Cities and suburbs, real and imaginary.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

whinge whinge whinge

i'm off work every monday no matter what. this means, that i'm hard at work every monday trying to be a brilliant writer.

yesterday it didn't quite work out for me. i gave up around nine o'clock after a full day of slamming my head against a computer screen and only coming up with blood to show for it.

then, i dug through my recent and forthcoming short stories to figure out which one i should read at apollocon.

i discovered something that makes me squint and go "rrr..."

my best short story - my interstitial steampunk/death/futurismo fantastickal tale is currently unsold. it's out on submission.

strange horizons passed on it. i usually send stories to strange horizons first, even if i'm not sure if the fit is right. the fit wasn't right. i had to hack the story down pretty bad to get it in submit at clarkesworld - about 1000 words, actually - but after gutting the story to get the 4000 wordcount rule, i was unsurprised to see it rejected.

i'm waiting patiently for the third place i sent it.

and i want to read it at my next convention, because i think it's probably the best, strangest, surrealest story i got. if it isn't sold anywhere, i don't feel right reading it.

which depressed me. but it didn't depress me as much as banging my head against a keyboard all day and only coming up with a couple hundred words that weren't total garbage.

whinge whinge whinge.

go read a good book, or watch some anime, while i clean the blood off my keyboard!


Alina said...

I'd recommend "Arab Chroniclers of the Crusades" or "An Arab-Syrian Warrior and Gentleman in the Period of the Crusades" over the Crusades through Arab eyes. Chroniclers is a series of good primary source documents. Arab-Syrian Gentleman is a translation of Usamah ibn Munqidh's memoirs, which are absolutely fantastic. Really, they're a must-have for anybody interested in 12th century Islamic civilization. I didn't find Crusades through Arab eyes to be nearly as useful as the other two.

Alina said...

Oops. That's Arab HISTORIANS of the Crusades.

J m mcdermott said...

I think the Crusade Through Arab Eyes is an excellent start, though. It's a timeline that's been flushed and fleshed out, without getting so detailed that you lose the big picture.

Alina said...

My problem with The Crusades Through Arab Eyes is that it isn't what it purports to be - the Arab point of view on the Crusades. Leaving aside the fact that the Crusades impacted a lot of non-Arabs, the book doesn't do what it claims to do. If you look at the notes and sources section of the book, you'll see that most of the sources cited are not Arab primary sources, but secondary source literature written by European - primarily in French. While that might cut it for journalists writing pop history, it doesn't cut it for serious historical work. And, in fact, it isn't a serious historical work, as it doesn't have footnotes or endnotes or a full bibliography or any of the things you'd expect from a scholarly work.

Instead of taking the Arabic primary sources, and really dealing with them, the book is written from the standpoint of an enemy of the crusaders. So, he calls the crusaders the Franj a lot, and makes sure to play up all the rape and pillage he can, but that's not how the crusades looked through Arab eyes. Medieval people had much more nuanced views than those expressed in Through Arab Eyes.

If you look at Usamah ibn Munqidh's memoirs, for example, he tells a lot of different stories about the crusaders, some of them good, some of them bad. One story was of a Muslim who was praying, and some Crusaders/Franks/Franj yell at him for not praying towards the East, as he's instead praying towards Mecca. Usamah tells how another Frank who has been there for a long time steps in and corrects them and tells them to stop harassing the Muslim guy for praying towards Mecca, and he smooths the situation over. This really shows how Usamah can recognize that there are crusaders who pick up the culture of the region, and adapt, and those who don't or haven't yet.

The one thing Usamah doesn't do, is talk about the Christians as bloodthirsty savages. He doesn't highlight pillage and rapine. Why not? Because the Christians were not really doing anything out of the ordinary on the medieval battlefield. Instead, he talks about fighting Christians in hand to hand combat, sometimes winning, sometimes losing. In one case, he lanced a guy, and didn't kill him, and later found out the guy's name from a Christian, which shows the degree to which the two peoples interacted, even when in direct conflict with one another.

So, I think the realities of historical interactions in the region are much better brought out by Arab Historians and by Usamah ibn Munqidh's memoirs. If you don't know anything about the period, then it might be okay to buy The Crusades Through Arab Eyes, provided you're able to read it critically and understand that it doesn't really show the views of Muslims at the time, and that it's intentionally written as something of a polemic since it's pop history. However, you might be better served with a book like "The Crusades" by Jonathan Riley-Smith. It's a readable, academic overview of the crusades, and one that covers them quite well - and actually cites a great portion of its sources

Anonymous said...

jm -

email me. I'm having problems getting in contact.


J m mcdermott said...

1) Hey, Dal! I wasn't on-line yesterday. You had my e-mail address the first time.

2) Alina, do not forget that we are not "historians", and a "journalist" approach to history is an incredibly useful thing to have. If I were doing a thesis in the stuff, sure I'd look for a scholarly source first and foremost. I'm not. I'm using it for fodder for a fantasy novel. Getting the "pop" version, in that case, is exceptionally useful. I can find out the stuff that is often most appealing to the modern audience. Beginning there, we writers can color our prose with the data that helps us tell the best story.

I actually really like pop histories when I'm researching for books, because I don't get bogged down in mounds of research unless I want to locate something specific.

Perhaps that's a weakness in my work. I don't think so, though. If I was writing Historical Fantasy, it certainly would be. In this case, I'm definitely not writing historical fantasy. Thus, I shouldn't approach the research like a thesis. I should approach it with an eye for the "Pop".

Make sense?

Alina said...

You're welcome to use whichever source you like, of course. However, I tend to prefer the scholarly sources because a lot of pop history is factually incorrect. Even for fantasy, when I'm making things up, or twisting history to use it for fantasy, I tend to prefer having my starting point be good scholarship. Through Arab Eyes isn't "bad" scholarship, I just don't think it's as good as the other two sources I've mentioned.

The thing I like about Usamah's memoirs in particular is that it's a primary source document that is translated into English and is not at all difficult to read. That gives a unique insight into what a person's life was actually like back then. Usamah even gives tips on how to hold your lance when killing a Frank at one point, and that's just the kind of source you have to love - historian or novelist.