Sir Francis Bacon

Histories make men wise; poets, witty; the mathematics, subtle; natural philosophy, deep; moral, grave; logic and rhetoric, able to contend.

--Of Studies--

Ender's Series: is Midquel even a word?

~ 800 words

perspicuous - adj - clear in expression or statement, lucid.

perspicacious - adj - of ready intelligence, esp. discerning or insightful.

perfidy - n - a deliberate breach of faith or trust, faithlessness; treachery.

scrofulous - adj - of the nature of, resembling, or affected with scrofula, a form of tuberculosis (swelling of the lymph glands, especially in the neck).

A year and a bit ago I received a book from an esteemed colleague, Ender in Exile by Orson Scott Card. I had, at the time, just polished off the original Ender quartet, and as I am physiologically incapable of reading a book without raving about it, this esteemed colleague was well aware of my favourable opinion of the series.

If the reader has not encountered Ender’s Game in their journeys, it comes highly recommended, even if the reader doesn't like science fiction, heck, even if the reader doesn't like books generally. It is highly and thoroughly entertaining, but not the subject of this article.

Suffice to say the subsequent entries in the original Ender series diverge significantly from the first book (emotionally, chronologically, spatially, thematically), to the extent that people who enjoyed Ender's Game are unlikely to enjoy Speaker for the Dead, Xenocide, or Children of the Mind for the same reasons. Ender in Exile is a supposed direct sequel to Ender's Game, but that is only approximately correct. The story inserts itself between the penultimate and final chapters of Ender's Game, so not an easy book to write, considering there is the potential to conflict the existing story twice a paragraph. Quite personally, being used to stories that exist in multiple sometimes conflicting renditions (see the Volsunga Saga, the Epic of Gilgamesh) this is not terribly concerning. However, particularly in science fiction it seems you also get the type of reader that will write to you to point out all the mistakes you made while writing the book, so you can't just attempt a project like this willy-nilly. So yes, written to be a direct sequel toEnder's Game, implicit in that the assumption that it will be a nail-biter just like the original? The argument could be made. Do not read this book expecting it to be Ender's Game.

Over the course of the original series a number of developing themes can be noted, for instance, an increasing volume of dialogue. Every book of course achieves its own equilibrium between dialogue and description (compare The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky and A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. LeGuin. Dostoevsky will inundate you with a paragraph of dialogue that lasts eleven or twelve pages, and in this early book by LeGuin, she doesn't feel any pressing need to have two characters together in a chapter unless necessary.) While Ender's Game was more balanced volumetrically in this respect, Ender in Exile follows the trend of the original ender series. This has the effect of greatly enhancing the emotional content of the story, if perhaps sacrificing some of the physical description that science fiction is (in)famous for.

One trend that is not continued in Ender in Exile from the original series is an increasing tendency towards metaphysical-physical crossover. One has the impression of Xenocide as a sort of philosophical pet-project, what with the discovery of the soul particle and the exploration of the consequences thereof. At some point during my reading (impossible to say where precisely) I stopped thinking of the story in terms of science fiction and entered the previously undiscovered country of science fantasy. The idea, I would say, is the fusion of the physical (rational, natural) with the metaphysical (romantic, super-natural) into an enlightened median. The problem being, of course, that you anger the rationalists and disappoint the romantics.

Speaking of romantics, that is a rather large component of the book as well. It's a book about the colonization of the planets won in the war against these aliens ender slaughtered. Nothing is sexier than some sultry space god/goddess sidling up to you and whispering in your ear, "hey there, how about we populate a planet?"; So I was bamboozled into reading a rather unsavoury and disappointing love story. It was unsavoury because it over-rationalised romance. For Pete's sake, at one point a female tells a male that she wants to bear his child because she deems him as having the best genetic material in the colony. The love story is disappointing because the fated couple does not end up together at the end. Disappointing, even though the possibility of a happy ending here is impossible due to the series chronology.

Anyways, if you've not liked a book in the rest of the series you may not like this one. But if you liked the all rest of the books in the series (like I did) then you'll probably like this one. Just bear in mind that it isn't as far deviated from Children of the Mind as the publisher would have you believe.

Many thanks to ~LuoLanJP of Deviant Art for this today's rather majestic artwork, the planets really do look habitable!

Article first published as Book Review: Ender in Exile by Orson Scott Card on Blogcritics.

Alexei Fyodorovich Karamazov

~ 900 words

efface - verb - to wipe out; destroy; do away with.

timourous - adj - full of fear, fearful.

multifarious - adjective - having many different parts, elements, or forms. Numerous and varied, manifold.

My subject for today's blog post is The Brother's Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky. The book is generally considered among the best books ever written by mere mortals, and in my opinion it is well deserved of the distinction. Being unacquainted with Russian (and perhaps Russia generally), and with an author as idiomatic as Dostoevsky I can't overstress the importance of a decent translation. Mine is the recent translation by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky, which in fact won the PEN/Book-of-the-Month Club translation prize in 1991. Dostoevsky generally, having read a couple books by him before, can be idiomatic, colloquial, and perhaps even redundant in places. Take for example this line from the author's introduction to the Brother's Karamazov:

Being at a loss to resolve these questions, I am resolved to leave them without any resolution.

Certain translators will cringe at that sort of thing, feeling it their duty to make Dostoevsky more palatable to our modern sense of grammar by busting out the thesaurus and shaving off seemingly redundant clauses. The problem with this, however, is that there is a sort of gait of thought that Dostoevsky had well developed by this, the last book of his career. The spacing of the active elements of the thought are given almost a rhythm, I find. As a poet uses syllables, so does Dostoevsky use thought. And all that elegance can be cut to ribbons by translators who feel it their duty to protect the reader from how the book was actually written. This is a problem that Pevear and Volokhonsky are thankfully not afflicted with. These two also provide a highly informative introduction and footnotes that provide much more fluid descriptions than this blog post, not only of the contents of the book but the context of Dostoevsky's life.

At any rate, The Brothers Karamazov is a book that is almost too big to describe, but the story is largely about (unsurprisingly) the brothers Karamazov. I shirk from describing any of them with mere adjectives because of the sheer depth of the characters, it would be about as insulting as if one starting running around applying epithets to ones friends and neighbors.

Dmitri Fyodorovich Karamazov, the eldest and half-brother to the other two, is accused of killing his father. He is sensitive and impulsive, very much in love for most of the book, a downright scoundrel at times but has the noblest sentiments of any character in the book.

Ivan Fyodorovich Karamazov, the middle child, is an atheist who struggles with his disbelief. He is the most intelligent and educated of the brothers, and he is the cause of two of the more interesting digressions, which are worth reading even if you don't read the rest of the book.

Alexei Fyodorovich Karamazov, the youngest in his early twenties, is a novice at the local monastery, and perhaps the most ambiguous of the brothers. He is faithful, but is not immune to crises of faith. He is the point of view character in most the scenes he appears in.

Alexei (Alyosha, Yoshka, or similar diminutives) is more often than not a conduit for the thoughts of other people, rather than a source of thought himself. Through most of the book he channels the wisdom of his Elder at the monastery, who dies fairly early on (relatively speaking), but this is also true symbolically, because he spends most of the book delivering messages to people. That being said, at the end of the book he recognizes the need for himself personally, and really shows his power of thought, of understanding, of empathy on the second last page. I really don't want to spoil the ending because it is worth reading the 800 tome just to get to the last page.

Alexei is also a point of stability in the lives of most of the important characters regardless of allegiance. He represents an ideal to most of the characters, of faith, hope and love, though he is far from perfect in these areas. It is the needs of others that pull him more into this role as things go on. On the elder's deathbed he tells Alyosha to go out and live among the people, rather than sequestering himself in the monastery, because of the real psychological need for him, almost as an extension of religion generally. In the introduction to Notes From Underground (introduction by and translated by Pevear & Volokhonsky) Dostoevsky says that the Russian sensors allowed him to abuse the entirety of Russian society, but when he tried to explain the need of religion in the human soul they cut it out. To me it seems that Alyosha is the embodiment of this principal he was not allowed to explicitly state. Perhaps that people need something to look up to. They need a carved snake on a pole to look for when live ones bite. Speculation.

It's also the sort of novel that doesn't dissect well. In order to convey the correct sense or feeling or reason for an action or statement, I would pretty much have to drag you back to chapter one and work my way up. I will revise that to say that it doesn't vivisect well, because The Brother's Karamazov is as close to a living inanimate object as I have ever seen.

Today's art is an onion. If this piques your curiosity, please look up "Dostoevky's parable of the onion." Many thanks to Scipio21 of for so delightful a photo of so un-delightful a vegetable.

Article first published as Book Review: The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky on Blogcritics.

So yeah, I'm now a contributor on BlogCritics. Pretty cool, pretty sweet gig. we'll see how it goes.

Tolkien's Proving Ground

~ 1100 words

phalanstery-noun - (Fourierism) the building occupied by a phalanx, the community itself, or otherwise a small self sufficient socialist society.

provendor- noun - food or provisions, especially for livestock.

seminarian- noun - a student of theology.

I've been reading The Brothers Karamazov for some months now (fantastic book, highly recommended, several posts to follow), but I took a break between parts 3 and 4 to read something else because you can't eat expensive cheese every day. The Silmarillion had been sitting on my shelf for some time (I vaguely recall having mentioned it in this very blog), and I decided that enough was enough. So I read the darned thing.

I can understand why some people wouldn't like it. In the first place the thing is a turbulent gyre of invented nouns that Tolkien does indeed expect you to remember, though his son was kind enough to include fifty blinking bloody pages of index at the back. The book has enormous mythic passages where there is no plot, and mind-grinding tradegy where there is plot.

If found the style reminiscent of the first book in the Earthsea trilogy by Ursula LeGuin, which is to say, hyper-condensed. Both are the sort of book you have to pay attention to. This is more common in the opening chapters of the "Quenta Silmarillion" (the silmarillion proper, as it were), and I will here give a passage to illustrate:

"As the ages passed the Vanyar grew to love the land of the Valar and the full light of the Trees, and they forsook the city of Tirion upon Túna, and dwelt thereafter upon the mountain of Manwë, or about the plains and woods of Valinor and became sundered from the Noldor. "

The theological structure he sets up is sort of curious as well, a sort of polythesism within monotheism. In essence you have Illuvatar, the supreme being and creator of everything, and then you have the Valar, who represent different areas of his mind. He then creates middle earth with them and sits back to let them run things. It is from these that you get Melkor or Morgoth or the First Dark Lord or Sauron's big brother who, being the most powerful of all the Valar, decided that everything should belong to him, hatred, rage, hell metaphors et cetera. The thing has Paradise Lost (by Milton) strewn about in large semi-digestible chunks throughout the entire novel. I say this having only a cursory knowledge of Paradise Lost, but perhaps I may be permitted to say that thematically this is the case, what with the whole fallen angel thing, and the "we will make our great enterprise, to conquer the world God has made for mankind (elfkind, dwarfkind, hobbitkind, entkind and eaglekind), and in the process corrupt as many as we can from the path of righteousness.

Speaking of righteousness, Tolkien uses a large number of very obvious metaphors for the nobility/righteousness of various characters all through the book. If people are tall that means they are of noble bearing, so consider the implications for hobbits and that lone ranger named "strider." People who live for a long time are wise, though this only really applies to humans, because they were gifted with death for mysterious reasons by Illuvatar himself. It's the same sort of "my ways are not your ways" argument invoked frequently by Christians when accosted by the problem of the existence of evil. If someone is wearing black armour it's not because they like the colour, children are bound to the nature of their parents, and paradise is destroyed by allowing evil to enter into it and corrupt the hearts of it's occupants with lies that appeal to pride and vanity.

So elves then. According to Tolkien they are the physical manifestation of art, and (here's the kicker) therefore necessarily of science. Similarily Tolkien classifies machines and magic as arising from essentially the same source and both almost uniformly the devices of the Enemy. So where does this leave Gandalf? If you notice, Gandalf does not actually use magic all that often, his purpose as a character is more that of the advisor, wise-man, rallying the troops, warning people of various disasters, and the occasional duel with Darth Vader...

While we're on the subject, the rings given to the elves... Galadriel obviously has one, as it's mentioned in the extended cut of the first movie. Elrond is too important not to have one. Number three? Originally belonged to the shipbuilder who builds the ships that take elves to Valinor, but he gave the ring of fire to none other than Gandalf himself, who is, by the way, of the divine race of the Maia, who are below the Valar but above the Elves and do not leave Valinor except in very special circumstances (and that is why all the elves love him).

Anyways, I wanted to say something about the children of hurin, which is summarized somewhere in the middle. It seems to me as if Tolkien was attempting to create the most tragic tragedy in existence. He's right when he says there is great beauty in tragedy, but there is also such a thing as pushing your luck. I don't even really want to summarize, just suffice to say that the manor of the dragon slaying is almost precisely the way Sigurd the Volsung slays the dragon Fafnir in Norse Mythology (which was an extremely popular saga at the time, carvings of this slaying are widespread through northern europe). That is, you hide in a hole or trench, wait for the dragon to pass over you, and then stab your sword into the dragon's soft exposed underbelly. Take that chivalry, sneaky tactics are permited if your opponent is an enormous insidious reptile. It is worth mentioning, I think, that Sigurd dug his own hole to hide in, whereas the son of Hurin had to rely on a very conveniently placed trench/small canyon.

Ultimately, my impression from the Silmarillion was that Tolkien was human after all, and not some sort of demi-god, a rank to which he is frequently lifted in modern popular and unpopular culture. His influence is undeniable, and I would almost say that he set the standard for "good" fantasy novels unbearably high, where authors are now measured by how tolkien-like they are. I'm not even sure I approve of the word "world-building", let alone the concept.

Many thanks to ~Azremodehar of deviantart for his enchanting redition of Feanor's handiwork, the only artist brave enough to put the light of Valinor into a Silmaril for us. Thank you for your noble efforts good sir.

The tide, the tempest and the apocalypse

~ 1500 words

lede - noun - the opening paragraphs of a print article

litany - n - a ceremonial or liturgical form of prayer consisting of a series of invocations or supplications with responses that are the same for a number of successions.

exchequer - noun - the treasury of a state or nation

In the vein of my previous post on the Epic of Gilgamesh, and in an effort to reverse this blog's transformation into a shrine to Fyodor Dostoevski, I would like to ramble at length on a subject I find interesting. In particular, I will be comparing Sumerian, Semitic and Roman accounts of one particular event in very early human history that nearly snuffed civilization out in its infancy. I am speaking of course about the great flood. I`ll be comparing and contrasting the the accounts in the Epic of Gilgamesh, the Book of Genesis, and Ovid`s Metamorphoses.

While we are trying to make up our minds as to whether the great flood really happened or not, the fact that the theme occurs from italy to india suggests that it was based on actual events. Some theorize that a tsunami could have provided the ancients sufficient material to write about, or perhaps a flooding river, but by far the most interesting theory is the so-called Ryan-Pitman theory, which explains how, around 5600BC, the Black Sea had it`s coastline expanded enormously in a very short time. The theory goes as follows: Before the flood, the Black Sea is a freshwater sea that flows into the mediterranean. When the glaciers retreated at the end of the last iceage, all the feeder rivers for the Black Sea dried up, and at the same time ocean levels rose. Thus, the flow reverses, and dumps water into the black sea at a rate of 20 times that of niagra falls. If you`d like to see more about this please check out this article. Archeological evidence suggests that early human settlements were displaced (read anihilated) by this great flood, and it is not inconcievable that some of the survivors may have settled in Sumeria a couple of thousand years later.

I will tackle these in reverse chronological order.

The Roman flood started as an enormous rain concocted by Jupiter (aka Jove) that does little more than cause some agricultural discomfort. Jove then entices Neptune to aid with all the water in the oceans and you get the following passage:

"Delivered from their courses,/ the rivers rush across the open fields/ and bear away not only figs and flocks/ but folks who tend them, with their dwelling places;/ the also sink the shrines of the household gods!/ If any roof has managed to resist,/ untoppled, this unnatural disaster, / the waves embrace above it nonetheless;/ its highest turrets lie beneath the flood. "

This would seem to suggest rivers in flood, rather than a sea expanding, and the description is mild (relatively speaking). This passage goes on to describe how there was so much sea that there was no longer land, and that two people survive on a mountain top. These two having invoked an oracle that somehow survived the flood, the Gods create the human race by animating stones, which is the story about how human beings came into their enormous capacity for hard labour (which is, all things being equal, a very Roman thing to say).

Of the three this is more likely the story that you've heard. Noah builds a gigantic ark to carry past the cataclysm the seed of the new world. God lets loose the heavens and drowns the corrupt and sinful men. I'd just like to quote here because the style of the story is half the point (NRSV).

"In the six hundredth year of Noah's life, in the second month, on the seventeenth day of the month, on that day all the fountains of the great deep burst forth, and the windows of the heavens were opened. The rain fell on the earth forty days and forty nights [...] and the waters increased, and bore up the ark, and it rose high above the earth. The waters swelled and increased greatly on the earth, and the ark floated on the face of the waters. The waters swelled so mightily on the earth that all the high mountains under the whole heaven were covered; the waters swelled above the mountains, covering them fifteen cubits [approximately 7.5 metres] deep. [...] everything on the dry land in whose nostrils was the breath of life died."

Whereas the best Ovid could manage was "it washed away houses... then covered them!" and people survive on a mountain, in the biblical account we have references to the waters of the abyss (one of the mythological bases of Sumerian myth, see: Gilgamesh. A very interesting topic on its own that I will not enter into here), forty days and nights of rain that floods the earth, and the mountains were covered "up to fifteen cubits deep". It might also be worth mentioning that the Romans have far less affection in their account for fuzzy forest creatures (who not being saved presumably all perish).

So now to Gilgamesh, and by far the most violent depiction I have seen. It's my interpretation that it attempts to induce fear. And I quote:

"For six days and six nights the winds blew, torrent and tempest and flood overwhelmed the world, tempest and flood raged together like warring hosts. When the seventh day dawned the storm from the south subsided, the sea gre calm, the flood was stilled"

And of the gods gathering the storm:

'With the first light of dawn a black cloud came from the horizon; it thundered within where Adad, lord of the storm was riding. In front over the hill and plain Shullat and Hanish, heralds of the storm, led onThen gods of the abyss rose up; Nergal pulled out the dams of the nether waters, Ninurta the war-lord threw down the dykes , and the seven judges of hell, the Annunaki, raised their torches, lighting the land with their livid flame. A stupor of despair went up to heaven whent the god of the storm turned daylight into darkness, when he smashed the land like a cup. One whole day the tempest raged, gathering fury as it went, it poured over the people like the tides of battle; a man could not see his brother nor the people be seen from heaven. Even the gods were terrified at the flood, they fled to the highest heaven the firmament of Anu; they crouched against the walls, cowering like curs. Then Ishtar the sweet-voiced Queen of Heaven cried out like a woman in travail [which I assume to mean labour]; "Alas the days of old are turned to dust beacause I commanded evil; why did I command this evil in the council of all the gods? I commanded wars to destroy the people, but are they not my people, for I brought them forth? Now like the spawn of fish they float in the ocean." '

I apologize for quoting nearly an entire page, but I thought the whole thing rather poigniant. Please note the frequent comparisons to war and bloodshed, at the time probably the pinnacle of the human experience of chaos. We have another reference to the waters of the abyss, this time called the nether waters. This account literally pulls out all the stops, invoking pretty dang close to the full force of the underworld. The world is also consumed in flame (which seems a bit out of place and reminds me inexhorably of Ragnarok), and the gods themselves are forced to retreat from the forces they have unleashed. That right there is the detail that distinguishes the sumerian account. Zeusjove (Jupizeus?) casts his thunderbolts from olympus with impunity. God holds a similar position, never once being threatened by the flood (and how could He be? He is the one true God after all). The sumerian pantheon retreats by necessity to their final fortress, the firmament, or ether, or the medium in which the stars are hung.

Anyways, long blog post, but I had lots to say.

Today's image is courtesy of Jean-Genie of the ever popular An excellent composition in every respect.

Gilgamesh: the roots civillization?

~ 700 words

crofter - n - British, a person who rents and works a very small farm

prolepsis - n - 1. the anticipation of possible objections in order to answer them in advance. 2. the assigning of a person, event, etc. to a period earlier than the actual one: prochronism.

vesper - n - 1. the evening star (Venus) 2. evening bells, songs, or religious services. 3. (Archaic) evening.

As most of you have probably not noticed, I have not posted for a while. I was online recently and noticed that despite this fact the site had still drawn a considerable amount of traffic, and in fact continues to on an ongoing basis. I found this at once curious and heartening, so much so that I've decided not to play as many video games and take back the mantle of blogging. I have read a few books in my absence, so I have plenty to write about, including another by Dostoevki. It seems that my articles on Dostoevski have been the main draw for people, so I will without a doubt mention the book I've read at some point.

But today I would like to talk about the Epic of Gilgamesh, which I must do by first introducing Mesopotamia. Mesopotamia is one of the most ancient cultures ever to have existed on this planet, though in this case I'm speaking mostly about Sumeria, a particular subset of Mesopotamia generally. The geography of the region (where the Tigris and Euphrates rivers flow into the Persian Gulf) provided the ancient sumerians extremely fertile land for agriculture, which may have led to the first real accumulation of population, which would have led to culture blossoming in the heart of the ancient world. We're talking before Greece, before Egypt, before Israel, Even before Babylon (same spot, different civilization). please see map.

The epic of Gilgamesh, like so many of the world's oldest stories, started off in an oral culture, and was subsequently transcribed, in this case onto clay tablets in cuniform language, a written language made by pressing a triangular stylus into wet clay to form characters.

The first half of the epic details Gilgamesh's friendship and adventures with Enkidu, a man born from the wilderness and a metaphor for "wild man." This book is so old that one of the great acts of the hero is capturing the wild man and civillizing him. It is interesting to think about this, because the implication is that the creators of the epic had some difficultly trying to transition people from being cave-people to a civillized, agricultural society. Granted this is probably a distant memory for the city of Uruk (Gilgamesh's city), but a temptingly rational outlook, even if the story is mythical. This interesting theme has a number of uncomfortable parrallels in recent history as well, and I'm thinking about Rudyard Kipling when I say that.

At any rate, Enkidu dies, and Gilgamesh sets out on a fantastical journey to find the herb of life that grants immortality. He encounters many gods and beasts, such as the scorpion-man pictured above, two such beasts guard a tunnel into the mountain where the sun rises. In order to gain the knowledge of where the plant grows he has to cross a very large body of water (which is most likely the Indian ocean) to the island belonging to Utnapishtim, the only king ever to be made a god. He tells the story of the flood, which is fascinating in it's parallel to the story of Noah's Ark. That, my friends, is for another post, because I could go on about that for several hundred words at least.

At any rate, he manages to obtain the herb, but it is then eaten by a serpent, which gains the ability of self-renewal, which is why snakes shed their skins. Gilgamesh bemoans this loss, because he was bringing it back to Uruk to share with his people, rather than immediately scarfing it down. He subsequently dies, and we get something that looks like his funeral rights as the last tablet in the epic. Speaking of which, and in case any of you were wondering how easy this story was to translate, the clay tablets look like this:

This is the tablet containing the story of the flood in the Epic of Gilgamesh. You may notice that bits are missing. Fortunately there remain more than one copy of most of these tablets (in various languages) so archeologists can cross reference the tablets and produce a more or less complete story.

Today's image credit goes to MythAdvocate of DeviantArt. Not terribly many people concern themselves with ancient mesopotamian myth and their visual interpretations, so thanks!