“Ain’t it funny how a melody
Can bring back a memory
Take you to another place and time
Completely change your state of mind”
I’ve been reading the “Laundry Files” by Charles Stross, which is an anti-James Bond, Lovecraft meets Office Space with technobabble. I’d been finding it hilarious in spots, partially because I recognized all the technobabble – Charlie is a real-life sysadmin, and his characters do magic with period-specific computing power – complete with blue screens of death and kernel panics. But it’s also a group of people holding off Cthulhu like creatures as long as they can, knowing it’s a loosing battle. So it’s also got existential angst and nihilist depression by the boatloads.
But I’ve had a rough week – they kind where you can’t even look back and say “at least nobody died” -and I really know better than to plug myself into an escapist world where demons are winning the war, even if we patch up after a battle here or there. I mean, why volunteer for more depression?
So with bittersweet page turning. I head to Pratchett. Bittersweet because there are no more Discworlds coming, as Sir Terry has too soon quit this earthy shell and rather recently his friends steamrolled over the remaining hard drives of unfinished works (per Sir Terry’s requests).
But instead of Discworld, I pulled out Nation, which is a Victorian era south seas alternative history, which starts when a native island boy is paddling back to his island, when a tidal wave rolls through and kills off his entire tribe (and most of neighboring peoples as well). Mau is depressed, alone, suicidal, hallucinating.
Uh, and I choose this over the Stross?
Well, yes, because the Stross dread is all pervasive – it’s still there after the current battle is resolved. But the Pratchett book drops the apocalypse on our young hero’s shoulders, and then follows him take a step, and then a next step. Things still suck, but time marches on.
Everyone has heard the eastern proverb “Before zen, chop wood, carry water. After zen, chop wood, carry water.” Actions have a meditation value all their own, not to mention that tasks still have to get done. Back in the Midwest, the sentiment is expressed as “the cow doesn’t care if it’s Christmas, she still wants to be milked.”
A story by Lois McMaster Bujold has a character, suddenly bereft and in dangerous waters, decide the best thing she can do spiritually is endure, like all matter. In the Pratchett, the endurance takes a more proactive approach. As survivors gather, rebuilding has to happen, decisions need to be made. Of course, our author puts more stumbling blocks and emotional landmines in the hero’s path, and while we get fits and starts, it’s not the paralysis of despair.
And so, having concluded the book – which does not end exactly as a boy meets girl book is supposed to – I’m a little better at looking at how to fix what can be fixed, deal with fallout, and take steps.
Chop wood, carry water.