Thursday, August 30, 2012

Barbara Hurd: from "Refugium," Pt. 2

"Those who are fond of retreats--writers, ecstatics, parents with young children--often comment on the silence such time away allows.  Silence becomes something present, almost palpable.  The task shifts from keeping the world at a safe decibel distance to letting more of the world in.  Thomas Aquinas said that beauty arrests motion.  He meant, I think, that in the presence of something gorgeous or sublime, we stop our nervous natterings, our foot twitchings and restless tongues.  Whatever that fretful hunger is, it seems momentarily filled in the presence of beauty.  To Aquinas's wisdom I'd add that silence arrests flight, that in its refuge' the need to flee the chaos of noise diminishes.  We let the world creep closer, we drop to our knees, as if to let the heart, like a small animal, get its legs on the ground."

-- Barbara Hurd --
from "Refugium"
Summer: A Spiritual Autobiography of the Season

Silence is rapidly becoming eligible of being listed as an endangered species today.  Everything seems to ring or ding or whistle at us.  It's impossible to get away from the siren calls of mobile phones, and I don't even have one.  It's getting harder and harder to walk through a parking lot without having some vehicle warning us to back off, or else.  Restaurants now seem to be designed to magnify noise, forcing patrons to shout at someone sitting across the table, just a few feet away.

But what's truly frightening is that I know people who don't like to leave the city because it's too quiet out there.  Isaac Asimov wrote a novel, Caves of Steel, in which people now lived in huge cities that were covered over.  They never saw the sky,  All lighting was artificial.  As a consequence the population was agoraphobic, afraid to enter a large open space.  Are we becoming afraid of silence today?  Are we becoming afraid of being alone with only our own thoughts and nothing to distract us? 

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

The Rubaiyat: Quatrain LXII

This is the fourth in a series of linked quatrains that plays with the idea of the Potter/Creator and its creations.  Once again, its creations, the Pots (humans?) try to make sense of their situation, and once again, attempt to rationalize their future.

First Edition: Quatrain LXII

Another said--"Why, ne'er a peevish Boy,
Would break the Bowl from which he drank in Joy;
    Shall He that made the Vessel in pure Love
And Fancy, in an after Rage destroy!"

Second Edition:  Quatrain XCII

Another said--"Why, ne'er a peevish Boy
Would break the Cup from which he drank in Joy;
    Shall He that of His own free Fancy made
The Vessel, in an after-rage destroy!"

Fifth Edition:  Quatrain LXXXV 

Then said a Second--"Ne'er a peevish Boy
Would break the Bowl from which he drank in joy,
    And He that with his hand the Vessel made
Will surely not in after Wrath destroy!"

FitzGerald has made several changes as usual, but none that might be considered significant.  He made no changes in the first line of either the first or second editions,  but in the fifth edition, "Another said" becomes "Then said a Second," and "Why, ne'er a peevish Boy" is changed slightly when he drops the "Why."  The "Why"  seems to be used as an intensifier there which strengthens the claim about the peevish Boy in the first and second editions, but also adds a questioning element to the claim.   In the fifth addition, it becomes a simple direct statement that a peevish boy wouldn't destroy the Bowl.

In the second line, "Bowl" in the first edition becomes "Cup" in the second version, but reverts back to Bowl in the fifth edition..

The third and fourth lines display the most changes:

First edition
  Shall He that made the Vessel in pure Love
And Fancy, in an after Rage destroy!"

Second edition:
  Shall He that of His own free Fancy made
The Vessel, in an after-rage destroy!"

Fifth edition:
  And He that with his hand the Vessel made
Will surely not in after Wrath destroy!"

The idea doesn't change through all three versions:  the Potter will not destroy something he made.  The first and second editions, though, appear to be a question, but the final punctuation mark is an exclamation point, not a question mark.  The fifth edition, however, appears to be a direct statement or a reassuring statement to be precise.

This quatrain like several previous ones is an attempt to rationalize away the teachings of both the Islamic and Christian traditions that predict a dire future for many--eternal punishment in hell for wrongdoers.  By using a weak analogy, the pots reassure themselves (or attempt to anyway) that a merciful and compassionate Creator would not condemn its creations to the eternal fires of hell.  The pot says that even a peevish Boy wouldn't destroy something he created, yet the very definition of "peevish" is "discontented, ill-natured, contrary."  Destroying the pot is just something contrary that a peevish boy would do.     

This relates back to earlier quatrains in which the Poet Narrator spells out very clearly that in spite of the teachings of saints, sages, and theologians, we really know nothing about where we came from and where we are going.  Now we are given the optimistic hopes of empty Pots about their fates.   What is especially ironic is that philosophers and theologians have stated repeatedly over the centuries that the mind of God is so far beyond the comprehension of humankind that it is impossible for us to understand the actions of God or its reasons for its actions.  As William Cowper tells us--

"God moves in mysterious ways
His wonders to perform
He plants his footsteps in the sea
And rides upon the storm."

Yet, everyday, if not every hour, we are bombarded by those who claim to know the mind of God.

It is this that I think is the point of this linked series of quatrains.  The Poet is restating points made earlier, that we don't know what is to be our fate.  I read recently that several institutions have received grants to scientifically study the issue--is there an afterlife?  It should be interesting to read their conclusions in a few years.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Barbara Hurd: from "Refugium," Pt 1

Barbara Hurd has some interesting thoughts on retreats or refuges, a place to get away from it all so that we can get a better look at ourselves and the world around us, free from noise or distractions. Some retreats last only a short time: a few hours perhaps, while others may go on for a weekend or even a week or two. Sometimes though, a retreat may go on indefinitely.  Michael is a friend of hers who is busy "dismantling his identity as a artist living by the edge of a swamp."

"We talk for hours on the boardwalk at Cranesville.  Michael isn't going into hiding; he's retreating from a path that wasn't headed toward what, for him, is being fully human.  He's not sure what that means except a  quiet letting go, a deliberate choice to go toward some kind of refuge that nourishes his spirit.  All the great spiritual leaders have done it,  from Buddha to Christ to Gandhi.  They've withdrawn for a few days or weeks to sit in caves and under trees, to wander in deserts, alone, packing as little as possible into their knapsacks.  They're after, I think, some moments of trackless quiet, a chance to blur the footprints, the sense of having been someplace, of having someplace to get to.  A chance to see what happens when the past and the future stop tugging on the leads and the present opens like a well."

-- Barbara Hurd --
from Summer: A Spiritual Biography of the Season

"A chance to see what happens when the past and the future stop tugging on the leads and the present opens like a well."

This is a central theme in many Eastern traditions, including Buddhism and Taoism.  We should avoid the trap of living in the past or living for the future, and instead, concentrate on living in the present, the Now.  We should focus on what we are doing now and on what is going on around us Now.

"Trust no future, however pleasant!
 Let the dead past bury its dead!
 Act, - act in the living Present!

-- Henry Wadsworth Longfellow --
from "A Psalm of Life"

Friday, August 24, 2012

15 Favorite TV Mysteries and Detective Shows

I like to read various lists, but I seldom do one of my own.  I think this is only the third or fourth one that I've published here in the four years or so that I've been posting here.   This one is inspired by Yvette over at In So Many Words who put up her list a week or so ago.  You should check out her list to get a different view of the subject.  She also has a number of lists posted.

While the list is in no particular order, the ones at the top of the list are the ones I enjoyed the most and will be the first ones I will do a second time around.

1. Chief Superintendent Adam Dalgliesh 
Commander Dalgliesh in the later episodes
London, Scotland Yard, UK
Police procedural

The series is based on the novels written by P: D. James

I'm including only the episodes with Roy Marsden as Adam Dalgliesch.  Martin Shaw is a fine actor (I enjoyed him in the role of Chief Inspector George Gentley), but he really isn't convincing as Dalgliesh. I'm now watching and enjoying the Marsden episodes for the second time.

2. Inspector Morse
Oxford, UK
Police procedural
Inspector Morse was played by John Thaw, and I doubt that they would ever put someone else in the role, at least for a decade or so.

Some of the episodes were based on the novels by Colin Dexter, but most were based on "characters created by Colin Dexter."

This series is unique in that it has two spinoffs, something which few other shows can boast of.  The first is the Inspector Lewis series.  Inspector Lewis is, of course,  Morse's assistant who's been promoted to Inspector.  Kevin Whately is Lewis in both series.  I have been watching the series and found them enjoyable.  However the most recent episodes have really been superb, and perhaps they have finally  discovered just what it is they are doing.  If the following episodes are as good as the most recent ones, I may include them in an expanded list of 20 shows.

The second spinoff is Endeavour, in which we see Morse as he first joined the Oxford Police.  It originally was to be a one-time only production, but I have recently read that there will be another four shows in the coming year.  I haven't seen it yet, so I can't comment on it.  That the powers-that-be have decided to go for another four shows, though, suggests that the show did well in the ratings.

This show is also on my "must re-watch" list.

3. Foyle's War 
Chief Inspector Christopher Foyle
SE Coast UK
Police procedural
Michael Kitchen played the role of  Inspector Foyle who regularly applies for a military appointment  but is always rejected on the grounds he is needed where he is.

This superb series is set during WWII and has the events of the war as background.  The show followed the chronology of the war and featured the effects of the war on the home population both as background and frequently as a cause of the crimes Foyle is faced with.   The last episodes occurred shortly after the war ended and dealt with post-war problems at that time.  I fear those were the last shows.

I have already watched the shows twice and will watch it again.  It really is that good.

4. Miss Marple Mysteries
Talented amateur
Based on the novels by Agatha Christie
Joan Hickson episodes only

I have seen several of the episodes featuring other actresses and also some of the early films made prior to the series with Joan Hickson and feel none can come close to Hickson's portrayal.  I have also read all of the novels and many of the short stories, and nobody else even comes close to Hickson's portrayal of  Christie's Miss Marple.  Agatha Christie, at one time, saw Joan Hickson in another production and told her that she hoped to see Hickson play Miss Marple some time.

I have viewed the series twice and will watch them again, some time in the future.

5. Sherlock Holmes
Paid professional
Best Sherlock Holmes--Jeremy Brett
Best Dr. Watson--Michael Hardwicke

Basil Rathbone also made an excellent Sherlock Holmes,  but Nigel Bruce's interpretation of Dr. Watson as a bumbling idiot weakened the overall effect of the films.

As far as I could tell, most of the episodes with Brett were based on stories by Arthur Conan Doyle.

This series is also scheduled for a revisit in the near future.

6. Lord Peter Wimsey
Talented amateur
The TV episodes with Ian Carmichael as Wimsey and Derek Newark as Bunter.
Based on the novels by Dorothy Sayers

Later episodes had Edward Petherbridge as Wimsey, and while he may have been physically closer to Sayers' Wimsey, my prejudices had been set by Carmichael's portrayals, perhaps simply because he came first.  In addition,  I liked Derek Neward's Bunter more than Richard Morant's portrayal.

This series is also due for a second viewing  (actually a third for some episodes).

7. The Avengers
Patrick Macnee as John Steed: Professional
Diana Rigg as Mrs. Peel:  Amateur

As far as I can tell, I've seen the complete series, including the episodes prior to Diana Rigg (with Steed's first four partners)  and those that came after she left.  Those with Patrick Macnee and Diana Rigg are far superior to the others.

Since I have just finished watching the entire series, it will be a while before I watch them again, and then most likely I will only watch the Steed and Peel episodes.
Ignore warning

8. The Defenders
Legal/judicial Detectives:
Father and son law firm, whose cases involved such controversial issues as abortion, euthanasia, "un-American" activities, movie censorship.

Lawrence Preston, the father, played by E. G. Marshall
Kenneth Preston, the son, played by Robert Reed

Unfortunately the series is not available on DVD, but I keep hoping.

Trivia:  the series is a spinoff from an earlier Studio One episode.
Walter Preston (father, name was changed to Lawrence in the series), played by Ralph Bellemy
Kenneth Preston (son) played by William Shatner

9.  Midsomer Murders
Midsomer County UK
Police procedural
Detective Chief Inspector Tom Barnaby, played by John Nettles
Some episodes are based on the novels of Carolyn Graham, but most are "inspired" (as the blurb has it) by the characters created by Carolyn Graham.

The program is changing at this time.  John Nettles is leaving the show.  He has played  Tom Barnaby since the first episode, The Killings at Badgers Drift, which was shown on March 22, 1997, fifteen years ago.  Not wanting to drop the show and not wanting to put someone else in as Tom Barnaby, the powers-that-be came up with a novel and intelligent solution.  DCI Tom Barnaby will be replaced by his cousin, DCI John Barnaby.  Tom, in a recent episode, went to Brighton where he worked on a case with his cousin John, thus introducing his replacement to the viewers.  So, it will be a different actor and a different detective, but the Barnaby link will still be there.  And, "John" does sound a bit like "Tom", no?

Since the show is still alive and propagating, I will wait a while before going a second time around.

10.  Peter Gunn
Paid Professional
Peter Gunn was played by Craig Stevens.

Gunn was one of the first of the cool, sophisticated, urbane detectives when he appeared in 1958.  He was followed by John Steed of the Avengers in 1961 and 007 James Bond in 1962 (the first Bond novel appeared in 1953).  There may be others at that time, but those are the three that I remember.

One of the strengths of the series was the music for the series composed  by Henry Mancini.  The Peter Gunn Theme won a Emmy and two Grammys for Mancini and, if I'm not mistaken, was high on the Top 40 Pop Charts for a while.

I just watched it recently, so it will be a while before I watch it again.

11.  Kavanagh, QC
Legal detective
While making the Inspector Morse series, John Thaw, during breaks, took on the role of James Kavanagh, QC, a working class barrister.  Like Morse, Kavanagh is one who never backs down and is frequently in trouble with the upper echelon of the UK legal system, many of whom would be happy if he just went away. Some of the episodes featured a subplot in which they tried to bring him down.

I read that there was some consideration by the producers to elevate Kavanagh to the bench in later episodes, but it was not to be. The last episode of  Kavanagh, QC was televised in 2001 and Thaw died the following year.  .I would have loved to see him up there, hammering away verbally as well as with a gavel.  He'd probably break one every episode.  

I'm still working my way through the series for the first time, so it will be some time before I watch them again


12.  A Touch of Frost
Police Procedural
DI  William Edward "Jack" Frost is played by David Janson, who was primarily known for comic roles before taking on the role of Jack Frost.

The series was initially based on the novels of R. D. Wingfield, but later episodes are "inspired" by Wingfield's characters.

At present, only a few shows are available on DVD in the US.  I'm hoping more will eventually appear.  My major problem with the series is my inability to understand the dialogue.  Fortunately subtitles are available but even this sometimes doesn't help.  Several times, instead of providing the dialogue, the subtitle for the dialogue read "Comment unintelligible."   Even those doing the subtitles have difficulty at times.. 

I will watch the series again, some time in the future.

13    Campion
Talented amateur
Albert Campion is played by Peter Davison.  Campion's background is a mystery.  Albert Campion is an alias.  His real name supposedly is Rudolph K with perhaps some connection to royalty.   Davison appeared in many episodes of  All Creatures Great and Small and also was the fifth Dr. Who.  He also had joined the cast of Law and Order: UK, a series which I just found out about and plan to view them sometime in the near future.

Campion is based on the novels of Margery Allingham and he supposedly was  first created as a parody of Dorothy Sayers' Lord Peter Wimsey.

At the present, only a few of the episodes are available on DVD.

14   Inspector George Gently
Police procedural
Inspector George Gently is played by Martin Shaw, whom I think was miscast as  P. D. James' Adam Dalgliesh.  However, he does an excellent job in this role, which is based on the novels of  Alan Hunter.
I have just recently discovered the series, so I'm still working my way through them.  In addition, more episodes are planned for the future, so it will be some time before it's time for a another visit.

15. Taggart
Police procedural
Homicide unit, which has had various members over the years.  The series is one of the longest running police shows in the UK.

When I first watched the show, I was confused because none of the characters was named  Taggart.    A bit of research revealed that the show had been on for so long (the 100th episode was aired on Christmas Eve in 2009) that the original cast had left the show long ago (the actor playing Taggart had died in the middle of an episode).  As it turned out,  Taggart, therefore,  was only the first of several DCIs who ran the unit.  In fact, the episodes I'm watching now have DCI Burke as the head of the unit, and some commentaries on the series suggests that he has already been replaced by one of his subordinates.  There are still many episodes on DVD that I haven't seen, and since  new episodes are being made, I won't be doing a revisit for some time.

No doubt I've missed a number of your favorites.  Please list some.  I may not have heard of them and I'm always interested in finding new ones

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

John Burgon: Petra

As it is John Burgon's birthday today, I thought it appropriate to post this segment of his poem Petra.  John Burgon was an English Anglican divine who became Dean of Chichester Cathedral in 1876.  He is unique in his place in English poetry.  There are poets, as well as composers and novelists and artists and singers, who are known for one work only.  Burgon  is singular in that he is known for one line only.

The entire poem is 370 lines long, but the part that gets most frequently quoted is the last fourteen lines and is sometimes classified as a sonnet.  

Petra is a real place.  According to the Wikipedia entry , 

"Petra (Greek, petra, meaning stone;  Arabic Al-Batra is a historical and archaeological  city in the Jordanian governorate of  Ma'an that is famous for its rock-cut architecture and water conduit system. Established possibly as early as 312 BC as the capital city of the Nabataeans, it is a symbol of Jordan as well as its most visited tourist attraction. It lies on the slope of  Mount Hor in a basin among the mountains which form the eastern flank of  Arabah (Wadi Araba), the large valley running from the Dead Sea to the Gulf of Arabia. Petra has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1985."

There are numerous pages on the Web which feature photographs of the now abandoned city.  If you haven't seen it, I would recommend checking out some of the sites.  It is a spectacular site.  By the way, if you watched Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, you have seen some of it for the ending of the film was shot there.  

Which line do you think is the famous line that marks John Burgon's place in literary history?

It seems no work of Man's creative hand,
by labour wrought as wavering fancy planned;
But from the rock as if by magic grown,
eternal, silent, beautiful, alone!
Not virgin-white like that old Doric shrine,
where erst Athena held her rites divine;
Not saintly-grey, like many a minster fane,
that crowns the hill and consecrates the plain;
But rose-red as if the blush of dawn,
that first beheld them were not yet withdrawn;
The hues of youth upon a brow of woe,
which Man deemed old two thousand years ago,
match me such marvel save in Eastern clime,
a rose-red city . . . half as old as time.

-- John Burgon --
(August 21, 1813--August 4, 1888)

Friday, August 17, 2012

Kenko: on travel

Essay 15

"It wakes you up to take a journey for a while, wherever it may be.  As you walk around the place, looking here and there at rustic scenes and mountain villages, everything seems most unfamiliar.  And how amusing it is the way people snatch the first opportunity to send a letter back to the capital:  'When ;you get the chance, don't forget to do this, don't forget to do that.'  In such a place you really notice everything.  Anything good--the the possessions you have brought along with you --seems better, and anyone you meet with artistic talent or handsome features seems more impressive than he usually would.   It is delightful also to go into retreat at some temple or shrine, unknown  to anyone."

-- Kenko --
from Essays in Idleness
trans.  Donald Keene

Being in an unfamiliar place does awaken one's senses, or perhaps it would be more accurate that one is more aware of one's surroundings, possibly a behavior that has significance.for the evolution of a species.  Those species that are not more aware of their surroundings in unfamiliar places may not be alert to the dangers there.  Survival depends upon being aware of what's in the neighborhood.  This trait still exists, I guess.  On the other hand, this may also account for the statistic that most accidents occur in or around the home.  One becomes careless and unobservant in familiar surroundings, thereby allowing for more mishaps.

I find it liberating in some odd way to be somewhere among people who don't know me. I no longer have to act in a certain way because I'm expected to act that way.  I can perhaps try out something new, if the opportunity arises, for I'm free of the most restrictive and universal repression of  behavior known--I don't have to worry about "what the neighbors will think."

I remember, way back when in the '60s , the banal popular platitude was that one couldn't trust anybody over thirty.  I was, therefore, quite happy when I turned thirty, for that meant no one should trust me, and since I couldn't be trusted, I didn't have to act according to their expectations,  and consequently now I was free to act as I chose without fear of disappointing anyone.

After all, I wasn't to be trusted anymore.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Dan Simmons' The Fall of Hyperion

Dan Simmons' The Fall of Hyperion is really the second part of one massive 900 page novel, the first part being Hyperion which was published the year earlier in 1989.  I have both in one volume, Hyperion Cantos, named after the massive epic poem being written by Martin Silenus, one of the characters.  I would strongly urge any potential reader to begin with Hyperion, for these really aren't separate works.  They are as separate as the three parts of Tolkien's Lord of the Rings, and the second part of the Cantos begins immediately after the end of the first part.

In Hyperion, we meet the pilgrims who have inextricably been allowed by the Church of the Shrike to visit the Time Tombs on the planet  Hyperion, the first such visit allowed in a long time. The pilgrims have no idea of why they were selected while so many others were rejected, and, moreover,  at least one hadn't even applied for permission to visit.

The pilgrims agree to tell the story of an incident in their past which might be related to the pilgrimage, hoping that the stories might provide clues as to the puzzle of why they were selected.  Hyperion, therefore, is the recounting of past events and to some extent the troubles they encounter on their journey first to Hyperion and then to the valley of the Time Tombs.  Hyperion ends with the pilgrims walking abreast on the wide road leading into the valley, singing  "We're off to see the Wizard, the wonderful Wizard of Oz."
(See my posts of November 26 and 27, 2011)

The Fall of Hyperion begins immediately thereafter or approximately at that time since Einsteinian relativity does not allow for simultaneous events, at least in any objective sense of the word. The human government, The Hegemony has sent an armada to Hyperion to prevent the Ousters from taking over the Hyperion System.  The Ousters are human who have rejected the authority of the Hegemony.  In other SF novels, they are usually referred to as the Barbarians and travel in hordes, rather than organized units.  This undisciplined behavior results in their being underestimated by the more traditional military units facing them, with the usual outcome of what happens when one side underrates the other.

This not just a war of two combatants,  the Hegemony and the Ousters; there are three forces engaged in combat, something the humans didn't understand at first.  The third force is the AI:TechnoCore, the artificial intelligences that long ago broke free of human control and had their own plans for who or what should control the universe.  The Hegemony and the TechnoCore are supposedly at peace and cooperate whenever feasible. Both recognize that this situation can't last forever, but the TechnoCore has one highly significant advantage over the Hegemony:  the human planets were known to the Core, but the location of the Core was still a mystery to the Hegemony.  They didn't know if the Core's home was in the universe or in cyberspace, making it impossible to consider attacking it.

The novel interweaves the political infighting among humans in the upper ranks of the Hegemony, the physical combat between the Hegemony and the Ousters, the machinations of the AI: TechnoCore,  and the fates of the pilgrims as they attempt to resolve the question of why they were selected to come to Hyperion and survive amidst the fighting between the Hegemony and the Ousters and also to avoid being killed by the Shrike, the metallic monster that comes and goes and slays or kidnaps as it pleases.  Who or what is the Shrike and what is its role in the conflict are questions all face who are involved in the struggle for control of Hyperion.

Just as Hyperion had an inner structure related to Chaucer's  Canterbury Tales with considerable borrowing from Keats' poetry, so The Fall of Hyperion also has an inner stucture, also including the poetry of  Keats. The inner structure in the second part is that of various religious traditions that include as part of their doctrines the idea of the Judgement Day or the Last Days.

The AI have begun to realize just what the situation really is.   There is a conflict far in the distant future for the control of the universe.  Both sides have sent back representatives to aid those on their side of the struggle.  This is straight from the teachings, first of all, of Zoroaster,  the Persian mystic, whose dates range from 1800 B. C. to 600 B. C.  Some accounts push him as far back as 6000 B. C. He taught that there would be a great battle at the End of Days, in which the God of Light (good) and the God of Darkness (evil) would fight for supremacy, and they  would be joined by those humans who have chosen the side of the good and the side of the bad.  The battle would be decided by the size of the two forces, and therefore the outcome will be unknown until that day.  Christians, Moslems, and Gnostics, on the other hand, tell of the End of the Days, but it is a Judgement Day, for evil has already been defeated and the forces of Good are in control.

In Fall of Hyperion, which follows the Zoroastrian tradition,  the AIs have deduced that the two contending forces are the Ultimate AI and a human oriented consciousness, two godlike beings fighting for supremacy.  The Ultimate AI has sent back the Shrike to prepare the way for thousands of shrikes to destroy the Hegemony, while the human enhanced consciousness has sent back a representative to aid the humans.  While the overall theme follows the Zoroastrian tradition, I can see strong elements of both Gnosticism and Christianity here, for both tell us that the Supreme Being sends a part of itself to aid humans in the struggle against evil.      

One AI,  Ummon, plays a very significant role in the novel,  and it seems to come out of the Zen Buddhist tradition.  Ummon was a late 9th and early 10th century Zen Buddhist Master who founded one of the five major schools of Zen. in China.  He specialized in short, one word answers that made little sense in the context of the discussion.  Much of what the AI Ummon says are quotations taken from Keats' poem, "Hyperion."

Overall Comments: As in the first part, much of the fun comes from piecing out literary references and fragments from the life and times of John Keats. Being familiar with Keats and his time isn't necessary for understanding and following the plot, but it does add to the enjoyment, or at least it did for me.  It's an action-oriented tale that delights on several levels.  Since Hyperion ended as the pilgrims entered the valley of the Time Tomb singing "We're off to see the Wizard," it is only appropriate that Simmons has the survivors at the end of this novel leave the valley singing "Somewhere over the rainbow."

I think Dan Simmons thoroughly enjoyed writing the Hyperion Cantos.

Highly Recommended

P. S. There are actually two more novels in this universe.   The third and fourth novels are Endymion and The Rise of Endymion, which are set some time after the Hyperion Cantos, and some characters occur in both.  The titles are also based on Greek mythology which forms the foundation for a long poem  by Keats.  It's been years since I've read these two so I won't say anything more about them.  But, one of these days .  . . 

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Tucson Weather Report

Tucson Weather Report

Sunday, August 12, 2012

3:53 PM  MST

Temperature:          108 F

Relative Humidity     9%

        Such utter silence!
Even the crickets  singing .  .  .
        Muffled by hot rocks
                   --  Basho --

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Nikos Kazantzakis: The Fratricides

Nikos Kazantzakis' novel,  The Fratricides, is aptly named for it is set during the late 1940s when Greece was in the midst of a civil war.  "Fratricides"  are brother killers, the first crime that occurs in the Old Testament.  A civil war is also the bloodiest war imaginable, as those who are familiar with the US Civil War know so well.

The novel takes place in the small village of Castello, unfortunately placed between the rebels up in the hills and the government forces camped just outside the village.  Kazantzakis tells us very early in the novel of the horrors brought about by this conflict. He says this of the villagers:

"Their life is an unceasing battle with God, with the winds, with the snow, with death.  For this reason the Castellians were not surprised when the killing began, brother against brother.  There were not afraid; they did not change their way of life.  But what had been simmering slowly within them, mute and unrevealed, now burst out, insolent and free.  The primeval passion of man to kill poured from within them.  Each had a neighbor, or a friend, or a brother, whom he had hated for years, without reason, often without realizing it.  The hatred simmered there, unable to find an outlet.  And now, suddenly, they were given rifles and hand grenades; noble flags waved above their heads.  The clergy, the army, the press urged them on--to kill their neighbor, their friend, their brother. Only in this manner, they shouted to them, can faith and country be saved! Murder, that most ancient need of man, took on a high mystic meaning,.  And the chase began --brother hunting brother.

Some of the men put on red hoods and took to the hills.  Others barricaded themselves in the village, their eyes glued to the top of Mount Etoraki across the way, where the guerrillas were hiding.  With whooping cries the red-hooded ones would storm down the hill, or the black tops would attack from below.  And they would pounce on each other, flesh against flesh.  And the sweet fratricide would begin.  Women with tousled hair dashed form the courtyards and climbed onto the terraces, shouting, to goad the men on.  The dogs of the village howled; they ran panting behind their masters, their tongues hanging out as they joined in the hunt; until night came and swallowed up the people."

Some historians consider the Greek civil war to be the first "battle" of the Cold War, with neighboring Communist governments supplying the rebels and the British and US assisting  the government forces.  Kazantzakis, however, does not bring this element in the novel.  He restricts it to the government "fascist" forces and the communist guerrillas. Since Kazantzakis was on the left side of the political divide, one might see this designation of the.government as being a bit biased.  However, as you can see from the two paragraphs quoted above, the novel is not a portrayal of the noble aspirations and dreams of the guerrillas or the government forces.  Both are shown to be equally brutal. 

Yet, there are incidents in which those on both sides and the villagers themselves show mercy and compassion for the fighters on the other side, but this happens only when the individual is alone.  It never happens when others are about. Is it that  compassion and mercy are possible only  in the individual but seemingly never found in groups? 
The village of Castello has suffered from both sides, primarily because it hasn't declared which side it supports. Therefore, it is trusted by neither the government troops nor the guerrillas.  Father Yarnaros is the village priest,  and so far he has been able to keep the village from choosing sides.  But he is under considerable pressure to come out for one side or the other.  Because he has not chosen,  he is distrusted by both sides, even though the leader of the guerrillas is his son.

Father Yanaros is a God-obsessed man, and his relationship to God is not that of pious humility.  At times he scolds God for allowing the killing to continue.  He waits for God to give him a sign as to which side he should choose, but God is silent, which is an answer, though not the one Father Yanaros looks for.  I think Kazantzakis got the pattern for Father Yanaros from the Old Testament, for he sounds much like a  prophet to me--telling unpleasant truths that no one wants to hear, even though it is dangerous, as well as unwanted.  A brutal ideological civil war is not a healthy situation for an outspoken, honest individual to be in.  And Father Yanaros is outspoken, and he will be heard, something both sides realize and fear.

Father Yanaros struggles throughout to minimize the killing and to bring an unwanted (by both sides) truce.  At the end, he makes his decision, but promises are not kept.  It makes no difference which side he chose, for he would have been betrayed by either.

One last point:  Kazantzakis gives us some insight into the psyches of the leaders of the government forces and of the guerrillas.  Both are driven and both are trapped by their situation.  Kazantzakis plays no favorites here. 
Overall Reaction:  a very strong powerful novel of a time of conflict and the effects it has on the people involved, whether they take an active role in the fighting or try to remain neutral. 

Highly Recommended

Monday, August 6, 2012

Langston Hughes: Looking for Joy


I went to look for Joy,
Slim, dancing Joy,
Gay, laughing Joy,
Bright-eyed Joy--
And I found her
Driving the butcher's cart
In the arms of the butcher boy!
Such company, such company,
As keeps this young nymph, Joy!
--Langston Hughes--

I think the charm is its ambiguity.  Is Joy a young girl or is it the emotion itself?  Or is it both?  Whichever it is, Joy can be found anywhere, even in the arms of the butcher boy.    I can picture the cart moving through the streets guided by the butcher boy with his love in his arms, and their hands intertwined while holding the reins.  I can also picture that same cart driven by a young boy, grinning cheerfully, smiling at all who meet his eye, just glad to be alive.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam: Quatrain LXI

Quatrain LXI is the third of eight quatrains which are grounded on the theme of the Potter and the Pot.  This one begins to present an interesting view of the Creator, perhaps one that seems somewhat different from Jehovah of the Old Testament and Allah of the Qur'an.

First Edition:  Quatrain LXI

Then said another--"Surely not in vain
My Substance from the common Earth was ta'en,
     That He who subtly wrought me into Shape
Should stamp me back to common Earth again."

Second Edition: Quatrain XCI
Said one among them--"Surely not in vain,
My Substance from the common Earth was ta'en,
     That He who subtly wrought me into Shape
Should stamp me back to shapeless Earth again?"

Fifth Edition:  Quatrain LXXXIV
Said one among them--"Surely not in vain
My substance of the common Earth was ta'en
     And to this figure molded, to be broke,
Or trampled back to shapeless Earth again."

This is an optimistic view of the Potter/Creator's behavior regarding Its creations.  This quatrain argues that,  having created them,  the Creator wouldn't destroy its creations, even if something had gone wrong.  It suggests that mercy and love will overcome justice in the end.

This reminded me of a time long ago when one of my friends was a potter.  I went over to his house for dinner one evening and found several of his pots put aside.  He was going to destroy them because they were failures: they didn't come out the way he had planned.  I saved one because, even though the glazing process had failed, it still had a wonderful color and texture--and I still have it.  Perhaps the pots are being overly optimistic about the Potter's acceptance of pots that have somehow gone wrong.

FitzGerald, as usual, made changes from the first to the second editions, and, what is somewhat unusual, the fifth Edition differs from the second, as well as from the first.

The first edition begins with "Then said another",  while the second and fifth editions begin with "Said one among them."   The first edition suggests that someone else had spoken,  and then this one made a comment, while the second and fifth editions don't give that impression.  Instead, I get the impression that this is one pot that spoke up from a group that was mentioned earlier.

And, that is exactly what happened, because the preceding quatrain for the first edition is different than the preceding quatrains for the second and fifth editions.  In the first edition, the quatrain coming immediately before this one referred to the pot who had asked, "Who is the Potter. .. .?" while the quatrains that came before the quatrains from the second and fifth editions described the room in which many pots were situated and there was some talk among them.  Therefore, in the second and fifth editions, these are the first pots to speak, therefore "one among them" is more logical.   The rest of the first line is the same for all three versions.

In the second line, only one change is introduced and that in the fifth edition.  In the first and second editions,  we read "My Substance from the common Earth" whereas that becomes "My substance of the common Earth."  "From," to me anyway, suggests that the substance is now removed or different than the common earth it came from, whereas "of" still maintains the identity or relationship of the pot's substance with common earth.  The fifth edition wording maintains the pots' connection to its source, the earth.

An equally interesting difference relates to the change in the third line which moves from the active voice in the first and second versions,  to the passive voice in the fifth, thus subtly relieving the Creator/Potter from being named as one who would destroy Its creations.  In the first and second editions, it directly states that the Creator wouldn't annihilate it, while the fifth edition, it merely states  "And to this figure molded, to be broke,/Or trampled back to shapeless Earth again."  It still speaks of annihilation, but no annihilator is no  longer specified, but just implied.

The fourth line of the quatrain also shows some differences in wording:.

First Edition:         "Should stamp me back to common Earth again."

Second Edition:    "Should stamp me back to shapeless Earth again?"

Fifth Edition:         "Or trampled back to shapeless Earth again."

"Common Earth" in the first edition is changed to "shapeless Earth" in the later editions.   "Shapeless Earth" is a more evocative expression for it brings out the idea of destruction far more strongly than does "common earth."  "Common" is a vague term, suggesting ordinary or the mundane while "Shapeless" following the previous references to shaping or molding conveys destruction or annihilation.

The pots/creations seem to be developing a theory that depicts the Potter/Creator as being a kindly benevolent being who wouldn't destroy its creations, because It had taken so much effort in shaping them, perhaps in Its own image.  I think most, if not all, Christian and Moslem theologians would disagree at this point.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Thomas Mullen: The Revisionists

When I first picked up Thomas Mullen's The Revisionists, I thought it was going to be a traditional Time Patrol novel.  Some agency in the future sends operatives back into the past to either capture criminals who have gone back to use their superior technology to commit various crimes or to prevent those who would like to prevent certain events from taking place or perhaps to bring about a different future. For example, one might attempt to prevent the holocaust by assassinating Hitler long before he ruled Germany.  The agency then would attempt to prevent the assassination because of the fear that this would change the future, even though it meant allowing the deaths of millions of people during WWII.   Preventing WWII  might make for a better future, but it could also bring about one that was worse: averting WWII in the 1940s might bring about a nuclear war in the 50s.

Thomas Mullen gives us this, but he also does something more.  Normally, the focus would be on the Time Agent's attempts to either prevent something that would happen or to make sure that something did happen, so as to ensure that the future remains unchanged.  In this novel, Zed (or Troy Jones, his false contemporary identity) is sent back to counter the efforts of the hags, or historical agitators.  These people, from Zed's own time, are dissidents who believe the government is a dictatorship and go back into time to prevent events from happening which would lead to the years of warfare that would eventually bring the future world-wide government to power.

While this all sounds very typical, it is only part of the story.  Mullen not only follows the Agent, but he also introduces several plot threads which all eventually, and logically,  come together at the end.  It is a tangled plot which seemingly involves the FBI, the CIA, Enhanced Awareness (a company that creates and sells advanced surveillance technology to anybody), various whistle blowers (one from a law firm and another from the CIA), and a young Indonesian woman who somehow manages to become a domestic slave to a South Korean diplomat living in the US.

The tale is closer to being an espionage thriller than a typical time travel novel, especially if one ignores the "Z" chapters which focus on Zed's activities as he strives make sense of what has become a very confusing situation.  He must now contend not only with the hags but also with various contemp (Zed's term for the people of the time he now inhabits)  forces, all of whom seem determined to stop him.  Along with Zed's problems, the various contemp heroes and heroines (Leo, Tasha and Sari) all find themselves being confronted by various strangers, all of whom carry badges from one or more agencies--some governmental, some quasi-governmental and claiming to be working for a governmental agency, and some who seem to be thugs really to kill somebody or anybody for some inexplicable reason, at first anyway.

To add to the general confusion, Zed encounters a fellow Agent, who has also been assigned the same task, which is something that normally never happens.  In addition, when they compare notes, they find that each has been given only partial information about the present situation, again something very odd.  To complicate matters even further, the fellow agent expresses some doubts about their mission and their government.

Zed is a complex character, or at least, he becomes one, as he moves from total acceptance that the world he comes from is the best of all possible worlds (or so he is frequently told by the government, so frequently I began to suspect propaganda rather than a factual appraisal)  to confusion, and then to doubts about the government, his role, and even his identity, especially as he gradually loses most of the special technology that allows him to function in ways superior to the contemp forces.

Is he really an agent from the future or is he psychotic and reinterpreting his past to fit in with his delusions?  Troy Jones was a real person whose short life actually resembled Zed's life, including the loss of his wife and children.  Zed also only needed minor plastic surgery to make him resemble Troy.     This is why Zed was given this identity.  Since his superior technology no longer works, Zed really has nothing to prove that he really comes from the future.  I think P. K. Dick would be very happy at this point.

Overall Comments:  I'm going to take a close look at other works by Thomas Mullen, as his writing style (clear and striaghtforward), characterization, and plot construction  really impress me.