Tuesday, February 12, 2002

The phone rang at 7AM. Never a good sign.

Except that it was. My father, in a hoarse voice, telling me that the pathology results had come back. They are the best they could possibly be. The surgeon got the entire cancer, it had not penetrated the bowel wall. Under these circumstances, the 5-year survival rate is better than 90%.


Monday, February 11, 2002

Six years ago, I planted a Japanese flowering apricot (Prunus mume) tree. I read about it an essay by the distinguished gardening writer Elizabeth Lawrence, who gardened in this very town. According to her, Prunus mume flowers in January, when hints of Spring are welcome. The flowers are fragrant.

The tree was a twig when I planted it. It's over 6 feet tall now, and has never flowered. Now I will never see it flower.

Headlines For Our Time:

Scientists Find Jurassic Age Dinosaur Vomit.

The Peshawar Lancers, S.M. Stirling, Roc, 2002, ISBN 0-451-45848-6

This is a very strange book. It's set in India, it's all about an alternate-universe British Raj, and it contains nearly no Indian characters. There are three romantic couples, all upper-class and white European-descended. There is a Faithful Sikh Sidekick and a Treacherous Pathan Ally. The latter turns out, at book's end, to be an Afghan prince. The good guys are the transplanted British upper class. The bad guys are the Russians, who are Satan-worshippers, ritual cannibals, and ardent devotees of the world's end. Just in case that wasn't nasty enough for you, they also employ Thugs.

A cataclysm has occurred, forcing the Europeans to move to their Colonial possessions. A hundred and fifty years later, Europeans rule almost all of the industrialized world. There's France Outre-Mer, the Raj, and a few smaller states. Against them are Dai-Nippon (a blend of China and Japan), and the Russians.

Here is one population list from the back of the book:
"India: ... Population: 130 million, of which sahib-log 10.7 million; Eurasians 6 million; Christians 18 percent, Muslims 7 percent, Sikhs 7 percent, remainder other Hindu and Buddhist." [Other Hindu?]

What's missing here? Apparently S.M. Stirling hasn't noticed. He has dutifully put in touches of Indian color -- some landscapes, an evocation of Bombay. The most sharply-focused descriptions are of Indian dishes, all of which could be found in one American restaurant or another. But the natives of India have nearly vanished. They're there to provide exoticism, but they have no aspirations or goals of their own. Apparently the British and French rulers were so benevolent that self-determination seems irrelevant to modern Indians.

The adventure plot is great fun, as is the technological milieu. Unfortunately, I kept being thrown out of the book by its cultural premise. This book has no place for characters like Kim, an Eurasian street-child focused on survival and amusement, or his lama. The working classes don't exist, far less the poor. When I read real Victorian/Edwardian melodrama, I say to myself, "Times were different." That's not an excuse I can make here. I find it inconceivable that The Peshawar Lancers could have been written in the 21st century.