End of Summer

ARTWORK OF THE MONTH: Selected drawings available on Ebay. A different selection every month!

NEW SHEET MUSIC: Huete Dances vol. 3 now available for pre-order – ships early December

NOW AVAILABLE: New Zealand Film Locations map: A3 poster * Snowflake Christmas/seasonal card * Queen Galadriel holiday card

TREAT YOURSELF TO SOME MUSIC: Harp sheet music store * Travels in Middle Earth CD
Asni the Harper digital downloads: CD Baby ** Amazon MP3 * iTunes

Also available: Music CDs * Sheet music * Greeting cards * New Zealand photography

In this newsletter:
*** AnimFX 2014
*** News and Current Projects
*** Fractal Art from Sweden: Johan Andersson, aka Mandelwerk
*** Acts of Love: Stieg Larsson's "Millennium" Trilogy (part 3)

AnimFX 2014

Summer is now distinctly coming to an end. The sun is setting behind the hill again – rather than wandering around to the flats and shining into my south facing window before setting behind the neighbour's willow tree – and it is pitch dark by 9 pm. People return to work. My agenda is filling up with deadlines and things I need to do, events I need to go to. I haven't been to the beach in over a week. But I fully plan to go somewhere nice for my birthday, coming up early next month!

The most interesting thing that happened this month, is that I attended AnimFX – an international industry event for the digital entertainment industry here in Wellington – for the first time since 2009.

The event has become more affordable, which was one reason I spontaneously decided to go. It has also shrunk. Last time, I seem to remember there were at least twice as many speakers, some of them working in really cutting edge positions in the industry. There were also far more attendees back in 2009 – including several people I knew from Natcoll. This time, the whole Wellington special effects crowd was nowhere to be seen – or rather, they had their own special "Weta Day", which I did not bother to attend.

The focus was on Animation and Games, and the people attending the games workshops were about half a generation younger than the usual crowd of animators and special effects people. They were a mix of programmers, artists, and young business people, and there were several small teams representing local independent studios. Which is good to see. In comparison to digital effects and animation for film, the games industry is decidedly low tech, and hinges more on clever and quirky ideas – and good programming skills – than on expensive computer equipment and software. So it lends itself to the small independent studio sector – the "programmer in their bedroom" scenario.

The selection of speakers was decidedly smaller than back in 2009, and the whole thing came across more as a showcase for them to present their projects and products – and a recruiting run to encourage independent local studios to submit their ideas to industry giants like Microsoft. It seems there is a lot of industry interest out there to harvest the ideas from enthusiastic and inexperienced young people in the independent and self publishing sector, and make a stack of money – at little cost and hardly any risk to themselves – from making self publishing platforms available and easily accessible: with no commitment to quality control, or to actively marketing the products.

There was, on the other hand, little sharing of cutting edge technology or hard industry knowledge. Some of the talks and workshops were interesting and worthwhile: Brian Robbins gave one of the best how-to-run-a-creative-business talks I have heard in a long while: he freely admitted that it is all about patience, and hard work – and having some sort of a strategy – and that being the next genius kid who makes millions out of their bedroom, is highly unlikely. Most of what he said, I have figured out myself meanwhile, but at least it was confirmation, yet again, that I am doing the right thing.

The best talk by far was Serafina Pechan's investigation into the nature of "fun". This lady – one of two female speakers on the two days I attended, which is a 100% increase from 2009 – is a one woman declaration of war against the blatant sexism of this industry, and she manages to playfully address these issues, while at the same time offering some truly deep thinking into what it is that makes us want to play games. A star! Plus, at the end of the talk she offered me a piece of chocolate just for being there.

Which, I have to say, I had deserved. A couple of the other talks were so infuriating that I was pondering whether I needed to walk out to preserve my sanity. It seems that Stieg Larsson's theory holds true: blatant sexism is indeed a safe indicator for a fascist attitude, which also expresses itself in a complete contempt for homegrown industries in countries like New Zealand, and for the naive enthusiasm of creative young people who make games because they enjoy making games, not money. The speaker in question had recently moved to New Zealand because apparently, Obama's USA is no longer fascist enough: he is now required to respect union regulations, and treat women as people, sometimes. He was completely blatant about the fact that he considers New Zealanders "ignorant": semi savages who are all too happy to offer their brains for picking, for free. He made it seem like a joke and the audience obediently laughed, but trust me, he meant that. And unfortunately, recent events in New Zealand cultural politics confirm that estimation all too well. Hobbit movie, anyone?

At the subsequent networking drinks & nibbles, this man had a large audience of adoring young males gathered around him at his table, who were fascinated by his tales of kids-without-a-college-degree who made millions overnight from apps or games they'd developed in their parent's basement, and who now could afford to have a whole bunch of really big girlfriends. It scares me that New Zealand seems just about ready to welcome the fascist fringe from the US, but I can't say that I'm overly surprised. It goes too well with the philosophies people have been preaching at various business seminars I've attended for the last decade or so. These people sit there listening to someone who tells them in so many words that he plans to completely exploit their naivety and lack of perspective on how the wide world works, and they laugh and clap.

The next speaker up then told the audience in as many words that they should not listen to cultural imperialists with a racist, antifeminist, anti-unionist agenda – but did the kids who dream about designing the next million-dollar app without even finishing their degree, understand what he was saying? Nope, that was probably down to the old feminists in the audience, like me.

Well – the other industry event I used to attend, XMediaLab, has already pulled out of New Zealand some years ago, so it looks like the local digital entertainment industry has gradually been losing its former sexiness and international appeal over the last few years. I wonder if the powers-that-be have noticed yet. Or as someone once said: the combination of ignorance and arrogance does not make for a very sexy mix, and this may well be the bill for all that rhetoric about "talented young New Zealanders" who don't need college degrees, or exposure to international expertise, to do a fine cheap sweatshop job, eh.

Biking south of Featherston * Riversdale beach, Wairarapa Biking south of Featherston * Riversdale beach, Wairarapa Biking south of Featherston * Riversdale beach, Wairarapa Biking south of Featherston * Riversdale beach, Wairarapa Biking south of Featherston * Riversdale beach, Wairarapa Biking south of Featherston * Riversdale beach, Wairarapa Biking south of Featherston * Riversdale beach, Wairarapa Biking south of Featherston * Riversdale beach, Wairarapa

Biking south of Featherston * Riversdale beach, Wairarapa

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News & Current Projects

This month, I met my target of producing two new garden paintings. I was spoilt for choice what to paint, seeing that all the summer flowers have been blossoming like mad all month. The only challenge was to get there before they started to go to seed!

Cornflowers are some of my absolute all time favourite flowers, and so I painted them first. I think this is possibly my personal favourite garden painting so far: nothing says "middle of summer" like a bunch of cornflowers does.

The cornflower painting measures 38 x 76 cm / 15 x 30 inch, and it sells for NZ $ 240 / Euro 150 /US$ 200, plus shipping.

I am also quite attached to those quirky little Mexican hat flowers (or prairie coneflowers, to give them a more sober sounding botanical name). They are wildflowers from the grasslands of central North America (or so I am told), so perhaps some of you my readers will be quite familiar with them. To me, they were a total novelty when they first sprouted from the seed packet I bought a couple of years ago out of sheer curiosity. They are obviously liking it where I planted them, and moreover, they are perennial (or at least, they have definitely survived last winter) – so I don't even have to bother to raise and plant new ones every year! Plus, they make a great colour contrast to the blossoming oregano that grows next to it.

The Mexican hat flower painting measures 51 x 41 cm / 20 x 16 inches, and sells for NZ$ 210 / Euro 130 / US$ 180, plus shipping. Please contact me if you are interested in buying either of those two paintings.

I have been assiduously sketching hares this month: fortunately, Wellington City Library had a whole book full of photos of those flighty animals: it would be a bit tricky to try to sketch them from life! I am working my way through the book, to get as many different poses as possible, and to get a feel for how these creatures "work".

So far, it has been collecting poses, and trying out a stylistic approach. Next month, the task will be to think about the sequence of images, and come up with a proper storyboard. I've tried to start doing a storyboard from scratch, a little while ago, but have to admit that I was floundering completely: making a children's picture book is a fairly complex task, now that I am sitting down and actually doing it! After all, I have never done one before. But now that I have got some of the groundwork out of the way, and a few semi-finished images to work with, I'll have a better idea how the whole thing is going to flow across the pages.

Below is a work in progress sequence – from pencil sketch to reasonably finished image – so that you my dear readers can get an idea what I am doing all day! When I am not blogging, gardening, or chilling on the beach, that is. :)

Work in progress: hare pencil sketch by Astrid Nielsch Work in progress: hare study, digital by Astrid Nielsch Work in progress: hare study, digital by Astrid Nielsch Work in progress: hare study, digital by Astrid Nielsch Work in progress: hare study, digital by Astrid Nielsch

Hare work progression: pencil sketch : shapes : fur : forest floor : putting in the moon

Last month, I went and ordered a second print run of the New Zealand Film locations map A3 poster. I'd been getting a fair few orders, and had nearly run out – or so I thought! When I got back from the printers, I found a little stash of eight more posters stacked away in my illustration portfolio. Ah well – it is hardly a major investment, and I'll just hope they keep selling like fresh baked muffins, the way they've done for the past couple of months! Get your copy here.

Sheet music editing projects will be on hold until I have finished the children's book, but it's never too early to think about what the next edition might be! I have now completed the edition of Diego Fernandez de Huete's Compendio numeroso, which, together with Ruiz de Ribayaz's Luz y Norte Musical, pretty much covers the original solo harp repertory from baroque Spain. I could look at an edition of Spanish renaissance music next, or do an edition of the Neapolitan harpists – G. M. Trabaci in particular.

There is also the Musicalische Rüstkammer auf der Harffe – a German manuscript collection from 1719, which I have already partly edited in my Baroque Delights book: I could try a complete edition, although some of the pages are very badly corroded. Also, frankly, some of the pieces seem a bit wonky even where there is no problem of readability – but, definitely something worth thinking about.

People have also asked me if I publish my own pieces, so that might be the way to go. Although so far, that would make a fairly slim book of sheet music! Let me know what you think, and what you would like to be able to buy! :)

Artwork of the Month by Astrid Nielsch Artwork of the Month by Astrid Nielsch Artwork of the Month by Astrid Nielsch

Artwork of the month: Nude pencil studies, now available on Ebay

ARTWORK OF THE MONTH: Again, I have pilfered my old sketchbooks, and selected a set of A3 size life drawing studies: one sheet with dynamic gestural drawings of several short poses, and two longer sitting poses, one female and one male. The male pose is unabashedly full frontal, so for those of you who find that offensive, you have been warned. :) – View my Ebay listings here.

On Amazing Stories, I am still stuck on the topic of time, and time travel: I have put together a Time Travel Photo Album, and my most recent blog takes the reader for A Spin in the TARDIS. Visit my author page, with a list of all my blog posts on Amazing Stories.

Asni's garden in February: edibles Asni's garden in February: edibles Asni's garden in February: edibles Asni's garden in February: edibles Asni's garden in February: edibles Asni's garden in February: edibles Asni's garden in February: edibles Asni's garden in February: edibles Asni's garden in February: edibles Asni's garden in February: edibles Asni's garden in February: edibles Asni's garden in February: edibles Asni's garden in February: edibles Asni's garden in February: edibles

Asni's garden in February: edibles

The garden is not only blossoming like mad, the summer vegetables are also in full swing. I am waiting for my second set of green beans after the first one ran out last month. The tomato season has only just started: The last couple of weeks, I've had fresh and/or cooked tomatoes almost daily, and this is only the beginning! If the weather doesn't spoil it for me: after a fairly rainy and somewhat chill summer, it looks like autumn is arriving early, too.

But who knows: there may yet be a whole long warm and sunny Indian summer season. I certainly hope so: The eggplants and capsicums I planted are only just now in flower and beginning to set fruit, so we'd better have a few more weeks of fairly warm weather, for all of that to ripen! The zucchini I planted last month, on the other hand, have gone from seedling to harvestable fruit in what feels like record time.

Then it will be time to start thinking about winter vegetables: brassicas are a lost cause at this time of year, when the white butterfly caterpillars eat them down to the ribs, literally. But I'll start raising some seedlings next month, to put out in the garden once the nights become too cold for the greedy critters.

I'll also have to look after my tenderer warm climate plants, to get them safely through the winter: the orange tree I had for Christmas last year has been struggling with the wind, and then I also managed to strangle it by tying it too close to the stake! D'oh. But it's still hanging in there – and it is still a very young tree – so let's hope that it will catch up next year. The Tahitian lime, on the other hand, seems to have the ambition to grow to twice the size it had this spring! And the little coffee bush I planted last month also seems to like it in my garden – at least so far. It's a much healthier colour than when I bought it, and it's putting forth a very hopeful set of new leaves. So are the two jabuticaba trees I got in the mail last month, which are still in their pots, and will remain there for a year or two before I venture to plant them out.

Home sweet home Home sweet home Home sweet home Home sweet home Home sweet home

Home sweet home

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Fractal Art from Sweden: Johan Andersson

Last month, I featured 2-dimensional fractal art by Ingvar Kullberg – an artist I discovered a little while ago when I wrote a feature for my Amazing Stories blog. The other fractal artist in that feature whose work really stood out to me, is also from Sweden. I don't know if Sweden has a particularly strong culture of fractal art, or if it is just an accident, but it makes a nice mini series, which goes along well with my multi-installment musings about Stieg Larsson (see below).

I can't pretend that I understand the first thing about the mathematics that take things like the Mandelbrot set into three dimensional space. There is no canonical – that is, unique – 3 dimensional analogue to the Mandelbrot set, since the mathematics in 3 dimensional space are quite different (or so Wikipedia tells me), but there is an object called the Mandelbulb, which seems to have the same iconic status for 3D fractal art, as the Mandelbrot and Julia sets have for 2D. However that may be, the resulting images sure are mesmerizing!

I have already written everything I know about fractals in my previous feature, so – being a bit stuck for what to write here – I asked Johan Andersson some questions about a few of his pieces. He graciously wrote back to me in a very short timeframe – it's not a proper interview, but the following is a paraphrase of what he told me in answer to my questions and remarks:

I particularly like the way this artist works with colour. The images have a rich vibrance, reminiscent of late medieval and renaissance paintings. The Scream of the Crown with the Crypt could be out of a painting by Matthias Grünewald, or Hieronymus Bosch.

Some of the images – The Absentminded Philosopher in particular – remind me of the surrealist painters: De Chirico and Dalí come to mind. Johan Andersson also named Yves Tanguy as a great influence – and the Dadaists.

I asked if the images are composited in Photoshop, selecting aspects of the renders and composing them into collages. Johan Andersson replied that yes, he usually finishes up his images in Photoshop, but some of them are straight renders: what the Dadaists would have called "readymades", or "found objects" (the most famous example is Marcel Duchamp's Fountain). For instance, Tumorous Ecstasy looks like it was deliberately fashioned into a shape suggesting a human skull, but it really is just a cleverly chosen aspect of what came out of the render machine.

The artist does have some influence on the final result by choosing the parameters for the computer program to work on – and it is possible to make deliberate choices and modifications. In The Tree of Holy Grails, which is also just a straight render, the colour settings were changed to achieve the bright orange, which in the original render, came out a different colour.

The organic forms in many of these images are no accident either: fractal mathematics is the principle behind many structures occurring in nature: plant growth patterns, cloud formation, geological features, and the flow patterns of rivers. The MOTHER, the Son, and the Moon and the DNA of Cosmos shows these similarities particularly well: another image that is more or less a straight render, with only a little tweaking applied afterwards.

The artist imagines himself as an explorer of new mysterious places, when he controls the navigator in Mandelbulb 3D like an old airplane. A randomly accessed memory, an image "from the early days (that is, 2011) when every new find was a revelation" expresses this concept well. It is also a good example for an image where non-fractal elements (the airplanes) were added after the fact, to create an image that suggests a fantastic landscape, perhaps on another planet – and where the artist has put himself in the picture, as it were, in his old explorer's airplane.

Johan Andersson does not have prints of his artwork available for sale online (alas!), but he makes a line of fractal jewelry – objects made using 3D printing technology. The pieces are available in his online shop on Shapeways.

His work was exhibited at Värmlands Museum in Karlstad a couple of years ago – a showcase of the new thing that is 3D fractal art, together with the French artist Jérémie Brunet. For those of you who read Swedish (there might be a few people on my mailing list), here is what the local press had to say about it.

Johan also asked me to give a shout-out to the clever and dedicated minds who have developed the mathematics and software behind creating these graphics – seems like fractal art only really entered 3D space as recently as 2009! He quotes fractalforum, an Open Source community "where it all started" * Paul Nylander * Daniel White & co on Skytopia * Tom Lowe and his Mandelbox * Luca G. aka dark-beam, a student from Italy who "provides new formulas by the day" * and of course Benoit Mandelbrot, the man himself who came up with the whole concept of fractal mathematics.

artwork by Johan Andersson

Artwork © Johan Andersson

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Acts of Love: Stieg Larsson's Millennium trilogy – part 3

*** SPOILER WARNING: this essay reveals major plot points in Stieg Larsson's Millennium Trilogy : Men Who Hate Women (aka The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) – The Girl who Played with Fire – The Cloud Castle Blew Up (aka The Girl who Kicked the Hornet's Nest)

** Part 1 ** Part 2

The transgressive woman of 19th, and much 20th century literature is generally punished, if not by a miserable and tragic death, then by living out her life socially ostracized, in poverty, and/or prostitution, and/or madness. For Lisbeth, poverty, (alleged) prostitution, and (alleged) madness – as well as near complete social isolation – are her starting point. She lifts herself from there by dint of her exceptional capabilities, resourcefulness and resilience – and a certain amount of personal charisma.

By the end of the story, she has a massive (if not, strictly speaking, legally acquired) personal fortune, employs several people to manage her assets, and owns the second most fancy piece of real estate in Stockholm. She has sent her former torturer to prison, set in motion a chain reaction of investigations into the operations of several social services agencies, and blown up a conspiracy which had been operating unnoticed for three decades, right under the nose of several governments. She has been acquitted of all crimes she was accused of, and her declaration of incompetence, as well as her diagnosis of mental illness, have been shown to be fakes and declared invalid. She is the subject of a bestselling book written by Mikael Blomkvist, whose aim is to clear her public image after the media smear campaign she has been subjected to. And the man she knows herself to be in love with, but whom she has given nothing but unmitigated rejection for the past two years, still stands on her doorstep with a bag of bagels, wanting her company.

Lisbeth does not need a man: she is quite content to live in her isolation. In fact, "normally, seven minutes of another person's company is enough to give her a headache". The peculiar thing about Mikael is that she does not mind having him around 24 hours a day, and actually enjoys his company.

Lisbeth's mental capabilities are way above average, which makes it difficult for her to relate to most other people. Mikael is also gifted. He is intelligent, observant, empathetic, capable of seeing connections between seemingly unrelated facts, and he has an exceptionally well developed visual perception, if not quite to the same degree as Lisbeth's "photographic memory" – and so he can function as a bridge between her, and society in general. Mikael thinks of himself and Lisbeth as "two people who could not be more different", but in their emotional reactions they are as like as one egg to the other. As a working team, they are unbeatable.

Nonetheless, Lisbeth is entirely capable of looking after her own affairs: she handles her abusive guardian Bjurman all by herself, by blackmailing him into staying away from her, and letting go his control of her bank account. And she makes sure that the situation will never repeat itself, by acquiring her own fortune, using her exceptional computer skills as well as a rather unexpected talent for play-acting: this coup is a by-product of assisting Mikael in his efforts to clear his professional reputation, and expose Wennerström as the criminal he is.

In the course of the second and third novel, we learn that Lisbeth has been severely emotionally stunted by ongoing domestic abuse during her childhood, and by being kept in isolation in a children's psychological ward from age 12 to 15 – the very age when young girls usually begin to be socialized as women. She is often at a loss how to act and react in fairly straightforward social situations – but the irony of it is, that it makes her very honest to herself about her own feelings. She has never been taught how she is *supposed* to feel about things, and so she observes and works it out by herself, rather than falling back on conventional clichés.

She arrives at the conclusion that she has fallen in love much sooner than Mikael does, but the problem is that she has absolutely no idea how she is supposed to deal with it. It frightens her to contemplate what Mikael might think if he finds out that she is under legal guardianship, and has spent time in a psychiatric clinic: at this point, Lisbeth does not yet know that her diagnosis was faked in order to lock her safely away, and believes that there is genuinely something wrong with her mind. Her fear of how others might think of her if they find out, is one reason why she avoids getting emotionally close to anybody.

Lisbeth is also shocked by her own emotional reaction when she sees Mikael and Erika together: a mixture of fierce pain, and a spontaneous desire to hurt or even kill Erika, which is an urge she finds entirely unacceptable in herself. But her solution is not to demand that Mikael should terminate his relationship with Erika and commit himself exclusively to her – on the contrary. At first she radically cuts him out of her life – but when that strategy fails, she takes steps to overcome her jealousy, because she recognizes that Erika is, and will continue to be, an important person in Mikael's life, and that it would be unreasonable and unrealistic of her to demand that he cuts her out from it.

Late summer in the Wairarapa Late summer in the Wairarapa Late summer in the Wairarapa

Late summer in the Wairarapa

In terms of literary stereotypes, Lisbeth's character is in many ways, "typically male": she is self-reliant, taciturn, a loner who has difficulties communicating her feelings. She never cries. She is up on her own against a range of enemies, fighting for justice for herself and others. She is not afraid to break the rules or use violence when necessary, and despite her diminutive stature, we see her literally beat the crap out of people on a couple of occasions. She competently operates a range of high tech equipment, and has a gizmo for every situation: Lone Ranger meets the Mad Professor.

Lisbeth finds it hard to ask for help. But she does find people – most of them men – who help her along the way, often in quite an altruistic fashion. Most of Lisbeth's meaningful relationships do not involve sex: her former guardian Holger Palmgren, her boss Armansky, and her hacker buddy Plague are more like a surrogate family. There is a certain amount of erotic attraction between Lisbeth and Armansky, but they both decide not to act on it. Palmgren's feelings for her are fatherly, and Plague is even more reclusive than Lisbeth: physical attraction does not seem to form any part of their relationship, but when push comes to shove, he offers her the most unconditional support: "Do you intend to shoot more people, and if so do I have to worry? -- Look for me on hotmail if you need anything. Weapon? New passport?" -- Whether Lisbeth is guilty or not, does not even interest him.

In book three, Lisbeth finds an ally and something of a friend in Anders Jonasson, her doctor at Sahlgrenska hospital: He smuggles in her handheld computer against the prosecutor's orders, protects her from having to face the police investigators or Peter Teleborian while staying at the hospital, and fakes her medical record so she can stay in hospital longer, instead of being transferred to prison: but his interest in Lisbeth does not go beyond the bounds of a friendly doctor-patient relationship. He is a man fully dedicated to his profession: he has been made aware of the foul play Lisbeth is up against by Mikael, and Lisbeth needs his help to get well – physically, and in other respects.

Mikael Blomkvist stumbles into a relationship with Lisbeth because he has a tendency to stumble into casual relationships with a lot of women who happen to cross his path, and only later comes to realize that for once, he finds it quite impossible to let her go. He believes in her innocence when no one else does, supports her and advocates for her, and makes sure she receives the support she needs from others: his sister Annika, who becomes Lisbeth's lawyer, the team at Millennium magazine, and eventually, the investigators at Constitutional Protection. Annika is reluctant at first, but agrees for her brother's sake, and eventually the two women develop a friendship in their own right. And if it was an attempt on Mikael's part to draw her into his family, then he is also drawn into Lisbeth's circle of friends when he begins to cooperate with Palmgren, Armansky and Plague.

Late summer in the Wairarapa Late summer in the Wairarapa Late summer in the Wairarapa Late summer in the Wairarapa Late summer in the Wairarapa

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Like Mikael, Lisbeth is also promiscuous, and has an uncomplicated attitude toward sex. In the course of the three novels, they have the exact same number of sexual partners. In these relationships, Lisbeth is always the initiator. While Mikael's promiscuity seems to be in some way an extension of his journalistic curiosity – he is genuinely interested in the personalities and stories of the women he sleeps with, and continues to be on friendly terms with a number of his ex lovers – Lisbeth avoids getting emotionally involved with her lovers, and tends to disappear from their lives without a word of explanation, or even a goodbye. Mikael's affairs take up a substantial portion of the narrative. Lisbeth's affairs don't carry much weight in the action – they all happen during her travels outside Sweden, and two of them amount to little more than one night stands, on the same level as the drinking binge she goes on after her trial, when she is hiding out in Gibraltar trying to muster the courage to confront the meaningful relationships in her life.

The only one of Lisbeth's casual lovers whom we get to know as a minor character in his own right is George Bland, the teenage boy she seduces while on holiday in the Caribbean. He is also the only one with whom Lisbeth forms something of an emotional bond: the episode happens at the beginning of the second book, when Lisbeth seems to be consciously exploring the concept of finding pleasure in another person's company, after experiencing this for the first time with Mikael. Throughout the first half of the second novel, we see her pay more attention to how she relates to the people in her life who mean something to her: it's as if she is practising small steps, working her way up to maybe one day being able to tackle something as big as being in love with someone.

When we first meet Lisbeth, she has a more or less steady partner in Miriam Wu, a girl roughly her own age whom she met at a gay pride festival, and spontaneously seduced. Miriam also has other partners and is not particularly interested in a committed relationship, and she is aware that Lisbeth is not genuinely a lesbian. To Lisbeth, who is really looking for a man who is "not an asshole, and also good in bed", she is a "sweet compromise". Their relationship seems to hinge entirely on having sex: Miriam hardly knows anything about Lisbeth's background and life – not even where she works – and when Lisbeth takes up with Mikael, she simply disappears from Miriam's life.

In the course of the second book, their friendship deepens: Lisbeth has offered Miriam her old flat, and they see each other regularly. It is Miriam's kidnapping which propels Lisbeth into the suicidal mission to confront her father on her own, rather than wait for Mikael to convince the police investigators to start hunting the real culprit of the murders. Miriam has given Lisbeth a fancy cigarette case as a birthday present, and Lisbeth uses it to dig herself out of the grave she has been buried in after being shot by her father: a fine metaphor for the value of this friendship to Lisbeth.

But Miriam is not one of the people who support Lisbeth through the police hunt, or during her trial: while she finds it hard to believe that Lisbeth could have committed cold-blooded murder, she is not convinced of her innocence in the way that Mikael is. She realizes that she simply does not know Lisbeth well enough – again unlike Mikael, whose conviction is not just an emotional stance, but based on his knowledge of Lisbeth's personality, and that it makes absolutely no sense for her to want to murder someone like Mia Johansson, who is an ally in her fight against men who hate women.

Miriam's reaction to the situation is to hide out with another lover. She is bothered by reporters, and later kidnapped and beaten up by thugs, and she flees to Paris, where her parents live, as soon as she gets out of hospital. Lisbeth worries herself sick about Miriam and feels terribly guilty about what she had to endure. Miriam follows Lisbeth's story in the papers, but she makes no effort to contact her while Lisbeth is in hospital, or during or after the trial. Miriam's flat is the first place Lisbeth wants to go to after she has been released, and only then does she learn that Miriam is no longer in Stockholm. It takes her a long time to muster the courage to visit Miriam and apologize – only to find that Miriam has never blamed her in the first place.

In the end, the author leaves it up to the reader to decide if they will continue their relationship once Miriam returns to Stockholm – just as he leaves it up to the reader to decide in what form Lisbeth and Mikael will continue theirs.

Late summer in the Wairarapa Late summer in the Wairarapa Late summer in the Wairarapa Late summer in the Wairarapa

Late summer in the Wairarapa

Mikael Blomkvist is the quintessential Mr Nice Guy. His most distinctive personal attributes are kindness and stubbornness, and a very non-judgmental attitude toward other people. But in spite of his knight-errantly endeavors, he does not quite fit the pattern of Prince Charming. Rather, he is the Ingénue – a "typically female" character, in terms of literary stereotypes. Or perhaps the Madwoman: he does, after all, live in a converted attic.

Mikael does the cooking and the dishes, and he has all the social skills. He is a people pleaser: he likes to have company – except when he is busy with a story – and he often tries to be all things to all people. He finds it difficult to say no. People take advantage of his kindness: at the very beginning of the story, a colleague has convinced Mikael to come along on a sailing trip "to relax with friends", and it turns out that he was needed because he is the only one who knows how to sail a boat. One imagines that this sort of thing happens to Mikael quite a lot.

What attracts Lisbeth to him at first, is his innocence. In her personal report on Mikael, she finds that he has no secrets: not one speck on his white vest of integrity. How often, one wonders, does this happen in her line of work? At the same time, she does find him at times intolerably naive, and she resents what she calls his Practical Pig complex: his do-gooder urge to help people and fight for social causes – at least when it comes to Mikael offering *her* help and sympathy.

Mikael lets life happen to him. He is a keen and sensitive observer – the very quality that makes him such an excellent journalist. In his professional capacity he can be quite tough and aggressive – not to mention pigheadedly stubborn – but he does not fight on his own behalf: he stoically accepts his verdict in the case against Wennerström without even trying to defend himself, because he has no doubt that he would lose. In his personal relationships, he is incredibly passive.

His private life is a mess – and one gets the impression that Mikael has given up expecting something better. He is divorced, and has an almost grown up daughter whom he sees occasionally, usually at her initiative. The marriage broke apart because Mikael also has a long standing, on and off affair with his best friend, colleague, boss, and co-owner at Millennium, Erika Berger, who is married to another man: a classic "mistress of the boss" scenario.

Mikael's real connection with Erika lies in their professional relationship, and their long standing friendship. Their sexual relationship, on the other hand, is quite explicitly described as something toxic: "an addiction, like heroin". It could well be an illustration of Germaine Greer's statement that "one person's sexual freedom is another person's sexual thralldom": even though the arrangement is completely consensual between Mikael, Erika, and her husband, and even though it certainly works great for Erika, Mikael very much gets the short end of the stick. He is very emotionally invested in his relationship with Erika, but she is often unavailable when he needs her. She completely fails to emotionally support him after he loses his trial against Wennerström – on the contrary, she accuses him of disloyalty when he temporarily resigns from Millennium and takes up Henrik Vanger's offer of a job. Whenever Mikael calls her from Hedeby, she never once picks up the phone.

To Erika, Mikael is someone to satisfy her body: her emotional needs are met by her husband. But their ongoing affair routinely gets in the way of Mikael's other relationships – serious or not – and it has already prevented him from having the family he very much wanted, and being involved in his daughter's upbringing. This has left Mikael with a strong sense of inadequacy: he feels he has failed as a father, and he does not want to make promises of commitment which he is not sure he can keep, and so he keeps all his relationships with women on a superficial level. What Lisbeth has too little, Mikael has too much: he is professionally and socially successful, likable and outgoing. People constantly seek his company, and women seem to practically tumble into his bed – but it all stays on the surface, and on a deeper level Michael is almost as lonely as Lisbeth.

Late summer in the Wairarapa Late summer in the Wairarapa Late summer in the Wairarapa Late summer in the Wairarapa Late summer in the Wairarapa Late summer in the Wairarapa Late summer in the Wairarapa Late summer in the Wairarapa Late summer in the Wairarapa Late summer in the Wairarapa

Late summer in the Wairarapa

Several reviewers have accused Stieg Larsson of acting out a male fantasy, when he cast his alter ego Mikael Blomkvist as a wildly successful lady's man – and several have also questioned how believable it is that an average middle aged guy who is going a bit stout around the waist, should be the object of desire for all those good-looking, wealthy, sophisticated professional women. Which makes me wonder if these reviewers genuinely confuse real life experience with the narrative stereotypes of pulp fiction.

Maybe I know weird guys, but as far as I can tell, most any male person I know well enough to have an idea what they might think on this topic, would regard Mikael's proneness to be aggressively sexually predated on, as a complete male nightmare. Lisbeth – the stubbornly solitary girl who has been emotionally crippled to the point of social disability – is the only one of the women in the book who ever responds to Mikael's need for emotional closeness. She is also the only one whom we ever see share his bed without instantly demanding that he make love to her. Every one of the other women he takes up with sees him exclusively as a sexual object – just in the way that men are often accused of seeing women.

The women Mikael has casual affairs with, are usually his own age, or older. In the various sexual relationships he enters in the course of the narrative, Mikael never takes the initiative: he is always the seduced. Sometimes quite aggressively! He has an uncomplicated attitude toward sex, and sets women at ease – and he also makes it clear from the outset that he does not offer or expect any sort of commitment. He does know how to put himself in the way of a potential seduction: his first act when he arrives in his temporary exile in Hedeby, is to look for a potential bedmate. He initially sets his sights on Susanne of the Bridge Cafe, but when she shows no interest, he eventually starts an affair with Cecilia Vanger, the niece of his employer, who is ten years his senior. She is also, technically, one of the suspects in the murder case he is investigating.

I find it interesting that Cecilia's rather aggressive seduction of Mikael is told in parallel with Bjurman's sexual assault on Lisbeth. The reader can't help but notice the similarities in the two situations – if Mikael were a female character and Cecilia male, we would read her behavior as completely inappropriate. The one crucial difference is that Cecilia, unlike Bjurman, does not have legal and financial control over Mikael (although as the niece of his employer, she could, and later does, make his life in Hedeby difficult) – or the physical strength to force him into compliance.

*** To be continued

Arohanui, from Asni

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Late summer in the  Wairarapa Late summer in the  Wairarapa Late summer in the  Wairarapa Late summer in the  Wairarapa

Late summer in the Wairarapa