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‘Evidence’, live in Japan, 1963. Thelonius Monk with the sublime skins of Frankie Dunlop
REVIEW: The Priestess and the Slave (audio book) by Jenny Blackford, read by Holly Jackson, on Audiophile
‘The priestess and the slave’ is a compelling and dramatic tale of a tumultuous period in ancient Greek history told from the perspective of two very different women: Harmonia, a household slave, and Thrasullas, a priestess of Delphic Apollo. Author, Jenny Blackford’s eye for detail in characterisation, historical setting and political intrigue brings the characters and era to vivid life.
The story is set in the fifth century BC though Thrasulla’s story precedes Harmonia’s by several decades. Despite this separation in time there is a strong sense of continuity between the two.
Thrasulla, is an older woman whose life has encompassed the roles of daughter, wife, mother and later, pythia. Her narrative concerns the machinations of the mad Spartan King Klyomenes, a man with the ‘eyes of a ravening wolf’, and the duplicity of the senior priestess, Perialla, as they attempt to manipulate the role of the oracle to further Klyomenes’ quest for power.
The story is told through the observations of Thrasulla, and her conversations with a fellow priestess.
Harmonia’s story unfolds during the Great Plague of Athens which devastated the city from 430 BC in the wake of the Peloponnesian War. According to Thucydides, an historian of the period, up to a quarter of the Athenian army and a similar fraction of the civilian population perished. Harmonia’s description of nursing the family whom she belongs to and her own twin sister through the ravages of the plague is harrowing and moving.
Blackford’s eye for detail in characterisation, setting and political intrigue make the story a compelling one. Her decision to have both women past their child-rearing years, with a wealth of life experience to draw on an, and understanding of the relationships which are chosen and which are forced on characters, adds depth and credibility to the tale. Concentrating on the experiences of those marginalised in traditional accounts of the time also gives the tale freshness and energy. The characters of Thrasulla and Harmonia are portrayed as warm, intelligent and engaging. Blackford does not romanticise the era nor the institution of slavery, but through Harmonia, we get a nuanced glimpse into the politics of dependence and coercion of slave-owning society.
The womens’ contrasting narratives, differing in perspective in time and social position, give a sense of the period and changes taking place in ancient Greece. The similarities and differences in the two characters are fascinating and enhance the listeners understanding of womens’ roles and contribution to ancient society.
The audio book (on Audiophile), read by Hollie Jackson, is competent, clear and energetic though sometimes missing some subtlety in delivery which might have done more justice to characters who lived through such trying times.
Recommended for readers who enjoy a vivid account of a fascinating historical period, students and lovers of a well told tale.
The Man who melted by Jack Dann is a detailed and disturbing portrait of a future where societal destruction is not a result of weapons or other technologies but of a severe telepathic disturbance within its ranks. The Man who melted received a nomination for a Nebula Award for best novel.
Protagonist Raymond Mantle is trying to find out what happened to his lover, Josiane (also his sister) who is either dead or has disappeared into the telepathic void of the ‘screamers’. Mantle is trapped in an emotional limbo: unable to grieve and let go of the past or to move forward with his life. The conflict sends him seeking out the ‘dark places’ in his own psyche before they consume him.
‘Screamers’ are the physical shells of human beings whose minds have been destroyed or absorbed into a conglomerate telepathic entity. In 22nd century society Screamers are seen and treated by most as dangerous and unpredictable conduits of violence and chaos. Whether the telepathy results from mutation or disease is unclear; whether it is an advantage or a dangerous deviation is explored as Mantle struggles to reconcile his past with Josiane with the future he faces.
Mantle’s search for Josiane leads him to attend a ceremony of the The Christian Criers a cult who tap into the consciousness of dead screamers for enlightenment or simply a psychic thrill. But there is a danger that his quest might lead further from sanity and deeper into the chaos of the screamers’ collective psychosis.
Dann’s novel explores, as in previous works such as Bad Medicine, the frontiers of consciousness. Drawing on the theories of Julian Jaynes who, in his 1976 book The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind.
The Man who melted uses the idea of telepathic apocalypse to explore themes of love, grief, inter-connection, and redemption.
In Mantle the author has created a compelling and obsessive protagonist who struggles to deal with guilt, perhaps a result of his incestuous relationship with Josiane, or because of his conflicted emotions about his current love, Joan. Mantle’s story untangles his relationship with ‘frenemy’ Carl Pfeiffer.
Dann’s settings are believable and disturbing – the descriptions of post-Scream Naples with its decaying streets is reminiscent of Graham Greene’s occupied Vienna in The Third Man creating an atmosphere of seediness, corruption and danger to underline the uncertainties of the post-Screamer world.
The Man who melted is an exploration of the threshold of the human mind told in thriller form and as compelling and disturbing as anything by Dick or Vonnegut. It raises timely questions about mass society’s retreat from reality into the regressive certainties of fundamentalism, new age delusions and other irrationalities.
For readers and fans of Dann there is much to enjoy in this work: compelling ideas, as well as its focus on that strangest of frontiers: consciousness itself. For those new to this author’s work it is an excellent introduction to one of modern science fictions’ master storytellers.
Kevin T. Collins’ narration captures Mantle’s intensity and the complexity of Dann’s crumbling 22nd century world while maintaining the momentum of the narrative.
The Man Who Melted is available at: http://www.audible.com.au
TRAGEDY STRIKES – ANDREW BOLT ‘ALMOST CLOSE TO DEATH’ AFTER ABC INTERVIEW SUGGESTS HE COULD BE ‘A BIT RACIST’
Australia mourns as the nation’s favourite liberal-baiter Andrew Bolt is reportedly ‘close to death’ after it was suggested he might be ‘a bit racist’ in an ABC radio interview.
Mr. Bolt was so traumatised by the comment that he was forced to take to bed where he barely managed to bang out 14 Twitter posts before news of his impending demise hit the blogoverse.
Supporters have blamed the ABC for Bolt’s not-quite-but-almost-fatal collapse. “In such instances we like to blame the ABC. Hell! We blame the ABC for everything else why not blame them for Bolt too?” a Bolt insider commented.
Even with the Grim Reaper at his side, Mr. Bolt continues blogging heroically, warning his constituents about the dangers of refugees and public school education.
The ABC have issued an almost-apology for the slight inference in the quip about Bolt’s somewhat-racist views.
The Murdoch family are said to be pressing for Mr. Bolts immediate almost-canonisation.
-Tim White, for The Centre for Almost Ideas
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Russel Guy’s psychedelic road trip lives on ” Out over the silver hills enormous manta rays streaked through the night skies like hang-gliders returning to Byron Bay.” The original legendary pschedelic radio-collage-drama recording from 2JJ days circa 1978 ‘What’s Rangoon … Continue reading
The picaresque novel (Spanish: “picaresca”, from “pícaro”, for “rogue” or “rascal“) is a popular sub-genre of prose fiction which is usually satirical and depicts, in realistic and often humorous detail, the adventures of a roguish hero of low social class who lives by his wits in a corrupt society. (Wikipedia: picaresque novel)
The Empress of Mars by Kage Baker (2009) is a novel in the picaresque tradition which features, according to the Wikipwsia definition, ” a roguish hero (sic) who lives by their wits in a corrupt society”. Mary Griffith is clearly a character in the mould of literary heroines like Moll Flanders who ‘make good’ despite the lousy hand fate has dealt them.
As the proprietor of Mars’ one and only bar ‘The Empress of Mars’ Mary needs all of the smarts at her disposal as she juggles the competing demands of motherhood – her three daughters are less than perfect children – running her bar and brewery – and making ends meet on a frontier world where the politics of settlers and The British Arian Company are only slightly less detrimental to survival than the planet’s carbon dioxide atmosphere and freezing temperature.
Baker’s Mary is an engaging character – the kind of person you might be lucky enough to meet in any frontier town. Kate brings with her the baggage of failed marriages, bad romances and unjust treatment by the bureaucrats and flunkies who populate company towns, or in this case, a company planet.
Mary is also a disbarred priestess of the Daughters of the Goddess, proving that the sisterhood are, if anything, as controlling as their counterparts in British Arean Company who sacked Mary when she worked as a xenobiologist designing lichen meant to aid in terraforming the planet. Made redundant, Mary survives by providing beverages and hospitality in her bar, The Empress of Mars, to the various trades, tribes and tricksters who have found a refuge on the Red Planet.
The novel put me in mind of all of the pioneer women whose hardships and contributions to building society are all too quickly forgotten or pushed aside in the rush to construct narratives of male heroism and daring. Baker’s commitment to telling the pioneering female characters’ side of the story is one of The Empress of Mars unique elements contributing much to its strong characterisation and plausible scenerio.
Mary’s friends, family and shifting allies are as intriguing as she is. They fight the insanity of a for-profit world that really hasn’t ever been profitable. Baker constructs a rough and ready pioneering society complete with its ‘types’: the company is brutal, indifferent and plausible in the way of mining companies and their ilk who, when given license to operate according to their own lights, will do as their lack of conscience dictates; the Haulers, who live dangerous lives doing the essential work of hauling ice from the polar ice-caps to furnish the colony’s water supply; the opportunistic Celtic Clans and the smattering of dreamers and desperadoes who have immigrated to Mars to make their fortunes or hide from their crimes.
Baker’s exploration of how science and society are derailed by short-term politics is timely theme – the halted terraforming project which may bear fruit for the future has been shelved because the company foresees no profits from the venture. Mary Garret’s frustration at the corruption and negligence of the company is a comment on the short-term graft and grab of politicians intent only on securing financial advantage while short changing the majority.
The Empress of Mars is, however, an optimistic exploration of these themes. It reminds us that circumstances can change and that those who can outlast and outplay the power players and cynics long enough are in with a fighting chance when the pedulum swings the other way. And the situation on Mars does shift and Mary Griffith and her cohort of outcasts and rebels find themselves in a position to make improvements – if only they can hold their nerve.
The Empress of Mars is an impressive novel. Baker’s ability to describe accurately and sympathetically the machinations of the various factions and characters is delightful. For me, her elaboration of the politics and dynamics of the new society is as interesting as the science and vision of the future underlying it.
The characters are an unpredictable lot – sometimes their own worst enemies – all too caught up in the perverse pursuit of their own short-sighted agendas yet trapped in a common plight.
A cast of idiosyncratic misfits make for a great reading: ‘the Brick’, Manco the mad artist who sculpts roses from his own blood, De Wit – Mary’s righthand and barman, Cochevelou the canny clan leader, the exiled mystic ‘the Heretic’, all give colour and energy to the story of a society fighting to establish itself and to the story of the Mary Griffiths, the woman who is the heart and soul of the struggle for a better world.
Kage Baker died in 2010. It is a testimony to her storytelling prowess that her work continues to entertain and inspire her readers and other writers.
For more about Kage Baker visit: www.kagebaker.com/
The novella of The Empress of Mars (2003) later expanded to novel-length appears in Asimov’s Science Fiction: www.asimovs.com/_issue_0406/empressofmars.shtml