Wednesday, September 20, 2017

wyverns

I recently read Terry Pratchett's The World of Poo, which included a short segment about a wyvern, including an illustration. no, that's not it I've run into wyverns in my reading in the past, but it got me thinking: Wyverns are similar to dragons, but we don't see them often. They don't seem to be as well known a beast as a dragon. Until more recent times, wyverns were nearly interchangeable with their dragon cousins, in British heraldry, for example, but seem to have fallen out of favor. Perhaps as literacy has taken over for iconography, and heraldic symbolism has become less important, folks simply forgot about wyverns. But we haven't forgotten dragons. What is it about dragons that captures our imagination, more than wyverns?
Wyverns appear, to this observer, to be a much more likely anatomical form that their four-legged dragon counterparts. Wyverns have two legs and two wings, like a bird. Seems odd right? Dragons--western dragons anyway--have four legs, and two wings. Which seems to make more sense. 
A wyvern is built like this bird: two legs, and two wings
But when you compare these beasts to others in the animal world, its actually the dragon that's odd. Most animals have four limbs. A wyvern has four limbs too, but a dragon has six limbs: four legs and two wings. What else has that? Nothing, that's what. 

A dragon is built like nothing else: four legs, and two wings
Is there really nothing else built like a dragon? An insect perhaps? They have six legs, right? But flying insects have six legs and two or four wings, for total of eight or ten limbs!* And antennae, and exoskeletons, so... probably not a good archetype. 
Know what else does have four limbs plus two wings? Flying horses, griffins... and angels. Maybe it's because this anatomical form is so alien to us, is why we've chosen it for our most popular mythical creatures. 

And maybe that why most of us don't know what a wyvern is. Maybe it's oddness just isn't odd enough for us.



We need crazy, just as much as crazy needs us. Wyverns just aren't as crazy as they need to be.

* like octopuses, squid, and cuttlefish.


Tuesday, September 19, 2017

norse mythology

Neil Gaiman seems to have a wide and varied output of stuff, not least of which is books. I probably know him best as the author of Coraline, though I've never read it, nor have I seen the movie. Parenthetically, he's had other stories made into movies as well. This effort, however, is more traditional, and its not the first time Gaiman has taken on the retelling of myths. One gets the feeling that they are an important part of his research and inspiration for his original works.

Norse Mythology went to number one on best seller lists in a number of English speaking countries as soon as it came out, in February. I missed that, but then I'm not really following new books all that closely in general. The newer stuff I read is normally on display at my library, or at one of the many libraries I visit. I found this copy in the Quick Picks section at my library. I can see why this book would have been so popular when it came out, Gaiman is a well known writer, and the timing is right. The Lord of the Rings movies are reasonably recent, as are the Thor movies, and Game of Thrones seems to have taken over a large segment of the world's population.

For me, I'm interested in the mythology itself, and there isn't much of it left. Unlike the Greek and Roman myths, much of the Norse mythology was oral in tradition, and if Snorri Sturluson didn't hear it, and write it down, then there weren't a lot of other opportunities for its preservation. I was a little disappointed that there weren't more stories that I hadn't already heard in this book, although, the tales included were beautifully written, albeit in a clipped, hard language, reminiscent of Vikings, perhaps.

What has always fascinated me about the old myths is how human the gods were, and in this book, the Norse gods are even more so than even the Greeks and Romans. They're fallible, drunken, stupid, boorish, proud, even susceptible to aging, physical harm, and death. Even though I knew many (but not all) of these stories, it was great fun to read them, and follow the story arc through time. That alone was worth the price of admission.

Read this book.


Sunday, September 17, 2017

loving a woman

This small paperback book of poetry was given to me by my wife more than 20 years ago. She marked the poems she wanted me to read in particular with small bookmarks, which are still in my copy. This time around, I read through the whole collection. Its only 75 pages or so. It didn't take long. Many of Robert Bly's poems are short; just a stanza or two.

I'm not sure I'm smart enough to know what two worlds Bly speaks of when he talks about Loving a Woman in Two Worlds, but if I had to guess, I'd say they are the modern world, and the natural world, and as you can imagine, sometimes the two overlap. Often, Bly speaks of love, and sex, and caring through the anthropomorphism of animals and natural objects. And the subject matter seems to often stray to himself and his wife, with whom it appears, he has had a long, but sometimes rocky relationship, which seems always to return to love.

Bly's poems are sparse, subtle, evocative, and tinged with rawness of feeling, and underlain with animal lust in all its natural glory. Bly lays it all out there in his poems, and their honesty is compelling. The language is both simple, and complex: the vocabulary is very accessible--Bly isn't digging through the thesaurus for just the right word--but the meanings, how the words are used, seems to slip and shift as I read.

It was a lot of fun to come back to this one, and relive the feelings I had when I first read these poems, as I also looked at them, and my relationship with my wife, with the perspective of the intervening years.

Read this book.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

black widow

My wife bought the two most recent Danial Silva books, in his Gabriel Allon series; Black Widow is the first of them, number 16 in the series, which I've just finished. I'll probably read some other things before I get to number 17. This one was a little preachy for me. Silva, its seems to me, is using his position as a popular writer to warn the world about the impending doom that international terrorism can bring, and to critique the western response to the threat, as short sighted, politically, or even personally motivated, and very likely to make things worse.

That is not opinion that I disagree with, exactly, its just that I'm not sure what the solution is. Terrorists that have no fear of death used to be viewed as rare, and born of mental illness. The terrorists the world is currently dealing with are not mentally ill, they are as sane as we are, and appear to be fighting for what they believe in, much as we do. I'm not apologizing, or even sympathizing, what I am saying is that thinking of terrorists as crazed thugs, moves us further away from understanding. And maybe, therefore, away from potential solutions.

Black Widow appears to be Silva's idea about how to combat the threat. Infiltrate. And destroy from within. In fact, that may actually be going on, how would we know. For all of our useless 24 hour coverage, we only hear the same things repeated over an over, slightly repackaged, in order to fill the time between the commercials. Real things happen all around us, and we have no idea. Silva, and many others, believe that the group trying to take over Syria, were given the opportunity to do so by the American led invasion. The war created the vacuum of power that allowed this group, and groups like them to grow.

That may be true, but it also may be unknowable. Silva seems to have taken it personally that his voice, and voices like him, haven't been heeded. And his anger, or at least his disgust, seems to be bleeding through into his writing. I wouldn't say that Gabriel Allon takes a backseat to the author's punditry, but Silva does seem to be less invisible in this episode than I have noticed in the past.

Not as procedural as some of the other novels, which I have enjoyed, but for diehard fans, this episode is another solid chapter in the overall story arc.



world of poo

When I first saw this small hardcover at the library I thought it may be a retelling of The Hundred Acre Wood tales, but a closer look at the title would have told me that Winnie's baser, homophonic namesake is the true celebrant in this farcical storybook tale. 

When Geoffrey visits his grandmother in Ankh-Morpork he decides to take advantage of her tolerance for odd hobbies and some space offered in the tool shed in the garden to expand on his burgeoning collection of poo. In fact, many adults he meets not only tolerate, but rather support his efforts to create an expansive poo museum in his grandmother's back garden, and he soon has samples in glass jars of monkey, hippo, various birds, even gargoyle and wyvern poo don't prove too difficult for him to procure, with a little help from grandmother's friends and acquaintances. 

Miss Felicity Beedle's: The World of Poo, by Terry Pratchett is apparently a volume in his Discworld series,* which I am unfamiliar with. Maybe it refers to a world where (or when) the common belief is (or was) that the world was flat. The time period seems like the late 1800s; a little late for flat worlders but then there are wyverns† at the zoo.

Children's book for grownups? This was in the adults collection at my library, so I guess so. It was a quick read and the illustrations are great, with hidden humor throughout. Have fun!
 
 
 
* a quick look on the internets shows that discworld is pretty complicated
† got to thinking about wyverns, going to write a post about them.



Wednesday, September 13, 2017

night school

Lee Child is at it again. My wife picked up two recent Jack Reacher novels, burned through both of them pretty quick, then suggested I read them too.

I have a little bit of a backlog of books that I've read now, and so by the time I get this posted some time will have probably gone by and I'll be reading (or have read) the next one.* This one is called Night School. And I get the impression this title is for lack of anything else, as it doesn't really give too much of a hint about the content of this one.

I haven't read all of the Reacher series, and I certainly haven't read them in order, but it appears that 'in order' may now be in question. If I'm not mistaken, this story was written and published later than some others, but does not fall 'after' in the overall timeline. Seems as though Child is going back into the timeline, and filling in some of the blanks. At the beginning of this story, Reacher is just back from a mission in the Balkans. This story may even represent a mission Reacher spoke about in an earlier story, and the Balkans mission may have also been an earlier book, but I'm not enough of a fan to know either of those things. But maybe the internet is; lets look.

Well, I looked, and it seems like this book is more of a prequel to the entire series. It may have been referred to in conversation, or some old file in an earlier (later?) book, but I don't find any reference to it.

Looks to me like, Child has taken this step back to keep Reacher from turning into that "Murder She Wrote" lady, who just seems to be minding her own business, and they someone is strangled with piano wire in the back of a New England, seaside curio shop she's visiting. Every week. she's like the fourth horsewoman of the apocalypse, or somethin'. it ain't right

So this was pretty good, but not great. A little slow in spots, and I guess I'm a little more used to the Reacher of the later novels, who usually works alone, and isn't as hemmed in by superiors and rules. That being said, I'm not quite sure how he can get away with executing someone, just for being a bad dude.

If you're a Reacher fan, you're going to read it anyway, if you aren't then, this is probably not the place to start.


* Update: It has been a week or two since I wrote this in draft form, after revising it for posting, I can confirm that I didn't go on to read the next one in the series. I've been reading some other things.

 

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

eros

Eros is perhaps what Alexander von Brücken feels about Sofie as he tells his life story to a young writer, as he lay dying, in his mansion outside Berlin. 

Obsession is a better word. Or maybe stalker is more apt.  

Von Brücken tells his story, beginning with his childhood, as the son of a wealthy manufacturer during World War II. VB wants a record of his love after he is gone, to insure that it is 'real.' Proof that it really happened; that the story survives him even if nothing else does.  

What the young author hears over his 8 day stay with this reclusive, eccentric billionaire is a history of joy, loss, yearning, love, sickness, politics, war, revolution, obsession, and death. Each day VB gets sicker, even as the workmen build his tomb in the garden outside the mansion, working day and night to complete it before the old man dies.   

It's a detailed look into what a man will do for love. How he can let it consume him, grind him down. VB seems to punish himself with it. It's also a story about how personal wealth and influence can be used (and abused) to accomplish things that most people can't. All this overlaid on the tapestry of WWII and it's aftermath in Germany.   

I read translations to get a different perspective than I normally do with American (and other English language) writing. And in that regard, this book didn't fail me. It was, however a little slow and tedious. Not least because if the fabricated VB weren't a very wealthy man, no one would hear his story. And regardless of his wealth making it available, no one really cares. Perhaps that is also one of Herr Helmut Krausser's points. 

Translation by Mike Mitchell.

Monday, September 11, 2017

the break

Pierto Grossi is an Italian writer and while this story could have been set anywhere, it feels Italian. That characters feel Italian. The culture does as well. 

Dino is not a talkative man. Not really an expressive man either but he is a thoughtful man. The Break, at its heart, is a story of change and how we deal with it. Some consider change a loss, regardless of what the change is. Even if many consider these changes progress. And that is a sentiment I found personally when I visited Italy, especially in the small towns, like the town Dino lives in with his wife Sofia, and works in as a stone paving mason. 

The writing takes its cues from, or at least reflects the character of, Dino and others like him. It's sparse, even terse. Grossi writes the minimum required to get his point across, and leaves some of the thinking to us. There are few places in the book where the translator, Howard Curtis, may have missed the mark, and based on my poor understanding of Italian I think it may be as simple as a misunderstanding of the way a particular word of phrase is used in Italian. I know that some words and concepts are difficult to translate but some of the terms and phrases--just a few--struck me as odd.

Grossi's last book won some awards so I'll have to keep my out for it. This is not an action packed, story driven book. It's an study of a man and how he deals with life and what it throws at him. It was a quick read though. If that's the kind of thing you're into, I'd recommend this one.

I read this a few weeks ago. I'm still catching up from my vacation in August!

Friday, September 8, 2017

time and again

Time and Again is a time travel adventure story from the 70s. I guess I'd call this soft SF. I'm not sure this one holds up, but maybe it's just the innocent quality it has. Time travel via the hippy era makes for a pretty touchy-feely trip, to say more risks a spoiler. 

Our man, Simon 'Si' Morley, is recruited by a super-secret, government funded, scientific organization looking into time travel technology based on the theory that because the past has indeed passed, its sort of still there, so we should be able to get to it somehow, and then, because the present represents the limit of the time that has passed, you should also be able to get back to the present once you're finished in the past. 

Simple, right? Oh, and future hasn't passed yet, so... yeah, no luck.

The touchy-feely part comes in here. The past is more accessible around, and among older things. no, not grandma This seems to grow out of that feeling one has when visiting old buildings and sites, that haven't been updated or renovated. Visitors feel more connected to the past in places like this; history seems more present. I think that small feeling we all have when visiting and old castle, the coliseum, or the House of Seven Gables, is what this book is based on.

Occasionally, the suspension of my disbelief is tested, when author Jack Finney seems to break, or at least stretch, the rules of his fanciful method of time travel, to suit the story arc. 

This book is illustrated, reportedly by the protagonist, as evidence of his travels, but the illustrations are vastly varied, and for the most part look like old photographs, or images from vintage greeting cards, with the story altered around them to explain how they came to be. In some cases, whole adventures appear to have bee written into the story to suit a good image the author happened upon. 

There was a few take-away stories about early New York that I was especially delighted with; things I didn't know. My favorite concerns the Statue of Liberty

If I've peaked your interest about these historical Easter eggs, then have at it. Otherwise, I wouldn't bother.