Monthly Archives: April 2003

Fannish/Scadian POW No More!

Sgt. James J. Riley was the senior person left alive in his part of the 507th, so he was the one who had to decide to surrender when they no longer had any working weapons. (Sandstorms. Yuck.) He was then senior POW until the helicopter guys got there the next day. He certainly seems to have acquitted himself well.

His family seems to be bearing up wonderfully under all the media coverage (and the weight of their grief for his sister Mary, who died in her coma three days after he was captured, apparently). His mom is just everybody’s mom, and his dad has a great accent compounded of New Zealand plus New Jersey. I loved his joke at the news conference. When his mom said their son was just doing his duty, his dad said he wasn’t. “In fact, he’s been AWOL for three weeks!” Glad to know our family’s not the only one with a slightly black sense of humor…. But I really didn’t like how the Good Morning America lady interviewed them this morning. If you have to bring up the grief for their daughter, ask the parents something cheerful afterwards, please! Don’t just drop them into a well of depression and leave them there! Also, somebody should get the media away from the house, give the Rileys some bread and milk, and make ‘em sleep for about three days. They look like they need it.

I’m really thrilled about all the POWs, of course, and particularly Shoshana Johnson. (And why do they keep saying she looked “frightened” on the Al-Jazeera video? She looked wary, is how she looked. There’s a difference.) Strange that two of the moms had birthdays yesterday and today, huh? *Cue Twilight Zone music* But as Patrick Nielsen Hayden said, he’s a member of our tribe.

Welcome home, Sergeant Riley! Hope I see you around at a con sometime. Or maybe this year at Pennsic, eh?

Some reports from his local newspaper, the Cherry Hill Courier Post:“Pennsauken’s James Riley alive and well”, “Son’s stubbornness might have helped him cope, Rileys say”, “Neighbors rejoice at rescue”, and “Merchantville congregation elated by Riley’s rescue”. From the nearby Philadelphia Inquirer, “Prayers answered, N.J. couple says” and from the Philadelphia Daily News, “Thumbs-Up for POW”. Also, from North Jersey.com, “POW Freed and Nation Rejoices”, from The Trentonian, “Family Rejoices with Release of POW”, and from the Sydney Morning Herald, “Kiwi among US troops found alive in Iraq”. Here’s the fullest summation of Riley family conversation I’ve seen, at CBS News. Here’s the best summation of the joy I’ve seen, in The Baltimore Sun but from the Los Angeles Times.

And there was much rejoicing.

Signs of the Times

The pickup truck at the business next door that had all the anti-war and do-nasty-things-to-Bush bumper stickers? (The one that also had the “I Brake for Amazons” one, bizarrely enough?) Well, over the weekend — maybe even last week, since I didn’t see it then — those bumper stickers magically disappeared.

It takes a big person to admit to being wrong, and I salute this action.

More Evidence the Rowling Legal Team Never Read the Book

Apparently, Tanya’s psycho cousin Pipa does not have a crush on Garry Potter (the Russian spelling of Harry). No, the mysterious G.P. she’s in love with (along with a lot of other Russian girls, apparently) is the mysterious “Gurry Pupper”. Who also appears in the next three books in the Tanya Grotter series. In fact, his name appears on both front and back covers of Book 3 (TG and the Golden Leech), as well as being a major part of the plot of the upcoming fourth book (TG and the Throne of Dvernir), as the aloof Mr. Pupper finally falls in love — with someone who isn’t interested.

You know, when you have two Harry analogue-characters in a story, you’d think that would prove it was a parody. And a very complex one, too.

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A GOOD Appointment in Samarra!

News is coming in that our seven POWs have been rescued by Special Forces! Iraqis tipped off our guys along the road to Tikrit that they were being held in Samarra, having been hauled there from Baghdad. Since this ancient market town is perhaps best known in the West for that angel of death story, this is an incredibly wonderful piece of irony!

(If you don’t know the story: once there was a Baghdad man who was walking down the street and met the angel of death. He thought he was going to die, but the angel just looked surprised. “My appointment with you isn’t for a week.” So the man decided he had a week to get away from Death, and ran off to Samarra. He had just begun to count himself safe when he ran into the angel of death again. “Ah, there you are,” said the angel. “I wondered why my appointment with you was in Samarra!”)

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Renouncing the World

A professional woman’s basketball player who became a Poor Clare. (From Andrew Sullivan.)

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Proclaim Liberty throughout the Land to the Inhabitants Thereof

There’s jubilation in the streets of Baghdad and East Dearborn (thanks, Command Post). Of course darker days will come — and go, and come and go again. That’s called history. But today is a good day.

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Tanya Grotter Pictures

The Sarasota Herald-Tribune has a rather nice picture of the Dutch cover of Tanja Grotter en de Magische Contrabas. Lovely.

It’s based on the extremely beautiful Russian cover. You really can’t appreciate it in the small pictures on the net, as the fine details become invisible. So I’m sacrificing my bandwidth to let you download a scan of the front and back covers. If you don’t have broadband, you might just try looking at this detail of a wyvern with a rather odd design on its wings. Try looking sideways to see what I mean.

Meanwhile, here’s a detail showing the world’s only magic school, Tibidox.
Tibidox is pink.

And here’s a detail showing the only real copyright problem the Dutch translation might have had.

Tanya's Nikes

Nice cover art, eh? See, they’re all just jealous of Tanya….

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Defending Tanya Grotter

It is a proud and lonely thing to be a fan of Tanya Grotter. In the US, anyway. (Man, do I want one of those Russian comic books….) Those few of us who read Russian and love fantasy obviously have a long row to hoe. One of those few emailed me the other day. His comment on the whole case was “It’s about money, not justice.” I’m afraid he’s right.

However, I suspect more every day that Rowling and her people have never read the book. Clearly the Russian Harry Potter publishers, Rosmen, sicced somebody else’s lawyers on Tanya in a vain strike at a new popular fantasy series. Maybe they read the book first, maybe they just acted out of paranoia. Either way, Yemets was cleared of plagiarism in Russia because the judge could read the books. But the fallout from their actions, sadly, is now hurting Dutch fans.

Very few people have come to visit me here. Eheu, the invisibility! I have gotten replies on other sites — and my comments deleted. You know, I have _never_ gotten my comments deleted before. Since I didn’t include any profanity, vulgarity or flaming, I guess I’m just being oppressed. ;) Interestingly, they seem to think that sites not in the Netherlands are bound, by a Dutch injunction against a specific Dutch publishing company, not to mention the merest possibility of an English translation. I think there’s a few too many drug arrests around here for us to be under Dutch jurisdiction, eh?

People have been asking about Yemets’ statements, in re: the Russian court case, that his books were not parodies, and in re: the Dutch one that they are. First off, he’s never said that the second, third and fourth books in the series are parodies of anything; they are completely off in their own Potter-less universe. (This is only hearsay, but I’ve heard it from several series readers, so I think it’s a reasonable assumption.) Second, ‘parody’ in fact has slightly different meanings under Russian and Dutch law. A Russian thinks of a ‘parody’ as a one-to-one, sustained joke, like those found in Mad Magazine or Bored of the Rings. In these terms, Tanya Grotter and the Magical Double Bass is not a ‘parody’ but a ‘contrafactum’, and ‘contrafakt’ was the word the Russian publishers used in their press release. It was translated into English as ‘parody’, and Yemets was apparently not told — or disagreed with the translation, as linguists like him often will. For the Dutch, however, the first Tanya book is best described as a parody, and Yemets did so.

One good recent example of this literary form is award-winning sf writer Pat Murphy’s contrafactum There and Back Again. Her publishers didn’t have to scrawl all over the cover, “This is a PARODY of Tolkien. Please don’t sue us, Tolkien Estate!” Nooooo, because the Tolkien Estate has a basic understanding of the difference between riff and ripoff. They didn’t freak out about a space colony whose inhabitants just happen to look like hobbits, and seven clones and a technomage who just happen to need a burglar. Of course not. The parody was there, including some rather snarky comments-by-inference about Tolkien; and the nifty independent piece of world-building that just happened to leave room for similar events was also there. No harm done. (And they took this attitude despite the obligatory sex, drugs and tattoos you’d expect from a cyberpunk sf writer.) As Gerald Jonas said in The New York Times Book Review, “…The fun … is to see what Murphy has taken from Tolkien’s original … what she has ignored, and how she has transformed her borrowings.”

(Btw, however, I think you’d do best to ignore the frame story about it being “written” by her alternate persona, Max Merriwell. She totally fails to sound like a old geezer man writing a book and just writes like Pat Murphy writing contrafactums. Perhaps this conceit works better in the other volumes, but I think it’s just the fear someone will notice she’s having fun and demand she turn in her overpolitical-liberal credentials.)

Terry Pratchett has included a lot of Tolkien-derived humor in his books. He doesn’t get sued. Nor does the estate sue the author of every fantasy series set in a world torn by war between good and evil, with questing parties composed of wizard, elf, dwarf, really short guy/s, woods-wily swordsman, cityboy swordsman, and/or a Lost Heir. Nooooo, because that would be silly.

Also, nobody has accused Pat Murphy of plagiarism or being too stupid to make things up for herself. She’s been celebrated for her cleverness in pulling it off. She’s also been criticized for being too clever or not quite clever enough in how she did it, as was Sharon Shinn for her recent Jane Eyre-in-space novel, Jenna Starborn. It isn’t the idea, folks. Nobody can copyright ideas. It’s what you do with them that counts.

So I don’t think I’m foolish or blind for defending Tanya Grotter. I know the difference between what’s original and what’s not, and I know it takes more than reading the back cover of a book to figure that out. It’s certainly not the sort of thing I’d trust a lawyer with a list of similarities to determine. They might have you believe that watching just Forbidden Planet would let you pass a test on The Tempest, and I don’t think Robby the Robot would agree.

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A little more measured response….

I sent this letter to a few Harry Potter sites. I plan to send it to some newspapers as well.

I was very disappointed by today’s cease-and-desist order against the Dutch translation of Tanya Grotter and the Magic Double Bass, and equally disappointed by the coverage of it as a plagiarism case, especially since the suit was for copyright infringement.

There are many books in this world which share similar setups and comment on each other. David Weber’s bestselling Honor Harrington series has been explicitly called “Hornblower in Space” (as was Star Trek, for that matter), and the Hornblower series itself copied the life of Nelson. Calling this sort of time-honored practice “copyright infringement” and allowing one publisher to sue another over it will surely have a chilling effect on publishers in the Netherlands and around the world.

As for the allegations in many articles that author Dimitriy Yemets plagiarized J.K. Rowling in his Tanya books, they are absurd. I’ve read the whole Harry Potter series many times. I own Russian editions of Harry Potter. I have been slowly reading Tanya Grotter for myself. (The reading level’s a bit too high for me without a really good dictionary.) There is no plagiarism of any kind, nor are the plots similar in any but the broadest ways. Yemets doesn’t need to plagiarize. He has published over 30 books in Russia, has been writing for many years, and has a beautiful and humorous writing style of his own. He is particularly good at creating interesting characters. To further make my point, let’s meet a few….

German Nikitich Durnev: popular member of the Russian Duma and head of the Heartfelt Aid for Children and the Elderly Commission. He hates kids, the elderly, and political campaigns. Perpetually sickly, he looks like a vampire taking bedrest in a cemetery and is a man of 117 bad moods. He dearly loves his nasty, senile dachshund, 1.5 Kilometers.

Ninel Durneva: An enormously fat woman who can’t figure out why she never loses weight, though she fasts for half an hour twice a week. She rules the household and keeps up her husband’s spirits. She has a horror of germs. Like her husband, she believes in eating only organic food and purified water, none of which is to be served to Tanya. Little does she know that Tanya occasionally tops off the teapot with water from the toilet bowl….

Pipa Durneva: A psychopathic girl who loves to decapitate her dolls and eviscerate her stuffed animals. She has photoalbums full of pictures of herself, a large group of toadies to make Tanya’s life hell, and a secret crush on the picture of someone whose initials are “GP” whom she wishes would take her away from all this. (It helps to know that Harry Potter’s name is “Garri” in the Russian editions.)

Tanya Grotter: A tiny shy redhead with a smart mouth. She sleeps on a cot on a glassed-in balcony in all but the depths of winter — and the low temperatures of Russian spring and fall mean ice from her breath covers her thin blanket, while condensation makes her equally thin mattress clammy. After being locked in there for one whole day, she had to go to the hospital with pneumonia for a month; she regarded that month as heaven. Her only real possession is the double bass case in which she was left as a baby at the Durnev’s apartment door. In chapter three she manages to summon the magical double bass to her from extradimensional safekeeping. Drawing sound from any string creates unpredictable magical results. It can also fly — though breaking the speed of sound with it, the instruction manual warns, would have unfortunate results. She is greatly embarrassed by the mole on the
tip of her nose, especially since it tends to change color and size or burn her at unpredictable moments — and since the Durnevs always tease her about it.

Academician Sardanapal Chernomorov: The world’s premier white mage and head of Tibidox, the world’s only magic school. Both light and dark mages teach there, and the place is full of monsters, evil ghosts, and baneful architectural features like Statue-Stranglers, the Disappearing Floor and the Ghastly Gate; so it is not safe for the baby Tanya to live there A very short and fat person, he is likely related to the evil dwarf Chernomorov in the legend of Ruslan and Ludmila. When Tanya’s father Leopold wrote that he’d managed to create the Talisman of Four Elements, he raced to his side on a rocket-propelled couch, but found Tanya’s mother and father dead, Tanya alive in the double bass case, and the whole evil undead army of Chuma del’ Torte roaming aimlessly outside their house. Since mages take extended kinship more seriously (they also never divorce or annul marriages, by the way), he figured that a third cousin like German was close enough kin to raise Tanya.

Professor Meduziya Gorgonova: Yes, _that_ Medusa. Sardanapal glued her head back on and turned her back into flesh, fixed her cursed pimples that had been turning people to stone, and taught her how to use her powers for good. When she arrived at Tibidox, the Greek redhead’s beauty caused even old Koshchei the Undying to fall in love with her. She has taught at Tibidox for thousands of years, and yes, her hair can hiss, move and bite like snakes. She very nearly dueled with Sardanapal over him sending Tanya to the human world. She rides a flying rocking horse.

Bob-Yagun: Popular commentator of dragonball, the sport in which hungry flaming dragons are both goalie and living goal. He spent several horrifying hours in a dragon’s stomach (along with dozens of mages and most of the Vampire and Bald Mountain Witch teams) shortly before meeting Tanya. He ended up with so many bandages she thought he was a mummy. Yep, Baba-Yaga’s his grandmother. He dearly loves his little divebomber vacuum cleaner, right down to the air freshener that smells like apricot liqueur.

But there’s a lot more I could tell you that isn’t in Harry Potter, like the disastrous school field trip to one of the Kremlin’s museums, the undead vulture spy, or Mr. Durnev’s sudden conviction that he is a rabbit. With Chuma del’ Torte gone, light and dark mages maintain a fragile balance of power since each side possesses ten crucial magical items; but there’s a twenty-first loose in the world. Meanwhile, Tanya and Mr. Durnev are having horrible visions of a dead old woman whose rotting hands, unattached to her body, reach out to strangle them and make demands…. And I haven’t even gotten further than the beginning of chapter 5!

Tanya Grotter and the Magic Double Bass is a very high quality, very funny children’s fantasy. I look forward to the day when I can relax and read it in English. ;)

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Tanya Banned

You have got to be kidding me. Rowling’s lawyers won?! Cease and desist? Obviously someone couldn’t read, and could be paid off….

More stories on this travesty of justice:


Yahoo
, AP, Interfax.

Grrrrr!

If Tanya is plagiarism (actually, copyright was what was being argued, hard as it is to find that in these news stories) any story containing a Dark Lord being fought by a Wizard, a Dwarf, a Halfling, an Elf and a Lost Heir is obviously in line for the chop by the Tolkien Estate. Any barbarian hero with mighty thews must pay off Robert E. Howard, by Crom. Any sharp-eyed detective with odd habits — especially the producers of Monk — better hide from the Doyles . And so on, on and on. No genre is safe.

Writers of the world, run away!

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Dmitri Yemets Interview

Pravda has an article on the Tanya Grotter case in Amsterdam which includes an interview with Dmitri Yemets.

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Banned in Amsterdam?!

The Hindustan Times reports that J.K. Rowling’s lawyers are trying to prevent Dmitri Yemets’ Tanya Grotter books from being released in the Netherlands, by claiming they were plagiarized from Harry Potter.

I’m currently gotten through my unofficial translation (if I wanna read it, I gotta translate it) all the way to the beginning of chapter 5 of Tanya Grotter and the Magical Double Bass. As yet, I have not encountered a single plagiarized word or phrase. This is a bogus case, my friends.

Or did Rowling write like this?

At times she took the bow in hand and steeled herself to draw it across the strings. The sounds the instrument gave off were always unexpected and therefore unpredictable. The first time, a swarm of wasps appeared on the loge. The second, it began to smell terribly like food gone rotten, and from somewhere above her head fell a monstrous number of shinbones. The third time, Tanya succeeded in summoning from nowhere a jar full of jam that tasted like frog’s eggs. She could have gotten sort of used to this, if the jar hadn’t periodically opened its eyes. Tanya stuck it back a little farther in the closet, hiding it in the middle of some old books.

Or like this?

“See that you take ninety grams of ground dinosaur bone, add a few rusalka scales, three fingernails from a kikimora, seven feathers from a white crow, and then dissolve all this in dragon’s blood. Carefully stir the resulting solution with a coffin splinter and drink it on the night of the new moon. Got it? And now the rest! Until the following new moon, you will be completely seductive and irresistable. During this time you can take action to get married. True, there is one side effect with this method. After one month thick whiskers will begin to grow on you, and your weight will be increased by forty kilograms. However, if you consider that in the magical community marriages are never annulled, you certainly might risk it. This was the well-known healer Griziana Pripyatskaya….”

*Oho-ho,* thought Tanya. *Among wizards there are still problems similar to Aunt Ninel’s…how could you tell if anyone sold her such a potion back when she was hunting down Uncle German? Very similar, even!*

And Harry’s always going on field trips to the Kremlin like this:

“Eh-eh-eh…before you is a rr-ing given by Catherine II to Count Orlov…Selling this ring might have been worth 10,000 p-easants…And this diadem given to the Tsaritsa by Prince Potemkin…From it one might have fetched 15,000 p-easants….”

All these numbers the tour guide uttered so condescendingly and matter-of-factly that at the time he might have been only on a break from busily dealing in serfs, exchanging them on the sly for exhibits in his museum.

I love Rowling dearly, and her lawyers had a bit of a point in Russia (using the lightningbolt font and all….). But their only legitimate argument was the “look and feel” of the cover. The actual book was very much different from Harry Potter. Unless there are a bunch of wizard sportscasters being mistaken for mummies or skinflint hypochondriacal paranoids with 117 bad moods, in some secret bonus chapter of Rowling’s books that I haven’t yet discovered, where:

From window and cellar to playground and tiny park, on the tops of the trees and in the sky hung with sponges of stormcloud, off cats’ eyes and women’s purses, from automobiles’ exhaust pipes to stores’ marquees and all of their summer visitors’ scorched noses — from everywhere, rubbing its carrot-orange palms, stared the tiny young newborn, October.

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