Hogarth's people--but it is not seen as a grim way to avoid fire and brimstone in the next life.

This is the tale of a Calligrapher of this alien race, told as a series of very short stories. In each, someone has embarked on aquest for wisdom--not a stereotypical once-in-a-lifetime journey into the wilderness, but an everyday quest to a public servant living in the heart of the city. Each time, the Calligrapher is challenged to not only know what to write to inspire the client to make their world a better place, but to do so in beauty. The Calligrapher is expected to perceive his or her client's needs and place in society clearly. The Calligrapher's success as an artist and public servant depends not merely on the beauty of the penned lines of ink, but on how they affect the client and the client's society. Each challenge is new, and introduces us to a new word in their language. People come to the Calligrapher for themselves or their employers, at the behest of their parents, or even to reconnect with their own people after working too long with Terrans.

You can read this lyrical book all at once, and immerse yourself in a complex and clearly-imagined alien society. Or you can choose to read each story separately, savoring them one at a time. This book is a gentle, enchanting read with beautiful illustrations, also by the author. For me, reading these Aphorisms was a pleasant change of pace from the action-packed fantasy I usually read.

Readers may wonder as I did, "If my city had a Calligrapher, what beauty and wisdom would he pen for me?"

The Admonishments of Kherishdar by M. C. A. Hogarth

I should have known I'd be caught. I'd never heard of anyone getting away with a lie this big. But even as the Guardians took me from my shop, I nursed a fierce satisfaction. She'd been an uppity Noble and I'd gotten her stripped and chained up in a public square. They'd take me to our Regal, now, and I'd get a sharp talking-to, but it was all worth it.

But then the Guardians marched me out of our district.

"Where are we going?" I asked. None of them answered.

In the Aphorisms of Kerishdar, we see the actions of a public servant, a scribe, whose job is to memorialize the Ai-Nadar's cultural ideals, and to do so in a way that helps and inspires the readers of his work to live up to those ideals.

But Hogarth's aliens are not perfect any more than humans are. And when they fail, there is a different public servant who is called in, one whose job it is to correct the situation.

Now, some of the things that the public servant who embodies Shame does would appear to be appropriate punishments by our standards, but punishment is not his goal. There are elements of teaching, of redemption, or rebalancing, of realignment. Some of the actions taken seem to me cruel and unusual, but these stories are not set in our world, and I'm certain some of our punishments would seem cruel and unusual (as well as impractical) to them.

It's more obvious in this book than the prior one that these stories were written about aliens, not humans. The fact that many of their values are quite different than our own is brought out in ways that were sometimes not comfortable to my sensibilities.

With my background in Anthropology, I'm not certain that the Ai-Nadari are that far from human. There are some very different real cultures on this planet, after all. But the Ai-Nadari are certainly very different from western and especially American culture, and reading each encounter gives the reader a chance to look back at our world from a different perspective, if the reader is so inclined.

Each encounter shows the servant of Shame correcting a different Ai-Nadari crime/sin/mistake (Hogarth makes it clear that their categories are not quite the same as ours). Likewise, some of the things they feel need correction surprised me.

Each story further unveils a complex and unique alien civilization, and I thoroughly enjoyed every one.

Visit author/artist M. C. A. Hogarth at