Tuesday, February 28, 2017

The Doll-Master by Joyce Carol Oates *****

The Doll-Master by Joyce Carol Oates is a collection of horror stories for the 21st century. It opens and closes with more classical stories in the tradition of Poe, frighteningly evil characters with minimal affect, empathy, or conscience. However, between those two stories are a contemporary quartet of stories.

The first two are about guns and the after-effects of shootings. Oates' writing is so strong that even when the titles, "Solider" and "Gun Accident," might be considered spoilers, the impact is not reduced. The theme here is the pain and terror of the survivors, two very different shooters with two very different responses. Both are equally horrible.

The final two stories are about victimized women, actually a woman and a girl. Here again, the terror is real and long lasting. The author magnifies the impact with unresolved endings, so the reader is forced to continue to think about the story afterward.

If you haven't read anything by Joyce Carol Oates, you are missing one of the great living authors. This is a good place to start.

When writing about women, the author includes two themes.

The first is the control men exert over women, as a subtle, psychological power.
"Rarely was the wife able to withstand the husband's wishes."
The second is the fantasy women have prevents them from acting in their best interests.
"And he was her protector. He would not want anything to happen to her, surely?"
While one might wish that these themes were not applicable in the 21st century, these stories are too real and well-written to support that fantasy any more than the dangerous fantasies of the women in the stories.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

The Great Cat of R'a by Robert Muller *****

The Great Cat of R'a by Robert Muller is a wonderful alternate history set on the San Francisco peninsula in the current time, but the city is called Menmenet and it is part of the Ta'an-Imenty Republic (a country on the western side of North America), part of the new world empire of Kemet (Egypt).

This is a novel that combines Egyptian influences (different god, stick and bow combat, and language) with contemporary technology, Rusian mobsters, and money laundering. Come for the culture and stay for the mystery.

Highly recommended.

On another note, the design of the book is extraordinary. Here is an entire blog post inspired by the book. https://shannonentropyequalszero.wordpress.com/2017/02/22/publishing-progress-or-not-publishing-history-writing/

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

The Aegean Bronze Age edited by Cynthia Shelmerdine *****

Not for the casual reader. The Cambridge University Press offers this "Cambridge Companion," about 500 pages of independently written articles by authors with extensive academic credentials. As might be expected in an academic publication, there are plenty of maps, drawings, photographs, notes, bibliographies, and index entries. I imagine this book is assigned for a graduate archeology class.

Given that caveat, The Aegean Bronze Age edited by Cynthia Shelmerdine provides excellent background and detail on the Aegean Bronze Age. If that title is not clear or interesting, this book is not for you. This is not the introduction to anything. This is the graduate course. If you want the that, you've found it and at a bargain price (for a college text).

Some of my notes:

Over the years, the Minoan palaces have been characterized as centers of production and redistributions, but the latest research suggests that they were more centers of consumption. Note that this dichotomy is independent of the palace/political/king versus temple/goddess/priestesses dichotomy. Neither dichotomy has an established answer.

The initial settlement of Knossos goes back to the fifth century BCE. Note that the Knossos currently on exhibit is from the new palace era or the second century BCE.

Crete had few mineral resources. Of the precious metals, silver likely came from the area around Athens, and gold came from Egypt. Semiprecious stones were imported Greece, Egypt, Mesopotamia, and all points in between. These included colored marble, colored lapis, amethyst, hematite, carnelian, and rock crystal.

"Traces of lightly incised guidelines on blocks suggest the oversight of a trained architect or work from actual architectural plans."

Mount Ida gets its name from the original Minoan.

The unit of liquid seemed to be 28-30 liters, with 32 units held by a large pithoi for storage. The unit of weight (the Minoan talent) was about 29 kilograms. The fascinating thing about this is that the standard liquid measure, when filled with water, weighed the same as the standard weight measure. Today this is true of liters and kilograms but was not established until the end of the 18th century, over 3,000 years after the Minoans.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Minoans by Rodney Castleden *****

Since Arthur Evans discovered Knossos on Crete, the Minoans civilization has been a source of wonder and mystery. The defining, or undefining, feature of the Minoan civilization is Linear A. Linear A is the unknown and undeciphered language used by the Minoans. Bronze age languages are often undeciphered, including examples from China and India. Bronze age writing from Egypt and Mesopotamia has been deciphered.

Since there is effectively no written record, archeologists have been free to interpret the evidence as they wish. This is a tradition by Arthur Evans himself with his creative reconstruction of Knossos Palace. Minoans by Rodney Castleden recasts the record interpreting the palaces as temples. Minoan Kingship recasts the record with kings in charge when others have seen a matriarchy.

In addition to his creative interpretations, Castleden provides the best catalog of evidence. The subtitle of Life in Bronze Age Crete is well deserved. If you were to read just a single book about the Minoans, this is the one.

That said, the reader looking for hard facts is often dismayed by the expansive conjectures.

After suggesting that a pair of holes in a bell-shaped object represents either eyes or nipples, conflicting evidence presented. "Several of the objects have four eyes or nipples, instead of the expected two." Rather than allowing that the original interpretation might be wrong, this explanation is offered, "there is probably some additional layer of meaning that has yet to be penetrated."

In Minoan frescos, women and men usually have different color skin - men red and women white. When a woman is found with red skin, the following complicated explanation is proffered.
"This suggests that there was a subordinate caste of priests who were transvestite, who became nominal priestesses...they were probably eunuchs."
Minoan trivia:

The Minoans' main cloth fiber was wool.

The word sandal might be of Minoan origin.

The Minoans had many kinds of jewelry: hairpins, earrings, armbands, bracelets, anklets, collars, and necklaces.

Their oxen were given simple descriptive names...Balck, Dapple, White Nozzle, or Red Rump.

The bull from the bull games might have been domestic.

Spices included: coriander, cumin, fennel, sesame, celery, mint, cress, and safflower. Also pistachio nuts were very popular. Olives and grapes were cultivated in large quantities. Grains were wheat and barley.

The word coriander might also be of Minoan origin.

Tin had to be imported to make bronze.

Seals might have been signature stamps, identity tags, or credit cards. They came in many shapes and were worn around the neck or wrist.

The Minoans had magnifying glasses.

Tuna were available in the spring and fall.

Ships were dragged to the beach when there was no harbor available. An average ship might have 15 rowers on each side.

Minoans had some amber which they probably got from England.

Potidas is the Minoan precursor of Poseidon.