Alyx Dellamonica

Three hour tour

Posted on August 13, 2010 by

Kelly and I are on an Alaska cruise with my mother’s family. I am barely online, except when I’m checking in on my students, but I thought I’d shoot you all a quick update.

All told, we are five couples and one teenaged boy. Everyone but us being from the U.S., it made sense to converge on and embark from Seattle. We therefore spent Monday catching up with a friend who flew out from Waterloo to housesit for us, a lovely, brilliant, seriously-I-am-so-in-awe-of-her! brain on very shapely legs, who had a hand in designing the university’s Knowledge Integration degree. We then slept for two hours, got up before dawn, breakfasted, finished packing and caught a 6:00 a.m. train to Seattle.

If you have limited funds for a vacation and are just looking to get out of town, there are worse thing to do than take Amtrak to Seattle for a day. It was inexpensive and easy. The train’s route runs along the coast, offering better viewing than many an Amtrak route. The salt flats were dotted with herons and other shorebirds, and we caught a blurry glimpse of a river otter and its two babies, humping their way up onto the shore and into the brush. I dozed a little, rewatched the Doctor Who Runaway Bride special on my iPod, gaped at the scenery and whee! Four painless hours later we were in King Station at the heart of Seattle, down in the part of town which evokes fond memories of Clarion West.


We cabbed off to the terminal and got onto the ship with minimal fuss. We lunched, walked the sundecks, marvelled at how high up we were, scoped out the hot tubs and the good book-reading spots. Then we had dinner with the family and headed off to a naturalist’s lecture, all on two hours sleep.

The dregs of the evening were taken up in trying to find a couple of healthy snacks before bed. (We have taken to keeping a hoard of fruit in our stateroom; it’s not always out where you can get at it. Overall, this cruising thing seems more oriented to people who eat three huge meals than to people who eat small and snack between.)

Anyway, we slept like the dead, had brekkie the next morning, went back to the room and slept some more. There has been a stunning amount of reading and napping.

I had imagined sitting out in a hot tub with the ocean view all around, but I had told myself not to get my hopes up. There are 1998 other passengers, after all. But that first afternoon, that’s exactly what happened: me, Kelly, and a cousin had the hot tub on the stern of the ship all to ourselves for well over an hour. We only got out because I figured we were at risk of burning. (We both found a few barely rosy patches of skin, as a matter of fact; my timing was excellent!)

Wednesday was billed as a “Fun Day at Sea!” as we chugged north. Thursday we sailed into Tracy’s Arm Fjord and goggled at an amazing glacier, a sheer river of ice colored the most fantastic and improbable blues I’ve ever seen, ringed by coastal mountains and iceberg-studded waters. We had many whale sightings at a distance, and have had some good food and some bad food. Also stunning—in the hammer meets cranium way–is the décor, which is Disneylandish in its intensity. The elevator shaft (this is, after all, a twelve-storey building) has some open lifts and the mouldings and lights on the thing are beyond glittery. I have pictures; you’ll be stunned. There’s a Versailles lounge, a glittering, sarcophagus-encrusted Pharaoh’s Palace, a Tiki-themed Jungle, a mini-golf course, and multiple bar/dance floors. Also a casino, which is no-go territory because it’s a smoking area.

Our chosen reading area is next to one of the lounges; there are facing sets of comfy chairs by the windows on the 2nd floor, with screens separating each. The screens have Gaugin prints on them, so one is surrounded by artistic nudity. I’ve finished reading Quarrel with the King there, and have started rereading Tana French’s In the Woods. It’s all very weird and decadent, and I am enjoying the downtime, the multiple naps, and the family time very much indeed.

Except for the icebergs and my genetic relations, I haven’t found many things to shoot so far. But today we get to get off the ship—we will be in Skagway! I expect to come back to our cabin with many exciting shots.

Northern Flicker

Posted on August 13, 2010 by

This flicker is ill-lit, but has that fluffy, shinynew look to his chest feathers that makes me suspect he’s newly fledged.

Northern Flicker

I found him or her in this weird little no-humans-land on Woodland and 2nd Avenue. There’s a plot of land there, owned but little-used by the gas company. It borders the gardens of a couple of apartment towers and is fringed by tallish pine trees, some living and some half or fully dead–I assume, from their slo-mo death throes, because of Mountain Pine Beetles. The mix–live tree, dead tree, in-between tree–makes a perfect combo habitat for Stellar’s Jay, eight billion types of sparrow, bushtits, starlings and the occasional flicker. The jays come in the spring, disappear, and then come back in late summer and fall. We assume they’re nesting somewhere in the meantime… maybe Central Park? Anyway, they have been gone since about May but they’re back; I have been hearing them since the same morning that this flicker turned up.

Compelled to write?

Posted on August 12, 2010 by

Something that has come up in a couple of the Journey interviews I’ve been doing lately is this idea that many of us feel compelled to write: that many of us do it whether we think we can sell our fiction or not. And someone’s recently posted a comment asking what I mean by that.

In my case, it means I’ve felt a need to try to write stories since I became literate, at about the age of five. It means I can usually only go a few days without writing fiction before becoming first restless, then unhappy. At some point my writerbrain takes over and starts making up RPG scenarios or plotting novels. That, or I begin having elaborately plotted semi-lucid, occasionally bloodcurdling dreams.

It means I’ve never seriously considered not writing.

Since the question’s come up, I thought I’d throw it wider: fellow writers, do you feel, on some level, like you have to? Can you imagine stopping? If you had to stop–I’ve been meaning to ask this for awhile–how would you go about pursuing a happy, fulfilling, writing-free existence?

Book Review: Mozart’s Blood, by Louise Marley

Posted on August 11, 2010 by

To be an up and coming soprano with a contract to sing Donna Anna–in Milan, at La Scala, no less!–is already to be extraordinary. Octavia Voss is even more singular than that. Born in Italy centuries before the present day, she left home as a teen to pursue the dream of becoming a singer. Talent and determination get her into an opera company, but there she learns that her voice is perhaps less special than she imagined; her career prospects may be limited.

Then a depraved-seeming Countess lures Octavia and the company’s composer into a tryst. After the encounter, Octavia has been utterly transformed. She craves blood, for one thing. For another, she, the Countess and the composer all share each others’ memories… a powerful thing, considering that the composer is Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart!

Lifetimes later, Octavia still lives to sing. Her vampiric lifestyle, and her intimate exposure to Mozart’s genius, have given her endless years to perfect her craft and enjoy a bit of the limelight. But to maintain her secret, she must also endure painful periods of forced retirement. At present, happily, she is out of hiding and building a new career. Her partner in life is Ugo, a creature even more ancient than she, who acts as her personal assistant and ensures she has safe access to the blood she needs to survive. The two are very close, and when Ugo disappears just as Olivia reaches Italy to sing in Don Giovanni, she very nearly falls apart. She has become dependent upon him, perhaps to a dangerous degree, and as rehearsals go on and the usual backstage power struggles play out, the thirst–with which she’s made a terrible sort of peace–is on the rise.

Soon she will have to go out and hunt, for the first time in a long time, risking exposure. And with Ugo missing, it’s a safe bet that somebody’s after her, too.

Marley-Mozart's Blood

As some of you may have read in my interview with Louise Marley earlier this summer, Mozart’s Blood is her twelfth novel. Marley’s background as a professional singer lends a satisfying richness to the behind-the-scenes action; the reader is immersed in the clique-y subculture of a professional opera company going about its work. She also offers an interesting twist on vampirism–Olivia and Mozart’s telepathic bonding when they ‘share the tooth’ is the rule, not the exception.

Vampires absorb the memories of all their victims, often to the detriment of their mental health. It is Olivia’s ability to compartmentalize these memories, focusing only on Mozart’s genius, that allows her to survive… at least until Ugo comes onto the scene with a better solution. Survivors of vampire attacks are always turned, and the rule–a sort of rebirth control, enforced by the Countess with ruthless absolutism–is that if Octavia feeds from someone, she must always kill them.

A cold-blooded creature she may be, but Olivia is a fundamentally caring woman, and it is this quality of hers that gives the book its warmth: her affection for Ugo, her sexual interest in one of the other singers, and above all her passion for opera offset the cruel realities of her condition. Mozart’s Blood tells us her life’s story, and Ugo’s (which is every bit as intriguing) in flashback, and both histories are impeccably researched.

I always enjoy Marley’s books, and this novel was no exception. Somehow, though, I found myself wanting an ephemeral ‘something more’ from it; as I read, I had a sense that I’d been more fully drawn into her previous novels. As I wrestled with the question of whether this was just nostalgia for past delights, my first thought was that perhaps those books felt more relevant, politically and socially. But Mozart’s Blood has plenty of political heft: Ugo in particular is born poor in a era where the financially vulnerable have no options at all, and Marley never sugar-coats such topics.

I also wasn’t entirely happy with how the person behind Ugo’s disappearance fit into the story–it had the feel, at times, of a puzzle piece jammed into the wrong spot. But that person’s eventual fate was delicious to behold. I was finally left to conclude that I’d loved Ugo, liked Octavia pretty well, but that they’d both paled a bit, for me, next to the protagonists of other Marley novels: Zahra of The Terrorist of Irustan, and the incredible Magdalene priest, Mother Isabel Burke, from The Child Goddess. And all that means is I may prefer Marley’s SF to her fantasy.

Science fiction Mozart’s Blood may not be, but it is an entertaining vampire novel–original, intriguing, with good historical content, and one that offers a believable vision of how chasing an artistic dream would be even more complicated for an immortal.