Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Potatoes, corn and sunflowers

I made corn on the cob and boiled red potatoes for dinner. The corn was served with the usual butter, salt and pepper. I made a sauce for the potatoes from a recipe I found in Ursula K. LeGuin's novel Always Coming Home. It's a cup of yogurt, a spoon of olive oil, one grated garlic clove and ground cayenne pepper.

A delicious meal and pretty nutritious too, as I just discovered by Googling. Corn and potatoes may be the best gifts that America has given the world. Saying that, I look at the vase of sunflowers I have on the kitchen counter. The sunflower may be my favorite flower. It's awesome to go the Dakotas when the sunflower fields are blooming and see mile after mile after mile of blazing yellow blooms.Another wonderful American gift.

Karl Marx said somewhere that the Americas had produced only one grain, but it was the best grain of all.

One could say something similar about the potato. It's the best of all tubers.


Photos from last weekend # 3

Sandhill cranes hunting for dinner in a field of soybeans, I think. My doubt is about the soybeans, not the sandhill cranes.

All three photos are courtesy of Patrick Arden Wood.

Photos from last weekend # 2

A member of the Seamen's Union on deck, enjoying a cigarette and the admiration of the masses in Canal Park.

Photos from last weekend # 1

The American Valor leaving Duluth Harbor.

New Orleans

The following essay appeared on Common Dreams and Counterpunch. I publish the link in honor of the first anniversary of Katrina and the loss of a major American city. It's not the first city we have lost. Detroit is block after block of boarded up houses and empty lots where houses used to be. It's the only place I've ever seen with boarded up skyscrapers. Both were great African American cities, full of music and feistiness. Common Dreams

Sunday, August 20, 2006

A Easy Solution...

The problem of how to make my web log easy to find has been solved, which means I don't have to keep coming up with posts titled "Eleanor Arnason" and sounding like some kind of ultimate narcissist.

Dave Lenander has kept a web page on me for years. It shows up at the top of the Google list, and Dave now has a link to my blog.

(I just went from the group blog that my writing group maintains to Dave's web page for me to this blog. If you want to take a look at the group blog, hit the "Wyrdsmiths" link to your right.)

Why am I thinking of another web page, if Dave maintains one for me?

I want to learn how to set up a web site. I want to play with a new program.

Learning is mostly good.

Eleanor Arnason explains why Eleanor Arnason appears in so many of her headers

I am trying to figure out how to get this blog high up on the list that appears when someone Googles Eleanor Arnason. On the plus side, I have an uncommon name. (How many Icelandic Americans do you know? And how many women named Eleanor?) On the minus side, the Internet is full of people interested in science fiction. This means Google comes up with 81,000 results for my name. This sounds impressive, till you Google Michael Swanwick or Ursula K. LeGuin...

How do I get this blog into the first ten or twenty results?

I could change the name to something rare. The blog would be certain to come up, if anyone knew to Google it. But I am trying to reach everyone and anyone who has even a mild interest in my writing, providing they are upright and sincere people, and not trolls.

Maybe I could talk about my fiction and put the names of stories and characters in the header for posts.

In the mean time, I keep repeating Eleanor Arnason...

Eleanor Arnason takes on 21st century technology

In spite of being a science fiction writer, I am not much of a techie. I have two adorable Macs, but use them as word processors and communication devices, paying little attention to software and hardware. I carry a cell phone when I remember to, but only one person has the number. This does not mean I am indifferent to the modern world. However, my interest is mostly intellectual. I subscribe to Science News and read each issue as soon as it arrives. I just sent in money for a subscription to New Scientist. I get Bruce Sterling's wonderful Viridian Newsletter; and I read a number of science blogs daily. This is all great stuff; but it's too hard and expensive to keep up with the actual technology in my real, day to day life.

This needs to change. I am, after all, a science fiction writer. I recently bought a robot vacuum cleaner and have spent several happy hours watching it bump and trundle around the apartment. How could I resist something made by a company neamed iRobot? A new printer-scanner-copier sits on my desk next to my laptop. It is three times as big as the laptop and not handsome. No one ever said the future had to be pretty... A Laotian silk scarf over the top helps...

My desktop has gone into the living room and become a DVD player, which enables me to see the movies my friends have been talking about for years. Miyazaki is awesome. I have already written about Lord of the Rings.

And I have started this blog, which means I am learning to navigate through a new kind of program. Since I am not a techie, this is going to be a slow process of trial and error.

It's a weird experience writing to no one in particular, but I'm learning something new. Learning is mostly good.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Johnny Cash and Sandhill Cranes

Patrick and I moved the last weekend of June. Since then we have spent every weekend unpacking books, hanging art and running household errands. Finally today we took a day off and drove north to Duluth. We stopped at the Starbucks in Forest City, and I bought the last album Johnny Cash recorded before his death. We played it in the car. It's not a great album, but worth having, with one really excellent song: "God's Gonna Cut You Down," a rousing traditional gospel song. I began thinking about Cash and how the right wingers in this country try to claim our popular music, including Cash. I read somewhere that John Bolton has a rock band; Lee Atwater was famous for playing the blues; and I have dim memories of the Republicans using Bruce Springsteens' song "Born in the USA" in the second Reagan presidential campaign, in the confused belief that it was a patriotic song like "Yankee Doodle Dandy."

My own feeling is, rightwingers ought to come to terms with the fact that they don't have much of a culture. Good art has to be honest, and most good art is humane; and the American right wing is neither. This led to a poem, the first poem I've written in several years:

You've taken all our money,
And you've taken all our time,
Working in the Wal-Mart
Or working in a mine,

But you don't get Johnny Cash,
And you don't get ol' Merle.
You don't get Bruce Springsteen.
You don't get Steve Earle.

Make your own damn art and music.
Make your own hopes and dreams,
Sitting in your counting house
With your money making schemes.

Make a choir of bosses singing
"Greed" and "war" in tune.
Put on your white shoes
And dance with Pat Boone
Along the rising ocean,
Under a waning moon.

Not a great poem, but it was good to finally write one of any kind after years.

When we got to Duluth, we went to Canal Park and were in time to see the American Valor, a 767 foot bulk carrier, leave the harbor on its way to Two Harbors to load taconite, moving in a beautiful slow curve as it followed the channel into the shipping canal. As usual, there were sailors on deck, waving at the tourists along the canal. There aren't many workers who get to wave at an admiring audience, while standing atop a huge and beautiful machine.

On the way back, we passed two large birds in a field. We both had a "huh?" reaction; and Pat turned the car around. They were sandhill cranes, hunting something -- I assume bugs -- among low, green, bushy plants I think were soybeans. The sun was low. Almost horizontal light hit the cranes. Pat got as close as he could and took pictures. Finally, the cranes took off. We had never heard their cry before. My bird book describes it as a loud rattle. To us, it sounded like a rapidly creaking door.

Farther south, right at the end of the metro area, we saw three more cranes, standing on a lawn like so many lawn ornaments.

If you're in the right place at the right time of year, you can see thousands of cranes. But this is the most we've seen on one day.

Iceland, Kerala and Cuba

There are three places -- two countries and a state within a country -- which interest me, because they show how much can be done with not much. One is Iceland, which is able to maintain a properous, Nordic welfare state economy with almost no resources: fish, sheep and endless energy which Iceland cannot export, since it is all geothermal and hydroelectric. The second is Kerala, which is one of the poorest states in India. In spite of this, it has a highest literacy rate in the country and the longest life expectancy; and the UN has picked it as an example for other third world nations. (Infant mortality and life expectancy are good measures of physical well being. Education is a good measure of mental well being.)

The third country is Cuba, which is interesting a lot of people right now, because of the impending -- if it isn't here already -- world shortage of oil. The collapse of the Soviet Union meant Cuba lost its source of affordable oil. The immediate result was an economic crisis. Since then, Cuba has rebuilt its transportation and agricultural systems. The link here leads to an article originally published in the English newspaper The Independent and reprinted in Common Dreams.

If you don't want to follow the link, the summary is -- Cubans have apparently managed to fill their island with sustainable, organic gardens designed to produce food for the Cuban people, not food for export.

They have also managed to rebuild their transportation system, based on bicycles, buses, trucks, oxcarts and sharing rides.

And their life expectancy is the same as life expectancy here in the U.S.; and I think they have a higher rate of literacy.

(The last two paragraphs require more links, which I will provide later.)

What makes Iceland, Kerala and Cuba different from the rest of the world? I'm not sure about Iceland, though it has probably been influenced by the other Nordic countries, which are social democracies. Cuba has a communist government; and communism has been a force in Kerala for decades. I don't want to get into an argument about politics. The history of the left in the 20th century was one of limited success and many failures. (Though when I say that, I remember women's rights and minority rights, the union movement, the defeat of fascism, the end of the 19th century empires...)

I am sure there are plenty of things wrong with Cuba. The Icelanders complain about their government, and I'll bet people in Kerala can come up with lots of complaints as well.

But it's amazing what you can do with limited resources, if you want to make life better for ordinary people.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Eleanor Arnason Projects in Progress

I promised I wouldn't talk too much about my stories as I wrote them. But I am going to talk about projects. I have four at present.

The first is Ten Examples of Contemporary Hwarhath Fiction, a collection of stories written about the hwarhath, humanoid aliens who first appeared in my fifth novel Ring of Swords. I've been working on these stories since I finished Ring. All have been published and several have been reprinted. One -- "Dapple" -- won a Spectrum Award; and another -- "The Potter of Bones" -- was a Nebula finalist. Most are connected in one way or another, either by Dapple, a woman actor who goes through three stories, or by the great and terrible war leader Eh Manhata. Manhata founds the state that becomes the hwarhath world government centuries after his death. He is the hwarhath George Washington, though not nearly as nice. I'd like the stories published in one book. The problem is finding a publisher. I'm talking to small presses. No one is enthusiastic yet. However a couple of publishers have said they are willing to look at the manuscript, which means I have to finish it and send it out.

The other problem with the collection is -- I always planned to have ten stories, but I written and published eleven. A twelfth -- about the actor Dapple -- is more than half done.

The second collection is The Adventures of Lydia Duluth. These are humorous space operas or maybe meta-space operas about Lydia Duluth, a location scout for an interstellar holodrama company. Among other things, they are my homage to Jackie Chan and the Hong Kong film industry. I have written nine stories set in the Lydia Duluth universe; and seven have been published. One was a Hugo and Nebula finalist. Another was a Nebula finalist. The last two are complete, but need to be revised. Again, I need to find a small press publisher who is interested. More than that, I have to finish the last two stories and send them out, then complete the manuscript of the book.

The third collection is the rest of my short stories, which I have always planned to call The Warlord of Saturn's Moons and Other Stories. A small press has he manuscript of this, and we are talking, but I do not have a deal.

Finally, there is the sequel to Ring of Swords, which was turned down by Tor Books in 1994. I couldn't find a New York publisher for the book and put it away. Now I have two small press publishers interested. My friend Patrick says I should start a bidding contest for the rights to the book. "$100! $200! $250!" And so on... The novel needs some serious rewriting, but I suspect it will finally see the light of day.

Eleanor Arnason News


I have a story ("Big Green Mama Falls in Love") coming out this month (August) in Eidolon 1, an anthology edited by Jonathan Strahan and Jeremy G. Byrne. This is the first time (as far as I know) that I've been published in Australia. I wanted to go to the publication party, but couldn't manage the time and money necessary.

"Knapsack Poems" is going to be reprinted in the third Tiptree anthology. The story was reprinted in David Hartwell and Kathryn Cramer's best of the year anthology two or three years ago, and I am pretty sure it was a Nebula finalist. I don't always pay attention the way I should to awards, mostly because it's too stressful waiting to find out if I have or haven't won.

"Big Black Mama" (originally printed in Tales of the Unanticipated) was reprinted in Tales of the Wyrd, an annual chapbook put out by the Wyrdsmiths, which is my writing group. The chapbook is available from the Wyrdsmiths website. I have three Big Mama stories complete and one more in the works. I should really think of putting out a chapbook.


I'm planning to attend ICFA, the International Convention on the Fantastic in the Arts, in Fort Lauderdale, Florida in March, 2007; and a week later I will be the author guest of honor at Marscon in Minneapolis.

My usual conventions are Wiscon at the end of May in Madison, Wisconsin and Diversacon in August in the Twin Cities. I do these two every year. In addition, I would like to make Readercon in the Boston area next year.

If you want to find me, these are the best places to look.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Lord of the Rings

I want to write about the Lord of the Rings movies, which I have finally seen years after everyone else. Most especially, I want to write about why I found the movies so powerful and timely, seeing them in mid-2006 during a dark time of war.

The author of Lord of the Rings served in the First World War, and the book was written during the Second World War. The script for the movie was written at the end of the 20th century. I don't recall what wars were going on then. (I should. It was only six years ago.) But people in New Zealand, where the script was written, must remember WWII, Vietnam, Cambodia, Indonesia and East Timor. They are safe for the moment on their little green islands, like hobbits in the Shire, but war after war has raged to the north and east of them.

Tolkien's book and the movies have two great themes. One is power and the way people are corrupted by power and misuse power. The villains are driven by the desire for unlimited power and the arrogant belief that they are strong enough and smart enough to use unlimited power. The heroes -- above all Gandalf the wizard and Aragorn the king -- have a strong sense of how dangerous power can be. They refuse it or use it warily and reluctantly. The person who physically has the most power -- Frodo the Ring Bearer -- has only one goal, which is to destroy the ring of power and be free of it.

One of the great themes of current politics is the huge power that US had after the collapse of the Soviet Union, and the attempt by the American government to use this power to remake the world as a place where every nation and person is subordinate to America. I think that's fair statement, though it's really hard to see George Bush as Sauron. Maybe we can see him as Saruman, the dime store imitation of Sauron.

I am more interested in the book and movies' second great theme, which is the proper way to act in a very dark situation. Some of the characters give in to despair and don't even try to oppose evil. The best example of this is Denethor, the Steward of Gondor, who reaches the point that he cannot see hope even when hope is in front of him, tries of cremate his still-living son and manages to cremate himself. Other characters become evil. Saruman is the best example of this. Instead of fighting the novel's great villain Sauron, he tries to become Sauron and ends as the petty thug Sharkey. All the people who give in to despair have been listening -- directly or indirectly -- to Sauron. His message is, "There is no alternative. I am the only reality. It is hopeless to strive for good." As Tolkien points out over and over, Sauron always lies.The greed and violence and ugliness of Mordor is not the only reality. The dark powers who dominate so much of our world also lie. When Margaret Thatcher said "There is not alternative" to the status quo, she was wrong.

The heroes of the story don't listen to Sauron and keep trucking. They never give up, though they have very little reason to believe they can succeed. There are, throughout the novel and movies, places and movements of beauty -- especially in the movies, which use the extraordinary landscape of New Zealand to remind us that much exists that is real and lovely and worth saving.

Tolkien was a scholar of medieval Germanic literature; and I see the influence of Beowulf and the Old Norse sagas on his idea of courage and loyalty and doing what has to be done, even when you are likely to fail. But his message is also that of mid-20th century Existential authors such as Camus and Sartre. (I can't imagine Tolkien being able to stand Camus and Sartre. They were far too modern and French.) And maybe it's a message worth thinking about now.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006


This blog is an adjunct to my as yet unfinshed web site, which will be (when done) a modest attempt at self-promotion. In case you don’t recognize my name, I am a science fiction and fantasy writer who has published five novels and thirty plus short stories, beginning in 1972 when I sold my first story to New Worlds.

Most of what I’ve written has sold, which tells you I am darn slow. That slowness is not continual. I wrote my fifth novel, Ring of Swords, in eighteen months. But taken all in all, I have averaged a hundred pages of publishable material a year. This speed does not make for a dynamic writing career. But, after thirty plus years, it results in a noticeable body of work and an audience -- not huge, but noticeable.

The purpose of the web site is to collect information about me and my writing in one place. Thanks to the Internet, a lot of my work is still easily available, which means the Arnason completist need no longer haunt the dealer rooms at science fiction conventions, looking for paperback books with yellow pages in plastic bags or beat up copies of Orbit and Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine. A small collection of my work came out from Aqueduct in 2005; and I working -- slowly -- on three more short story collections.

I want people to know what I have done and am planning to do and where they can find my writing.

What does this have to do with a blog?

I checked the web sites of a lot of science fiction writers. All are competent; and a fair number are handsome; but many -- possibly most -- are out of date.

It’s obvious what has happened. The author got excited by the idea of a web site. Maybe a new novel was coming out. Maybe the author decided that the Internet was a fabulous new form of marketing, which might make up for the fact that publishers do almost nothing for most of the books they publish.

(Publishers reserve their marketing money for the handful of books they think will do really well. The rest are left to sink or swim on their own. If a book manages to swim, if its sales figures are good enough, the publisher will buy another book from the same author and treat it the same way. Over the side you go with no life jacket, while the sharks of indifference circle.)

So authors put up web sites, and then lose interest. What is left to do, after they post their biography and bibliography and list the conventions they are planning to attend? Maybe the Internet is a fabulous new marketing tool, but most of us can’t figure out how to use it.

If they are full-time writers, they are under pressure to meet deadlines and finish books. If they are not full-time writers, they are trying to write in addition to working a day job and maybe having a family or a personal life.

So the web site is not updated; and people like me notice this and do not come back a second time.

I want people to return to my web site and find new and exciting news about Eleanor Arnason and her writing. But I am, as I pointed out above, amazingly slow. This means new and exciting news will not come often. So how do I keep people interested in checking up on me?

The obvious answer is a blog.

Here it is. I am going to try to post pretty often, while leaving myself time to write my fiction; and I will try not to talk too much about the stories I’m working on.