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I was lucky enough to find a copy of Stephen G. Miller's book THE PRYTANEION in Mo's Book Store in Berkeley, not long before Dr. Miller's annual lecture on the work at Nemea in Greece. He had discouraged me from seeking it out as it was basically his dissertation: but Miller is an excellent and clear writer, unlike the majority of academics, and he knows how to sell his subject.

The Prytaneion was the building in every Greek city that held the sacred hearth of Hestia. One is tempted to call it a Temple of Hestia, but that would be misleading to the modern mind. One might as well think of it as the city's Sacred Kitchen and Dining Hall; for it fulfilled those functions as well.

Here's the thing: as the hearth is the center of the home, so was it the center of the City State. Fire from the City hearth was sent out when the City State founded a new colony. The Prutaneion was therefore, truly, the heart of the Greek polis. But only two structures have survived from ancient times that can positively and absolutely be identified as a Prytaneion.

It may seem odd that such an important part of such an important civilization was neglected by scholarship until Dr. Miller addressed the problem, but that's how it was. Until he published his book in 1978 there was simply no other work on the topic.

Miller, however, went into detail and not only examined the form and function of the Prytaneion, but worked to identify other ruins that fit the criteria, finally giving us details on no less than six buildings which we may reasonably look to for knowledge. He provides all the kinds of material which orthodox archeology will reasonably seek, including floors plans and photographs of the remains, but he also provides the reader with a kind of excitement that seldom comes from works on what well be argued to be an obscure topic.

For those of us seeking to re-establish some of the Ancient Glory he also provides us with a starting place. It is not with a giant temple or a huge cult idol that we should start: rather, it is with a gathering place where the most basic Goddess of civilization can be honored, and where people can gather in reverence and in good fellowship. It truth, it should be understood that our homes, when used for the ancient ceremonies, become a Prytanieon for us. As we honor Hestia first and last, so the beginning and the end of the Greek experience is established within the walls of the Prytanieon.

The book was published by the University of California Press in 1978 and is long out of print. But if you can find a copy, I heartily recommend that you do so. It is an amazing little book from a man who would go on dig up the stadion at Nemea and re-establish the Nemean Games for the benefit of the modern world.

--Pyrocanthus, 18 February 1999

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My friend Teddy gave me a copy of Time-Life's history book titled TIME FRAME 1500 - 600 BC - BARBARIAN TIDES, an I wondered if it was going to be worth my while going through it.

Well, it was.

I am no better than the average reader when it comes to subject matter. I find sources on subjects which are of interest to me, and I manage to know nothing of the material parenthetically surrounding that subject matter. In no area is this more a dominant trait of homo auctorialis than in the study of history. I have a vague idea of the glory of Egypt and a real good view of the Greeks. I have some knowledge of the Minoan civilization because of its interaction with Mycenaen Greece; but as to the rest of folks who lived in the Mediterranean area, I am pretty much ignorant.

This book helped a lot. It does not pretend to give any in depth coverage, but what it does do is give a very elegant sweep of the historial materials of the time frame it covers; just as the title suggests.

As to whether the sub title is quite accurate; well, that is up to one's judgement with regard to the peoples covered. I can't very well view the people of Babylon as barbarians, nor those of Egypt. The Hittites seem pretty civilized by my standards as well. But the Assyrians, with whose sculptures and monuments I grew up (in the Smithsonian), and whom I had always viewed as kind of cool, turn out to be extremely nasty people, as barbarous as a high culture can get.

This would be a wonderful book, or series of books (assuming the rest are as well done as this one) with which to introduce history to someone who had been taught that it was no more than a bunch of dates. It is short, much illustrated, and covers a lot of stuff with a few words. As a jumping off point for further pursuit I think it would be excellent.

The Time-Frame series from Time-Life Publishing may well be continuing, even as you read. If this is the sort of thing you might enjoy, then I can certainly recommend it. I thought it was fun.

--Pyrocanthus, 18 February 1999


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Arcana Mundi: Magic and the Occult in the Greek and Roman Worlds, by Georg Luck.

It is odd that this book, which took so much reading and which contains so much information, leaves a blank place in my memory. I open it and find every page fascinating, yet... It is a text book, not a work of inspiration or religion. Luck examines his subject with an admirable dispassion, but he cannot help being a man of his time, and that time is not the one he studies. There is no sense of the marvelous here to hold a place in my mind. Which is sad, because there is much of value in the book.

Luck divides his tome into six sections: Magic, Miracles, Daemonology, Divination, Astrology, and Alchemy. After an introduction to each topic he supplies us with texts (in translation) to elucidate his discussion.

But his thesis suffers from that omnipresent problem left to us by our Nineteenth Century forebears, the amalgamation of Greek and Roman culture and religion. 'Classical' is understood to be inclusive of these two cultures despite the radically differing views held by the peoples they represent. Similarity becomes identity, and evidences get lumped together.

Worse than lumping together is the separating out. While Luck understands that one cannot understand the culture without the inclusion of what he blithely refers to as either folklore or superstition, he does not seem to be grounded in the cultural attitudes of which the folklore and superstion are a part. --Let me reprhase that, for I do not mean that he is unknowledgeable about Greek and Roman culture; rather, it is that he examines it from the outside, rather than trying to penetrate it and see it from the inside.

I speak here as a religionist, of course, rather than as a scholar.

What is of enormous value in this book is the range of its quotations; quotations of sufficient length that, in concert with the bibliography, one may explore outward into works which may not have come to one's attention without the author's careful and extensive researches.

This is a good book to put beside Robyn Fox-Lane's "Pagans and Christians," because it provides much of same kind of data on topics like the procedures for the consultation of an oracle; although one may note that Luck's ability with footnotes exceeds that of Fox-Lane, who often makes it so complicated to follow his references that one becomes lost in the maze.

One neat thing in the appendices is a copy of the Precepts of Hermes Trismagistes, often called 'The Emerald Tablet.' Not only are the 13 precepts given, but they are prefaced by a discussion; it is in this sort of detail that Luck is at his most engaging.

This would probably be an ideal book for anyone stradling the gap between Hellenic religion and Magical religions, such as Wicca; but it probably doesn't need my recommendation there, as I note it to be the only Hellenic topic book in many Wiccan libraries: casting spells is usually delightful to Witches, kind of grubby to Hellenes.

But that is perhaps why there are so many choices on the path.


--Pyrocanthus, 15 March 1999


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JUST AN ORDINARY DAY, by Shirley Jackson.


Sarah Stewart, who shortly after she and her brother edited this became Sadie Damascus (and for whom I did the wedding to her man Grover) gave me this, and I have been delighted by it. That Sadie is Shirley Jackson's daughter is one of those Dickensian covergences that people doubt but that real people experience. I corresponded with Shirley Jackson briefly when I lived in Philadelphia; now I have one of her bones, a gift from Sadie, in a little shrine in my office.

It astonishes me that "One Ordinary Day, With Peanuts" had never been collected, although it won awards an was always one of my favorites among Shirley Jackson's short stories. What really astonishes me is the incredible breadth of the stories
represented in this collection.

Most people know Shirley Jackson as (A) a writer of horror, or (B) a writer of humor. As those were the markets in which she found success, those kinds of stories represent the majority of her work. (Hey, you write what puts bread on the table, especially when you have kids.) This collection shows that she was a skilled writer of many other kinds of stories; stories that mixed humor and horror, and that took off in directions as odd as one might expect from this Past-Mistress of the art; and stories which simply could not be published because there were no markets for them during her lifetime. --For which there likely are still no markets.

Most of the reviewers who disliked this book did so because Ms. Jackson was not writing what they expected her to write. In short, they were no more open to exploration than were the editors who bought, or did not buy, these stories when she was alive. These same reviewers carp constantly about wanting 'character driven' stories, yet missed the boat completely in the appreciation of "Mrs. Melvile Makes A Purchase," a story that leaves you laughing, and then, upon reflection, leaves you shuddering at the tragedy of this woman's character: how easy it is to laugh at the mess that is someone else's life. --And Mrs. Melvile is driven as perhaps few charcters in recent memory are driven, even if it is only for a blouse in just the right color.

In the last few years Americans have developed as taste in television for what reviewers are want to call 'quirky characters.' In fact, almost everybody is quirky; that's how you tell us humans apart. It is what we call characterization in the writing game, and what is painfully missing from most television, where the characters tend to look like cut out cookies with a little bit of frosting to let you tell one cop show from the next. (Have you noticed that all doctors look alike? That's why they hire highly individualized actors to play them. Otherwise you might switch channels and not notice.) This new taste is a basic hunger on the part of the audience, and it scares TV producers who want anything BUT a show with an avid viewership (like Star Trek or Northern Exposure).

The same has come to pass in publishing, and in criticism. Publishers and reviewers stand clear of things that are a little too quirky: unless, of course, it is so unintellgible that liking it will make them look intellectual.

And this may well explain why you have not been able to find these stories by Shirley Jackson in your library before this publication. People are not made with cookie cutters. Neither are the characters in Shirley Jackson's stories. And neither are the stories themselves.

She doesn't have to resort to arranging the words in weird patterns on the page in order to give her work individualism and character. She doesn't have to make every page drip with gore in order to frighten you. She doesn't have to embroider roses on all the lingeree in order to tug at your heart strings, or for that matter, other parts of your anatomy. And, ulike most of the humor written when she was alive, her jokes are still funny.

She was just a great writer, and it is a damned shame she didn't live longer, and that there was not more room in which she could play and make a living. So yes, I recommend this book, but only if your viewpoint is not poured in plaster and preset.


--Jon DeCles, The Ides of March, 1999


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TIME AND AGAIN by Jack Finney


My friend Teddy sent this book to me and it pleased me immensely. The last time I had read a Jack Finney novel was when Collier's Magazine serialized "The Body Snatcher," and that was really too long ago. (You may have seen one of the three different filmings of that book, under the title "Invasion Of The Body Snatchers," but none of the films works as well as the book, which may scare you off vegetables for a very long time.) "Body Snatchers" is not at all characteristic of his work, as fine a novel though it may be. This book, "Time And Again," seems closer to what the older, more mature Finney liked to write.

It's about time travel, or rather, how to travel through time; and it is intensely romantic.

Interestingly enough, Finney uses a device which my brother, Paul Edwin Zimmer, and I discussed in a series of letters in the early 60s; and he comes to the same conclusions, though his period of desireable destination is somewhat different.

In Finney's story the hero manages to get back to New York City at the end of the Nineteenth Century, with the very specific mission of solving an intriguing mystery. There he meets a woman and....

Part of the charm of this story is the fact that our hero travels via The Dakota, that huge apartment building owned by Yoko Ono last time I checked. Part is the high drama and the sense of impending doom that one can build by placing a plot next to known events.

But one may well have resonances in reading this review of another work, a film which I beleive is called "Time After Time and which starred Christopher Reeve. In inteviews Reeve has stated that many people consider it his best film. I suspect women always will. That film is based, if my research is correct, not on Finny's novel "Time After Time" but on a Richard Matheson novel with a different title (which I cannot remember at the moment, it being one I have not read.)

Let me assure you that Finney's treatment of similar materials is much different from the treatment in the film. For one thing, a film works best with materials which in story form are not much more than short story or novelet in length. Finney has written a full, complex novel; which is nonetheless just as passionately romantic as Matheson's film, and far richer in detail and nuance

He even goes so far as to include drawings and photographs, ostensibly part of the research project with which our hero is involved. One picture of The Dakota standing above a hill with trees and a foreground with Victorian ice skaters is particularly wonderful.

Unlike most film romances, the book also has action, so male readers need not fear that they will be in for three hundred pages of 'relationships' if they crack it. For my own part, I have always found that romance is best served when it hearkens to its origens, which are, after all, the action story set in an exotic background. (But I liked "Wuthering Heights" a lot more than "Jane Eyre," despite the fact that the finale of Jane is a lot more exciting than the finale of Heights. I think I liked "She" even more.) I need character, plot, and background in balance to satisfy me: and these are all provided by Jack Finney, so I liked the book a lot, and do recommend it to all.

Jon DeCles, 15 March 99

Footnote to the review above: There are three editions of Time and Again available, and I will list them all, so that you can take your pick. One is a quality paperback. One is an expensive hardback, in library edition, which I assume means a tough binding. The third is an audio cassette, read by someone named Campbell Scott (which is my best candidate of the year for a nom de stage.) I would not recommend an audio cassette of this particular book, no matter how much you like listening to stories on your commute, unless you are actually visually impaired. The antique photographs are so enriching to the tale that to miss them is to miss a large part of the experience.


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BLOODLINES, by Susan Conant

This book is not quite as tight as the others that I have read by the same author. Perhaps the intensity of the subject matter overcame auctorial judgement (it is about the horror of puppy mills), but it reads more like a writer trying to keep up with deadlines and maintain originality at the same time. --Mind you, this doesn't make it a bad book by any means: far from it. It is just not as tight as the previous ones that I have read.

There is a malamute puppy at the center of this book, and one could hardly be more involved than with the fate of such a lovable little creature. When writers want to build unbearable tension they often resort to the endangering of a human child. It is viewed as a cheap and tacky technique by some, but it usually works unless the child is so repulsive that one ends up hoping the villain will drop the little monster out a 13th story window (I have a niece...). That doesn't happen with a malamute puppy. Puppies are, after all, the hope of the world; and a malamute is cuddly to boot.

The villains are really nasty in this one, and there is no grief lost at all on the woman who owns the pet shop where puppy mill products are passed off as purebreds: it is nice to find a murder in a book with which one can wholeheartedly agree. (But then, much of the appeal of the mystery must surely come from watching people we would @ux{like} to murder actually get murdered.) --If only real life offered this kind of appropriate justice, instead of the arrogant malfeasance so prevelent in the courts on television!

The finale of the book lacks satisfaction primarily because it would be just too far a stretch to watch our heroine confront the kind of despicable monsters who operate puppy mills. She must remain at one remove from the action, despite being in the middle of it and greatly endangered. Still, her heroic act of rescue does bring tears to one's eyes, and it is nice to see more than one monster brought down at the end of a mystery: usually there is only one villian, but the sad fact is, the world is full of them and sometimes they just pile up, like fleas on a dog who is chained in a yard.

I do recommend this book, despite some flaws, and hope that its message will be taken to heart as well as a good read being enjoyed. I will certainly read more of Ms. Conant's work when I get it.

--Jon DeCles, 25 March 1999

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SLOW RIVER by Nicola Griffith

This book won the Lambda Award, and I think it also won the Nebula. I don't know whether or not it won the Hugo.

For those of you who don't know about such things, let me explain.

The Lambda Award is given for excellence in writing which deals with Gay and Lesbian subject matter. I am not sure how it is judged; whether by writers, publishers, or who.

The Nebula Award is given by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, and it is given on the basis of a voting by the members of the organization. In recent years it has become a rich kids party, because with so many stories being nominated only those with enough wealth to send every member a copy of the story have even the slightest chance of making it to the ballot. As members tend to vote and campaign for their friends, it has become awfully cliquish as well.

The Hugo Award is given by those readers of science fiction who join up as members of the World Science Fiction Convention: it is therefore a popular vote by people who read the stuff.

SLOW RIVER is a darned good book, whatever may be the circumstances of its awards.

It is not, as the blurbs claim, as tense as Lester Del Rey's classic NERVES, but that is probably a function of the changes in style that have taken place since Del Rey's book was written nearly fifty years ago. Books today have to be 'character driven,' which simply means that the characters get in the way of the action, resulting in less narrative drive and excitement. --Not always a flaw.

Ms. Griffith deserves a special award for sheer chutzpah, for this is a genuine science fiction novel about sewage treatment, and that in itself is kind of amazing. Most people don't think about sewage as a big, terrible menace, but it is. (I have a brother who got paid unbelievable wages to go down in sewars: the deadliness of a single cut, which may innoculate you with all the diseases of the last hundred years, is something all those plaque movies can't touch. Ebola is @ux{nothing} next to a sewar cut!) The techniques of biological engineering which form the basis, even now, of sewage treatment are amazing to follow as the author leads us through a plot steeped in industrial and scientific espionage which puts a city water supply at risk in ways most of us cannot imagine.

But against this scientific tale is set the personal story of a woman who is kidnapped from her wealthy family and left in a strange city to fend for herself: and why she chooses @ux{not} to contact the family from which she has been stolen.

Perhaps the most fascinating part of the book, for me, is the insightful portrait of a lesbian relationship built out of all the wrong materials. Most of us have had bad relationships, loves that don't work, but the one in this book leaves one going back to torch songs for precedents; and not finding them. Yet the picture is not painted with exterior and critival colors. We can almost understand why the women feel the way they do, and think that perhaps if we were in their circumstances we might have similar feelings. --And I am not talking here about lesbian versus hetero, or male versus female: these characters are so well thought out, so unique in their realization, that one thinks of Charles Dickens as a model for depth of uniqueness in characterization.

I won't recommend this as a fast-paced action story, but I will recommend it as an intense novel of complex construction and characterization, augmented with a lot of intense action. --And if I have used the word 'intense' twice in a sentence, so be it, for that is what the book is most.

Mason Powell, 25 March 1999

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Being the fourth book of the Hitchhiker's Trilogy, which is, I suppose, what we ought to expect of Mr. Adams.

But, sadly, what one would expect doesn't seem to work as well as what we had no reason to expect in the original three.

Perhaps I ought to explain further. I know that I enjoyed this book, but now, this small amount of time later (at least a year), I cannot remember a single thing about it, other than the general business of our hero returning to the time just before the world was destroyed, or something like that.

Well, maybe this isn't fair of me: I am up at four AM, having been awakened three times after I went to sleep, and having reached the stage where my eyes won't let me read any more of the small print in SKETCHES BY BOZ, which is wonderful but which... Well, as I said. So I came in to work on my reading list, and it is probably my brain rather than Mr. Adams that is at fault.

I think I will just put this book back on the shelf and come back to this job when I am awake and intelligent.

(At least a week goes by.)

Well, here it is a while later, and I am awake, primed on cappucino, and I have glanced at the book again: and I still can't remember any more than that it was great fun. I therefore have to recommend it as something which I almost never do: light, forgettable reading. Something just charming to while away the hours.

And odd review coming from a man who has, in the past, remembered an awful lot of an awful lot of books!

--Jon DeCles, May 8th, 1999

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So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish

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University of California Press, 1969

This book, now long out of print, is a compilation of Mark Twain's writings for the San Francisco Call during approximately fours months of 1864. --Or at least what the editor can pretty well determine, from style and content, to be the work of Samuel Langhorn Clemens.

This was the period when Mr. Twain had just sort of 'escaped' from Washoe and was looking for work in the fabulous world of post Gold Rush San Francisco, and it provides a wonderful look at The City of that time. It also provides a look at Twain's attitudes and views during that period, thus providing a clue to his character, and, important to me, how to present it.

I cannot emphasize how important this book has been to me over the years. Back in 1972, when I first essayed the role of Twain (at the request of director John Anderson: for I would never have had the temerity to apply for the role myself) this was one of my primary sources. Vital, as I was working on Twain in Old San Francisco, for the Old California Waterfront Faire at the Hyde Street Pier.

I got the book out of the library and read the material which seemed most useful to me in conjunction with several other books about Twain at the time. I consider it one of the great blessings of my life that Mark Twain was not shoved down my throat by schoolteachers, and thereby ruined for me: I became exposed to him first by seeing Hal Holbrook's performance on television, then by getting the opportunity to play him on stage.

It has led to a love that has lasted ever since. Sometimes I feel as if his spirit possesses me. Others have said they are sure it does, but then, as an actor I try to abdicate my body in favor of the character, and in Twain's case, it is easy. Having the greatest American writer walk in and take over is simply wonderful. I sit back and watch as he debates with others, and usually wins: something I have notably not done in my life.

The book was borrowed from a library, though I no longer remember whether it was Berkeley Public, the University of California, or the one maintained by the now defunct Living History Centre. In whatever case, it vanished from my ken, and when I looked for it as reference for later performances, I could not find it.

At another Theme Events Faire, I think on one of the San Francisco Piers (and I do not remember whether it was a Dickens Christmas Faire or another Old California Faire) I found a copy of the book and promptly purchased it. Last year, when I got another gig as Twain (this time working for Kevin Patterson and As You Like It Productions, the second generation of the Patterson Dynasty) for the International Gold Panning Competitions at Coloma (Sutter's Mill), I had a good chance to sit down and read it cover to cover: and discovered again that Mark Twain was, from the very beginning, the Greatest American Writer.

The simple, day to day reportings of a 'lokulitems' reporter maintain a fascination under the hand of this still-unproven master, even after all this time. They also set forth Twain's opposition to greed, corruption, and prejudice (it seems to me he lost the job essentially because he could not stomach the mistreatment of the Chinese, and the paper catered to the Irish, who viewed the Chinese as competition in the lucrative laundry trade), while showing that he had not entirely lost some prejudice himself: though not against Negroes, which people he admired from the beginning to the end of his life.

In short, if you come across a copy of this wonderful book in a used book store, and you interested in either Mark Twain or Old California, then I recommend that you pick it up. Although some of the content is quoted in other sources, and there are books on Twain's other San Francisco writings, there is no other compilation of his work for The Call, and it provides a vital link in the ever-fascinating process of Twain's development as a writer.

Oh yes: there are illustrations! Including one of the infamous Chief of Police Burke, and one of the County Prison: which is right next door to an establishment with a sign reading "Fotografia."

--Jon DeCles, May 8th, 1999

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Challenges and Choices of the Last Technological Revolution

I really hate it when a book is tremendously important, or thought to be so, and when I don't get around to reading it until it is out of date. On the other hand, there is often more to be learned by what has transpired since initial publication than there was at the time the ideas were first set forth.

This is the book that made the world aware of Nanotechnology; the idea of building machinery at the molecular level. It outlines just what these machines would be, and even, to some degree, how to go about building them. The book was published in 1986, and though it didn't suggest that in the thirteen years that have come and gone since then that we would all have our lives transformed, there was definitely the suggestion of a beginning.

Frankly, I am disappointed that more has not been done. But then, that may have to do with Mr. Drexler's mode of presentation that anything else. A straightforward book of ideas is all very fine. It puts the cards on the table and allows people to play. But what it doesn't do is inspire. That is the job of science fiction.

I remember a eulogy given after the death of Robert A. Heinlein, I think by Jerry Pournelle. It was noted that every single person working at Cape Canaveral had grown up reading Heinlein's juvenile science fiction novels. Every one!

The technique of science fiction is to take an idea and to see what effect it will have on people's lives. To put data into the human context and suggest possibilities. Sometimes the ideas so overwhelm the humanity that the characters are less than well drawn, but that's all right. The point of the story is the effect that science has on humanity, not the effect that humanity has on science. When you begin to write 'character-driven' stories, such as all the editors are now requesting, you move away from a literature of ideas and move toward 'lit-fic,' that late Twentieth Century phenomena that congratulates itself on immortality while producing endless transience. The Sense of Wonder is replaced by the Sense of Reality, which gives you beautiful writing and memorable characters, but which skimps on the ideas.

But I digress. (You noticed?)

The major impact which I see Drexler's book as having is not on science, but on science fiction writers. After its publication we were treated to almost as many stories featuring details of nanotechnology as we were stories about virtual reality after that wonderful presentation at the Nebula Awards by an Air Force scientist who was actually working in the field. But while virtual reality technology has moved out of military secretiveness and into science fiction, and thence to the amusement park, now such migration has occurred with regard to nanotechnology.

I suspect the problem has to do with just what the latter day science fiction writers have done with the idea. It has been used for detail and background, not really (except in certain rare and wonderful cases) as subject matter.

For me, however, the most startling aspect of Drexler's book is the part where he leaves suggestion and moves into active prophecy; and proves wrong.

Drexler gives over a certain amount of the book to the discussion of hypertext, which he saw as an amazing and powerful tool for research communications. His writing on this topic really was inspiring. The idea that researchers in divers fields all over the world would no longer work in parallel isolation, but could communicate their work instantaneously, thereby increasing the effectiveness of research and providing immediate feedback and verification: well, the prospect left me breathless!

But here we are, thirteen years later, and now everybody has access to the Internet, which is certainly a good thing; but there is a breakdown, rather than an increase, in communications. I go on line and seek information and I am lucky to find anything at all. Search engines only report on a tenth of what is available to them, sometimes less. When I finally discover a site of great interest, with links, I am likely to discover that the research is very old and without updating. Many of the links don't work.

There is a plethora of personal sites, duplicating endless personal data. Because the purpose of most of the sites is personal expression, nobody seems to bother checking anybody else's site for duplication of data. Many people leave things on line for years without bothering to look at the stuff they have posted. They don't read replies or responses.

Somebody has pointed out that the use of computers has increased, not decreased, the use of paper in offices. Not surprising when everybody around the table now requires a copy of material which he or she will never read.

I guess I feel about this the way people felt who grew up with Frank R. Paul's wonderful cover illustrations of cities with aerial roadways between graceful skyscrapers. If you aren't old enough to remember them, think of that TV commercial where a car goes zooming across a graceful roadway between buildings.

Why did the cities of the future turn out so ugly? Why did hypertext turn out to be a maze of teenagers using words the meaning of which they did not understand to describe lives of boredom and oblivion?

I recommend this book both for its clear-cut envisioning of the possibilities of both nanotechnology and cyberspace: but I also warn you that you may find frustrating how much of Drexler's vision could be accomplished by now, and how much has not been.

--Jon DeCles, May 8th, 1999

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TROUBLE IS MY BUSINESS by Raymond Chandler

The story goes that the great Leigh Brackett (whom in later years John Wayne once took aside to tell that she had written the best dialogue he had ever had to deliver) was half way through a story when she got a chance to work on the film version of a novel that she greatly admired. The novel, and the film, was The Big Sleep, by Raymond Chandler. She worked on the film with William Falkner, and you probably know that the film starred Humphrey Bogart as Philip Marlowe. --The story on which she was working she turned over to a kid she knew, and it was published under both their bylines. That story was Lorelei of the Red Mists, and the kid was Ray Bradbury; his first sale, as I recall the tale. Leigh Brackett's last writing job was The Empire Strikes Back, for George Lukas: but that's another story.

I go into all this by way of background, and to show how interconnected is the world of writing; and why I, primarily a science fiction writer for most of my life, had always wanted a good excuse to read Raymond Chandler, a writer of hard-boiled detective stories; and why, when I got the chance to write a Noir story a couple of years ago, I went out and indulged myself.

The Big Sleep, Chandler's first novel, should need no review by anyone. It has established itself as one of the great masterpieces of Twentieth Century literature. It is so perfect that one downrite aches over its beauty. I have often entertained the thought of setting its last page to music, much the way Samuel Barber set "Knoxville, Summer of 1915." For those of you who have not read it, we're going to set up a link so that you can purchase it Right Now! You should understand why Leigh Brackett would drop everything for the chance to work on the screen play.

The book at hand, Trouble Is My Business, is a collection of short stories, primarily from Chandler's early career, and like the Twain book which I reviewed earlier, provides an insight into the writer as well as the fascination of the stories themselves. Here you will find first essays at the materials which will later appear full-fledged in The Big Sleep and Farewell My Lovely. Here are Chandler's sketches for characters who will become transformed into the monumental figures of his novels.

But the stories are not just sketches, nor somehow incomplete. They are fine stories in their own right, and the differences between them and the novels are indicative of the difference between the technique of the short story and the novel per se. One is already dazzled by the perfection of his prose, which is at once plain and spectacular. Nobody short of Theodore Sturgeon had so great a mastery over the choice of perfect image, and surely nobody at all is so easy to parody and so impossible to imitate.

Chandler is one of the figures who took the mystery story out of the drawing room and put it on the streets. He added the element of reality to the classic puzzle story of detection, and, I think more than anyone else, made the mystery human. Most murders do not occur in the upper class; they happen to ordinary people. Or, when they do happen to people with too much money or influence, it is the little guys who get ground up in the wheels of what we laughingly call the justice system.

Most mystery stories up to the time of Chandler, and well beyond him, have neat, orderly finishes, with the bad guy going to jail or worse and all the nice folks living happily ever after. It doesn't always happen that way in Chandler, because in real life detectives are made of flesh and blood, and so are villains. Humanity is not governed by laws. Laws are just crutches we use to try and hold ourselves up to the standards we want to believe in.

Chandler's characters are not on the page to point out the twists and turns in a maze. They are people struggling with the constantly complex business of living in a world were bad things happen, and trying to make it a little better.

I cannot recommend Raymond Chandler too highly as an author. I recommend this book to anyone who has not read it, because I have yet to find anything by Chandler that is not an absolutely wonderful read, and a lot more.

--Jon DeCles, 8 May 1999

Post Script to the review above: I am informed that the book which Vintage has under this title and which Amazon is shipping these days is not the complete collection. This may be excusable, as I seem to recall the title having been used on a previous collection, and thus some confusion. If you order via the link you will get Chandler, no doubt about it. But you should check the Amazon reviews and check the table of contents, if possible. And you may want to haunt bookstores for the more complete edition. On the other hand, if you have never read Chandler at all, then by all means go for it now: you might not live long enough to find the used edition!

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THE BOOK OF KINGS, edited by Richard Gilliam and Martin H. Greenberg.

I wonder if our late Twentieth Century fascination with monarchy has anything to do with the absence of a cultural father icon in our times. The idea of the 'hero' was replaced back in the Fifties by the 'anti-hero,' and though the sit-coms of the time were filled with kindly, loving father figures, those figures were invariably under the control of the much wiser mother figure. At best we had "Father Knows Best;" at worst, Daddy was a complete Dunderhead. By the end of the century one would be hard-pressed indeed to find any kind of male figure in the media to whom one could look up with unvarnished admiration. (The political Right has worked hard to build a few idols, but they always turn out to have feet not nearly so strong as clay, and are like as not crooks as well; so the need, though perceived by the Right, is not filled from that direction.) It is no wonder that the male gender is held in disrepute, with no effective models for positive emulation.

In the 60s we began a love affaire with the Middle Ages, and the whole business of Medieval Revival (such as the Pre-Raphealites promoted in the 1800s) was replayed, this time around somewhat more effectively; because it was not confined to the arts but was wrapped up in the package of a well-realized cultural millieu (yes, I am giving a very positive description of the Society for Creative Anachronism, minus its infernal politics). Commercial interests started catching up to this cultural phenomena sometimes in the 80s, and today one can buy commercially made suits of armor and pavillions at exhorbitant prices almost as readily as one can have one's automobile 'customized' with devices that make it jump up and down at a spotlight.

It is comforting to know that there are some really silly luxuries available in the world on which to spend money that could feed the increasing masses of the hungry, if compassion were still in fashion.

I think a great deal of my grumbling goes back to that absence of the father figure as a positive force in our world. And I think that, because the father is absent, we unconsciously look for the king: the super father, the admirable male figure who will be responsible not only for his immediate family but for the family that constitues his country as well.

Keep in mind here that I am talking about the idea of 'the King,' not any particular reality. The King we seek is not the despot who has inherited power, or who misuses it. Such figures make good villians, but frankly, we do not psychologically identify them as actual Kings. They are false holders of the title, just as surely as husbands who abandon their mates and children are false husbands and fathers.

Because the human family requires someone in this position, and because he is so seldom there, either in reality or (perhaps more importantly) in the media, we seek him in places where he ought to be found. Thus tales of kings, in the actual Medieval or in the fictionalized Medieval; or in Fantasy; remain popular.

Clearly a title like THE BOOK OF KINGS should have a market (beyond those who mistake it for an excerpt from the Bible). In the wisdom of today's publishing, therefore, the editors sought to put together such a book and to fill the need. Via the usual method of asking all those writers they held in esteem, the editors did, indeed, manage to assemble twenty tales, with the usual varying degrees of success. I don't know how well the book sold, but I assume it made back the publisher's investment: they calculate such things carefully, since the bean counters replaced the cooks.


Stephen Donaldson gives us a tale as well written as one could expect from him, but one set in an Oriental backkground, featuring a young prick of a tyrant. (You know what a prick is: it's a @i{part) of a man.} There is nothing here of the nobel monarch we might expect from the title of the tome, and its knightly blazoned cover.

Jane Yolan uses a few stock phrases from the European canon to qualify for us a charming piece of (Aztec? Mayan? Who knows?) shamanology that, aside from her telling us that the protagonist is a prince, is, once again, not what we might expect from the promotion.

It is for Owl Goingback, the genre's most celebrated Native American writer, to give us an actual King. True, this King, a Charles of Spain, is a villain in the piece; but the King is a King, and the protagonist, a Native American Holy Man, fulfills the role of good and wise male that is central to these tales.

The story has its flaws (when will writers start reading about the Inquisition from scholarship later than 1820?), but withal it is an exciting and engrossing story, and it has a ring of authenticity to its magic, which the first two did not.

Let me amplify that last statement: there is a qualititative difference between the depiction of magical operations by those who have a gnosis of the topic and those who do not. Owl Goingback writes as if he knows what he is talking about. The previous two writers gave the impression that magic was no more than a litereary device or an anthropological curiosity.

Larry Segriff's story, "Seeds of Death," includes a peripheral King but centers on a female executioner practicing Black Magic at the time of the ever-popular Inquisition. The tale is steeped in SM imagery, and, with more graphic detail and a male protagonist, could easily have appeared in one of the Gay SM magazines. --I think the author's decisions about marketing were wise ones, however, because this venue certainly paid more: but like Stephen King, he uses his material with sharp candor, not for erotic release but as a means of building tension. He doesn't go as far as Clive Barker, but Segriff certainly knows what he is doing as a writer, and I hope that more of his work falls under mine eyes.

Esther M. Friesner writes straightforwardly about a King all right, but he is one of the late Louis of France; and with her usual sense of the charm of the English language she manages to give us all the background we need rather painlessly in her witty and delicate fable of young royalty encountering the marvelous. There was a time when whimsy was verbotten by self- serious literatti, but thank the Gods for Post-Modernism, which has provided us with apertures through which the likes of Ms. Friesner have emerged to fill the voids left by Henry Kuttner in his multiple manifestations.

John Gregory Betancourt's pastiche of a Lafcadio Hearn story is charming, but I am afraid I always have trouble with writers who retell someone else's tale, then belabor the fact by modestly refering us to the original. I really hated it when Cordwainer Smith did it: he always assumed that his audience was far beneath him, and not bright enough to have read the originals; but here Betancourt is pleasant enough about it, and Hearn is not so well known today as the originals from which Smith worked, so the reference is not really offensive. And the story does, actually relate to the premise on which the collection was put forth, albeit tangentally.

Christine Kathryn Rusch has fashioned a sad little tale that touches the heart of any of us who was born into this strange and alien(ated) modern world. Its only flaws are inherent in its incessant Christian-bashing and its complete lack of knowledge of what Christians used to be like. Goodness knows there are enough bad things about the early Church that one could write about: there are also plenty of bad things about Pagans, as Christians have spent much ink pointing out. The trouble is, what people tend to write about (on both sides) is stuff invented by sensationalists rather than stuff researched by scholars.

I mean, the standard depiction of cold moldy castles is left to us by people who have never experienced a functioning castle. One had might as well describe modern housing in terms of long-abandoned derelects rather than places where people live.

The fact is, stone holds heat well, when it is heated, and in the summer it is cool. If you cover the windows (as people did) a castle is a pretty good place to live in the winter or the summer. Today we use fiber glass insulation to get the thermal effects that our ancestors got with stone: but precious few of our plasterboard and two by four houses will be around in seven hundred years for people to write about, however inadequately. And if you have watched the news, you know all about the dangers of mold resulting from modern construction techniques!

It is still a pretty good story, however.


I can't believe I am writing a story-by-story review of this book. But it has been months since I caught up my book reviews, and my fingers on the keyboard are beginning to feel good!


Dean Wesley Smith's "A Parker House Roll" is that rare treat in today's market, a good old fashioned, well-crafted short story. It has a good narrative hook, it is funny, informative without being stuffy, moves along at a good clip, and comes to a satisfactory end. If this sort of narrative were offered in the schools to our young, instead of the tedious character sketches of Chekov, then we might not have three generations of readers (well, those of the three generations who can read) who deplore the short story form. The self-styled literati; those whose acquaintance with fiction comes not from pleasure but from the opinions of their professors; will probably hate this story.

I loved it!

I read because I love to read, not because somebody told me I ought to.

Karen Haber gives us another well-crafted tale in The King Who Would Fly; nothing terribly original, but then, originality is most often a phantasm in the pursuit of which critics and writers alike oft lose their way, and their audiences. This is a good story, and I don't mind at all if the tenses remain correct and there are no changes of typeface to distract me. It has simple wisdom, and that, by its rarity in this world, is a thing in danger of becoming 'original.'

Alan Dean Foster's little horror parable is about a prince, not a king. It bears all the marks of intense craft, which means that it it can be seen as 'literary,' by those who wish to dissect its simple elegance for the delectation of a teacher; but that would be a sad way indeed to reward a lily for itse beauty, now wouldn't it?

Nancy Holder plots well but her neatly rendered homage to Poe suffers from the annoying traits of Mid-Twentieth Century technique, i.e., 'people never change, so all you have to do is dress them in funny clothes and...' The fact is, if all the people are Spanish, but the story is told in English, then it is downright silly to insert Spanish phrases to remind us that it is taking place in Spain. It would also be useful to know what the objects of a distant time are before writing about them. Swords may clank against vambraces, but they certainly will not clank against the cloth of a surcoat. --This sort of thing won't bother people who are unfamilar with the period: it's just local color to them; but the reader of this sort of story is fairly likely to be somewhat familiar with the period, and details are as important in historical fiction as they are in science fiction, where a missplaced decimal used to draw a hundred letters of outrage in the days when magazine editors gave some value to the views of readers. It is kind of sad, for it would be an excellent story if one were not so frequently jerked out of it by the small inadequacies. --And for gosh sakes, when there are so many Alphonsos of Castile, it really would help one plunge into the piece if one were given the number, or a stab at the year, or whatever! You'd might as well say Louis of France and expect identification!

Judith Tarr does, indeed, tell us a story about a King, though the King is not the central character but the total focus of the central character, and the absolute exception to all the archetypes which I have been discussing. The story is set mainly in the Land of the Dead, and the dead are those of Ancient Egypt.

Appropriately, the story moves at a stately pace and submerges us in the feelings which the theology engenders. It's a love story, and quite an amazing one at that. The subject/theme has been handled popularly, but I don't think I have ever encountered it done with such grace and devotion. I really liked this story.

Lawrence Schimel offers a brief, pleasant little piece which, no longer than an anecdote, manages to be a complete little story, complete with all the elements that make the difference between anecdote and story. He also manages to include character, color, and a charming sense of the fantastic, despite his economy of means: I only wish we saw more of this kind of literary discipline in the general produce of the fictive field!

Brad Linaweaver turns in an equaly fine performance with a tale that manages an emotional response even on second reading. It is nice to see that at least one writer remembers the part of the forumula that requires a revelation of character to be a part of the short story, while not eschewing the necessity of plot.

Billie Sue Mosiman does a clever job of revisioning the Christian myth, but there is nothing particularly new in what she does. This is the sort of story that used to appear in magazines with some regularity way back when most readers were assumed to be Christians and nobody took seriously the beliefs of people who were not. That is not to say that one should not make use of this particularly valuable and powerful myth (and I refer here not the the reality of the life of Jesus but rather to the underlying myth by which the life conveys meaning), but rather, that this version, though very well done, is simply not up to the level of many other versions; so it reads a little like a tract or statement of faith. Still, it does uphold the presmise of the collection better than those which managed to ignore the issue of kingship or sidestep it. There are different kinds of kings, and they can be bad or good, so the story belongs here.

Rick Wilber's tale of the meeting between St. Columba and the Picts is far more successful, both in its presentation as story and in its flashes of the dark and brooding Scottish landscape.

It also features more than one King, and it lingers in the memory longer than most of these tales. With its page of annotations at the end it is kind of like a mini-novel. It is clear that Wilber is writing from a love of his materials. The things that seem predictable are, in fact, not at all so, and the twists of plot make the predictable things seem fresh. I very much liked this one.

Debra Doyle and James D. Macdonald give us a nice little piece with the air of a faery tale about it rather than a plot, per se; but it is well for us to have faery tales in our times and this faery tale partakes of the techniques that were popular back when the New Wave was the rage in science fiction (and fantasy was yet to be rediscovered and so mismanaged) and it therefore resonates in the mind very nicely, causing one to think about the things left unsaid. It is probably a better story than its writers know, and that is a pleasing thing to say.

AND now we come at last to the very story that is the reason one simply must buy the book, Diana L. Paxson's "The Name of a King."

If you are a fan of Diana's Westria tales then you will want this one, which is a kind of insert before the main thrust of "The Earthstone." If you are not, then this story may convince you to essay the whole saga.

I am not big on re-reading much because stories tend to be very real for me and once I have read them they are over. (I think in a very linear fashion, and prefer not to know the outcome of mine own stories until they 'happen' as I write them; but that's another matter.) This story, however, does bear re-reading, and new things emerged as I did so, no matter how thoroughly I thought I had read it the first time, in context.

It is kind of like a mini-novel rather than a short story. There is an enormous amount of content, with not only plot, character, and atmosphere, but philosophical analysis of the sort which we expect in works much longer than this; and accomplished not in long dissertations but in flashes of insight. Though the characters are all young (about to undergo their vision quest and maturity initiation) there is about them a veracity which speaks of the people they will become, as well as that depth which comes only from a solid cultural millieu from which to emerge.

As we live in a world where the cultural millieu is conveyed in media bytes and as transient as a season of television programming, any personality which bodies forth from a solidly stable culture and world-view (no matter how altered may be everyday life under the stresses of disaster in that culture) takes on a color and reality which is generally missing even from those who are actual and real in the present.

Scrooge is more real than Ted Koppel, despite the fact that Scrooge never lived and Ted Koppel does. I mean, can you, without consulting sources, tell me more about the personality of Scrooge or about the personality of Ted Koppel?

Diana L. Paxson once noted that science fiction is about ideas, whereas fantasy is about ethics. Nowhere does this view of fantasy come clearer than in Westria, where people are educted to understand that their personal ethical choices really do have meaning, and that the actions of the individual do have an impact on the world in which we live.

I could be really pretentious here and note that in Westria The World as Will and Idea has palpable meaning: but I hasten not to be, as I would not wish to condemn anyone to reading Schoepenhauer for the reference.

I'd tell you more about the story, per se, but telling you anything in particular might very well spoil it for you in its larger context: so just buy the book and read it, okay?

Lawrence Watt Evans offers a nicely framed little fable with a nice moral, but he doesn't convince me that he has ever handled a sword, and the idea that the prince should have his 'manhood feast' at an age when his friends are old enough to challenge the king to a duel doesn't convince me that he has any idea what such an occasion is all about, much less that he has any vision of the realities of a Medieval sort of society and its rigors. Well enough written, but really, if you are reading the collection to begin with you may be enough of a Medievalist to trip over the sames things I did.

To conclude, and just to be sure we don't start taking ourselves too seriously, the amazing Mike Resnick and Nicholas A. DiChario spin us a little bit of Noir set in modern upstate New York, which they picture pretty darned accurately; and introduce us to a king with whom we have some modern kinship. It's one of those charming idea stories that carry one along by making us guess, and although the guessing gets done with half way through, by then one is hooked on their central character; as maybe we have been all along.

This is maybe the longest review I have ever written, both in word length and the time it took to write it: but there must be a reason for all this time being spent. I hope the reason is a lot of sales through my website, which will keep me going to read and write more reviews.

--Jon DeCles

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DIFFERENT STROKES by Phil Andros & Co.

The saga of Sammy Stewart is too long and wonderful to recount here, and besides, I think he wrote something of an autobiography. Suffice to say he knew everybody. When I met him in his latter years, living quietly in a back cottage in Berkeley, I sat there with tears in my eyes just to be meeting him. Here was a man who had done everything and met everybody; as well as doing everybody and meeting everything. --He hitched his way to England, in his youth, and seduced Alfred Lord Douglas, just so that he could have a mythic link to Oscar Wilde. He corresponded with James Branch Cabell and Thornton Wilder, lived with Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas, and...

Well, you get the picture.

Somewhere along the way he decided that he did not like the way Gay people were portrayed in literature. The suicidal loser who was de rigueur in letters at that time did not reflect the basically positive experience of homosexuality which his life had given him, and he thought it was about time for a change; so he sat down and wrote an enormous number of short stories, which today form the canon of one of the most remarkable bodies of work of our times.

They were pretty much published in cheap erotic magazines. Sammy told me that many of them were published by a man who, to escape his taxes, had got himself committed to a famous insane asylum, then prevailed upon his psychiatrists to let him open a publishing business inside the walls as therapy.

He never got paid for most of them, and that says a lot more about publishers than they would like said.

He stopped writing for a while, and then he got 'discovered,' and suddenly a whole long shelf of his works became available, and he became a celebrity. The second time I met him was at a book signing, and he was being lionized by Ann Rice, a writer whose excellence of taste should tell you something of Sammy's excellence as a writer. After his 'discovery' he started writing again, and those of you who enjoy mysteries might enjoy the two books he wrote with Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas as the detectives. --He laughed when he explained to me that one publisher had reacted with horror at the opening: "Rape, Pussy, Rape!" which reflected Mrs. Stein's pet name for her long time companion and the freshness of their favorite vegetable, newly ready from their garden.

The collection at hand bears the byline 'Phil Andros' because that is the name under which Sammy wrote the stories; and by which he is best known. (The way it would be foolish to publish stories by Mark Twain under the Samuel Clemens byline.) It is a typical, beautifully written, selection of homosexual male erotica, character-driven and diverse as to setting and content.

For those of you who may not have read this kind of material, or who have read only the kind being written these days (with all its precise descriptors and repetition of anglo-saxon nouns and verbs); be prepared for a surprise. The Phil Andros stories are graceful, charming, often humorous, and above all tender. If you share the author's orientation, they are hot: if not, they are just good stories, which it seems to me erotica ought to be: good stories that happen to be about sex.

I particularly remember the fantasy of a meeting with a certain member of the Royal Family of Britain: or was that what it was?

--Mason Powell, 8 May 99


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Next to the exquisitely crafted short stories of Sammy Stewart, we have this little outing, which perhaps ought to be read just to show the difference between a great writer and someone who is doing ok.

This is, simply put, a Gay male bondage erotic novel. In that capacity, and if that is what you are looking for, then here it is. It is not beautifully written, the characters are not brilliantly drawn, the plot is mechanical when there is a plot at all. It claims to be an autobiographical novel, and that is possible, so long as we remember that what happens inside your head is as important, and often more so, than what happens to your body and the rest of the world.

Please understand: this is not a bad review. It just happens that I read the book right after going through the Phil Andros short stories. And, I am a writer, and I read books for things that may not hold much meaning for other people.

Hell, I am more turned on by writing a page of really good prose, in which there is no sex at all, than most people would be by a hot date with (fill in your hottest fantasy). Think of me as auctoriallysexual.

So, if words are not your thing, and getting tied up in the barn is: then you might enjoy having this one next to your bed.

--Mason Powell, 8 May 99


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TORMENTS, by C. S. White,


The subtitle of "Torments" is "Historical Torturing Through the Ages, All In the Name of God and Country," and that is precisely what the six novelletes in the collection set out to present. The stories are set in periods ranging from the Roman Empire under Hadrian to a future San Francisco, circa 2222 C.E.; and although the author leaves a little to be desired in terms of historical detail, he manages to do a pretty convincing job of putting in you place and time; at least as well as the majority of the high-priced historical writers of the previous generation, who tended to throw in a hauberk now and then for color without any idea of what a hauberk might be.

These tales were mostly published originally in magazines issued by Alternate Publishing, the labor of love of John Embry, who founded "Drummer," the first professional magazine to deal with the leather community and actually make it as a viable business entity. John sold Drummer some years ago, but found that he had ink his veins and re-entered publishing with several similar magazines: which was good, because once he was gone from the helm Drummer floundered and ceased to be of much interest.

Leather publishing is a peculiar little world. When John entered the arena stories about SM, Bondage, and the like, were fairly rare, and usually slipped into magazines as an added bit of spice to heat up the vanilla. Most of the writing was abominable. There were, of course, exceptions. Sammy Stewart, alias Phil Andros, and Larry Townsend pop immediately to mind; and the marvelous Gordon Hoban, who wrote under the very funny pseuedonym of Thomas Hardy. Yet most of the stuff one encountered was of the standard 'one sex scene, one plot scene' variety, and most of the writers could not describe a scene without being hoisted on the petard of their own bad grammer. --A lot of them were Straight writers, making a quick buck by changing the genders of the characters, and those were really, truly, dreadful.

Then came John Embry, and shortly after, John Preston's MR. BENSON, the most influential SM novel since THE STORY OF O. I read the first part of MR. BENSON in Drummer, and realized that it was possible to do it well. I set out to write my own first SM novel with the intention of writing a book that was all plot, all character, and all sex. The result was THE BRIG, which John Embry bought and published, and which he still cites as something, along with MR. BENSON, of which he is very proud.

I cite this history because it is important to remember that just about all the best writers of the SM, Leather, Bondage fiction genre are those cultivated by John Embry; and to note that C. S. White is one of Embry's most promising discoveries.

I would also like to note that the Web, while easily accessible and a cheap means of getting your rocks off, is not a good method for developing talent. Much as I hate to admit it, editors do have a place in the world. Good editors (a tiny minority of those drawing a salary, let me assure you!) help you to see what you have written from the point of view of the possible reader, and as such, help you to tighten your writing and raise it to a higher and clearer level. Without the editors a writer can, it is true, get what he or she has written into print (even if it is e-print) without interference: but under the conditions of the web there is no informed critical feedback; which in hard copy publishing most readily translates as cash. --Which allows the writer to eat, pay the bills, and work hard on writing ever better stories.

Thus it is that I recommend to you the actual purchase of this book by C. S. White, in hard copy, for cold hard cash.

Sure, it has some flaws. What hasn't?

Over the course of the writing (which is not presented in temporal order, but in historical order) White learned a great deal about plotting, characterization, and presentation of historical materials. He brings his use of language under control more and more, and writes ever more satisfying material.

I suspect that he was not thinking of the stories being collected when he wrote them, much less in historical order. Thus there is a slight repetitive quality in a couple of the stories: unusual tortures presented in disparate cultures, evidence of the writer's fascination with these methods but nonetheless making for a sameness that White is too imaginative to have made on purpose. --Of course, if you happen to share his kinks, then the repitition won't be a problem. And if you don't, then his story telling will carry you along to the next response point.

With the current revival of interest in the Classical Period, and the the box office success of GLADIATOR, I suspect that the Roman story which begins the collection will be a big hit. One always leaves a theater after a sweating gladiator movie with some imaginings that one is not likely to see on the screen. White then moves on to Ivan the Terrible, a man more sinned against than sinning, but who certainly is an inspiration for this sort of story. (The fact is, White is probably more gentle with his characters than Ivan was in fact: but Ivan had some damned good reasons for becoming what he became.) I think the Russian story goes on a little too long, but never mind, it works.

Another figure of fascination for the Gay community is Eduard II of England, whose torture and murder are so graphically depicted in Kit Marlowe's great play. In the Twentieth Century, with its rabid homophobia, this play was seldom done. Now, as Gay people are increasingly accepted into the mainstream and actors cease to be afraid to play Gay parts, the play is beginning to get the recognition it deserves, and productions are, if not commonplace, at least not rare anymore. White has cleverly made use of the persecution of the Knights Templar and the betrayal of Eduard as a springboard for his story; and if the introduction is a little too much of history book rather than fiction, that is ok. When he gets down to the details of the characters he draws from the history, he spins a good and rather romantic SM story; though there are some buzzers going off in my head about the year in which the Inquisition was proclaimed: recent scholarship has changed our view of what happened and why, and I fear we are going to lose one of our most intense SM fantasies before the facts which recent scholarship reveals.

Keeping to the 1300s, White then moves us to Flanders for a turn that has the atmosphere more of Dracula than of the end of the Middle Ages. Which, again, is ok. His use of atmosphere is here a definite plus. It seems to me that setting and atmosphere are very important elements which are usually missing in SM scenes. I mean, we call them dungeons even when they are only converted garages, right? And wouldn't your rather work in a dark, stone-walled dungeon than in a place where you have to ignore the water heater coming on and the plastic recycling bins needing to be moved before you can get to the hoist or the St. Andrew's Cross? Sure you would.

And White raises some issues here about character that are worth noting: about the relationships of people in their professional and personal capacities that our society ignores completely. If you keep the peace and provide prosperity for your people, are your personal kinks an issue? Well, it depends on whether or not those on whom you exercise your kinks are submitting to them consensually; which, really, is the central issue of SM reality versus SM fantasy.

In "Slavesitter" the author moves to the present and demonstrates that a sense of humor is not at all incompatible with a sense of SM drama; or, in this case, music drama. The story starts with the Master heading out to Wagner's Ring, and goes pretty much where your would expect it to go, and does so with definite style. But one is left wondering why there is such an affinity between opera going and SM. I mean, the torture scene in "Tosca" has never turned me on, but it is there. Yet somehow Wagner, though lacking in torture scenes, does have a fascination...

I digress.

In the last story White moves to the future, and with that move he seems suddenly unfettered in his imagination. It is better SM than it is science fiction, but it is definitely good SM. He works skillfully with the character aspects of dominance and submission, is fairly inventive in his torture techniques (he needs to learn some of the dangers of electroture before he tries some of this at home) and his focus seems to be very sharp, with a definite conclusion to the story in just the most satisfying manner.

In short, the book was a good (useful) read, and for those who like this kind of fiction I heartily recommend it.

 --Mason Powell


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After he made it to the best seller lists Robert A. Heinlein struck out in new directions and explored territories that science fiction writers had never permeated. He had already god-fathered social movements (as in the survival colonies that came after "The Year of the Jackpot") but with "Stranger in a Strange Land" he changed the landscape of American culture with as sure a stroke as did Dickens with his books.


Not all of his later books were as successful as "Starship Troopers" or "Stranger in a Strange Land," and frequently his extrapolations led to visions that people did not want to see. "I Will Fear No Evil" was attacked roundly by all kinds of people, most notably by Feminists; but it was equally praised by NonFeminist women. Half the women readers thought that he knew absolutely nothing about women, and the other half thought he was the only man who ever wrote about them realistically.

Which only proved that women are not an homogenous lump, but highly individual and highly opinionated people.

The grimmer visions of the novel, the background of a world in which there are areas on which the police will not enter, were largely ignored. A later generation of young people discovered the novel, however, and it eventually entered the canon of Heinlein's always fascinating exploration of the liberty-responsibility equation.

With "Number of the Beast," a book of huge popularity, he almost lost me. The problem was that he was fascinated with the idea of˙'nested commands' in computer usage. When he wrote the book the science was new and fresh; but by the time I read it, the science was so much a part of everyday life that it was like reading a book about the wonder of electric light switches.

The less scientific, more imaginative, more action, context of the book was, however, fertile ground. His exploration of a multiverse, touched on in "Glory Road," was wickedly thorough; and there are parts of the book that greatly overweigh any flaws that it might have.

All this preamble is important to the discussion of the book currently under review because Heinlein was not, in his later years, just going over old ground; he was exploring new literary techniques with every effort. My personal favorite of the later books in the splendid"The Moon is a Harsh Mistress," a book which left me emotionally and physically devastated for days and which not only delineated the explorations of the New˙Wave, but which consolodated the explorations with the solid background of previous literary technique.

In "The Cat Who Walks Through Walls" Heinlein performs some truly amazing prestidigation. He writes a book that is at once adventure, satire, social and political commentary, and an enfoldment of all that has come before; and he does it with a dexterity that dazzles on the emotional, intellectual, and technical levels all at once.

It is, first and foremost, a love story. Not of the tedious romantic kind involving callow youths with shallow problems, but a story of mature people who know the game, have played it, know how to play it well, and who know that love is not the same thing as sex, though sex is certainly a very enjoyable part of it.

Second, it is something rather unique: an adventure of manners. We are used to comedies of manners, but the adventure of manners is a rare and wonderful hybrid. Off the top of my head, the only novel that comes to quick thought is Adrienne Martine-Barnes astonishing "The Dragon Rises," which I have always considered a Jane Austin space opera; but that's a digression.

Someone once defined a gentleman as "somebody who will kill you if you say he is not." Heinlein's Dr. Ames, who, at the opening of the book is being requested to perform an assasination, is definitely a gentleman. And his date for the evening (the date has been interrupted by the request, which is rather rude) is more than a lady.

Heinlein's early novels and short stories were noted for their careful extrapolation and their tight plotting. In his later works he became more novelistic, and readers who were looking for plot driven stories tended to think he was losing his skill for plotting; but that was not the case, he was, as noted above, exploring new territory, and often working with character driven tales. In this book he achieves a synthesis in which the characters drive the story, but in which the plot is so tight and well structured as to be seamless. More, in this novel Heinlein achieves a level of plot complexity that equals, or possibily exceeds, the famous 'wheels within wheels' plotting of A. E. Van Vogt.

I am left here with a problem.

The reviewer wishes to pique the interest of the reader, it is true. But in most cases this is done by proferring some of the elements of plot and character which will tease the reader into opening the book. Once open, it is doubtful that a reader who is still alive will close a book by Heinlein. But with this book, I feel rather desperate. One of the joys of reading is the sense of surprize. In science fiction, in particular, the Sense of Wonder is the defining emotional characteristic which delineates the genre.

I truly loathe those reviewers and promoters who spoil that by showing you all the surprizes ahead of time, so that you do not have the opportunity to discover them for yourself. Film promotions are probabaly the worst, when they show you the only good scenes in a movie and you end up dissapointed because there was nothing better to see; but book reviewers also achieve this kind of evisceration, and I consider it reprehensible.

Thus, I cannot really show you much at all about this book; because from the very first page Heinlein engages the reader in a complex and brilliant mind game that is, in its own way, as tangled and delightful as Joyce's "Finnegan's Wake;" though, I hasten to add, far easier to read!

Let me say, hopefully without giving anything away, that the ending of this book has something in common with the ending of "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress," at least for me. You will remember that earlier I said that I was left emotionally devastated for days after the end of that earlier book. In this book Heinlein achieved something far more difficult: he left me intellectually devastated, with my mind running down so many corridors, considering so many possibilities, that I could think of nothing else for days, and was even preoccupied with it for weeks.

All that, and the book is huge, enormous (add your own superlatives) fun!

Heinlein often said that his criteria for the success of a book was beer. He had to write a book good enough that the average reader would spend his money for the book instead of an equivalent amount for beer.

I do not believe that you will regret the loss of a six pack of even the most expensive import if you buy this book instead. It has my highest recommendation.

And, contrary to some other reviewers, you don't have to have read any other books to enjoy this one. Just sit back and hold on tight.

--Reviewed by Jon DeCles


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THE LITTLE SISTER by Raymond Chandler


In the middle ground between high heroics and nitty gritty realism there is a place where Phillip Marlowe attempts the former and confronts the latter. It is Los Angeles, and nothing in Raymond Chandler's books leads you to believe that it is any Los Angeles but the one that exists in the real world; and therein, perhaps, lies the great appeal of his writing.

 That genre of writing which has come to be called Noir depicts the darker nature of humanity; but it only succeeds when that darker nature is illuminated by the presence of a moral dimension. The great Noir writers gave the Twentieth Century its own incarnation of the Heroic, its own version of the Knight Errant, in the form of the hard-boiled detective; and none has a greater moral dimension than Phillip Marlowe.

In "The Little Sister," surely not the best of the Phillip Marlowe novels (though still good enough to have a movie made from it, and better than most things written by other people) Chandler produces one of the ugliest and seediest sets of characters ever to come from his typewriter. His cynicism it maybe at its height in this tale of double-dealing, betrayal, and familial intrigues that would cause any TV soap to pale by comparison.

If anybody else had written this book it would be just plain ugly; but Chandler, with a sense of the poetic in all things, manages to shine light in even the darkest corners; to add, without any overt attention, a level of human wisdom that is not only thoughtful but useful. Phillip Marlowe does not live in a castle far away in time; he lives in the same world that we live in (perhaps removed a bit in time by now) and his ethics are the same ethics that probably ought to infuse us, if we can rise to that level.

In this one Marlowe is hired by a woman from Manhattan, Kansas, to find her brother.

Orfamay Quest is so proper and up tight she would make the Church Lady cringe. And she is cheap. And she wants the whole world to run by her small town Kansas rules. But she needs a detective, and Marlowe, as always, needs the case.

Which leads us not into the glamor of Los Angeles, but into the parts which you never see in newsreels or documentaries. Into those parts of Ever Greater L.A. that Chandler has touched on in other books which which here take center stage.

There's blackmail, drugs, and murder, of course.

As I said, this is not the best of Chandler's work. But I don't think he ever wrote anything less than excellent. It is surely better than 90% of what you will find on the stands today, and unlike the films which have become a fashionable way to time trip into the days about which he is writing, he is authentic.

Read it and tell me if you end up hating Orfamay as much as I did.

--Reviewed by Jon DeCles

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This book is also available in a collection of Chandler's later novels, along with some essays and the screenplay for a film. A better bargain by far, but initially more costly. If you are, however, a dyed in the wool Chandler fan, run a check on that one.

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Book reviewers, almost as much as music critics, strive desperately for an original turn of phrase or image with which to imbue the prose which is their work and which, perforce,inevitably falls into a routine of tedium. One of the more overused descriptors which one encounters these days is that of 'a unique voice.' Yet with regard to Jack Fritscher I am forced to score and heat up that chestnut, for nobody, to the best of my knowledge, writes with anything closely approaching Fritscher's level of raw passion, poetry, and over the top sense of verbal drive.

Although I greatly enjoyed his novel, "Some Dance to Remember," I found false notes in the handling of certain techniques. Not so in his short stories!

Some writers fall naturally into either the medium of the novel or the short story, and I think perhaps Fritscher is at his best in the short story. That may be because of the white hot heat with which he sets word to paper. The novel requires some leasure, some pause to reflect; Fritscher is not contemplative, he is passionate, in your face, all over you. He is not Brahms, he is Edgar Varese, assaulting you with mind pictures and word stretches that may very well tear the membrane.

Or maybe it is just that nobody can sustain the levels he reaches for more than the duration of a short story.

In this collection of twenty works, both short stories and narrative poems, he goes the limit. All the icons for which he is famous are on display: the musclemen, the soldiers, the cowboys, the prisoners; but his takes on the icons are more intense, more extreme, than I think any other writer would care to set out.

I am no novice when it comes to writing about sado masochistic sex; it is a fascinating means of illuminating areas of human consciousness which cannot be lit with any other torch. But Fritscher goes way, way, beyond anything which I would seek to see. Be warned: there are stories in this book that are too intense for me, stories that not only extend the envelope but put it through a shredder and set fire to it. If you are not up to sweating; sometimes with desire, sometimes with horror; then don't even try it! Fritscher is not a light weight, either in terms of subject matter or literary style.

If, however, you can stand the heat -- if you are willing to go places in literary mode that you would likeley never want to go in person -- then Jack Fritscher is an ideal tour guide. Part James Joyce, part William Faulkner, and a whole lot more than the Marquis de Sade, I am forced to repeat the cliche: Jack Fritscher is a unique voice, and one who, if you are up to it, you should hear. The songs are steamy and scary, but God! Can this man sing!

--Reviwed by Mason Powell


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Rainbow County and Other Stories


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Robert Anson Heinlein was not the first writer to build a self-consistent universe in which to set his stories. In the Twentieth Century his most famous predecessor was James Branch Cabell, to whom Heinlien pays tribute in "Job: A Comedy of Justice." Cabell, however, maintained his tongue firmly in his cheek through all the many permutations of the many lives of Dom Manual, while Heinlein wrote many different kinds of stories in his well made world.

In "To Sail Beyond the Sunset," his last novel, Heinlein manages with a deft hand to tie it all together. The subtitle of the book is "The Life and Loves of Maureen Johnson (Being the Memoirs of a Somewhat Irregular Lady)" but that doesn't begin to say it.

The story opens with typical Heinlein total involvement. Maureen awakes in bed with a cat and a stranger. She knows the cat, the stranger she does not. Worse, the stranger is dead. She finds herself arrested in a strange world of the worst kind of religious fundamentalists, and this gives time and space for the memoirs, which span the many years of her very long life.

The fascinating thing about this book is that it is as if Heinlein had been writing all the other books with this one in mind. Maureen emerges as the character behind all the other characters. One discovers that everybody in all the other books exists in the assumption that Maureen has existed all along. Heinlien knew she was there, but he was keeping her as a delicious secret, waiting to reveal her as the desert to the incredibly sumptuous banquet we have been devouring.

This is an adveture story like his best, to be sure. But it is also social satire, right up there with "Job" and "Stranger in a Strange Land." The wisdom about child-rearing that he first considered in "Podkayne of Mars" is extended, with some years in between to provide consideration and growth. --As the Twentieth Century ground to its uncomfortable ending, Heinlein was the first to make wide note of the significance of, and need for the return of, simple manners.

I can't remember who said it first (Lady Aster?), but it was in the Edwardian Era: "You can do anything you want, but you mustn't do it in the road and frighten the horses." Maureen Johnson could have said that, but she amplifies the meaning of it as she patiently explains to her children that truth is not as important as survival, and that love depends on both. She also knows when to call it quits in the conduct of relationships that have decayed and become dangerous; something most of us need to learn, over and over.

Of course this tale is independent of time and space, as in most of the later Heinlein novels. But it makes clear that mere independence of time and space, and great longevity, cannot eliminate danger, or responsibility. Life can be snuffed out. Life is the most precious of all commodities, each one being unique. And life is terribly involved with love, with relationships; and those commodities are almost invariably even more fragile.

Heinlein proves that the a novel can deal, novelistically, with all the eternal verities with which the so-called mainstream of writing is concerned, without sacrificing either plot or excitement. In a well-constructed book plot and character are so intertwined, so mutually dependent, that the one cannot exist without the other. A book which is all character or all plot is only half a book. And, the background against which character and plot are illuminated is, as both Cabell and Huxley pointed out, equally vital.

I think I have said it before, but I had might as well say it again. In my view, the two most important writers of the Twentieth Century were James Joyce and Robert A. Heinlein. Joyce for the way he opened to mind and heart of humanity through the stretching of limits in language, and Heinlein for the way in which his books and ideas changed the world. The significance of his body of works can only logically be compared to that of Dickens in the Nineteenth Century.

And, unlike Joyce, it is never difficult, always fun, to read Heinlein.

--Reviwed by Jon DeCles


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HOTHOUSE by Brian Aldiss


In the late 1950s the world of science fiction was in a peculiar state. The Russians putting up the first earth-orbiting artificial satellite (Sputnik) had thrown the United States into a frenzy with the realization that, for the first time, the laurel for adventure technology had gone to somebody else. It became imperative to alter the American cultural biases that had prevailed for so long and once again instill in American youth an interest in science. (Mad Scientist and Egghead jokes were on the way out. Noble Research Assistants and Aerospace Engineers were on the way in.) Science fiction, in the popular view the realm of pulp writers and monster movies, had an influx of readership and the field needed to stretch a little.

This was about the same time that the self-styled literati of the critical establishment, the hiers of the Algonquin Round Table, had effectively killed off the American short story in all but the genre magazines. Literary critics, left with nothing to cut into, were forced to turn their attention to the genres, and the new interest in science focussed their attention on science fiction.

Mind you, they simply did not have the intellectual tools to consider the form. But that didn't stop them. They criticized science fiction by 'literary' standards, generally failed to understand what they were criticizing, and moved science fiction toward respectability and academic acceptance.

This was the landscape out of which the New Wave blossomed.

British writers of science fiction had begun to work with 'literary' techniques in telling their stories. They sought to evoke direct emotional responses by means other than linear narrative, and, as their experiments lead to controversy, it seemed that a breath of fresh air had moved into the field like a storm front flowing in off the ocean.

The most important thing about the New Wave, in retrospect, was that the critics could comprehend the literary techniques of the stories and they therefore had something which they coul ˙honestly praise, thereby giving cachet to the field without the previous attitude of 'if its good it can't really be science fiction.'

Some of the Brits were flakes. Kingsley Amis, a fine writer of regular old novels, decided to write a book about science fiction ("New Maps of Hell"), but he made so many factual mistakes that the fawning praise of the critical establishment did more to damage the credibility of the critics than it did to elevate science fiction's status.

Two of the British New Wave writers stood head and shoulders above the rest, and way above the Americans who jumped on the New Wave bandwagon for a while. They were J. G. Ballard and Brian Aldiss, both of whom are still read and honored these many years after most of the New Wave has become Old Hat and forgotten. Aldiss has even become well known in filmic circles as his books, both science fiction and mainstream, are translated to the silver screen with increasingly frequency.

"Hothouse" is copyrighted 1962, and in 1987 was added to the Easton Press library of elegantly bound classics of science fiction. It is definitely the sort of book worth having in a solid, leather-bound edition with good color illustrations; but a book is not really about the binding or the pictures, it is about the pictures that happen inside your mind when you read the words.

Aldiss is past master at conjuring pictures in your mind. His foetid, vegetation dominated world of constant violence is obsessively well painted, and almost despite the 'literary' quality of his writing he brings forth that one essential quality of science fiction: the Sense of Wonder.

In today's world of 'character driven' fiction, the other two necessary elements of fiction, plot and ambience, are grossly neglected. Aldiss has infused this book with all three of those primary elements and managed, as well, to carry off Epic. His characters are not human in the sense that we understand that term, but they are close enough to engage our sympathy deeply. They are primitive, yet they engage in world wide journies and even interplanetary travel. They are quite remarkable.

It is as if Aldiss has set out to list all the mutually exclusive elements that he can, and then resolve them in a tale as rich and complex as a Breugel landscape; or perhaps a Bosche landscape would be a better comparison, for the sense of the surreal permeates this book in all the most positive manners.

"Hothouse" is, perhaps, one of the finer examples of a subgenre within science fiction; a subgenre most famously exemplified by Jack Vance's great novel, "The Dying Earth." There is a certain and terrible fascination with the end of our species and/or of our planet. We cannot help but wonder what will happen, not as the result of some disaster, natural or man-made, but simply when the clock runs down.

Aldiss' examination of a world where animals have had their time, passed it, and been replaced in divers evolutionary niches by plants, many of them viscious and carnivorous, does not bypass the poetic attraction of this situation, but does provide a vastly different perspective than that of any other writer.

I read this book under the most difficult circumstances but was nonetheless totally captivated, unable to put it down or refrain from reading passages aloud to whomever happened to be near. It deserves its place as a classic, and I recommend it without reservation.

--Reviwed by Jon DeCles

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Every once in a while a Generalist with a sense of poetry appears on the scene and instead of shuffling the same old cards in the same old deck in a near infinite series of permutations that leave out a lot of data, puts some new cards on the table, thereby forcing a change in the game. William Irwin Thompson doesn't quite rise to that level, but he does come close. The subtitle of this book, "Mythology, Sexuality, & the Origins of Culture," gives you some indication of scope of his attempt, and, had he waited another ten years to write his book, he might even have made it all the way.

The chief flaw in the book is that it was published in 1981, when the Gimbutas Paradigm was at the height of its popularity and there was still widespread belief in a sort of Matriarchal Golden Age before the Evil Patriarchy destroyed the peaceful Women's Civilization. More recent work has brought into question how much of Gimbutas' work was solid archeology and anthropology and how much was socio-politacally inspired wish-fulfillment; but Thompson, accepting the paradigm, sought to raise questions about the origens of cultural institutions and the research that dealt with them, and the result was a truly fascinating (if at times unneccesarily dense) look at many questions which were relevent then and which remain so due to their importance.

Let me hasten to note that nobody should ever discount the importance of Maria Gimbutas' work; but, like all science, it needs to be examined and re-examined constantly in the light of new materials and other approaches. Thompson suggests, among many other things, that the posited matriarchy resulted in a social stultification that was unable to evolve, and that the posited patriarchy was a necessary response in the face of that stagnation and its resultant likely extinction.

In a discussion of possible (Classical) Amazon cultures, he notes: "Sexual cultures seem to be caught in a hopeless contradiction, in that the interests of the sexes are so deeply at odds; but a society of Amazons would seem to be caught in an equal contradiction. A society of strong females would have to either import weak males to inseminate them -- and thereby select for physical weaknesses that could damage their society -- or import strong males and introduce traits that would be alien to it -- and thereby select for the extinction of their Amazon culture and the re-establishment of a bisexual one."

Thompson draws from an incredibly wide range of sources to come to his conclusions, as is to be expected from a cultural historian, but more important than his conclusions are the questions he poses: questions which open rifts in the always tidy and self-satisfied positions which Almighty Science continually presents as carved in stone, although every scientist knows better.

This is a fascinating book, and will be of particular value to anybody who has been burrowing ever deeper into one position or one outlook on any topic. To stand outside of where you have been is a peculiarly refreshing experience, and Thompson's writing is fairly unlikely to be where you have been. Think of it as a vacation, and consider that there just might be something in it which will act as a key to the knotty problems you have been trying to unravel. Random numbers often generate the most satisfactory results, and this author offers a lot of ideas that spin off in directions you may not have thought to exist.

--Reviewed by Pyrokanthos

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The Time Falling Bodies Take to Light :...


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THE NEW FIT OR FAT by Covert Bailey


Ok, so I have been putting on some avoirdupois and I don't like it. Other people don't see me as fat, but I do.

My definition of 'fat' is when you have to buy new clothes because you can't fit into the old ones. In my case this is serious business, because you can't just run out and buy a new Elizabethan doublet at WalMart. And besides, I am not a Slave of Fashion.

Fashion is the opposite of Style. Fashion is when you want to wear what everyone else is wearing. Style is when everyone else wants to wear what you are wearing.

If you bought something last year and you can't stand to be seen in it this year, then you are likely a Slave of Fashion. Take an esthetic cathartic and learn to wear what you think makes you look good, rather than current.

But meanwhile, back at my waist: Covert Bailey makes clear, in this book, what we all instinctively know, deep down inside. Diets don't work. They can be helpful, but the only thing that burns the rubber in that spare tire is exercise.

But this book doesn't extoll to you the benefits of particular exercises, the virtues of personal trainers, or all that stuff; it talks about muscle chemistry and how the body uses the material that it takes in. It gives you an understanding of the physical mechanisms at work within the broader context of your body's operation; and what general sorts of activities are required to make the body function the way you want it to.

Let me add to Mr. Bailey's thesis some additional information.

Research shows that exercise in not only the cheapest, but the most effective antidote to that miserable depression that hits you in adolescence and returns in old age with a vengeance. Forget those expensive drugs, take a hike and you will be surprised how fast that rotten feeling goes away.

Research also shows that humans, both men and women, are at their most erotically charged, not after a good meal but after working out at the gym.

Bailey lays out the knowledge you need to make the small changes in your life that will get rid of excess weight and also make you feel better; both in specific and in general. I can add to his thesis the surprising datum that working out (in any way) tends to make the body warmer and more comfortable, but also decreases the appetite!

Yeah, that's right. When you work out you start using what you eat, and that means you don't want to eat as much. Rather than starving and pining away (as you would on a diet), you just slowly stop eating as much over the long haul.

Now here's the bad part: no matter how good the instructions,they won't work if you don't follow them.

But the good part is: they do work. When I follow Bailey's outlines (for me that means swimming three times a week) all the good stuff happens. My weight starts moving down, my muscle mass starts hardening and looking good, and I feel great. Even when I slough off and miss my swimming (enough so that the weight creeps up a little) just doing one day restores my sense of well being and makes me feel good about life.

Swimming is what I like to do, what can keep my attention. Other people like other things. My younger son is bored by swimming but he likes lifting weights and bicycling. Bailey doesn't specify what you ought to do, he just gives you a profile of effects to aim for. Once you have the rhythm of what you need to do, you will internalize it and your behavior will modify.

And frankly, the endorphons just feel good.

I have tried a lot of ways to keep my weight down over the years, and all of them have had some temporary effect, but this seems to be the only one that leaves the program running in the background and which gives me long-term results.

I can't guarantee that it will make you look good in your bikini/Speedos, but I can say that it will make you feel good and reduce your bills for comfort foods; if you follow the instructions even marginally.

--Reviewed by Jon DeCles


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The Ultimate Fit or Fat : Get in Shape...


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By Herakles! There ought to be a law against people who write with this kind of smug satisfaction and condescension, and who then have the temerity to back up their smugness with a book fully one third footnotes; and with footnotes on the smeggin' footnotes! What he has to say is interesting enough, but alas, the information content is well buried in the bullshit of scholarship. He is not nearly so interested in analysing his subject as he is in analysing his technique of analysing his subject. An awful lot of the scholarly putting down of rival scholars, and that kind of garbage. Still, there were hints of information here and there: the suggestion that Hera was tribal Goddess of the Dorians, with reference to a paper on the subject by another writer. A reference to the song of the Eiresione, and the statement that it was the altar of Apollon Delphinious on which the Eiresione was placed. This sort of detail is useful, and with the bibleography one can at least determine that somebody, somewhere, in some language, memtioned it at least once. He also discusses (for about one line) the Cretan puberty rite, which opens doors of inquiry; at least there is some reference, somewhere, to the details of it. At least most of his writing is done with good grammer and a degree of clarity. I am glad to Have Read it.

Reviewed by Pyrokanthos

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Structure and History in Greek Mythology...

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IRON JOHN by Robert Bly.


This book achieved huge bestseller status, possibly because Bly is from Harvard and so are the critics. That is not to dismiss Bly as unimportant; I pay tribute to his work in my own book on the subject. And, at a time when American men are so emasculated as to not dare whimper their needs, Bly has done a very great service with his lectures and workshops. Bly is important, and I believe that of all the big names in the Men's Movement, he is the most important. But his book is not his workshop, and his prose is not his poetry. "Iron John" is full of holes, badly overwritten, and in many ways nearly unreadable. Bly the poet shines through in wonderful passages of evocation. Bly the initiator falls way short.

He is totally dependent on a single story from the Brothers Grimm, and I am told by those who speak the language that the translation from the German leaves a great deal to be desired in accuracy. That should not be relevent, because he is making his own translation and using the tale as myth. But the myth he sets forth is cumbersome, complex, and much too specific to be a universal paradigm for initiation into manhood. What he offers is something more like the Seven Ages of Man; and the Man he is offering is himself, his own problems set forth as universal.

I know that we all do that. No doubt my own life has influenced my work far too much. But I have made an effort to step outside, to find out what might be universal and of use to the many; and Bly has not. He has assumed that his journey is Everyman's journey; and he has then presented it in a fragmented, unclear, far from ceremonial format. He talks about a faery tale and assumes that hearing about it is the same as being initiated.

What is greatly important about Bly's work is that he has made a pathway into unknown territory for older men; men disenfranchised by a society which is culturally dominated by the female as surely as it has been politcally dominated by the male. He has given those men an opportunity to recognize value in their own male consciousness, given them a forum for re-evaluation of their sense of self-worth, not predicated on feminist principals. For this I thank him greatly. I only fear that men who have need of this material will stop at the first steps to which he has brought them and go no further. That being able to talk to their fathers will be enough; that they will not take the logical next step and talk to their sons.

A good book, an important book, but a book vastly over rated.

Reviewed by Pyrokanthos

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Iron John : A Book About Men

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GREEK DRESS by E. B. Abrahams.


I first saw this book in L.A. at Mythcon, I think it was. It was pretty expensive, $48, and it was in the hands of a bookstore in Las Vegas. When I played 'Vegas the next year I found the store and bought it, and I am very pleased that I did. Ms. Abrahams was a scholar at the turn of the century who had the very sensible idea (not unfamiliar to us in Greyhaven) of reconstructing the Ancient Greek costume of divers periods in order to better understand it. Nowhere else have I found plates showing fabrics from actual Greek tombs, or a discussion of the various fabrics. Although one may question a conclusion here and there, Ms, Abrahams is the most thorough and competant scholar of the period (both the Greek period and her own) whom I have yet encountered. There are many little things that I have struggled with through trial and error which she sets straight right off. I don't know of any work which has been done since which is as valuable. It is a shame to think that she was a contemporary of Jane Harrison, that they might even have met, and that Harrison did not learn from this fine woman's work!

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This was first issued in 1958 and the copy I have was printed in 1975, but it should still be in print. Much has happened in scholarship since it was written, but that does not diminish its value, so long as one knows what may (or may not) have changed since then.

The main value I found in this book was a confirmation of the work I have been doing and an exegesis of things that happened to me in my youth. I discover that the initiatory materials with which I have been working, and in which some of my readers may have participated, are universal; not merely Western European. Further, that my reticence with regard to certain parts of the ritual was over-cautious. In short, my instincts were good where my scholarship was wanting.

It damn near gives me the creeps! But then, this book explains to me that time I spent up in the top of a tree when I was about 19, swaying back and forth in the wind and frightening my brother and having my consciousness altered by... Well, by a spontaneous shamanic initiation, to be blunt about it. Now fancy that! A kind of scholarly proof, for my benefit, that I actually know what I am doing.

--It also fills in the blanks with regard to where we are going with the work we are doing; what things are missing, what we may add, specifically what we could add but probably won't. A real neat book!

It has its flaws, but mostly toward the end. Well, hold that: Professor Eliade discusses Women's Mysteries interestingly enough, but blunders massively when he assumes that a women's horse mystery must be derived from a male warrior mystery. Clearly the professor never knew any teen-aged girls, nor never observed the straightforward relationship between women and horses that pervades even our somewhat sterile society.

The major problem with the book comes at the end (as I started to say above) when Eliade discusses Christianity. As the scholarly world at the time of the writing was enthralled with the Dead Sea Scrolls, and as the Nag Hamadi find had not yet been assembled and deciphered, the predominant view of early Christianity presented is not only Essene (but bereft of the later discoveries about Essene culture), but typically post-Roman Paulian, discounting all Gnostic thought as irrelevant. The author is thus revealed as a committed post-Roman Paulian, especially when he speaks of the "complete triumph of Christianity." --I think we are here as more than ample proof that such a 'triumph' never took place, not even in the Paulian manner.

Eliade makes clear that all initiatory experiences have the same pattern regardless of their content. There seems to be a variation between hunting and agricultural societies as to whether this pattern contains a death and rebirth scenario or a return to the womb scenario, but I would tend to question, given the consistent recapitulation of primal chaos (or homologization of the present sacred space/time continuum with that of the primal state), whether that distinction has any ritual meaning. Whether one is symbolically dying and thus returning to the state of existence in which the Gods first formed the cosmos in order to be reborn as a new person, or whether one is symbolically returning to the un-fetalized state of sperm or egg in order to reach that state, and thus be re-born, only has mythic significance in terms of the individual tribal mythology. The experience itself, in short the Mystery, is homologous across the board. And, as Professor Eliade points out, the pattern, the scenario, is repeated in each and every initiatory experience, thus verifying its valuation to all mythos.

Did I really say that? Whew!

It also clarifies what happened at the infamous Harbin ritual, and thus saddens me. Given the information in Eliade's book, it becomes apparent that none of those men who turned back had ever undergone a genuine initiatory experience: otherwise they should and would have recognized the experience for what it was from the subjective reality of the patterning, and gone all the way. Is it possible there are so many people indulging themselves at the surface when there are so many depths to plumb?

Reviewed by Pyrokanthos

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Rites and Symbols of Initiation : The...

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HESIOD translated by Richmond Lattimore.


This book contains all three of the Hesiod poems, and it is amazing how much difference it makes to have a good translator, with a sense of poetry. Next to this I read the "Theogony" as translated by Norman O. Brown, and... Well, it was the difference between Shakespear and the phone book. Not much difference in the words, actually, but somehow Lattimore makes them sing. The "Works and Days" was the big surprise for me. It is so different from the "Theogony;" and so immediate. Such a practical, common sense work that one wants to hand it to everybody. The "Theogony" is, of course, basic to the Hellenic religion, and quite a wonderful and sweeping work. What is amazing is to think how many names and personages are mentioned about whom we have no legends, no stories, no myths. Most scholars assume poetic necessity in filling a line or some such; but it seems to me that we have just lost a lot of data over the years. And, what we have of the "Shield of Herakles" only makes me long for a time machine, so that I could know the rest. Oh well, I am sure it is in Kinneson's library.

Reviewed by Pyrokanthos

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Hesiod : The Works and Days, Theogony,...

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GREEK LYRICS translated by Richmond Lattimore.


Once again the wonderful Lattimore transcends the language barrier and gives us such a fresh feeling in these works that they might have been written yesterday. I kept thinking that I would like to set so many of them to music, and then realizing that the modern musical idioms were inadequate, and that to do it I would have to devote myself for a good while to studying ancient theory. It would be hard to pick favorites out of this collection. Just dipping into it one is captured, captivated, held spell-bound by the magic of words that transcend not only years but languages. I think we will proclaim Lattimore a Hero, since the Hellenic religion doesn't have saints.

Reviewed by Pyrokanthos

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Greek Lyrics

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This book may be the most important thing I have read in the last few years because it was my primary source for Greek sports practices. Prof. Miller is the man in charge of excavating Nemea, where he revivied the NemeanGames, at the site, in '96.

The wonderful thing about this book is that it is not a scholar telling us about things, but rather, excerpts from ancient sources telling us about those things. As such it is informative and very human, right down to the jokes and allusions. There is far more feeling of the ancient world here than in any number of self-important scholarly works (are you listening, Burkert?) and a genuine sense of how important the feelings of those long dead people are to our modern world. While to most people this book would be pretty esotetic, to us Hellenes it is a breath of fresh air in a very stale and static environment. I wish I had the bucks for Dr. Miller's big, illustrated, book about the archeology of Nemea.

Reviewed by Pyrokanthos

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Arete : Greek Sports from Ancient Sources

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This is surely the most glorious exhibition cataloque ever prepared. In fact, it is so well done that one can miss the fact that it is an exhibition catalogue, prepared for very specific exhibition of ancient Greek ceramics; an exhibit of the Pananthenaian jars, held at two eastern universities.

The wonderful thing which the editor, Jenifer Neils, has done is to assemble a book which illustrates the exhibition and then adds to it a series of essays which put the exhibet into perspective. Too often an exhibet catalogue assumes a great deal of knowledge about the subject, or simply tells one what the objects are: this book gives background, attempts to interpret, gives a sense of the cultural matrix of the things pictured. While there is a certain amount that is downright silly in the scholarship (because the scholars are such specialists that they can't see the vases for their noses) most of it is informative and very, very useful. Far from being too specialized to interest the general reader, this book could act as a fine introduction to ancient Greek culture. It is lively, well written throughout, and beautiful to behold; as well as backed by intelligent scholarship.

The essay on Athenian weaving technology is especially interesting. The profuse illustrations make one wish to start potting and painting right away.

Reviewed by Pyrokanthos

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Goddess and Polis : The Panathenaic...

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This is a very good book for our purposes, though it does have its faults. Perhaps its greatest significance is that it attempts to address the Gods from a position unique among scholars up to the time of its writing, namely from a position of assuming the reality of the Gods.

In his introduction Otto goes to great lengths to set forth, in opposition to prevailing pragmatist theories, the idea that cultus practice does not, and could not have, grown from primitive and practical purposes stemming from everyday needs. Rather, he suggests, cultus practice celebrates and attempts to rekindle the numinous as experienced in some extraordinary and original event. In short, that cultus celebrates the festal moment and attempts to preserve it as gateway to the numinous. This makes Otto's introduction (which is a big chunk of the book) the most important part of the work, at least from this reader's point of view.

Otto falters not out of excellence of his scholarship but out of his cultural matrix. His view of the Dionysian religion is conditioned by a Victorian view of spirituality. He rejects Jane Harrison's Episcopalian assumptions about what is and is not true religion, and is willing to accept Dionysos as a God, but he is still looking through modern pseudo-Christian glasses, and sees the process of salvation through suffering at work where perhaps it is not. He really stumbles when he is forced to look at the role of the Maenads in Dionysian religion, for he finds it impossible to throw off Victorian and post Victorian ideas about female sexuality; and his Maenads become 'nurses' to the God, chaste and non-sexual. We must forgive him, and take pity, because he lived in times that truly believed women to have practically no sex drive and a very low level of desire. (One must remember that in the 1950s it was estimated that only 1 out of 50 American wives had ever experienced an orgasm. Such is the power of belief engendered by the cultural matrix!) At this point his theorizing concerning actual practice is so crippled by basic misinformation that much must be discounted, even as is the case with Jane Harrison.

However, I can and do recommend this book, with the above mentioned caveats, simply because Otto is one of the few scholars on the subject to make the all important assumption of the reality of the Gods, and not treat Them in terms of a superceding popular theology.

Reviewed by Pyrokanthos

Reprinted from The Serpentine Leopard, Issue #7, Volume #2

In the Spirit of the Divine Maddness, Amazon offers this book for $2.98, or Used for $28.46. I am guessing this is Hardback. To purchase it, click on the link below.

Dionysus, Myth and Cult.

Amazon also offers it in Paperback at a more Intelligible Price. To Purchase the Paperback, Click on the Link Below.

Dionysus : Myth and Cult

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APOLLO by Karl Kerenyi


Kerenyi is a scholar who occassionally falls prey to the Everything Is Really a Goddess cult, but for the most part I think I can dignify him as the best scholar of the Twentieth Century on the subject of Ancient Greek Religion. He doesn't have all the answers, but he has more of them than anybody else. The book at hand is a monograph drawn from some earlier works, notably his "Apollon & Niobe," but I am not sure that work is available in English so you had might as well get this one.

It is less than 100 pages, but there isn't anything really stupid in it so it is worth the price.

While we are accustomed to reading about the bright Apollon, the God of gold and the Sun and brightness, Kerenyi here delves into the dark side, that Apollon who appears first in the Iliad and who also stalks across the stage in Euripides. This is the Apollon who slays the serpent and who yet is symbolized by serpents, whose temple possibly kept oracular serpents. This is the Apollon of the wild epiphanies of the prophetess, the walker along the hilltops, the bringer of plagues and the slayer from afar. This is the Apollon to whom is sacred the swan, but also the crow, the raven, and perhaps most significantly, the wolf. Second in importance only to Zeus, this Apollon is not just a pretty face.

Most interesting (for our purposes) is Kerenyi's discussion of ritual. He quotes and analyzes the Calymachus hymn, the nature of Paian, and the nature of spirit in terms not only of Apollonic cult practice, but in its equation to the epiphanies of other religious experience. His equation of the epiphanies of the prophestess with that experienced by the Aposltes after the Crucifixion, and that of many other times and traditions, is pretty heady stuff, and most useful when one is trying to explain what it is we are doing to the Infidels. (Er, that is, in explaining to the Infidels what is it that we are doing...) His identification of Sokrates as a devotee of Apollon, and the significance of this in relation to Pythagorean belief regarding immortality, is first rate thinking, something to make you really sit up and get giddy.

Kerenyi works from many sources and his identification of these sources provides a map with which one may continue to explore. He is not trying to make changes in our consciousness or convert us to his system of belief, yet the very nature of his writing style cannot help but have such an effect. His native language was Hungarian, a very unusual language with ways of thinking not at all congruent to most of European linguistic concepts. The result, even in translation, even when translataed sometimes through other languages, is a prose style that I can only compare to the Floating World linguistics of the Japanese. You may find yourself going back over a sentence several times to try and understand it, or even going back through paragraphs. --No mind, it is appropriate that you do so, for the style itself prooduces certain flashes of revelation about the subject matter. One does not need to agree or disagree in order to experienice these flashes, only only has them. From there on, they are one's property, to be personally used and interpreted. That is perhaps half the fun of philosophy, and certainly a great deal of the content of a mytholegem.

In short, this is, I think, the first book I can recommend to you whole-heartedly. It is short, well thought-out, inspiring, and as far as I can tell, pretty damned accurate as far as it goes.

There is a short afterward by the translater, but it is kind of like falling into a pool of blanc mange after reading Kerenyi, even in translation. What Kerenyi says is more important than what Kerenyi says, and Mr. Solomon, the translator, doesn't quite understand that.

Do I? Do you? I guess we are back to the realm of Mystery, aren't we?

Reviewed by Pyrokanthos

Reprinted from The Serpentine Leopard, Issue #8, Volume #1


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Apollo : The Wind, the Spirit, and the...

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This is a book that really sent me up the wall for several months.


Ms. Harrison's scholarship is wide reaching and she certainly includes a great deal of information in her book of 1903 (which was recommended to me by Z. Budapest); for which fact the book is valuable. Alas, she is of that breed of scholar who is determined to prove a point, a thesis, regardless of reality. Here, in this period of scholarship, we see the bald assumptions set forth that will lay the groundwork for the later principalls of Feminist Neopaganism, and it is both sad and shocking to osee them thus presented. Ms. Harrison assumes a Great Age of Matriarchy without ever once presenting any evidence for it, then reasons constantly from this presumption. That, in itself, might be all right. After all, one does not set out Newton's Laws whenever one writes about gravity; and her assumption was widely held in the period in which she was writing.

But Ms. Harrison goes much further. At one point she tells us, right out, that if her interpretation of a particular datum is incorrect then her whole thesis must be wrong, and therefore her interpretation must be correct. Pretty seedy thinking, pretty seedy scholarship, I must say!

More interesting in the light of our work, however, is Ms. Harrison's betrayal of a viirtually total cultural misandrony. Whenever women are going off to orgies (she presumes) it is because the men are powerless to stop them from accomplishing their ancient Goddess rites. Why the men should want to top them is a question she never asks, so convinced is she of the existence of the Evil Patriarchy (which she believes to be inevitable). Nor does she examine too closely what such an orgy might constitute. throughout the book she seems to feel that free sex was not a part of the orgies (and let us ignore, for the moment, her ignorance of the difference between orgy and agape), so I am not sure what it was that she thinks the men were powerless to forbid. However, she does seem to feel that it is all right for women to have sex if they want to. (How shocking, for 1903!)

Not so the men! While women are presented in terms of their powerful and beautiful fecund energies, dancing with wild abandon in matriarchal free love (!), when we see the males with erections on vases she describes the energy as "males looking upon the women with evil intent." Somehow it is all right for women to indulge in free love, somehow for men to have sexual desire is evil.

Ms. Harrison, being a Victorian, is obsessed with ghosts, and thus she builds much of her case on the idea that the Greeks, too, were obsessed with ghosts. Her analysis of the Anthesteria misses entirely the point of honoring the ancestors, a practice so congruent with that of other cultures that you could practically lift the ritual out of Ancient Greece and drop it in Japan today without anybody noticing. That parts of this festival have been subsumed into moderen Greek Christian pracatice totally passes her by, and therefore she simply doesn't connect the parts. Besides, if she were to look at those facts it would throw her whole thesis out the window; as stated above. Hell, she can't even figure out the relationship of snakes and tombs and spirits! If you have not lived out your life in an Oxford ivory tower, you might know that snakes like to sun themselves on stones, like perhaps the tops of tombs (big sealed ceramic jars that stick up out of the ground, in this iconic case) and that if disturbed they may bite you. A mourner going to make offerings at a tomb (the way people offer flowers these days) may readily assume an angry spirit if a snake pops up from Uncle Myron's gravetop and bites him. Not a difficult connection to make if you have not got your head up your academic...

But anyway, despite the infuriating theses the book is full of interesting details, even if most of the conclusions are full of hot Victorian air. I am grateful to Z. Budapest for recommending it. The overall recommendation I have with regard to it is: treat it the way your would trad a book by Alistair Crowley. To be used only by a master well along the path. To be taken literally only at risk.


Reviewed by Pyrokanthos

Reprinted from The Serpentine Leopard, Issue #10, Volume #1

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Prolegomena to the Study of Greek...

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 The Homeric Hymns, Translated by Apostolos N. Athanassakis


One book we recommend without reservation is the Apostolos N. Athanassakis translation of the Homeric Hymns. It doesn't need a review: it sings! The words come out of your mouth with the greatest and most natural ease, which is really, really important in ritual. If you have nothing else in your dromena library, get this one.

Endorsed by Pyrokanthos


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Greek Cooking for the Gods, by Eva Zane


Another Book we recommend without reserve is the one Cook Book we found by accident in a used book store and which has been recommended to us over and over again, and which has been prominently displayed behind the counter of every Greek Goods store we have ever visited. We haven't cooked everything in it, but everything we have cooked has been delicious! The recipe for Fassolata is the tastiest of the many I have collected.

Reviewed, Tested, and Endorsed by Pyrokanthos


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Nobody can Review The Big Sleep. To attempt it would be as audacious as attempting to review The Lord of the Rings, or Hamlet. You just need to read it. It is the best in class, plain and simple. If, however, you have not been pursuaded to do so, there is an interesting story about it in my review of Trouble Is My Business. To read that review, click here: then return here and


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