Sunday, October 30, 2005

Book rec

I mentioned some posts ago that I'd managed to get my hands on a future favorite novel of mine. I had the feeling I'd probably like the book, based on only a short description of it. I finished reading it last week and oh my, what a treat! A future favorite has transformed into a current one, based on the excellent reading experience I had.

The book I'm talking about is Keith Roberts' Pavane, originally published in 1966. It's a skillfully written alternative history, which starts at the assassination of Queen Elisabeth I in 1588.

The author, however, doesn't remain in the 16th century for more than the short prologue's worth. In the next part of the novel it's already 1968 and the most sophisticated technology available in England is the steam engine. The catholic church has restricted technical advancements, for example by limiting the use of petrol for fuel.

Roberts paints a fascinating image. He builds a picture of a 20th century world, which in almost all details reminds me more of descriptions of the world of 16th through 19th centuries. Semaphores are clacking away all around England as the most efficient form of communication. The early experiments with electricity and communicating with its help are labelled as heresy and necromancy. The catholic inquisition is in full strength, with all the horrific forms of torture and punishment still in use. When the actions of the court of inquisition are questioned by a lonely monk, an underground movement of somewhat protestant thoughts is born - and duly hunted down by the mother church. Occasionally the reader will, however, notice a surprisingly modern detail, like among a crowd of peasants a girl wearing jeans.

Alienation works miracles in this novel. I found it extremely challenging and refreshing to compare the two worlds, the novel's reality and my own, while I read. The familiar modern reference points were so few (those jeans I mentioned, electric light very late in the novel and so on) that the world was truly strange and I was a stranger in it.

Towards the end of the novel it's revealed that there is a character, who seems to be aware of both realities, the one that could've happened (in other words, the world as our history knows it) and the one that happened in the novel's world. When he reveals this, the reader is once again amazed. Or at least I was.

Through the entire novel I had been in a way "properly horrified" by the idea of such a backwards world - a world without cars, airplanes, pop music (you know, the Beatles and such never existed in this novel) and so on, that it seemed natural to consider it the fault of the catholic church.

I have to confess I didn't think it'd be shown to me that maybe, just maybe, the slow advance of technology and science was actually in many ways good for mankind. Or what say you of a world without Auschwitz, without Hirosima, without nuclear power, without our current problems with, say, the greenhouse gases? What if the catholic church in the novel wasn't the ultimate baddie preventing scientific breakthroughs, but instead an organisation that was trying to protect people by delaying certain advancements till a time when the world would be better prepared for them. The thought made me stop for a while.

In this world of tech-adoration it was honestly a treat to get food for other kinds of thoughts, too. And even though the novel is already almost 40 years old, it's still very current and has lost none of its effectiveness. I strongly recommend you go and read it, because we all deserve the opportunity to rethink our world a bit. An excellent alternative history, in other words. I think I'm going to have to buy it for myself, so I can go back to it again later. I've got a feeling this novel didn't tell everything it had to say on this first round of reading.

In other news, my goddaughter was "officially" named this past Friday in a small family ceremony at Sarin&her hubby's home. I had been given the honor of delivering the speech, which served as the actual naming ceremony. I told Sarin when she asked me to give the speech that I would do it, but that I probably couldn't do it without turning into a sobbing mess. Unfortunately, it turned out, I know myself too well... First three words into the speech and I was already crying. For some reason this situation seemed to be one of the most emotional I've ever faced. I've managed to stay dry-eyed through several weddings now, but giving a name to a child was clearly more emotional. I suppose I knew too much of the background of the story and that made me (empathetic as I am) choke in tears.

I'm glad, however, that despite my teary-eyed performance little Aure's family seemed to like what I had to say. And I hope to god that not one of those several cameras present at the ceremony were filming video clips...

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Winter has arrived

First snow today, brrr. Not the pretty kind of fluffy nice snow, but mainly sleetish wet rags of white stuff. In other words, water, sleet, snow - you name it, we got it all today.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Nothing & Much has been going on

"I haven't got a husband (or even a boyfriend), I haven't graduated from the University yet (getting there, though), I haven't got a steady job, I don't own my apartment, I don't have a dog or a nice car (but at least a car of some sort, that's good) and what else... Sounds like I'm a major looser. :) But the heck with it, I'm not! I'm just working my way up to a proper middle class life and it seems to take a while. Next year this time the situation may be completely different, which is a motivating thought."

This is what I wrote a year ago, a couple of days before my birthday. I'm finding it a bit sad that nothing has in fact changed during the past year (well, I do have a job now, but it's only for this one year). Optimism, however, seems to come to me quite naturally and that's why I'm willing to think that it might not be impossible for the things to change within the next year. At least it would be nice to find someone to celebrate my 29th birthday with, come next October 21st. Preferably someone who looks like Ioan Gruffudd, heh. Not many of those around, unfortunately. Must keep searching, then. Tune in next year for an update on this front... (Did I mention my specialty is extreme optimism combined with a peculiarly gloomy pessimism about certain things in my life?)

I did end up having an awesome birthday, though. I even managed to solve the problem I had about the clothes earlier. And to top it all, there was a member of Sonata Arctica who had his birthday on Friday too, and so I got to listen to a full Hartwall Areena singing "Happy birthday to you" on my birthday. Who cares there were only a couple of people singing it to me and not to Henrik! ;)

Nightwishing, part II

So, as is quite obvious, we (me and Maarit, Petra, Liisa and Mikko) went to Helsinki on Friday to see Nightwish perform. What an amazingly great tour finale concert they had for us. The whole Hartwall Areena was packed full and after Sonata Arctica had played their bit, the anticipation and excitement among the crowds was intense. I don't think I've ever experienced anything like it before. I believe the cameraman may have captured some good crowd moments for the upcoming End of an Era DVD (which will, by the way, be on my shopping list when it comes out - we might be on it, too, thanks to our excellent seats...) , if he understood to film the audience before Nightwish came on stage - there was a huge human wave going around the arena, started by a few fans sitting right behind us (we naturally went along with it right from the beginning). The buzz was exhilarating. I kept laughing out loud, because I just felt so happy and excited at that moment.

And surely enough, that's how I felt throughout the rest of the evening. We did have seats, but we sure as heck didn't sit down while Nightwish was playing. There were massive pyrotechnics, impressive videomaterials as backgrounds, a rain of confetti above the audience (not a wall of real water this time as there was last year), stunningly gorgeous clothes worn by Tarja, a touching performance by John Two Hawks - everything boiling down to the feeling of pure energy that flowed on stage and in the audience. Tarja even sang the heartbreakingly beautiful solo song, Kuolema tekee taiteilijan, during which I was almost in tears.

After such a fantastic evening, it was shocking to hear the news from my friend Heli this morning. Nightwish has fired Tarja and is now going to find a new female vocalist, who's going to be performing already on their next album. After some adamant clicking I was able to get to their stuffy website this morning and read the English version of the letter Tuomas and the other guys had written to Tarja to announce the fact that she won't be working with the band anymore.

I can't help but feel so sorry for them all. For Tarja, because this probably isn't how she wanted to be moving on from the band and for Tuomas (and the others), because they had to make a decision like this. I also do think the guys deserve an Oscar for their performance on Friday. There was absolutely no signs of any problems or conflicts when they played, although they knew what was going to happen after the final bows. My god, how awful the situation must've felt like to them, even though the final concert of the tour must've been a bittersweet experience in itself. And Tarja of course had no idea what was brewing in the minds of the others. Such drama, such drama.

I'm glad I was there to see the final performance of Nightwish with Tarja as the vocalist. I hope the new vocalist, whoever she might be, will turn out to be at least as talented as Tarja is. I also hope that Tarja will be able to build her own career without the band, without being known only for being the lead vocalist of an opera-metal band. I, for one, am already waiting for her solo Christmas album. But most of all, I do wish Tuomas, Marco, Emppu and Jukka will be able to continue their musical dream with Nightwish. Best of luck in the future, guys. Change is sometimes inevitable, let's hope it was for the best in this situation.


In addition to Friday's little trip to Helsinki I made the same trip again yesterday. I had a wedding to attend to and it was a bit too complicated to not come home between the two separate occasions. Yesterday the trip also included a couple of hours of shopping in Ikea, because Kaisa and Tero needed to find some stuff for their new home. I was pretty determined not to spend any money going in and was able to stay determined for at least three minutes. Dear lord, what a place that store is. Luckily some of my determination lasted and I only bought a bedcover and this year's first Christmas present, at the total price of less than 20 euros. Go me and my budget. :)

Anyhow, the wedding. Once again, a celebration that felt and looked exactly like the happy couple. The two handsome grooms (yes, this was a gay wedding) had planned a wedding reception that combined good food, nice speeches, dancing and friendship. Very relaxed and warm celebration of their union. I didn't attend the follow-up party, which was probably loads of fun, but I felt like I had a very nice evening anyhow.

What I did think about during the reception was us Finns and giving speeches. There were a couple of excellent speeches delivered, and then some slightly less excellent speeches. The better speeches were well prepared (I think the mistress of ceremonies, Mari, outdid herself this time - she spoke very eloquently) and some of the other speeches were just ad lib at the scene. Which is admirable in the sense that the person actually has the courage to stand up and speak in a public situation (not all can do that, you know). It's also nice because you know the words do come from the speaker's heart when there hasn't been any preparations.

On the other hand, though, I think that all speeches should be planned somehow. By quickly outlining whatever it is you want to say, you avoid the unfortunate rambling. And after two or three speeches that began with "Well, I don't know exactly what I could say to the newlyweds..." (Me: So why are you talking then? You don't need to give that as an excuse, because you've obviously thought of something to say since you're standing there.) and continued with "People usually speak about love and relationships in these situations, but I'm not going to since the couple is not in any way usual..." (Me: People at this wedding usually seem to not speak about love and relationships, I honestly think you could've made an exception to the rule. No? Oh well, it was just a thought.) I began to think that a well prepared speech about love and marriage would've been a show-stopper, something special. Instead we did hear many amusing tales about how different people had met the grooms, which I felt was a bit unimaginative after the same pattern had been repeated by several speakers.

Anyhow, I'm very happy for Tino and Tero. I truly hope their union will be full of love and respect, because that's what good relationships are about. And I'm very glad that they have very outgoing friends, who have the guts to speak in public, prepared or not. It seemed to tell a lot about the general atmosphere of the reception - a lot of acceptance in the air last night.

Kingdom of Heaven revisited

Ah, the ever so wonderful KoH came out on DVD and found its way to my collection, naturally. I was very disappointed because the director's cut didn't come out at the same time, because now I've got to get that version later and become what the movie industry needs - an idiot who spends loads of money purchasing the different versions of the movie. Oh well, I can't not buy the longer version of the movie, just as simple as that.

Anyhow. We watched the movie again with Tytti on Thursday evening. Accompanied by shamefully sinful amounts of chocolaty treats and coffee. The movie was as good as I remembered. And it was nice to be able to comment on different things right when the thoughts came to mind, after all we both had already seen the movie twice.

My favorite scenes remained mostly the same. I love the aerial view of Balian and his men riding to battle in front of the Kerak, as it instantly shows the desperation of the situation and on the other hand the courage (and training!) the riders have.

And the scene where Balian surrenders Jerusalem to Salah-ad-Din. All the meanings of just those few words. "What is Jerusalem worth?" "Nothing." "Everything." If that isn't at the core of the movie, then I don't know what is. It also got us pondering about the world as we know it now. There are these three major religions that all claim the same city as being holy - what would our world be like if Jerusalem hadn't had this role in history? Whose bright idea was it in the first place to have everything happen in this one town? Or to be more precise, whose smart idea was it to think that people could actually be civilized about sharing a cultural past?

I did, again, end up pondering about the character of Salah-ad-Din in the movie. I'm so glad he's portrayed as he is, without making him a "bad guy" of the story. I think he must've been a truly great person in his days, and it'd be fascinating to go back in time to meet him. At one point some years ago I did even think about doing research of the crusades from the saracens' pov, but since I speak even less Arabic than I do Italian or Latin, the idea had to be buried for now. All the more interesting I found the piece of news a friend of mine shared with me yesterday at the wedding. He's planning on doing a research about Salah-ad-Din in the future, after he's learned Arabic. (Can I just say at this point that I want his brains when it comes to languages? He made it sound so easy - and for him it probably is, too. *sigh*) And I think I can promise him he's already sold a copy of the book when it comes out. I'll surely want it for my crusader and islamic history collection. :)

Ah, but about the DVD yet. The extras, that is. Nice ones about the making of the movie, but I didn't much like the first of the history docs they have on the second disc. It was a document made for the History Channel and I got quite annoyed with it. But not so much with the contents as the structure of the document and the host of the show. Ick. The same dull graphics of fortifications and I suppose Jerusalem were repeated time and again, blech. I got so tired by watching it (I watched it already a week ago, and not with Tytti) that when I began to watch the other history doc (which seemed to be slightly better), I ended up falling asleep. Oh well, if the other document doesn't turn out to be any better after all, I won't have any problems selling my copy of the DVD to someone when I need to buy the director's cut...

So there. A proper update of random thoughts. Now I'm going to go and enjoy an evening of doing nothing. Wonderful. Next week promises to be a busy one again, as usual. Meetings, essays to grade, social commitments... Expect the next blog entry some day in December... :)

Friday, October 21, 2005


Aaagh! What am I going to wear??

We're going to see Nightwish tonight in Helsinki and I haven't got anything nice and "goth chic" enough to wear! A quick run through the stores didn't help at all. Dammit.

Oh well. I guess I'll just settle for as much black as possible. With a touch of purple or burgundy. Should be able to blend in that way.

Another year went by, I got older and my problems are still ridiculous. Go figure.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

How to prepare for the inevitable?

Grandpa is in the hospital, due to very serious heart problems. Mom and dad visited him yesterday and told me today that all of us should begin to mentally prepare ourselves for the worst.

But how do you do that, for real? Is there any point to it, really? I don't think that any amount of preparedness will make the inevitable any easier to face, when the moment comes.

In a way I hope the day isn't going to be quite yet, but isn't that a bit selfish? On the other hand, whether it is or not, I do hope grandpa has some living to do yet in this world. He's still hopeful he can get his knees operated, so I guess that as long as there is something he's got his mind set on, he'll have some strength to fight yet. Although the sad part of it is, naturally, that most likely his other health problems will prevent the operation anyway.

Time will tell.

I'll finish with a poem. Sad, beautiful and touching. And so true.

Jokainen yksinään maan sydämellä
auringonsäteen lävistämänä:
ja äkkiä on ilta.

Everyone stands alone on the heart of the earth
Transfixed by a sun-ray:
And it is suddenly night.

(Salvatore Quasimodo, 1930)

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Another week went by

And made a swooshing sound as it went... I don't know how I'm ever going to catch up with time, because lately it has felt more like I'm just a twig in a rapid - and not enjoying the ride that much at all. Too much to do, too little time to do it in.

This naturally means that I currently live under the shadow of a huge mountain of dishes, among a well-doing population of dustbunnies. Annoys the heck out of me, too, but after having graded essays for 8 hours straight on a beautiful Sunday, I'm darned if I'm going to touch the vacuum cleaner at 9 p.m. after I've gulped down a whole pizza, because I didn't have time to eat before that. No wonder I'm feeling a bit dull at the moment... My brainwave must be nearing a flatline about now.

Just to get some waves into that brainwave, I do have to mention a couple of things from this past weekend.

First of all, this was the weekend of the Turku Book Fair. Marvellous! I sat behind the desk in our small booth a couple of hours, was interviewed by the local TV-channel (I didn't see the program I probably was in, though) and met a very nice author, Jeff Long. Perhaps most amazingly of all, I managed to spend only 3,50 euros during my stay at the fair. Yay me for sticking to a strict budget!

Jeff Long was invited to the Fair by Like and he was kind enough to come and attend a program item organised by the SF-society. There weren't that many people present, but nevertheless he gave a nice little "GoH speech" and then we had a very interesting q&a, which was actually a lot more like a coffee klatsch than a q&a-session (because of the small number of people there). It was definitely refreshing to listen to his opinions and stories behind his works. He had some very hard words to say about his own government at the moment, about the wars in Vietnam and Iraq and about the American corporate publishing business. And also a few words about Dan Brown. He seemed to be a person who is very widely read and aware of the world around him. It would've most certainly been fun to chat with him a bit longer, that'll have to wait till he comes back to Finland some day. (I did suggest he could maybe plan his schedule around the time when we might be having Finncon in Turku in 2008... He seemed to think it was a good idea, heh.)

So yet again, a book fair weekend during which I met a famous author. :) I wonder who's going to be on the list next year? Hmm. I'm hoping for an author whose books I would've already read before the fair...

One more thing before I go. Clothing. It's pretty funny how people seem to have a certain idea of how other people should look in certain situations. Apparently I didn't look like I was supposed to yesterday. I guess I didn't look like an editor of an sf-fanzine, but instead more like a senior high school teacher. Or something. I just have to wonder why the two have to be different since in my case the two roles are quite effectively merged into one package. However, it was kind of fun to notice that one of my friends didn't even seem to recognise me at first and when I greeted him, he just sort of stared at me and gasped something like "What the hell are you wearing?" Umm, say what? Thanks. I think it looks good, too...

So in case this means that I can't wear nice clothes and look like an sf-fan, I'm going to wear nice clothes and be happy about looking like a teacher. ;)

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Go, Amazing Race, Go!

Whee! One of my absolute favorite reality shows is on again! It's the Amazing Race, all new season! Yay!

I think I've mentioned my addiction to this particular show earlier also, but I think it deserves to be mentioned again. The show's pure fun, as the teams travel around the globe - with most of the entertainment coming from pure amazement on my part: how arrogant / dumb / irritating / whatever can the people be?

Too bad there will probably never be a Finnish production of the show, because it has to be too expensive - I'd so try to get to that show with my brother. :) After selling my car, which quite effectively bans me from participating in Pimp My Ride as I don't have a ride anymore, the Amazing Race remains the only reality show I could ever even imagine taking part in. But until then, I'll just sit glued to my sofa on every Sunday evening watching who will be the winners this time. I didn't find a favorite team yet, based on the first episode. Last time there were the twin male models, who caught my eye. Ahem. Maybe I'll cheer for the two clowns this season.

Anyhow, it's been an exhausting day. Mostly for my sitting muscles, that is. I woke up at freakin' 5 a.m. in order to be ready to leave at 6 a.m. to Lahti, for my cousin's confirmation. Aarggh. Dad is his godfather and he had to be at church already at 9.30 a.m. which meant that we had to leave inhumanly early to be there on time. No fun.

So, cousin got confirmed (in a very traditionally dull service), we met some relatives, ate some delicious food and cake and I very nearly fell asleep while trying to be sociable with the before mentioned relatives. That was my day, in a nutshell. Except for the tiny detail of having sat for very nearly 12 hours today, in the car, in the church, at my cousin's home, in the car again, at my other cousins' home and in the car again. And then on the sofa and now by my desk. Ouch. My bum is numb. :)

I think I need to go to the gym tomorrow. Pace awaits, me thinks.