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Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came

May 4, 2017

I only read the first book (I think the second is on my shelf), this is a lot more Last Action Hero than I was expecting, though this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. In fact, Matt Colville sums up my feelings pretty well:

Gilead

April 30, 2017

Like the Kingdom of God, the Republic of Gilead is both now and not yet. Margaret Atwood’s 1985 novel The Handmaid’s Tale conjures a theocratic dystopia—a version of the United States taken over by fundamentalist Christians after a terrorist attack on Washington. Women are now divided into rigid classes determined by an idiosyncratic interpretation of the Bible. Atwood’s protagonist, Offred, is a Handmaid—a fallen woman who is forced to bear children for righteous couples—and the book follows her sufferings under the Gilead regime.

I’m about halfway through The Handmaid’s Tale. It’s very good, and as this article notes it feels very current. I don’t watch a lot of TV these days but it seems that TV scheduling still has significant influence on my reading habits, not that I’ll be watching the Hulu adaptation any time soon.

The linked article is also a good read: women in positions of power exerting incredible influence in order to reduce the influence of power of women is such a contradiction, and yet like so much in modern politics the contradictions matter not to those that support such figures. I don’t know how you persuade someone to give up a fervent belief, religious or political.

I recently found out that some friends of mine are flat-Earthers. I tend to avoid Facebook, now that I’m greeted by ‘Proof the Earth is flat,’ ‘Overthrow the conspiracy of the globists,’ and, ’10 truths that disprove the prehistory of dinosaurs,’ I’m even less inclined to log on. I’m aware I can mute people and channels but there’s part of me that can’t help but try to explain how things work. On the bright side I’m getting good at explaining in simple terms why the sky is blue, how one can tell the earth is round, or how it’s possible to see the sun from so far away. On the downside I’m not yet ready to just leave them be and unfortunately and ‘Yeah, that confused me at school, it all just sounds too complicated, I’m just going to believe this’ infuriates the hell out of me.

As a chaser let’s have a look at our lovely Earth.

An illustrated journey to Svalbard

April 12, 2017

This is a charming travelogue.

svalbard1
svalbard2

(You have to click through for the real polar bears.)

North is a travelogue of illustrations and photographs detailing Christoph Niemann’s journey to Svalbard as part of a National Geographic cruise (which looks ace but also seriously out of my price range).

Had you asked me about Svalbard a month ago I would’ve told you about the home of the Panserbjørne, about those two episodes of Fortitude I watched before I forgot it was a thing, and how its name comes from 12th Century Icelandic records of islands visited by Vikings that may not actually be Svalbard.

Now, however, fresh from reading Prisoners of Geography it’s all about fishing territory, coal mining (or not), and the scramble for the Arctic.

Most countries and international organisations recognize the islands as being under (limited) Norwegian sovereignty, but the biggest island, Svalbard, formerly know as Spitsbergen, has a growing population of Russian migrants who have assembled around the coal-mining industry there. The mines are not profitable, but the Russian community serves as a useful tool in furthering Moscow’s claims on all of the Svalbard islands. At a time of Russia’s choosing it can raise tensions and justify its actions using geological claims and the “facts on the ground” of the Russian population.

It’s a genuinely fascinating read, I had no idea the extent to which Russia and China maneuvre their population en masse into foreign or disputed territories, or the importance of warm water ports. It was written pre-Brexit/Trump but with speculation on what could happen if UK or US foreign policy changed which adds an extra layer of interest.

Chivalry

September 29, 2016

5. Cooperation

Each one of us is walking our own road. We are born at specific times, in specific places, and our challenges are unique. As knights, understanding and respecting our distinctiveness is vital to our ability to harness our collective strength. The use of force may be necessary to protect in an emergency, but only justice, fairness, and cooperation can truly succeed in leading men. We must live and work together as brothers or perish together as fools.

6. Friendship

The quality of your life will, to a large extent, be decided by with whom you elect to spend your time.

7. Forgiveness

Those who cannot easily forgive will not collect many friends. Look for the best in others.

8. Honesty

A dishonest tongue and a dishonest mind waste time, and therefore waste our lives. We are here to grow and the truth is the water, the light, and the soil from which we rise. The armor of falsehood is subtly wrought out of the darkness and hides us not only from others but from our own soul.

9. Courage

Anything that gives light must endure burning.

10. Grace

Grace is the ability to accept change. Be open and supple; the brittle break.

11. Patience

There is no such thing as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. A hurried mind is an addled mind; it cannot see clearly or hear precisely; it sees what it wants to see, or hears what it is afraid to hear, and misses much. A knight makes time his ally. There is a moment for action, and with a clear mind that moment is obvious.

12. Justice

There is only one thing for which a knight has no patience: injustice. Every true knight fights for human dignity at all times.

13. Generosity

You were born owning nothing and with nothing you will pass out of this life. Be frugal and you can be generous.

From Ethan Hawke’s Rules for a Knight a fictional (sort of) treatise on what it means to be a knight. Or, really, how to be good human being. This came out a few years ago and I passed it over but having read a bit more about it I’m now pretty keen to read it. I’ve got a bit of a reading backlog, though not for want of reading! I’m just not very good at adding books to the list at a slower rate than I read them.

I’m about two thirds of the way through Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Buried Giant. I find the style a bit odd but I’m sticking with it though I’m scared of how it might end. One of my biggest fears is losing my memory and a major plot driver is that the Britons and Saxons are forgetting everything (for reasons I won’t reveal here). I’ve also had the Liveship Traders sitting on my shelves for far too long. The Farseer and Tawny Man trilogies are outstanding, some of my favourite fantasy novels, I’m keen to get back to that world. I’ve also got the first Wizard Scout book and the Haunting of Fabian Grey (thanks Signal Boost!), so… yeah. Lots to read.

Before we go, the last two rules:

19. Love

Love is the end goal. It is the music of our lives. There is no obstacle that enough love cannot move.

20. Death

Life is a long series of farewells; only the circumstances should surprise us. A knight concerns himself with gratitude for the life he has been given. He does not fear death, for the work one knight begins, others may finish.

A Dead Djinn in Cairo

July 19, 2016

Fatma el-Sha’arawi, special investigator with the Egyptian Ministry of Alchemy, Enchantments, and Supernatural Entities, stood gazing through a pair of spectral goggles at the body slumped atop the mammoth divan.

A djinn.

A Dead Djinn in Cairo is a short story set in an alternate early 20th Century Egypt by P.Djeli Clark and well worth your time. (Kevin Hong’s beautiful illustration alone makes it worth a click at least.)

If you like djinn, ghul and dervish by way of swashbuckling fantasy I highly recommend The Throne of the Crescent Moon by Saladin Ahmed, or if you prefer your genies as part of a real-life Cold War thriller then I would point you towards Declare by Tim Powers. Both great books.

Pennington’s Dune

May 26, 2016

dune

This is the cover my copy of Dune has (and it’s clearly the best) but I’ve never seen the covers Bruce Pennington did for the other books in the Dune series:

duneMessiah
childrenOfDune
godEmperorOfDune

They’re so awesome!

More Dune covers…