I stood beside him, still pretending to be someone I had never been before. Maybe this was how my body came to be here. I pulled the blanket closed around me and pulled at the hem of my dress. I looked down, at the queen. She was the first person I had looked at just from her side.
This was different. This was real. The way she looked straight into my face. Here I was, the other me, with no boundaries, broken.
I couldn’t see her eyes at the time, but I knew she didn’t take long to realize I was the only one.
I’d like to start with an expansive one. It’ll be as broad as the Universe and as expansive as a rib cage. There can’t be too much to say about that.
And then there’s Mom, the omnipresent centre of the home—the one who’s always at home, making sure that whatever comes my way gets eaten alive by whatever comes not. The one who’s always available.
There’s been a lot of talk about Who? The Beast? The Witness? But the truth is, there’s just too much at stake to be distracted by mere terminology or a single, overarching theme. The mystery of Frodo’s true home is well-known: he’s the only one left, the one who’s always been there, the one who’s always been afraid.
What grabbed me the moment I opened Patricia A. McKillip’s The Forgotten Beasts of Eld, her 1975 World Fantasy Award-winning novel, was the sheer evocativeness of the language. Like, just read this opening paragraph:
The wizard Heald coupled with a poor woman once, in the king’s city of Mondor, and she bore a son with one green eye and one black eye. Heald, who had two eyes black as the black marshes of Fyrbolg, came and went like a wind out of the woman’s life, but the child Myk stayed in Mondor until he was fifteen. Big-shouldered and strong, he was apprenticed to a smith, and men who came to have their carts mended or horses shod were inclined to curse his slowness and his sullenness, until something would stir in him, sluggish as a marsh beast waking beneath murk. Then he would turn his head and look at them out of his black eye, and they would fall silent, shift away from him. There was a streak of wizardry in him, like the streak of fire in damp, smoldering wood. He spoke rarely to men with his brief, rough voice, but when he touched a horse, a hungry dog, or a dove in a cage on market days, the fire would surface in his black eye, and his voice would run sweet as a daydreaming voice of the Slinoon River.
The world of Eldwold feels lived-in and real just on the strength of those similes. We don’t lose focus from what is ultimately a character-focused narrative for lengthy discourses as to the setting; even the titular beasts’ deeds are initially related compactly, by way of introduction. But we get enough from the sheer language of the novel to sense that we’re reading in a world that’s fully copulated and has a deep history even while the first half of the book is set almost entirely on Eld Mountain. We don’t actually visit Fyrbolg, but we have no doubt that it exists.
This is also a novel that doesn’t overstay its welcome. It tells the story of Sybel, the two she loves, and her quest for vengeance; it has no need to sprawl beyond that. I have nothing against the occasional fantasy epic but I certainly wouldn’t mind if the 217-page standalone secondary-world fantasy came back into vogue.
File #63. McKillip, Patricia A. The Forgotten Beasts of Eld. San Francisco: Tachyon, .
Do you remember the star person from the beach? He was the smartest kid I ever seen, and I know he and his family are pretty gaunt.
But do you remember the other two people from the movie? They were the only ones who talked to me. They always called me by my birth name, like I was weird. And they always kept me company. Always with me. Over and over. Never away.
I thought about it, my hands on my hips, thinking about the letters t and u on the dollar bill. The star person from the beach was always right next to me, right next to me, like we were one big family.
It is at this moment that my heart aches, for I so desperately want to take his life but I can’t. I could paint over his grave, lay waste to his great-grandmother, and if I were going to make a difference for the world, I would care less what anyone thinks or what country they come from.
“Let him go,” he says. “He has to go. I don’t want to live in a world that doesn’t hear us.”
There’s a quiet fraction of a second in which I want to tell him no, but I know he’s afraid of losing his voice. His eyes are so long they barely can open a single black line. He knows.
I was out and about for most of Sunday and by the time I got back to Sunnyvale (specifically, the Fair Oaks light rail station), the moon had already risen. My first clear view of the nearly-eclipsed moon was at the Fair Oaks / Highway 101 overcrossing about ten minutes before second contact, and I just hung out on the overcrossing until the moon was fully eclipsed. Due to the bright twilit sky the portion of the moon in umbra looked to have entirely disappeared, with only a sliver of light remaining visible.
After the start of totality, I headed home, grabbed my binoculars, and ascended a nearby parking facility. Observing conditions were mediocre due to high clouds but even so the part of the moon deepest in umbra was notably dark—almost invisible to the unaided eye, and a very deep red even through binoculars. The brighter limb of the moon was to the bottom right, shifting from the right to the bottom over the course of the eclipse. Third contact eventually occurred at the bottom tip of the moon.
The original goal for my August highpointing week in Nevada was to ascend five counties and set myself up for a Nevada county high point completion in 2022. Ultimately, I bagged four counties before calling it a trip due to smoke. I added a fifth (the state high point) over Labor Day weekend. So that leaves five county high points to go in Nevada. I’m still hoping to finish them off next year but getting the timing to work will be tricky. Four of the county high points I need are at least somewhat near Highway 50, which makes the drive between them fairly straightforward. (The drive to the trailhead, on the other hand, may not be so straightforward—I’m a bit nervous about the approach to Bunker Hill in my Forester.) I am definitely planning on climbing Mt. Jefferson in conjunction with Westercon 74, which will be Tonopah over July 4th weekend. Depending on snow levels, the lead-up to the convention might be a good time to bag another peak or two or three.
The other three-day weekend I can play with is of course Memorial Day, although that’s riskier given the potential for snow, snowmelt, and related hazards. (Next year’s Worldcon is over Labor Day weekend, so that’s out except for maybe an Illinois county.) And there’s also the logistical issue that Charleston Peak, the Clark County highpoint, is far away from everything else and almost certainly has to be done as part of a separate trip (or at least, not the day after another hike). It is of course also possible in theory to ascend any of these county high points over the course of a single weekend, but that’s a lot of extra driving and tired Mondays.
Outside of Nevada, I hit up the Imperial County high point en route to Loscon 47 over Thanksgiving weekend. I’m putting Orange and San Diego Counties on hold for a bit—the former is still logistically complicated (if doable) by the Holy Fire, and the latter turns out to have a Class 4 summit block that I’m not sure I’d be able to get up. I also tagged Point Reno, the highest point of Washington, D.C., while in the city for Worldcon a couple weeks ago. It turned out to be just a quick jaunt from my hotel.
2021 year-end statistics:
New county high points: 7 (68 total)
Home glob: 58 counties (+6), 186,208 square miles (+44,412)
New 2000′ prominence peaks: 6
New ultra prominence peaks: 2
New Sierra Peaks Section peaks: 4
Highest peak climbed: Boundary Peak (13,140′)
Most prominent peak climbed: Wheeler Peak (13,063′, P7563)
Monday would have been the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s 88th birthday. Which meant a lot of tributes from the left side of the political spectrum. The California legislature’s concurrent resolution is a good example:
This measure would declare that the Legislature honors the life and legacy of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and proclaims March 15, 2021, as Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg Day, a day of remembrance and education to ensure that all Californians always honor and remember a vibrant guardian of equality for all.
I can’t help but feel really conflicted about all of these tributes, though. Not because they’re inaccurate—Justice Ginsburg was a trailblazing fighter for women’s rights whose accomplishments are worth celebrating! But I can’t help but see them as a continuation of the last several years of putting the Justice on a pedestal. It’s always dangerous to make even very admirable public figures into unquestionable heroes, especially while they remain in positions of responsibility, and it didn’t escape my notice that the “Notorious R.B.G.” memes and similar propaganda really kicked into high gear starting in 2013 and 2014. Those years being, as it would turn out, the last chance Ginsburg had to retire and be replaced with an ideologically congenial successor.
Looking through the resolution I linked above, it didn’t escape my notice that the last majority opinion referenced therein was in 1999. I’ve been following the Supreme Court since I was in eighth grade, and that’s before my time. Most of the really solid Ginsburg decisions I’ve seen handed down in real time have been dissents, and while quite a few of them were unanswerably brilliant, they’re not the law of the land. (A lot of people seemed to get warm and fuzzy feelings about Ginsburg dissents, which is bizarre to me given how they tended to accompany the country getting fucked over by the majority.) I had some hope that Ginsburg would get some majority opinions to go out on in 2016, but obviously Sen. Mitch McConnell blocked that. So the only hope of those dissents getting adopted by the Supreme Court rests on control of the Court flipping in the future. And unfortunately for us, by failing to retire in 2014 Justice Ginsburg ensured that that’s probably only going to happen in my lifetime if Democrats add four seats to the Court, or if Democrats hold the White House and Senate concurrently for over a decade, or if, say, Justices Alito and Kavanaugh get in a freak mutual golfing accident. Don’t hold your breath.
I don’t think it’s fair to have somebody’s worst decision overshadow an otherwise exemplary life and career. But life isn’t fair. And at the very least, I feel that it’s dishonest to discuss Ginsburg’s legacy without acknowledging that her replacement was Amy Coney Barrett, and it didn’t have to be, and we, the living, have to live with that for the next few decades. Hopefully Justice Breyer will avoid the same mistake.
I climbed Grayback and Salmon Mountains over Independence Day weekend but COVID-19 made any further expeditions a bad idea even if theoretically possible. I was hoping to get those last three SoCal county high points over Thanksgiving but cancelled plans to do so in light of viral spread. I did, however, spend a number of weekends in the High Sierra to practice higher-elevation peakbagging. The big challenge there remains being able to quickly acclimatize, as I found myself repeatedly out-of-breath and slowing down after efforts that should not have resulted in that much fatigue.
Next year’s plans are entirely up for grabs depending on vaccine timelines and whether we have an in-person Worldcon in 2021. If we do, then the obvious target is Fort Reno, the District of Columbia highpoint, and I might also rent a car for a day and go after some other area county (or independent city) high points—I have not yet done the research but a recent thread on the county highpointers mailing list suggests that Arlington, Alexandria, Falls Church, Fairfax, Manassas, and Manassas Park would all be reasonable objectives. If we do not, then obviously I won’t bother with an East Coast trip. Either way, I’m hoping to take some time off in the summer and sweep up some Nevada county high points, and hopefully I’ll find time to return to far northern California for Bear Mountain.
2020 year-end statistics:
New county high points: 2 (61 total)
Home glob: 52 counties (+1), 141,796 square miles (+3613)
New 2000′ prominence peaks: 5
New Sierra Peaks Section peaks: 7
Highest peak climbed: Mount Dana (13,057′)
Most prominent peak climbed: South Yolla Bolly Mountain (8094′, P4814)