Paean to the maiden city.

My church is reading the entire Bible through this year in personal devotionals/studies. I’m currently in the midst of the Psalms, which pass through my mind like water: refreshing, but so hard to grasp once it flows into the past. But one psalm stopped me in my tracks…

Psalm 87
A Psalm of the Sons of Korah. A Song.

On the holy mount stands the city he founded;
    the Lord loves the gates of Zion
    more than all the dwelling places of Jacob.
Glorious things of you are spoken,
    O city of God.   Selah

Among those who know me I mention Rahab and Babylon;
    behold, Philistia and Tyre, with Cush—
    “This one was born there,” they say.
And of Zion it shall be said,
    “This one and that one were born in her”;
    for the Most High himself will establish her.
The Lord records as he registers the peoples,
    “This one was born there.”   Selah

Singers and dancers alike say,
    “All my springs are in you.”

Most of the Psalms, both petitions and praises, use rather concrete language that addresses their subject matters directly. So I paused at Psalm 87 because its language seemed a bit more oblique and metaphorical than the others. The subject is different too: instead of praising God, it praises Zion, the new Jerusalem, the City of God. The language is unusual, almost mysterious, and intimate in its mystery.

I wondered, What is so significant about being born in Zion? But I consider:

Hebrews 11:16—
But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.

I wondered about the last verse, which seemed such a cryptic ending. But then the answer came:

Psalm 46:4—
There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
    the holy habitation of the Most High.

Revelation 22:1—
Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city…

One day the pilgrims will arrive at the New Jerusalem. One day the nations will say, This one is from the City of God. There they were born, born again.

Come to think of it, the city of God is constantly “anthromorphized” in the Bible. The bride of Christ, New Jerusalem. Hmm, how curious! This makes for a rather nifty world-building scenario…

Book Review: Reading the OED

I am one of those lunatic logophiles who will read — and enjoy — a dictionary if it’s in front of me, so I was pleased to find a fellow dictionary-reader in Ammon Shea, who wrote Reading the OED: One Man, One Year, 21,370 Pages. It is partly a memoir of reading the entire Oxford English Dictionary, and part wordlist of curious, obscure words that are “both spectacularly useful and beautifully useless.”

Of course, I was excited to see what a fellow logophile would pick from the vast menu of the OED, but I swiftly discovered that Shea and I are different kinds of logophiles. And I mean vastly different. Continue reading Book Review: Reading the OED

In rain and mist.

I.
It rained today.

As I stood at the train station, I looked up and, for a moment, saw a different world. A world that was washed by the rain: simultaneously saturated and greyed out, as if seen through a glass or in a water reflection. An image that was a little blurred in the details, as if the water had blurred the colours just a little.

II.
From the train on the way home;

The sky was completely overcast from horizon to horizon. Clouds heaped upon each other in fluffy mounds, or smeared out in long banks. The sky was entirely grey, but in greys of all shades. What a sight, that this monochrome colour, so plain on its own, can be so varied and vibrant when in a spectrum. How beautiful.

III.
I love mist. Not the fog that stifles sound and blots out vision, but the gentle, demure mist that blurs details and veils colour. The City of Dragons, which I once lived in, and Burn City, which I now live in, are both misty cities.

I love mist, because it is a portal into an alternate reality. With a blink of the eye and a sidestep of my thought, I pass from the familiar world as I’ve always seen it, into a dream-world next to it. The mist is the door, and I stand in the doorway, in between, neither here nor there, but in both.

Recently Read: Un Lun Dun, Amulet, Decoding the Heavens, and others…

Mini-reviews for things I’ve recently read.

I’ve been (slowly) reading through China Miéville’s oeuvre in a roughly chronological fashion for a number of years, and have finally reached Un Lun Dun, his juvenile/young adult novel. Now that I’ve read more and tasted sterling fantasy prose, I’m not as enamoured by Miéville’s writing as I once was. Nevertheless, his distinctive narrative style is quite suited for this novel, which is a light-hearted, youth-oriented variation on the New Crobuzon of his Bas-Lag novels. In fact, I’d say that this is Perdido Street Station turned juvenile fiction: the plot progression is virtually the same, and UnLondon is weird, wild and wonderful as I’d come to expect from Miéville’s fertile, off-beat, yet peculiarly sensible imagination. The characterization wasn’t much to speak of, but given the world was the main character, I expected this too. Un Lun Dun is simply a fun, off-beat romp.

I re-read Orsinian Tales while waiting for my library books to come in. Like said in my book rambling, Ursula Le Guin’s stories are endlessly captivating, and this collection is no different. It’s less overtly fantastical and more magical realism… and there’s actually no magic here except that which comes from imagination. Which is the whole point: these stories only serve to ignite the reader’s imagination, which is where the true story unfolds. All the Orsinian Tales are lovely, but I really bought this collection solely for one of the stories, titled “Conversations in the Night”, which I plan to write about later.

My latest graphic novel foray is the Amulet series by Kazu Kibuishi, mastermind behind the Flight anthology. A juvenile/YA story, this series is filled with lovable characters and a perilous adventure, illustrated in Kibuishi’s light-hearted, lushly coloured style. I’m now engrossed in the story and have read until volume #3. There are 5 volumes so far, and Kibuishi is working on the 6th. Ah, that’s the trouble with starting an ongoing series — I have to wait for the author to finish!

The non-fiction on my TBR list have been sorely neglected; it’s time to make some dents in it. I’ve just finished reading Decoding the Heavens by Jo Marchant, subtitled “A 2,000-Year-Old Computer–and the Century-long Search to Discover Its Secrets”. It’s a “popular science” account of the discovery and decipherment of the Antikythera mechanism; I love clockwork and analogue machines, so I’m especially interested in learning more about the mechanism. Marchant’s account was uneven: I think it tried too hard to be both historical and conversational/biographical, and ended up reading stilted and inconsistent. Some of the descriptions of persons involved seemed just a bit too colloquial, even emotionally biased. It was also difficult to follow the chronology of events, I found myself often wondering when certain discoveries were made, and having difficulty finding dates. Finally, a huge shortcoming was the lack of images to support descriptive writing. My engineering/mechanical knowledge is rudimentary, so I had difficulty following and visualizing Marchant’s written descriptions of gear positions and arrangements. A diagram would have been extremely helpful. Ah well, that’s what the Internet is for! In all, this was a good introduction to the Antikythera mechanism, and I appreciated Marchant’s meticulous research into all the people involved in deciphering its function, how the various theories were reasoned out, and finally the current prevailing theory and significance of the mechanism to history, archaeology, engineering and technology.

Currently reading the non-fiction book Reading the OED by Ammon Shea, with Tigana by Guy Gavriel Kay upcoming. Kay has been on TBR for years — at last, the day of reading him is coming soon!

Dolls, after a long hiatus.

(This is where I talk about my Asian ball-jointed dolls (ABJDs). There’s lots of jargon involved. Don’t worry if you’re unfamiliar with it, it’s easy to pick up! Den of Angels is the premier community for BJD news and info; I’m aihre there.)

These are the first photos (with Canon PowerShot G9) I’ve taken of my dolls for more than a year. I went on hiatus initially because I was getting frustrated with them, and because I just didn’t have the bandwidth to deal with yet another thing in my life. It’s been a long break, but I finally have enough headspace to devote some of my attention to them. Rediscovering the enjoyment of my dolls is such a delight.

First: the new one. These are my first photos of Falco Justinian.

And Syr, who gets more photogenic every time I look at her.

Continue reading Dolls, after a long hiatus.

On maintaining a narrow depth of field.

Public transport is a reader’s best friend. If you have a long commute like I do, you have plenty of uninterrupted time to get lost in a book; what’s more, someone else is getting you to your destination while you’re enjoying yourself! The best kind of multi-tasking. So I’ve been making huge dents in my TBR list this year.

A long commute also allows uninterrupted thinking time. This is a long post for a long train of thought on books.

(I haven’t blogged for several years, and my voice is very rusty. I’m re-learning craft and polish; pardon the stilted tone and raw edges.)

The more books I read, the less tolerant I become of mediocrity, be it in books or film. It used to be simply poor authorship that gets me tetchy, but now the bar has increased to mediocre authorship. I may have been able to read Twilight (a decidedly mediocre book) 4-5 years ago, but I don’t think I could anymore. I used to adore China Miéville’s authorship; now, not so much, even though I still like his stories. I’ve now read enough to know what is good writing — and that has whet my appetite for even better writing. Nothing less will satisfy now. Continue reading On maintaining a narrow depth of field.

A new blog for a new season.

Behold: Vega has returned to the blogging beat. It feels good to be back. Welcome to Flying With Sails: the Next Journey.

It’s time for a new blog. My Livejournal served for a period in my life, but I’ve now outgrown that season. I may eventually take it down, but for now it remains.

Let’s see how this goes, how long this lasts… and I’m hopeful. See you around.