A “science column” I wrote several years ago, my science-writer’s take on the famous poem “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas,” has had remarkable life. It appeared in the newspaper, of course, but it was originally written for for CBC Saskatchewan’s Afternoon Edition radio program, and first read at one of their Christmas open houses (a different one from the one at which I sang “Let it Snow! Let it Snow! Let it Snow!“), it’s been published or posted a few times since. A couple of years ago it got a lot of attention because it was noted by Ed Yong at Discover Magazine‘s website. I recorded a podcast of it, which you can listen to here. And now…ta da!…the YouTube video! (Just in time for the day after Boxing Day! Timely, I’m not.)
This is from The Golden Apple Theatre‘s Christmas Crackers: A Not So Silent Night, the third edition of the popular Christmas revue from the local professional theatre company on whose board I serve, and is performed by me and Andorlie Hillstrom, co-artistic director of the theatre. The performance took place at The Artesian on 13th on December 21, 2014.
I’ve reprinted the poem itself below the video so you can follow along.
‘Twas the Nocturnal Time of the Preceding Day to the Day We Call Christmas
By Edward Willett, with apologies to Clement Clarke Moore
’Twas the nocturnal time of the preceding day
To the day we call Christmas (which is, by the way,
Just a modern twist on the eons-old fight
To use feast and fire to end winter’s night).
And all through our dwelling (a.k.a. the house),
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.
(Mus musculus—really a terrible pest,
But even a pest needs a bit of a rest.)
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that Saint Nicholas soon would be there
(Though that old-fashioned chimney’s so energy-poor
That next year I’m making him use the front door!).
Our genetic descendants lay snug in their beds,
While sucrose-based snack foods danced jigs in their heads,
And mamma in her kerchief, and I in my cap,
Had just settled our brains for a long winter’s nap
(You wear hats to bed when you lack central heat;
It helps keep you warm from your head to your feet),
When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from my bed to see what was the matter.
(I’m not really jumpy, but a noise in the night
Sets off animal instincts to flee or to fight.)
Away to the window I flew like a flash,
Tore open the shutters and threw up the sash
(Well, not really flew, it was more like a dash—
And my wife didn’t wake even after the crash).
The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow
Gave a luster of midday to objects below
(Which makes sense, since the moon gets its glow from the sun,
Which means moonlight and sunlight in one sense are one!);
When what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But a miniature sleigh and eight tiny reindeer
(Rangifer tarandus, you could call them, too—
Here in Canada we know them as caribou).
With a little old driver, so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment he must be St. Nick.
(St. Nick is the patron of Russia, you know;
He was born fifteen hundred or more years ago!)
More rapid than eagles his coursers they came
(As fast as a peregrine diving on game),
And since his old sleigh had no window or door,
He shouted their names o’er the slipstream’s loud roar:
“Now, Dasher! now, Dancer! now, Prancer and Vixen!
On, Comet! on, Cupid! on, Donder and Blitzen!”
(An interesting mixture of names old and new—
“To the top of the porch, to the top of the wall!
Now dash away, dash away, dash away all!”
As dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,
When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky
(That’s ’cause air piles up when it meets with a wall,
And the leaves, weighing little, rise too, and don’t fall),
So up to the house-top the coursers they flew,
With the sleigh full of toys—and St. Nicholas too.
And then in a twinkling I heard on the roof
The prancing and pawing of each little hoof
(Not to mention the cracking of each little shingle:
Reindeer weigh quite a lot, as does dear Mr. Kringle!).
As I drew in my head, and was turning around,
Down the chimney St. Nicholas came with a bound.
(I can only assume, since his legs didn’t crack,
That friction ’twixt him and the bricks held him back.)
He was dressed all in fur from his head to his foot,
And his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot
(And since so much creosote blackened his hide,
I no longer fear carbon mono-oxide);
A bundle of toys he had flung on his back,
And he looked like a pedlar just opening his pack.
His eyes, how they twinkled (reflecting the light)!
His dimples, how merry (one to left, one to right)!
His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry
(I thought for a sec he’d been drinking my sherry);
His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow,
And the beard on his chin was as white as the snow.
(And did you know that white hair is not really white?
It looks white because it’s transparent to light.)
The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,
And the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath.
(We must forgive Santa this unhealthy sin;
He was born before all of the studies were in.)
He had a broad face and a little round belly
That shook, when he laughed, like a bowl full of jelly.
(It’s amazing, you know, that he’s lived for so long,
What with all of the things that he eats that are wrong!)
He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,
And I laughed, when I saw him, in spite of myself.
(Laughter benefits heart, lungs and brain, it’s been said;
Maybe laughter’s why cheerful old Santa’s not dead!)
A wink of his eye and a twist of his head
Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread.
(Body language, to Santa, is nothing unique;
He speaks every language, from Zulu to Greek.)
He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,
And filled all the stockings; then turned with a jerk,
And laying his finger aside of his nose,
And giving a nod, up the chimney he rose.
(Apparently Nick spends his off-season time
At a school in Nepal, where he’s learned how to climb.)
He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,
And away they all flew like the down of a thistle
(Its surface is large, but it’s so very light,
That the slightest of breezes can make it take flight);
But I heard him exclaim, as he vanished away,
With his anti-grav reindeer and miniature sleigh,
“Though I may not be real, in the physical sense,
“Though I may not have mass, and I may not be dense,
“Though it’s true, scientifically, this isn’t right,
Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good-night!”
– See more at: http://edwardwillett.com/2012/12/a-christmas-tradition-twas-the-nocturnal-time-of-the-preceding-day-to-the-day-we-call-christmas/#sthash.65FreXkx.dpuf
In the third instalment of this modern take on Arthurian legends, Ariane – descendant of none other than the Lady of the Lake herself – is on the run and on her own. Using her powers to keep avoiding Rex Major’s agents makes her too weak to detect the next Shard of the broken sword she must reunite. And her erstwhile best friend and sidekick Wally has switched allegiance and is living a pampered life at Rex Major’s right hand.
Perhaps worst of all, the powerful Rex (aka Merlin) has the biggest network in the world, and has used it to find Ariane’s Aunt Phyllis – her mother’s sister, and the person she’s closest to.
With her aunt under threat, Ariane has no choice but to walk straight into Rex Major’s trap. No longer using her powers to stay ahead of his spies, she can sense the third Shard. Now all she has to do is win back Wally’s friendship, protect her aunt’s life, figure out Major’s next move – oh, and get to New Zealand and safely back with the Shard whose song is beginning to call her…
That’s the Amazon.ca version. The Amazon.com version is a little shorter for some reason.
Go forth and pre-order!
Meanwhile, I’ll just double down on finishing writing the thing, since it’s going to be out in May. I’ll be turning in the manuscript this week…
“E.C. Blake provides an excellent sequel in Shadows...Blake does a great job of building on the foundations he laid in the first book when it comes to both the magical system and world building…Anyone who liked Masks needs to read this book. Fans of realistic heroines will love Mara.”
Just got this from DAW Books today: it’s the cover art for Faces, Book 3 in my Masks of Aygrima trilogy, written as E.C. Blake. It builds on the previous two covers and reveals, appropriately enough, Mara’s face for the first time. I like it a lot! How about you?
Like the first two covers, this one is by Paul Young.
The paperback of Masks will be out November 4, the paperback of Shadows will be released on May 5, and then Faces will be out in August of next year in hardcover.
Here’s a great video about the best genre literary convention in North America and probably the world: Calgary’s When Words Collide. If you’re interested in writing, you owe it to yourself to get to When Words Collide.
My name gets mentioned about halfway through this video as an example of the kinds of deals that get made at the convention: it was there last year that Hayden Trenholm of Bundoran Press asked me if I’d write a sequel to Right to Know. That sequel, Falcon’s Egg, will be out next year.
Early this morning I sent off Faces, Book 3 in The Masks of Aygrima, to Sheila Gilbert, my editor (and co-publisher with Betsy Wollheim) at DAW Books. I’m quite pleased with it–I hope she is, too!
We’ll be discussing it at World Fantasy Convention in Washington, D.C., early in November. After which I’ll be plunging back into it for editorial revisions, all heading toward next August’s release.
I’ve seen the cover art and it’s grand! As soon as I can I’ll share it…
I’m pleased to announce that new publisher Rebelight, based in Winnipeg, will bring out my YA fantasy (they’re calling it “voltpunk”) Blue Fire in Spring 2015. The picture is me signing the contract.
Don’t know how they’ll describe it, but here’s how I described it in my query letter:
The Kingdom of the Twelve Cities was founded by the survivors of a war among the Twelve Gods. Only three gods survived, and made a pact that they would withdraw from the world forever. But first, each could grant to his or her followers a gift. Vekk, of the Earth, created the God Stones, sources of the magical Blue Fire, and a race of priests to guard them. Around these stones grew the Twelve Cities, drawing on their power for light and heat and protection. Arica, of the Sun, granted her followers their own use of Blue Fire: they could draw it from the sun itself, and thus were free to wander, gypsy-like, through the land, not bound to any city walls. And Silva of the Moon, in defiance of the intent of the pact, which was to leave humans to make their own way unhindered by the Gods, changed her followers into nocturnal, almost feline creatures. They have no Blue Fire, but they rule the night, slaying followers of Vekk and Arica as they find them. The result: the city dwellers huddle behind their walls, the followers of Arica must surround themselves with a barrier of Blue Fire every night or risk attack, and the followers of Silva cower in caverns during the day, unable to bear the sun, but roam freely at night.The story: a young priest of Vekk, a girl of the wandering followers of Arica, and a boy of the Nightdwellers must work together, despite their mutual distrust of each other, when a Heretic arises who defies the will of the remaining Gods, steals the secrets of Blue Fire, and moves to take over the entire kingdom…and exterminate the Nightdwellers.There are battles, adventures, betrayals, and even a hint of steampunk, as the Heretic uses Blue Fire to motivate and arm a tank-like device capable of destroying any army or city in its path…
Here’s the latest instalment of my regular column on writing science fiction and fantasy from Freelance, the newsletter of the Saskatchewan Writers Guild…
“Space opera” is an odd-looking term: after all, as the marketers for the movie Alien might have (but fortunately didn’t) put it, in space, no one can hear a tenor scream a high C.
Early SF fan Wilson “Bob” Tucker coined the phrase, writing in his fanzine in 1941: “In these hectic days of phrase-coining, we offer one. Westerns are called ‘horse operas,’ the morning housewife tear-jerkers are called ‘soap operas.’ For the hacky, grinding, stinking, outworn space-ship yarn, or world-saving for that matter, we offer ‘space opera.’”
But the term that began as a perjorative is now applied to some of the best writing science fiction has to offer. How that happened is detailed in a fascinating essay by David G. Hartwell and Kathryn Cramer entitled “How Shit Became Shinola: Definition and Redefinition of Space Opera.”
The negative connotation remained in place for a long time. What led to the term’s redefinition, oddly enough, was the New Wave movement: a would-be revolution instigated in the early ’60s. Michael Moorcock and J.G. Ballard used their prestige and powers of persuasion to proclaim space fiction dead. Henceforth, they said, the only “true” SF would involve the near future, inner space, and the human mind. They and other New Wave writers lumped all past SF adventure stories, regardless of quality, under the term “space opera,” and said it was all bad and had no place in the new-and-improved SF world.
But every literary movement spawns a counter-movement. In the mid-1970s, Del Rey Books reissued nearly all of the early work of the highly respected author Leigh Brackett, and deliberately labeled that work “space opera”—as a form of praise.
Lester Del Rey had set as his publishing house’s goal nothing less than bringing SF back to its roots as a non-literary—or even anti-literary—form of entertainment. Notes Hartman, “Lester even went to the extreme of denying that any writer could set out to write SF as art,” in direct contravention of the New Wave writers, who thought SF could be good art and that good writers could aspire to art through SF—but only if they discarded the traditions of space opera.
Del Rey’s turnaround of the term “space opera” succeeded, thanks to the unbelievable success of Star Wars, for which Del Rey published the novelization. And when the aforementioned Leigh Brackett, a talented screenwriter, wrote the script for The Empire Strikes Back (generally considered the best of the original three movies), the Del Rey novelization had both the novelizer’s and her name on it. “Space opera” henceforth was linked in popular culture to bestselling popular SF entertainment.
Write Hartwell and Cramer, “Here’s the big irony: the Del Reys were conservative, and were shooting for a restoration of past virtues, and instead hit the future. What they did was to allow the postmodern conflation of marketing and art, the inclusion of media in the artistic project of SF, and to permit the mixing of all levels and kinds of art in individual works. They established the artistic environment for works they would never have considered publishing or supporting. They set the stage for postmodern space opera.”
As a result, they write, since the1980s space opera has meant “colorful, dramatic, large scale science fiction adventure, competently and sometimes beautifully written, usually focused on a sympathetic, heroic central character, and plot action [this bit is what separates it from other literary postmodernisms] and usually set in the relatively distant future and in space or on other worlds, characteristically optimistic in tone…this permits a writer to embark on a science fiction project that is ambitious in both commercial and literary terms.”
Some examples from the 1980s and 1990s I can personally recommend: Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game and its sequels; Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle’s The Mote In God’s Eye; C.J. Cherryh’s Downbelow Station; Gene Wolfe’s four-volume The Book of the New Sun, and its sequel, The Urth Of The New Sun; and Lois McMaster Bujold’s Miles Vorkosigian series.
Other names to look for: Dan Simmons, John Varley, David Brin, Iain Banks, Catherine Asaro, Peter Hamilton, M John Harrison, Donald M. Kingsbury, David Weber, Ken MacLeod, Alastair Reynolds and Mike Resnick.
According to Hartwell and Cramer, “The new space opera of the past twenty years is arguably the literary cutting edge of SF now.”
That statement is a few years old now, but it shows no signs of being rendered inoperative. The leading contender for this year’s Hugo Award for Best Novel (after already winning the Nebula and the Arthur C. Clarke Award) is Ancillary Justice, by Ann Leckie, an unabashed space opera.
It’s ironic that a term intended as an insult to the worst science fiction now applies to the best. But then, science fiction is all about change—so maybe that’s absolutely fitting.
Four stars for Shadows from Pamela Robinson at Night Owl Reviews, who, interestingly, had not read Masks–though she intends to go back and do so now!
In Shadows, by E.C. Blake, I found a world filled with magic and special people. Mara Holdfast is an intriguing main character. The author weaves a journey for her that many will connect with. It was fun to go through every emotion with her along the way. The classic good versus evil takes a turn in this novel that adds the perfect twist.
I’ve been very happy with the cover art for the Shards of Excalibur books from Coteau Books, and the cover art for Book 3, The Lake in the Clouds, which I’ve just received, is no exception. Pretty, isn’t it?
Better get the book written, though. A good cover is important, but it’s also important there be something other than blank pages behind it…