Yesterday Amnesty International released a report on the dismal conditions experienced by migrant workers in Qatar, where preparations are underway for the 2022 World Cup, and something that seems to amount almost to modern day slavery is legal (that would be the Kafala system).
Anyway, the BBC’s headline reads: Qatar migrant workers ‘treated like animals’ – Amnesty
CNN’s headline is: Amnesty International: Qatar rife with abuse of migrant workers
Reuters’s reads: “Alarming exploitation” of workers in Qatar: Amnesty
The Guardian’s is: Amnesty Report on Qatar exposes ‘grim’ abuse of migrant workers (BTW, The Guardian also features a piece on the rather amusing design of one of the stadiums, you can find that one here)
I think you get the general idea as to what the content of the Amnesty report happens to be, but then -if you dig a little deeper- you come up with the following gem from The Gulf Times, a Qatar-based, English language newspaper: Amnesty commends ‘accessible, open’ Qatar…
Say WHAT? Are these guys even reading from the same freaking report? Well, the truth is that they probably are… with a magnifying glass, and looking for the one or two favorable sentences that were inserted out of politeness.
Of course, while this example is more transparent than most (in fact it is so transparent as to be downright pathetic), the fact that Qatar is a tiny country that is not English speaking serves to make the discrepancy even more glaring by providing us with a single headline from the one local source that is trying desperately to put a favorable spin on a train wreck. If Qatar were a large, English speaking country, the general picture would be more balanced, and the truth is that there is always some bias when it comes to the local news. In other words, while this is an extreme example, it probably reflects a reality that is far more common than we’d like to believe… so, how aware are you of what your country looks like through the lenses of foreign, and preferably foreign language, news organizations?
One of the hardest things you have to do when writing a story is learning to recognize when and where should you hit the delete key. Sometimes, when you are stuck, you have to go back and make some radical changes to a section you thought was long done. Doing that can be not just frustrating, but also downright terrifying, especially when the scene involved was one that was one of the pillars of the whole plot. These little ‘surgeries’ can be enough to cause the whole structure to collapse on top of your head, a fact that can leave you bruised and battered… and if you are in the middle of a series, where a couple of volumes have already been published, well, let’s just say that that makes it even worse. Simply put, if the work in question is part of a series then there are parts you just can no longer change, and you certainly can’t walk away or start anew. That was what happened to me a couple of months ago with Citlalli.
The good news is that, even though it took me a while to figure out how, I eventually managed to fix that one, and I’m pretty happy with how that turned out. The bad news is that I’m no longer sure I know where the story is going… not quite. Oh, I have a general idea as to what the general destination is supposed to be, and I think I know how to get there in general terms, but the detailed map I thought I had has been shredded. That means that the path I’m going to have to follow is going to be different from the one I had originally envisioned.
Of course I have to admit that dealing with these little surprises can also be a lot of fun.. .terrifying fun, mind you, but still fun. This is the roller coaster aspect of writing, the one most people don’t even realize is there. Yes, you can set out with a destination clearly in mind, but there are always surprises, and pitfalls, along the way, and watching a story grow, develop and change is one of the most fascinating aspects of the whole process. In fact at times when people ask me why I write, seeing how I’m not exactly making a living out of it, my answer is that I write precisely because I have a story buzzing between my ears and I just have to know how it turns out.
I have written a number of books by now, and the one lesson I have learned is that the story I wind up with at the end of the process hardly ever turns out to be like the one I had originally envisioned… but of course, if I knew how the story was going to end, chances are that I wouldn’t even bother writing it down.
Remember how I mentioned a while ago that I was juggling more projects than are good for my sanity already? (and yes, I know, what sanity?) Well, it looks like a new one has moved in and added itself to the list. It was one of those instances in which you read something (in this case a news article) and a new story comes up to you, pretty much fully formed, smacks you over the head -hard- and starts jumping up and down screaming ‘do me, do me…me, me, me!’
The good news is that I’d rather deal with this than with writers’ block (just thinking about that one is enough to make me shudder), the bad news is that, no matter how I look at it, there are still just twenty-four hours a day… and to makes matters worse my body insists on sleeping at least some of them away, plus the truth is that there are only so many hours I can spend writing before my brain feels like it is about to start dripping out of my ears. Still I am excited about this new plot (even if it is being a bit of a brat), that means that I am going to have to try to accommodate it somehow. It’s not like I’ve never done something like that before… in fact that is kind of the problem.
I’m already working on four projects simultaneously (including one that began as a brat), so I guess adding one more to the list won’t make too much of a difference (though, to be honest, two of those are taking turns and near completion anyway). Who knows? Maybe, if the project insists on being a brat I’ll just turn it into a bribe (something along the lines of ‘listen brain, I’ll make a deal with you: you do your share when it comes to all the other projects, and then, if there is still time, at the end of the day you can spend an hour working on this one, deal?’)
Okay, now that I’m done rereading the Discworld series the thing that jumps at me is the fact that even though this is supposed to be a single series with a number of different protagonists, in a very real sense it could be said that these are two series that take place in what is nominally a single universe, and I don’t mean just because of the different protagonists.
Sure, we have the wizards, the witches (including Tiffany Aching), DEATH, the City Watch and the Moist von Lipwig books, plus a number of stand-alones, and in a way the presence of these different protagonists serves to mask the fact that there is a far more significant division: On the one hand we have the wizards, the witches and to a certain extent DEATH, while on the other we have the City Watch, the Moist von Lipwig books and some of the stand-alones (such as The Truth). Books on the first group deal mostly with the Discworld as such, while those in the second are focused primarily on the societies that inhabit that world (especially Ankh-Morpork), and in quite a few instances the nature of the world doesn’t even rank as a footnote.
Oh, the distinction is never all that rigid. The wizards are an integral part of Ankh-Morpork society, the Librarian is a member of the City Watch, and one of the many parodies of modernity is HEX, but over all I still feel that that distinction holds. Still, in the end I have to say that one of the things I enjoyed the most about the series as a whole was the way in which the author was able to handle the fact that he had basically outgrown his original premise.
These are books that are well worth rereading, though like all books they both lose and gain in the process… though in this case I have to say that the gains were more significant than the losses.
And I just finished reading Snuff. That means that in a couple of days you are probably going to get stuck with a final entry into The Flatland Chronicles. Over all I have to say that rereading the Discworld books was well worth it, as it allowed me to see some things I had missed the first time around and it provided me with a different perspective. Unfortunately it also had a bit of a downside, though I realize that saying that as I went over them again the books feel somewhat predictable would be silly.
I am currently reading Making Money, and I have come to realize two things. The first is that I love the Moist von Lipwig books (maybe because there are only a two of them), the second is that there is a book that is missing in the Discworld series, one that chances are will never be written but that I would most definitely love to see, and that is one around the character of Harry King!
Okay, I am in the last few books of the Discworld series, in fact I just finished Thud! Over all I love the City Watch (it is one of my favorite series), but in this particular case I felt that the book was a little too Sam-centric for comfort. Yes, Vimes is the heart of the watch, and to add an additional subplot would have added a needless layer on top of what is already a pretty complex structure, but at the same time, given the subject matter and the relevance of dwarf culture and history in this one I would have liked to see a little more of Carrot (and maybe even Cheery) in this one.
I know that doing something like that would have been a fundamental change, and seeing how I like the book, it might well have ended up doing more harm than good (we’ll never know), but it is something that nagged me a bit throughout (as to the question of what could have been cut to make room for such a change, I think a little less time might have been spent in the Nobby Nobbs subplot, and that one of the readings of Where Is My Cow? might have been trimmed a little without inflicting any serious damage).
Oh well, it is still a great read, and seeing it in contrast to the way in which the Discworld as a whole was depicted some thirty books ago is definitely worth it.
Okay, so I haven’t posted an update on what I’m reading for what feels like ages. I’m still going over the Discworld series (and I’m still enjoying it). I am currently up to Going Postal, that would be book 33 out of 39 for those who are not particularly familiar with that universe. I think chances are that I will finish with the series before the year is out, though I will probably reread Nation and The Nomes Trilogy after that, so I may be in Pratchett mode until January.
Lately I’ve been going over some of my earlier posts about the books I am reading and I have come to realize that at times I come across as more than a little arrogant. Yes, the whole point of the exercise is supposed to be to explain what I like and what I don’t like about each of these books, how I see them and so on, but at the same time I am all too aware of what goes into writing a book and I am afraid that there may be some instances in which I wind up sounding both hypercritical and disrespectful. After all, one of the things all the authors I write about have in common is that they have done a lot better than I have… not to mention that all the books I write about are books that have moved me in one way or another (okay, I admit that there are a couple of them, such as Crash and The Land of Mist, that moved me in the sense that they really, really annoyed me, but those are the exception rather than the rule, and at least when it comes to Crash I freely admit that a good chunk of my problem with that one has to do with my personal preferences rather than with the book itself).
Anyway, I suspect that part of the problem is that most of the books that make it to my blog are not the ones that take my breath away and leave me saying ‘flawless’ (unfortunately there’s very little one can say after that unless one wants to tack a rather boring list of superlatives after that), but rather those that leave me saying ‘I love it but…’ and to make matters worse an inordinate amount of attention tends to be lavished on that ‘but’, so today I’m going to be doing something completely different, I am going to be sharing a list of a few of those books that left me saying ‘flawless’, keep in mind that this list is not extensive and the books are featured in no particular order. Continue reading Flawless
Okay, unless something jumps at me in the near future this is probably going to be the last entry into the Flatland Chronicles for a while. Yes, I intend to keep on reading these books, in fact I will probably reread all 39 volumes in the Discworld series, but what I wanted to address when I set out to write these posts was the genesis of that universe as seen with a bit of hindsight, and by now at least two of the three main story lines are firmly established. The wizards are pretty much fully formed and the same goes for the witches. The watch is still a bit embryonary, I’ll give you that, and neither Tiffany Aching nor Moist von Lipwig have made an appearance yet, and neither has Susan Sto Helit for that matter, but then again those three are not as critical as the others to the Discworld universe as a whole. In other words the basic framework is clearly in place… so now I would like to turn my attention to those stories that don’t quite fit. By that I mean the stand-alones, the misfits. Continue reading I stand alone (The Flatland Chronicles, part 4)
And after a few interruptions we are back to the Discworld theme. In fact now we come to Moving Pictures. The movie buff in me absolutely loved it, the reader in me… not so much. Oh, it was still hilarious, don’t get me wrong, and I loved all the little nods at the history of film, but there was still a level at which somehow I felt that this book failed to connect, the problem is that I am not exactly sure why.
Maybe it is the fact that there are some rather superfluous subplots that I found somewhat distracting (like the whole thousand elephants thing), or maybe it is the fact that the ‘almost mirroring our world’ jokes were repeated once too often for my liking (‘banged grains’ anyone?), I’m not really sure. In fact it may just be due to the fact that, with the exception of Rincewind and the Librarian, I have always had a little trouble relating to the wizards as a whole, and at times I feel like they are one running joke that has been kept running for a bit too long. Sure, they are entertaining enough, but there is only so much you can do with slapstick comedy, and compared with the other characters in this particular universe I feel that they lack a certain depth. They are the wizards, but in a way that’s all they are, they don’t really contribute anything. The City Watch is a link to the city of Ankh-Morpork as a whole and a mosaic that offers us a glimpse into its different cultures in microcosm, the Witches and Tiffany Aching are a link to the folklore of the Discworld and Death is death… even the couple of stories in the Moist von Lipwig series have a clearly defined aim, but at times the wizards come across as little more than a source of comic relief. The problem is that to be able to provide that comic relief there has to be something bigger than they are –something for them to provide comic relief from– and if that something is missing they can easily wind up dragging a whole story down. That is what I suspect happened in Moving Pictures. If it had remained as a mostly standalone story with the character of Victor, and maybe the Librarian, as the only links to Unseen University this would almost certainly have been one of the best books in the whole series, instead it ends up falling somewhat flat, and that is particularly frustrating because the first half of this thing was great.
Of course, I realize that my not-quite-dislike of the wizards is a matter of personal preference that may well say more about me than it does about the books and characters, but it is an issue that does play a role in how I perceive this series, and seeing how this is supposed to be my blog, well, my personal preferences are bound to come into play.
And now for the second installment of ‘the flatland chronicles’. As I mentioned the last time around, I am currently rereading the Discworld series, and a couple of days ago I finished ‘Guards! Guards!’ Seeing how this is the first book in the whole ‘City Watch’ series it is also probably among the best suited to serve as an introduction to the Discworld universe as a whole. Yes, the members of the watch still have some growing up left to do (Carrot’s commas are almost invariably in the wrong place in this one), but at least the characters that are actually there are clearly recognizable, and the Discworld itself comes across as being more fully fleshed than it was in ‘The Colour of Magic’.
As for the book itself, one of the things that caught my attention was how Monty Pythonesque some scenes actually were. A perfect example of this would be the first secret society scene, which I felt would have been right at home in either ‘The Life of Brian’ or in ‘Monty Python and the Holy Grail’. Yes, it can be said that Monty Python is one of Pratchett’s most obvious influences throughout the series anyway, but in addition to that there is something about the Watch’s storylines themselves that makes them particularly well suited for such treatment (or at least that was the case at first, though even as the book progressed and the author grew more comfortable with his own characters that influence seemed to become a little more nuanced).
Oh, the fact that an author will grow more comfortable with a book’s characters as s/he becomes more acquainted with them is not really all that unusual, but the sheer extent of the Discworld series, and the fact that there wasn’t a single overarching story that the author wanted to tell when he set out to write this whole thing in the first place, combined to give him an unusual degree of freedom, and it also provided the rest of us with a particularly interesting case study in character maturation. That is, as far as I am concerned, one of the things you can get out of rereading this series (in case you need an excuse beyond the obvious entertainment value of the books themselves, that is).
After thinking it over for a while I decided to go back to the beginning and reread at least the first few books of the Discworld series… though I’m not ruling out the possibility of going over the whole thing again (in case you were wondering, I am currently in book 7, Pyramids). So far I have to say that it has been a very revealing experience, one that has given me an interesting perspective to how that particular universe has developed. One of the most interesting details that jumps out on a second reading is how vague Terry Pratchett’s idea seems to have been when The Colour of Magic was first published (or rather how far has his original idea come since then). Oh, there are some familiar elements. The Luggage is there, as is a prototypical Rincewind, who at times is barely recognizable… okay, he is not quite irrecognizable but he is clearly different from the character he will eventually become (in fact it could be argued that it is not until we get to Sourcery that he becomes the wizzard we know and love). As for Ankh-Morpork, the city is barely outlined, if at that… but then again, even though Ankh-Morpork serves as a starting point, it is not the main stage for this one.
On the other hand, while Rincewind and Ankh-Morpork are embryonic at best, the nature of the Discworld as such is front and center in a way it is not in later books. This is not surprising considering that the nature of that world is the starting point of the whole thing, and I suspect that one of the best decisions the author ever made was precisely the one allowing that nature to fade into the background. Sure, that nature never really goes away, and it remains a critical element of the story throughout –the series is called, after all, Discworld— but as amusing as the basic premise happens to be, by itself it probably wouldn’t have been enough to carry an almost forty book series. It was only when the disc was set aside that the world as such, with all of its assorted characters, was allowed to flourish.