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Ocean is a voyage

(Mirrored from Sonya Taaffe’s LiveJournal Blog or Dreamwidth Blog)

Belated rabbit, rabbit! My poem “Σειρήνοιϊν” is now online at Uncanny Magazine. It was written for Elise Matthesen. The title means “of the two Sirens” in Homeric Greek.

The number of Sirens in Greek myth is various. Most commonly there are three, although according to Homeric epic there are two of them: witness the use of the rare dual in Odyssey 12.52.

. . . ἀτὰρ αὐτὸς ἀκουέμεν αἴ κ᾽ ἐθέλῃσθα,
δησάντων σ᾽ ἐν νηῒ θοῇ χεῖράς τε πόδας τε
ὀρθὸν ἐν ἱστοπέδῃ, ἐκ δ᾽ αὐτοῦ πείρατ᾽ ἀνήφθω,
ὄφρα κε τερπόμενος ὄπ᾽ ἀκούσῃς Σειρήνοιϊν.

. . . but if you yourself wish to hear,
let them bind you hand and foot in the swift ship
upright at the heel of the mast, and let the ropes be made fast to it,
so that you may hear and delight in the voice of the two Sirens.

(Classical Greek nouns have three grammatical numbers: singular, dual, plural. The genitive singular of Σειρήν is Σειρῆνος, one Siren; the genitive plural is Σειρήνων, an unspecified number of more than one Sirens. Most uses of the dual had already assimilated into the plural by the time of Homeric Greek; a noun declines in only two cases in the dual where the singular and plural get five cases to choose from and it’s not unusual in Attic Greek for a dual subject to take a plural verb because there are dual verb forms, but they are relatively restricted compared to the exploding tentacular tangle that is the classical Greek verb under normal circumstances. I have the impression that the dual is more common in Semitic languages, but I can’t verify this from experience: Akkadian confines its use of the dual mostly to body parts that come in pairs. Latin and related Italic languages dropped the concept like a hot rock except for one or two fossilized instances, like the number ambo, “both.” English has the same sort of vestiges, visible in the usage of both and the implied alternatives of either or neither. People who know other languages should totally chime in here.)

The mourning siren in the Museum of Fine Arts has been on my mind since I photographed it last November. I felt like a bad classicist for missing it until March, but it turns out that mourning sirens are a thing. Their first association with death is obvious, as Kirke warns Odysseus in Odyssey 12.41–46:

ὅς τις ἀιδρείῃ πελάσῃ καὶ φθόγγον ἀκούσῃ
Σειρήνων, τῷ δ᾽ οὔ τι γυνὴ καὶ νήπια τέκνα
οἴκαδε νοστήσαντι παρίσταται οὐδὲ γάνυνται,
ἀλλά τε Σειρῆνες λιγυρῇ θέλγουσιν ἀοιδῇ
ἥμεναι ἐν λειμῶνι, πολὺς δ᾽ ἀμφ᾽ ὀστεόφιν θὶς
ἀνδρῶν πυθομένων, περὶ δὲ ῥινοὶ μινύθουσι.

Whoever draws near in ignorance and hears the voice
of the Sirens, never will his wife and little children
stand beside him when he has come home and be glad of him,
but the Sirens charm him with their clear-voiced song
as they lie in a meadow and all about them a great heap of bones
of men rotting and the flesh shrinking away.

But why then the actions of mourners? Why grieve over the human dead, instead of nesting happily among them? Since we find them all over funerarymonuments (and other associated material culture: memorial tablets, lots of lekythoi, even representations of tombs), they must possess some resonance beyond the merely monstrous or the generically chthonic. I like a cinerary urn decorated with Skylla as much as the next Etruscan, but I don’t see her repeated across the centuries.

Later traditions reconfigure the Sirens as devouring seductresses, but what they promise the hero in Odyssey 12.184–191 is not sex, but knowledge:

δεῦρ᾽ ἄγ᾽ ἰών, πολύαιν᾽ Ὀδυσεῦ, μέγα κῦδος Ἀχαιῶν,
νῆα κατάστησον, ἵνα νωιτέρην ὄπ ἀκούσῃς.
οὐ γάρ πώ τις τῇδε παρήλασε νηὶ μελαίνῃ,
πρίν γ᾽ ἡμέων μελίγηρυν ἀπὸ στομάτων ὄπ᾽ ἀκοῦσαι,
ἀλλ᾽ ὅ γε τερψάμενος νεῖται καὶ πλείονα εἰδώς.
ἴδμεν γάρ τοι πάνθ᾽ ὅσ᾽ ἐνὶ Τροίῃ εὐρείῃ
Ἀργεῖοι Τρῶές τε θεῶν ἰότητι μόγησαν,
ἴδμεν δ᾽, ὅσσα γένηται ἐπὶ χθονὶ πουλυβοτείρῃ.

Come here, much-famed Odysseus, great glory of the Achaians,
stay your ship so that you may hear the voice of the two of us.
For no one yet has passed this way in a black ship
before he heard the honey-sweet voice from our mouths,
but he goes on delighting and knowing more.
For we know all that in broad Troy
the Argives and the Trojans endured by the will of the gods
and we know all that comes to be on the nourishing earth.

Unless you feel like assuming that the Sirens have a different bait for every traveler (mostly this sentence provides me with an excuse to link this Roman relief of a Siren having sex with some dude), their lure is the storyteller’s: they know the truth of things. I’ve made use of this conceit already in my poem “Anthemoessa on the Main Line.” In a funerary context, then, it seems very obvious to me that what they do is remember the dead. Their voices are more beautiful than any human keening and the deceased is never unknown to them: they know all our life stories. They know what really happened. They tell the dead true.

So one of the impetus for this poem was thinking about mourning sirens, the singers of the dead, and how that function fits with the Sirens of epic, who will tell you the story of the world until you die of it. Another was being asked by Elise Matthesen for a poem. And the last was discovering this fifth-century bronze askos in the shape of a siren with a pomegranate in one hand and a syrinx—panpipes—in the other. She was in the Getty Museum when the picture was taken, though she has since been repatriated to Italy on account of being sold illegally. I know she is holding the two symbols of her mythos, music and the underworld. It still looked instantly like she was offering a choice to me.

As to the rest, I really don’t feel the need to explain the discrepancy between two or three Sirens; myth proliferates, it contradicts itself, and it’s healthiest when it’s told in at least two voices. I just found I rather liked the idea that originally there was one Siren on the fatal isle of Anthemoessa and any others chose to join her. Hence the dual in the title: Σειρήνοιϊν, of the two Sirens. Now, anyway.

Amal El-Mohtar reads the poem in the podcast. I am very pleased that this is where it found its home.

Uncanny Magazine Issue 5 Cover and Table of Contents!

Coming July 7, THE FIFTH ISSUE OF UNCANNY!!!
All of the content will be available in the eBook version on the day of release.

The free online content will be released in 2 stages- half on day of release and half on August 4.

Don’t forget eBook Subscriptions to Uncanny Magazine are available from Weightless Books, and you can support us on our Patreon.

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Uncanny Magazine Issue 5 Table of Contents

Cover

Antonio Caparo- “Companion Devices”

Editorial

The Uncanny Valley

New Fiction

Mary Robinette Kowal – “Midnight Hour” (7/7)
E. Lily Yu- “Woman at Exhibition” (7/7)
Shveta Thakrar- “The Rainbow Flame” (7/7)

Charlie Jane Anders- “Ghost Champagne” (8/4)
Sarah Monette – “The Half-Life of Angels” (8/4)
Delilah S. Dawson- “Catcall” (8/4)

Reprint

Scott Lynch- “A Year and a Day in Old Theradane” (8/4)

Nonfiction

Natalie Luhrs- “Ethics of Reviewing” (7/7)
Sofia Samatar- “Writing Queerly: Three Snapshots” (7/7)

Michael R. Underwood- “21st Century Heroes – Representation in Marvel & DC’s Cinematic Universes” (8/4)
Caitlin Rosberg- “Representation Matters: Embracing Change in Comics” (8/4)

Poetry

C.S.E. Cooney- “The Saga of Captain Jens” (7/7)
Bryan Thao Worra- “Slices of Failure in Super Science” (7/7)

Sonya Taaffe- “Σειρήνοιϊν” (8/4)

Interviews

Deborah Stanish Interviews E. Lily Yu (7/7)
Deborah Stanish Interviews Delilah S. Dawson (8/4)

Podcast 5A (7/7)

Mary Robinette Kowal – “Midnight Hour” as read by Amal El-Mohtar
C.S.E. Cooney- “The Saga of Captain Jens” as read by the Author
Deborah Stanish Interviews Mary Robinette Kowal

Podcast 5B (8/4)

Charlie Jane Anders- “Ghost Champagne” as read by C.S.E. Cooney
Sonya Taaffe- “Σειρήνοιϊν” as read by Amal El-Mohtar
A Deborah Stanish Interview

Uncanny Magazine Issue 4 Cover and Table of Contents!

Coming May 5, THE FOURTH ISSUE OF UNCANNY!!!
All of the content will be available in the eBook version on the day of release. The free online content will be released in 2 stages- half on day of release and half on June 2.

Don’t forget eBook Subscriptions to Uncanny Magazine are available from Weightless Books.

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Uncanny Magazine Issue 4 Table of Contents

Cover:

Tran Nguyen- “Traveling to a Distant Day”

Editorial:

The Uncanny Valley

New Fiction

Catherynne M. Valente- “Planet Lion”
A.C. Wise- “The Practical Witch’s Guide to Acquiring Real Estate”
John Chu- “Restore the Heart into Love”
Elizabeth Bear- “In Libres”
Lisa Bolekaja- “Three Voices”

Reprint:

Delia Sherman- “Young Woman in a Garden”

Nonfiction:

Mike Glyer- “It’s the Big One”
Julia Rios- “Top Five Myths about YA”
Kameron Hurley- “I Don’t Care About Your MFA: On Writing vs. Storytelling”
Christopher J Garcia- ““The Force That Was Peggy Rae Sapienza”
Steven H Silver- ““Peggy Rae: Friend, Mentor, Superhero””

Poetry:

Alyssa Wong- “For the Gardener’s Daughter”
Ali Trotta- “From the High Priestess to the Hanged Man”
Isabel Yap- “Apologies for breaking the glass slipper”

Interviews:

John Chu Interviewed by Deborah Stanish
Delia Sherman Interviewed by Deborah Stanish

Podcasts:

Podcast 4A
Story- Catherynne M. Valente’s “Planet Lion” as read by Heath Miller
Poem- Alyssa Wong’s “For the Gardener’s Daughter” as read by Amal El-Mohtar
Interview- Deborah Stanish interviews Catherynne M. Valente

Podcast 4B
Story- Elizabeth Bear’s “In Libres” as read by C.S.E. Cooney
Poem- Isabel Yap’s “Apologies for breaking the glass slipper” as read by Amal El-Mohtar
Interviews

Kat Howard’s “Translatio Corporis” Inspires Liz Argall’s Webcomic

First, please read Kat Howard’s phenomenal “Translatio Corporis” from Uncanny Magazine Issue 3 (or listen to Amal El-Mohtar read it on the Uncanny Magazine Podcast 3A).

Future Uncanny Magazine author Liz Argall is the creator of the charming webcomic Things Without Arms and Without Legs: A Comic about Creatures Who Are Kind. Liz enjoyed “Translatio Corporis” so much, she created some fan art for the story, starring her webcomic creations.

This pretty much made everybody’s day when we saw it.

Thanks, Liz!

 

SPOILERS FOR “Translatio Corporis” BELOW!

 

 

 

(more…)

Ellen Klages’s Scary Ham Rides Again

If you were at last year’s Nebula Awards, you were treated to award-winning author and raconteur Ellen Klages‘s tale of “The Scary Ham.” Go read it now, or watch it here starting at 12:57. We’ll wait.

(The speech at the Nebula Awards is eligible for a Hugo Award in the Best Dramatic Presentation- Short Form category. Just sayin’.)

Being that Ellen is as generous as she is funny, she offered to recreate The Scary Ham Experience with a Do-It-Yourself Scary Ham Funeral Kit for one of our Kickstarter backers.

We thought it would be fun as a backer level, but we didn’t expect anybody to actually go for it.

We were so wonderfully wrong.

Ellen scoured her area for a one-pound canned ham, visiting multiple grocery stores and nearly giving up and substituting either Spam or canned mutton. Thankfully, she found the perfect ham.

Here is the kit before mailing:

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Here, we’ll let Space Unicorn Scary Ham Backer Lisa Centorrino take over the tale:

So I assembled the monkeys and decided to stage a dramatic reenactment of the climactic funeral scene from Ellen’s story. The monkeys are wearing capes (they came with the kit), because I felt it added much needed gravitas to the scene. The blue monkey is playing the horn Ellen included while the other two have the birthday candles ready to send the ham off over the rainbow bridge.

Scaryhamfuneral
(No fuzzy monkeys or hams were harmed in the creating of this picture.)

The coffin is a “monkey swing” from the kit, the funerary raft Ellen made. The rainbow bridge is symbolized by the rainbow webbing strap draped over the fireplace screen, which itself symbolizes the world tree to make it even more Viking-ish. Once I clear off the mantle, book, monkeys, and rafted (faux) ham will have a place of honor there with the possible addition of a canned unicorn in the future.

I also really wanted to explain why I chose the Scary Ham reward. When I read Ellen’s story I had tears in my eyes even as I laughed, because I could relate so well. My dad and I weren’t very close, and he died suddenly in 2011. Dad was a carpenter and had pretty much rebuilt the house I and my much older siblings had grown up in, and I had often half-jokingly said we would have to burn it down Viking-style when Dad went. Reading Ellen’s story was like revisiting the aftermath again, in a good way.

Thanks to Ellen Klages, for the story and the kit, and to all the Uncanny people.

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Thanks, Lisa!

If you want to read some of Ellen Klages’s amazing fiction, Uncanny Magazine will be reprinting her classic “”In the House of the Seven Librarians” in Issue 3!

Hao Jingfang’s Folding Beijing and the Chinese Xingyun (Nebula) Awards

As most of you know, this month Uncanny Magazine is featuring Hao Jingfang’s novelette “Folding Beijing” as translated by Ken Liu. What you may not know is that it was a nominee for Best Short Story last year at the prestigious Chinese Xingyun (Nebula) Awards. Along with the Galaxy Award, this is one of the most prestigious honors in Chinese SF genre work.

“Folding Beijing” lost to “Smart Life” by Ping Zongqi, but this was, of course, still a tremendous honor for “Folding Beijing” to be nominated. We are extremely proud to be publishing it.

Here are Hao Jingfang and Ken Liu at the awards.

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Uncanny Issue 2 Cover & Table of Contents!

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Coming January 6, THE SECOND ISSUE OF UNCANNY!!!
All of the content will be available in the eBook version on the day of release. The free online content will be released in 2 stages- half on day of release and half on February 3.

Don’t forget that eBook Subscriptions to Uncanny Magazine are available on Weightless Books.

Uncanny Magazine Issue 2 Table of Contents:

Cover by Julie Dillon

Editorial

The Uncanny Valley- Editorial by Lynne M. Thomas & Michael Damian Thomas

New Fiction

Hao Jingfang (translated by Ken Liu)- “Folding Beijing”
Sam J. Miller- “The Heat of Us: Notes Toward an Oral History”
Amal El-Mohtar- “Pockets”
Richard Bowes- “Anyone with a Care for Their Image”
Sunny Moraine- “Love Letters to Things Lost and Gained”

Classic Fiction

Ann Leckie- “The Nalendar”

Nonfiction

Jim C. Hines- “The Politics of Comfort”
Erica McGillivray- “The Future’s Been Here Since 1939: Female Fans, Cosplay, and Conventions”
Michi Trota- “Age of the Geek, Baby”
Keidra Chaney- “The Evolution of Nerd Rock”

Poetry

Isabel Yap- “After the Moon Princess Leaves”
Mari Ness- “After the Dance”
Rose Lemberg- “archival testimony fragments / minersong”

Interviews

Ann Leckie, Interviewed by Deborah Stanish

Podcast

Episode 3: Editors’ Introduction, Sam J. Miller’s “The Heat of Us: Notes Toward an Oral History” (read by C.S.E. Cooney), Isabel Yap’s “After the Moon Princess Leaves” (read by Amal El-Mohtar), Interview with Sam J. Miller conducted by Deborah Stanish

Episode 4: Editors’ Introduction, Amal El-Mohtar reading her story “Pockets,” Rose Lemberg’s “archival testimony fragments / minersong”(read by C.S.E. Cooney), Interview with Amal El-Mohtar conducted by Deborah Stanish

Uncanny Is Temporarily Closing to All Submissions

Uncanny Magazine will be closing to all unsolicited submissions on December 1, 2014. We’ve been giddy about the volume and diversity of the submissions, and are working hard to process everything.

We will reopen in early 2015, and are working on having a new, sleeker submissions system.

 

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