On My Bookshelf: Women F/SF Authors

Sometimes I get surprised by authors at the early end of their career. Imperfections can be easily forgiven, especially for a new writer with something new to say or a different approach to something old.

Becky Chambers’ debut novel The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet doesn’t really tell a new story. It’s something of a re-imagined Firefly. But with a nicer, less Western edge. It doesn’t really tell it in a new way: my impression is that this is a novelization of a half-dozen television shows. But tv is the way many people receive their fiction these days. So if authors like Ms Chambers and James S. A. Corey send out their fiction with the genes of the medium, maybe it’s a sign of the times.

Ms Chambers is also settling in with a writer’s voice in this book. Some descriptions were quite good, and others groping to find a way. Future fiction will be better, I think.

Don’t get me wrong about The Long Way … I would really watch a tv series Becky Chambers was writing. And I will likely pick up her second book. I recommend this novel for one superlative thing: characterization. There’s a lot of peripheral goings-on in this book. Like the Harry Potter books, it does invite the reader in to get to know the characters and their motivations. But also like Potter, it lengthens the narrative for people who might want a straight arrow through the main plot to the final resolution.

For those who like the side details, there are three inter-species love affairs going on. They are explored more for the differences between human and non-human cultures. I haven’t seen that handled as well in other science fiction. These relationships are presented with more tenderness than graphic depictions of sex.

Otherwise, some old things: human beings are an upstart race in a galaxy populated by aliens. Somehow, most humans have suppressed the urge to violence. But not all of the galaxy is in agreement with this approach. How do the non-violent survive in a setting in which the violent rule? That question has been explored often in fiction, but rarely in science fiction.

Can I make a comment about publishers? The UK edition of this book, imaged above, is way better than the US release, which I won’t even link.

Kij Johnson: another woman author I admire. Her 2012 novella “The Man Who Bridged the Mist” is simply outstanding, a well-deserved multiple-award winner. Even though the Lovecraft backstory was unknown to me, I found her latest, The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe to circle the same orbit.

This novella is solidly fantasy. It is, as the title reveals, a quest story. Vellitt Boe is a middle-aged professor whose prized student has run away from college. What starts off as a journey planned for a few days, drags on into a months-long journey. The reader wonders, why does an academic abandon all her other students, and a chunk of her career, to chase after a young woman who has run off with a man? There are reasons, very serious ones. There are also harrowing adventures and an underdog escape from death. How does it all resolve? Quickly, somewhat surprisingly, and if you like melancholy, satisfyingly.

These two books are a contrast. The former is well-characterized and not totally disciplined. The latter is compact like an expert hiker’s backpack, but no less attentive to its characters and their backstory.  One is penned by an author at the height of her craft, and the other has some way to go, still.

Both works left me thinking. Which is what good fantasy or science fiction is supposed to do.

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Ministers of Liturgical Music, The Psalmist: SttL 34-36

Paragraphs 28 through 47 of the US Bishops’ document Sing to the Lord reviews the various ministries within liturgical music. A few days ago, we looked at the role of the choir (SttL 28-33). Today, we consider the psalmist (34-36) as a person distinct from the cantor (37-40). We’ll get to the cantor later.

What is the distinction? SttL 36 reminds us the Psalmist sings the verses of the Psalm after the first reading. Maybe the Gospel Acclamation verse too. That’s all. The person designated as a cantor may serve as the psalmist. Two in one. In my situation, and many others, the choir or ensemble contributes the psalmist from among their number.

The bishops set a bar for the role:

As one who proclaims the Word, the psalmist should be able to proclaim the text of the Psalm with clarity, conviction, and sensitivity to the text, the musical setting, and those who are listening. (35)

Sometimes an otherwise fine singer is unable to deliver on the last two of these three standards of proclamation. It’s something to work on, mainly through prayer and study. But more on that later.

The USCCB is concerned about the place from which the psalm is proclaimed (ambo or “another suitable place“). And clothing (alb or choir robe, but always … clean, presentable, and modest clothing“). Clerical attire (cassock and surplice) not recommended. But not explicitly forbidden.

One thing missing from this legislation or these recommendations is the importance of remote non-musical preparation. A psalmist should take time to prepare the text of the psalm. How?

  • A prayerful reading of the entire psalm, and perhaps also the Lectionary readings for the given Sunday.
  • This preparation might commence about a week before.
  • A bit of study on the text of the psalm, also: the literary genre, the aspects of Israelite culture, and even its use in other Christian settings, especially the Liturgy of the Hours and other Masses.
  • I think the music itself may be part of the prayer. I wouldn’t expect every psalmist to memorize every setting every week, but I think a deep familiarity would be part of an effective ministry.
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Ministers of Liturgical Music, The Choir: SttL 28-33

Paragraphs 28 through 47 of the document Sing to the Lord reviews the various ministerial roles within liturgical music. First up is the Choir. The US bishops start off with an echo the importance given in SC 114 to the balance between choirs being “diligently promoted ” and “active participation which is rightly (the assembly’s).”

What do choirs and ensembles add? Skills and commitment to “enrich the celebration by adding musical elements beyond the capabilities of the congregation alone.”

What does this enrichment entail? SttL 29 and 30 detail it:

  • Parts of the Mass that lend themselves to dialogue with the assembly–litanies, and the “processional” songs at entrance, preparation, and during Communion. Even pieces that aren’t structured for dialogue or alternation–the Gloria and Creed. “This approach often takes the form of a congregational refrain with verses sung by the choir.” Ah well, even the Gloria.
  • Singing without the assembly. Times mentioned: before Mass, in place of any of the parts of the four-hymn sandwich. The only caution given in SttL 30 is to use a “proper liturgical text or by expressing themes appropriate to the Liturgy.” SttL 137-199 gives more direction, and we might get to those sections eventually.

Three brief sections remind us that first, instruments lead:

31. When the choir is not exercising its particular role, it joins the congregation in song. The choir’s role in this case is not to lead congregational singing, but to sing with the congregation, which sings on its own or under the leadership of the organ or other instruments.

Music exists to serve others, and choir members are part of the assembly:

32. Choir members, like all liturgical ministers, should exercise their ministry with evident faith and should participate in the entire liturgical celebration, recognizing that they are servants of the Liturgy and members of the gathered assembly.

A few comments about clothing:

33. Choir and ensemble members may dress in albs or choir robes, but always in clean, presentable, and modest clothing. Cassock and surplice, being clerical attire, are not recommended as choir vesture.

On leadership, I suspect the bishops are echoing the premise that musical leadership and support is conveyed by instruments, especially the organ. Why the organ? It’s a one-person effort that can effectively support singing, lead it, and reinforce it.

Clerical attire is not explicitly banned, but discouraged.

Anything you readers are seeing in this?

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VNO: Masses And Prayers For Various Needs And Occasions

One of the least-used sections of the Roman Rite is the chunk of pages nestled between Ritual Masses (sacraments, etc.) and Votive Masses. Masses And Prayers For Various Needs And Occasions take up only 87 pages in my parish’s Missal. But these paper sheaves are as pristine as they were during shipment some five-plus years ago. I suspect it is the same for the big book in your parish’s sacristy.

What are these Masses and Prayers? The rubrics tell:

This section groups together Masses and prayers for various intentions, which may be used in many situations, and for various needs and occasions.

If the faith community has a special intention, this resource may be used. Note that this section is not only for a particular celebration of Mass under one of the themes given, but also for insertion into a Mass celebrated for another reason. Even prayer outside of Mass, either public or small group or even as an individual person. Just because a prayer is designated for use at Mass doesn’t mean it can’t be utilized for a spiritual purpose at another liturgy, at a devotion, or some other prayer context. You all recall that you pray the fourth Sunday prayer for Advent in the Angelus, right?

Some info for the clergy:

The texts found in the first two parts may be used either in a Mass with the people or in a Mass without the people. The texts collected in the third part may, in general, be used in Masses celebrated without the people, unless at times a pastoral reason suggests otherwise.

By the way, those three parts consist of these: For Holy Church, Masses 1 through 20; For Civil Needs, 21 through 37; For Various Occasions, 38 through 49.

When can these Masses be celebrated?

In case of some grave need, a corresponding Mass may be said on the instructions of the local Ordinary or with his permission, on any day except on Solemnities, the Sundays of Advent, Lent, and Easter, days within the Octave of Easter, the Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed All Souls’ Day, Ash Wednesday, and on the weekdays of Holy Week.

It would seem that a bishop can designate parishes in a diocese to use a “VNO” Mass for a “grave” need. Even on an Ordinary Sunday in some cases. For that, I would think something serious should be afoot. A natural disaster befalling the area, for example. Or something universal, like a papal conclave. Not just bad news though; also something good like the canonization or beatification of a local saint, or a special diocesan event. But generally, we are discussing a weekday or weeknight liturgy.

Notice also that a parish may ask permission to observe a VNO Mass. Some equally serious reason, I would think: crisis or celebration on a local level.

Some of the VNO prayers can be used on certain days when the whole Mass (readings, etc.) cannot be celebrated. This judgment is for the priest, not the bishop necessarily:

If, however, some real necessity or pastoral advantage requires it, in the judgment of the rector of the church or the Priest celebrant himself, an appropriate Mass or a Collect may be used in a celebration with the people even if on that day there occurs an Obligatory Memorial or a weekday of Advent up to and including 16 December, or a weekday of Christmas Time from 2 January or a weekday of Easter Time after the Octave of Easter.

A reminder for those doing propers during the Easter season:

During Easter Time, Alleluia is added to the Entrance Antiphon and Communion Antiphon, unless this would be not in accord with the sense.

Ordinary weekdays should pose no problem to the use of these Masses, even if just a few or even one prayer:

In a Mass for a weekday in Ordinary Time, the Priest may always use all the prayers of this series, or even only the Collect, observing what is indicated in no. 1. In certain Masses, the liturgical texts given for a man may be adapted for a woman, with the necessary change of gender; in addition, those expressed in the plural may be used for individuals, with the necessary change to the singular.

A note on liturgical color:

These Masses may be said with the color proper to the day or the liturgical time or with the color violet if they have a penitential character, see e.g., nos. 31, 33, 38 (cf. GIRM 347)

Mass number 38 is for the Forgiveness of Sins, but the other two are against the situations of war and famine respectively. Interesting that violet would be an option there, isn’t it?

My plan is that every now and then we’ll look at some of the texts of these Masses, and hopefully discuss when such a Mass could be celebrated. In the next post, I’ll outline the 49 VNO Masses and we can take the discussion from there.

Meanwhile, do any of you lay people have an experience with celebrating a Mass such as these? Any clergy make it an occasional foray into these? What about using these prayers, be they from MR3, MR2, or MR1?

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Music For The Sprinkling Rite: On The Day Of My Resurrection

The second of five options for the Easter season Sprinkling Rite is a mash-up of two prophets, Zephaniah (3:8) and Ezekiel (36:25). At first, I wasn’t sure this was a suitable blending, but after doing a bit of research, I think the Lent to Easter, repentance to hope theme is fitting. Thing is, I was unable to surface any settings of this antiphon. Maybe you readers will have better luck. Even Reform2 sources, anyone?

Zephaniah in 3:8 may not have been speaking of “resurrection” as such; in the passage the Lord God arises as an accuser or witness to the destruction of gathered nations–not really what the gathering of liturgy is about. At least in its entirety.

The attachment of the brief passage from Ezekiel (think Easter Vigil if you do more than the minimal readings) put the assembling of the peoples in a different context. We are not on pilgrimage to a condemnation, but to an event of mercy. Here’s how the Missal words the whole piece:

On the day of my resurrection, says the Lord, alleluia,
I will gather the nations and assemble the kingdoms
and I will pour clean water upon you, alleluia.

These verses from 26-28 of Ezekiel 36 seem suitable for a cantor or choir:

I will give you a new heart,
and a new spirit I will put within you.

I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh
and give you a heart of flesh.

I will put my spirit within you so that you walk in my statutes,
observe my ordinances, and keep them.

You will live in the land I gave to your ancestors;
you will be my people, and I will be your God.

These would probably be enough to cover a presider walking through a large church and sprinkling. Any composers feeling inspired?

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Miguel de Cervantes in Space

As far as we yet know, the stellar system Mu Arae has four planets. Some three-hundred trillion miles away, it is not a particularly conspicuous star in the not particularly conspicuous constellation of Ara, the altar.

A few years ago, the International Astronomical Union authorized the naming of select stars and their planets. A planetarium in Spain was given the honor of naming, and I applaud the choice of Cervantes for the yellow central sun. This author‘s most famous characters’ names were given to the planets. Good move there, too.

Except for one factor … The relative sizes of the four planets. Three are as massive as Jupiter. The smaller inner one, like Neptune. From the wiki site:

(in order from star)
Mass Semimajor axis
Orbital period
c (Dulcinea) >0.03321 MJ 0.09094 9.6386 ± 0.0015
d (Rocinante) >0.5219 MJ 0.921 310.55 ± 0.83
b (Quijote) >1.676 MJ 1.497 643.25 ± 0.90
e (Sancho) >1.814 MJ 5.235 4205.8 ± 758.9

So the second-largest planet is named for the lead character, the largest for his sidekick, the smallest for the woman who is the object of his affections. And the horse gets number three.

Nobody will ever live on these planets–they are all like Jupiter. And Dulcinea is a very hot Neptune that might be stripped to a big hunk of rock. But Quijote or Rocinante could have moons. And people might eventually get to these. I wonder what we’d name those.

Image credit.

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Music For The Sprinkling Rite: I Saw Water

The Roman Missal gives five options for antiphons for the Easter season Sprinkling Rite. First choice is the one traditionally known as “Vidi Aquam.” (Plainchant here.)

The Scripture reference is from the forty-seventh chapter of Ezekiel, part of the prophet’s vision of a new Israel and a new Temple. This renewal is appropriated by Christians as a foretelling of the life of grace afforded us by the resurrection of Christ.

I saw water flowing from the Temple,
from its right-hand side, alleluia:
and all to whom this water came were saved
and shall say: Alleluia, alleluia.

The traditional chant gives a verse from Psalm 118:1, (Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good, his mercy endures forever), then a Trinitarian doxology. The chant, as performed with the link, runs a bit over three minutes, which is likely enough time to complete the ritual. You readers will know I would advocate strongly for assembly participation in either the antiphon or the psalm verses.

I think Bob Hurd’s setting (which relies on the first half of the given text) is a serviceable one. The refrain is a bit long. Unless a parish committed itself to this version, referral in a hymnal or worship aid would be necessary.

From the same publisher, Randall DeBruyn’s setting may be a bit easier to pick up without reference in hand. I’m not wedded to the notion of a “flowing” piano accompaniment, but I’m not as impressed with the accompaniment here as I am with Mr Hurd’s.

Michael Card’s setting (which begins here at 1:49) is call and response straight through. All one needs is a good cantor or two.

I wasn’t familiar with Curtis Stephan’s setting in more of a rock idiom. He uses a lot of words–other antiphons and a suggestion of the Pentecost sequence.

Along with the first contemporary setting, I’d hold up this composition from the Corpus Christi Watershed. The link gives a well-paced plainchant and demonstrates verses, though I’m not sure which Biblical translation is in effect here. I might be more picky about the verses I’d use from Psalm 118. Rather than duplicate the psalm of the day, I’d go with verses 1, 5-9, 13-16, and 19-21 as needed. Verses from Psalm 66 aren’t a bad choice either.


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