Oh Glorious First Sunday of Spring

Today was Daylight Savings Time in Turkey, and so the sun set at 6:30 as opposed to 3:45, which was the record set during the winter solstice. What fun I had indoors by myself with only stuffed animals to talk to!

Today was also the day for the standardized university admissions test. Imagine the SAT if it was only given one day a year, and your whole family came to watch you take it. That’s what happened here on campus this morning. Half of the high school students in Van came to Yuzuncu Yil to take the test, and their mothers, fathers, siblings, fake uncles and go-to hair stylists all sat on the lawns of my campus and had picnics or slept until the test was over.

(Also concerning the test: Imagine the SAT if the results you received in the mail told you not only what school you were going to attend, but also what subject you’ll study. Welcome to Turkey.)

For the first time since the fall I hammocked. It was a cloudless day and Lake Van was calm, as there are no boats on it except the ferry and no one has seen the Van monster in over twenty years. So not only did I string up my hammock and read, but I wore sandals while I did it. Amazed Turks tripped over one another as they tried to steal subtle glances at my space blanket and footwear from the future.

View from the hammock. Awesome sidewalk.

Whilst hammocking I finished A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court. Since I recently spent all my money on Kindle fantasy novels, I’ve had to resort to downloading and reading only free public domain books on my e-reader (or what the Turks around me on the bus call, “The Evil Mirror”). The version of the Mark Twain book I read before was released under the line of Great Illustrated Classics, which translated these old, old stories into a format that children can easily understand, with pictures on every other page. I was only 17 at the time, and I’m a visual learner. However, I was surprised to find that GIC pulled no punches, and I couldn’t stop thinking about the main character with the ridiculous bowl cut the pencil illustrator had given him.

(Plus, I was stoked to find that not only is A Connecticut Yankee one of the first science fiction novels – TIME TRAVEL! – the story holds up pretty well, and the protagonist, though admittedly a Yankee, is surly in a very likable way.)

Finishing the book made me feel like I had actually accomplished something, because I had been living off my knowledge of the abridged version of the abridged version for quite some time. But it was more of a personal accomplishment. In A Connecticut Yankee, the main character Hank founds a school for re-educating sixth century peasants with nineteenth century ideals. He calls it a “Man Factory.” I used to use this anecdote for fraternity recruitment. I would tell the story of the novel and then go on to describe how the fraternity itself was a Man Factory. It was a good routine, and not only did it work but I believed it. However, it came not from my memory of the novel but from my memory of a single illustrated panel featuring Hank, squatting next to a peasant, writing a note on a piece of bark. The picture was captioned, “Put him in the man factory.” So I based my whole rush strategy on a children’s picture book.

But at a deeper level I was surprised at the amount of ideology Twain packed into a time travel story. Every other page was about either the equality of man or the ability to indoctrinate him. I guess I missed that my first time through the children’s version. And – living in Turkey, stared at by hundreds of people as I walk down the street, unable to adequately explain a few ideas I find extremely simple, creepily shadowed by 18 year old girls who work at my guest house – I empathize with the main character. Sometimes I feel like Hank Morgan, a nineteenth century industrialist trapped in sixth century England. Sometimes I feel like a war correspondent, drinking tea in my white linen suit while I wait for the latest from Washington. And sometimes I feel like a ninja, practicing fake martial arts in my room at six in the evening because I’ve already had dinner and I want to see if I can do what I saw Sydney Bristow do on Alias.

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Who Actually Like Crime and Punishment?

The first day of Modern American Literature, we went around the room and introduced ourselves to the professor. She’s an older woman who looks like Professor Trelawney. I honestly cannot remember her name. It’s my senior year. This class isn’t very important.

Modern American Literature is a sophomore level class; freshman can take it if they declare English, so most students are younger than I. Each person had to give their favorite authors. Walt Whitman. John Milton. Albert Camus. Fyodor Dostoyevsky.
You are all liars, and I am extremely embarrassed because you are not wearing pants since you took them off when they caught fire on account of your great deceptions. These are not your favorite authors. These are no one’s favorite authors. Hard human truths and favorite authors have never held hands. And who gives Dostoyevsky’s first name when they talk about Crime and Punishment? It’s like your trying to pretend you knew him; it’s impossible that you would know him, because he would never hang out with anyone who looks like you do. I know him. We play Settlers of Cataan every other Wednesday.
The skinny acne farm who said Albert Camus was his favorite author also said that it was because of the dichotomy which Camus creates between a presumed life and a true life. That’s when you pokes a hole in someone’s throat, right?
Last summer when I was in Galway, I paid 50 euros to attend a “Master Screenwriting Class” hosted by Christopher Hampton, who adapted Atonement and Dangerous Liaisons and such (see clay face, above). A good writer. A terrible class. The advertisement didn’t say this, but it was actually a pump up the jam party for the audience’s egos. Hampton, who said less than nothing that you can’t read in Syd Field’s Screenplay (which is the go to book, if you’re interesting in screenwriting), fielded questions from “students.”
Sample question: “I was a writer on a major motion picture, and the director kept asking me to rewrite this one scene for the big name actor in the major motion picture, and he was never satisfied. What should I have major motion picture?”
That’s not a question; that’s a high five. You might as well give yourself your own nickname. Like Major Motion Picture Lips, or Very Poor Self Esteem Face.
My favorite quotation, besides some really arrogant things Hampton said, came from one student who tossed Hampton an abstract softball that began with the statement, “Film is a very esoteric medium.” That’s where the salt water and the freshwater meet, right?
On the first day of class, the guy who introduced himself right before me said his favorite works were Eastern spiritual tomes and egalitarian love texts. Egalitarian? That’s with horses, right? You’re sick, greasy eighteen year old on my left.
When it came to me, I said currently my favorite author was Richard K. Morgan. What has he written? A trilogy of novels, with this same character Takeshi Kovacs. And what are they about? Five hundred years in the future, this ex-Navy Seal of the Universe who has a really bad attitude solves mysteries. He always gets his man. And he sleeps with a lot of women.

The Internet Is a Terrible Thing

Did you know that you can wire Amazon.com directly into your bank account? I do, I have, and I’ve used it already today. Ordering books is now as simple as reading an author’s name in an interview then throwing up money in the bathroom. That sounds complicated, now that I read it, but if you swallow the money beforehand it wouldn’t be so hard.

I visit a science fiction blog, io9, every day. Once or twice a week they’ll publish a piece on a new novel or incredibly good comics. I trust them – we have one of those internet relationships where you know the other person’s real name. I’m considering giving them my bank account information directly, so I don’t have to be the middleman between them and the act of spending my money.
Speaking of Middleman, that was a show they told me to buy. They were right. You should watch it – it’s like birthday cake with marshmellow icing. At first you say, I’ve seen this before, and then you say, mmmamdkmfm, because you can’t open your mouth on account of the marshmellow.
Today, io9 ran a article on Richard K. Morgan; the article was actually about his book The Steel Remains, but I followed cookie crumb links around the website till I came to a review of Altered Carbon. Then I bought it. Then I bought a Chris Beckett book called Marchers, which Amazon recommended (Chris Beckett being an author I first discovered this summer when io9 took my money and bought his short story collection The Turing Test with it).
In case there’s any confusion, these are all hard science fiction novels. Someone told me that science fiction, along with fantasy and horror and other simliar genres, are now being called “speculative fiction.” That sounds more respectible, doesn’t it?