The Peregrine by J.A. Baker

Turns out the version I purchased of  The Peregrine also contains another writing, ‘Hills of Summer’, so I was much nearer to the end than I thought in my previous post. I’m now finished, and it ends just as it began, with prose of the highest order.

This is the kind of book that can only really be appreciated by someone who is a writer, or someone who reads a LOT, or someone who is a fanatic about nature. Fortunately for me, I am 2.5 of those, so I enjoyed it immensely.

There is barely a plot, so be forewarned. This is, on the surface, a series of journal entries written by someone who is watching hawks(peregrines). Every few days, a journal entry of what he saw that day, focusing on the hawks.

But there is a sort of arc to it. Each entry, the writer gets more and more obsessed with the hawks, and starts to imagine that they are accepting him as one of their own. He writes increasing asides about how humans suck (in prettier words) and the hawks are glorious and amazing. The end of the book is a clear end and is great when you look at the whole thing in context.

But, for someone looking for an actual story with plot and tension and conflict and enemies and goodguys, you’re not going to get that.

What you will get is prose that is so delicious and rich and new and perfect that you’ll be highlighting every other line. And you’ll get birds and nature up to your eyes and beyond, you’ll get imagery so lush you’ll drown in it in the most wonderful way.

If you’re a writer, you’ll appreciate the skill. If you’re a reader of many things you’ll appreciate the newness (maybe) and if you love nature, it will make you feel like you’re out in it.

Give it a shot!

A slow burning fuse

I’m still reading  The Peregrine , and it is taking me a while. It is such beautiful writing but with no conflict, it is easy to set it down. But I always come back eventually, for the beautiful writing. It’s like an expensive box of rare chocolate, you have one now and then and savor it, instead of wolfing it all down in one sitting.

But now, about 30% through the novel, it is starting to grab me with interesting things. Things other than descriptions of nature. It took a long time to get there, but I don’t think it would have been possible without all the buildup and setting of the tone and scene. And it is amazing, once it starts…

Now I’m getting the ‘what will happen’ urge to go back to it. Now I know something strange is going on, and I wonder what the conclusion will be. But I really don’t think it could have been done if it just started out that way.

Some things require patience and build up and preparation… sadly, things most people don’t have time for in entertainment anymore. If something isn’t exploding on page one, we put the book down.

I found myself imagining how a movie of this would be. Just shots of birds and animals, and a man walking through nature, watching, and his reactions to it and slow change in personality… no dialogue, no running around shooting or crying or fighting or arguing. Just shots of hawks killing wood-pigeons, and the man staring weirdly at the picked clean bones.

I’d watch it… but it would never be made.

 

The Orville, episode 1

I had zero interest in seeing this show back when the trailer first came out. Though I used to enjoy Family Guy, Seth MacFarlane’s brand of humor (farts, falling down, and mentioning things you’ve heard of before) is just not my thing anymore. But during my constant complaining about Star Trek: Discovery, I keep getting told to watch The Orville. What is going on? Why should any Trek fan want to watch a bunch of idiots making poop jokes and mocking one of my favorite pastimes?

Well, because it doesn’t do that at all.

Yes, there is some goofy humor, but it isn’t gross or stupid or mean, and actually made me laugh a few times. And more importantly, it is spread VERY thin, and gets thinner as the show goes on. It doesn’t do the supremely annoying thing where every dramatic beat has to be punctuated by a joke to break the tension.

Aside from the humor, the other thing I was worried about was the ‘ex wife as first officer’ scenario. I was ready to be sighing continuously at the constant bickering and cruel backstabbing I’d have to endure. But again, it didn’t happen. There is one big argument, and a few little quips, but they are apologetic, they want to work together, they are decent human beings. What a goddamned relief.

More importantly, the show captures that sense of excitement and exploration that is severely lacking in Discovery. You know, the actual discovering. When the captain first undocks the Orville and they fly off to adventure, I almost shed a tear. It’s just the thing I’ve been wanting since I saw the final episode of TNG all those years ago.

MacFarlane must be a Trek fan, because the love is shining through. It’s almost as if the humor is just a trick to get people to pay attention, and then all this interesting sci fi stuff happens.

I’m already looking forward to watching the rest of these episodes far more than I’m looking forward to the next Discovery episode. Because for Discovery, I already know they’ll just be blowing up more Klingons.  But for the Orville I’m wondering, where will they go next?

Exploring

Writing a story based in a city I’ve never been in is interesting, and fun. I wonder how writers did it before the age of the internet. I can drop down into the streets and virtually walk them to get a feel for the city. I can look up bars and restaurants and read reviews and see pictures. Some even have virtual tours.

I have a feeling writers of the past had to be much more social than I do. They probably had to seek out people who’d been there and have conversations with them, pull out details, encourage descriptions of smells and sounds and ambiance.

Sounds like a lot of trouble!

In the shadow of the moon

I saw the eclipse, the total eclipse, and though I’ve seen pictures and knew what would happen, no words or pictures can match the effect of being there.

It begins slowly, a sliver of the sun gone black, a sense of surreality at seeing such a common fixture in the sky and our psychology shifting that way.

Then you begin to notice the light is dimming. It’s around 10 am but it feels like the sun is about to set. It is setting, in a way.

Then you realize that there is hardly any heat on your face anymore. The sun is cold, a winter sun. It gives off chill, thin light that fails to warm your forehead as you stare at the thinning crescent.

Then the moment comes, when you watch that crescent turned line turned dying ember finally blink out–and an instant later, the halo of white, ethereal flames surrounding the black void disk of the moon. The sky is that of twilight, all around you the horizon appears like a sunset. And that strange white light and preternaturally black disk hangs above you like some alien vision. You’re laughing, you’re cheering, you’re putting your hands on your head and jaw hanging open. You feel some connection with something huge, and brief, and singular and completely out of your or anyone’s control or design.

Then, a white flare like magnesium from a single point on the black disk, and the sky lights up with the triumphant return of the sun.

These words are not enough, you have to experience it. You’ll feel a thrill of elation, emotion, of knowing that you witnessed an event that in the past brought millions to their knees, spawned religions and cults and ended rulers and tyrants, and shifted human events that we will never know.

Going to the Eclipse

I will see the total eclipse on the 21st! I will have to sleep in my car and drive for many hours, but I will see it!

I’ve never seen one, and can’t help but wonder what it must have been like for ancient peoples who had no idea what was going on. I’m sure total eclipses spawned religions like meat draws hornets…

The fear, the awe, the beauty… all of it combined must have driven people mad thinking the world was over. What did they do in those minutes of darkness?

Maybe I’ll find out next week…

Garden writing

I’ve done a moderate amount of writing during this vacation trip. Sitting outside, with trees and plants in the garden nearby is most conducive to my creativity, I’ve found. Something about having life and nature nearby inspires more ideas in my head than bland office walls and florescent lights. Thunder rumbling, rain clattering, wind hissing in leaves, chirping birds and buzzing insects–all of these are better than silence. The smell of flowers or herbs or grass, the sight of living green stretching toward the light somehow inspires growth in my mind.

If you’re having trouble writing, try going outside in the sun and grass, and just breathing and observing for some time. Then the words will come to you.