Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Review: Lord of Light, Roger Zelazny

Recently, I've had a block about reading anything longer than a magazine. This is highly unusual for me - given that my whole life has been defined, pretty much, by books.

Only an oral history of 70's punk has slipped through in the last month, and given that this mainly consisted of bitchy anecdotes about Tom Verlaine, I'm not sure this really counts.

So, in mild desperation, I've gone back to the old school to hit the classic SF and fantasy works on my shelves (note plurality of books and shelves), returning to my gateway drug.

Lord of Light takes up Arthur C Clarke's maxim that any sufficiently advanced science is indistinguishable from magic. It runs with it all the way to a colony world in the distant future, where those who have the technology have set themselves up as gods mimicking the Hindu pantheon to 'guide' the medieval majority. As is traditional in myth and science fiction, one man challenges the status quo and takes on the Promethean role of bringing science to the masses.

Yes, there are climactic battles, yes, sh*t is blown up in Bay-vian proportions. But what makes Lord of Light (LoL? LOL!) interesting is that the most potent action the hero takes is to counter the hierarchical, false Hinduism of his adversaries by taking on the role of Buddha. A faith with strong egalitarian and atheistic tendencies, Buddhism acts in LoL as prerequisite and smokescreen for reintroducing scientific curiosity.

Zelazny's sincere engagement with both religions gives the novel a curiously philosophical quality, where a character's attitude towards death and reincarnation is given as much air time as his actions. At several points, the main characters stop for some serious sermonising and chin-stroking and it's a tribute to the quality of the writing that these serve to enhance the power and atmosphere of the story rather than quicksanding it.

The climactic battle, on the other hand,, is over in less than less than four pages. Zelazny, you are the anti-Gemmell.
But it's the writing, with its rich characterisation and elegant detours into a remixed Indian culture,
which helps to rescue LoL from merely being Orientalism at play. While this is still a potential major weak-point in the novel, by hinting at the white origins of the so-called gods
artificially recreating medieval India, it arguably includes its own self-critique.

And for those less inclined to read between the lines, the only overtly white character is a crypto-fascist (thanks, Lister) necromantic Christian evangelist!

More clearly on the debit side, the main female characters are, respectively, a praying mantis and a passive victim. And before starting, you have to acknowledge that Z's take on Hinduism has everything to do with the myths and nothing to do with contemporary spiritual practice.

Lord of Light isn't an important book, or a great one, for all that it won a Hugo back in its day.('71). But it's still an extremely good planetary romance with frequent chin-stroking and occasional flurries of action.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Best of the blogs

Polemic of the week - Wind of change

Fascinating reading from pro-wind campaigner Aeolius in Worcestershire who's had to face particularly vociferous opposition locally, it seems. Not sure about his use of the term mentalist, but otherwise boldly goes forth and meets the anti crowd on their own terms.

Common sense widget of the week - Fix Before The Freeze from polihackers (i.e. they use IT to create short cuts through the political undergrowth) My Society.

Winter is coming, and not in a Sean Bean kinda sense.

"You may already be aware of our website FixMyStreet.com, which helps you report common street problems – such as potholes and uneven pavements – to the relevant local council. This year, we thought we’d give people a gentle nudge before winter comes.

Many of the 1,000 issues which the site deals with every week are of the sort which are far better seen to before the big freeze. Potholes only worsen with the frost, and no-one wants a dodgy streetlight once the long dark nights are here."

Common sense made easy - especially for those of us with impractical shoes.

Geek out of the week - Monsters & Mullets

Because what you really want are detailed assessments of Willow, Krull and Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves from a 21st century perspective. And a deconstruction of the sexual politics of Flash Gordon.

Don't be put off by the fact that this feature operates out of a blog called Pornokitsch - it's generally SFW. Except the review of Caligula, but I'm not sure if a SFW review of Caligula would be possible without the universe imploding.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Game outline - The End of History - players sought

The storytelling bug has hit me again, so I'm going to be running a small role-playing game for the first time in at least five years, using the Aberrant superhero rules and universe to run something closer in spirit to The X-Files and Watchmen, with a sprinkle of Bourne.

3 or 4 players sought - no experience needed - so just apply to me. :-)

Here's my three paragraph teaser for The End of History (a Fukuyama quote, not a promise of armageddon).

1989 - Eastern Europe is crumbling into revolution. Uncertain times for cold war warriors, four-star generals and CIA stringers.

Uneasy times too for the human element of the arms race, those hyper-rare caped champions of communism and capitalism, totems of patriotism and struggle.

But not for your agency. The human and posthuman agents of The Directive know that glasnost has opened up plenty of Eastern Bloc messes to clear up from the shadows. Soviet wierd science; the supernatural; renegade Stasi agents with powers and hidden agendas.

Never mind the our work-is-never-done investigation, regulation and occasional regulation with extreme prejudice of the Powered in the West.

Whether your character volunteered or was given one of The Directive's infamous 'join us or go to Area 51' ultimatums, it's time to see those uneasy, interesting times for yourself.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Feminist Ryan Gosling wins the internet.

Hey girl. It's hard for me to reify Beauvoir's theory of the lost female genius when I'm around you.

More pics juxtaposing feminist philosophy and Gozer looking soulful at http://feministryangosling.tumblr.com/

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

A final piece of wisdom from The Event

From the Lombard Method exhibition, a piece of philosophy I can get behind.

Who's for continuing adventures?

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Occupational Hazards - Birmingham Occupation under threat

The blog of Occupy Birmingham brings distressing news - the City Council issued a notice to vacate just before the weekend.

No news on the blog yet as to what response the camp have reached, or possible solidarity action.

Supplies needed as of 26 October – gas for cooking, pasta, rice, fresh veg, fresh fruit, cheese, tuna & bread.

Latest video here - the first half is a quick summary of what's going on, the second half is personal testimony - oral history being made?

I went to The Event and all they gave me was a toffee hammer

Here is a photo-report from The Event, the annual collaborative art festival in a 1,000 temporary and permanent exhibition spaces around Digbeth.

During The Event over the past fortnight the area temporarily became so hip, when I checked into my local cafe on Foursquare someone else was actually there.

First - Guerilla Gastronomy - a mysterious box found to contain ...

... all the necessary ingredients for strawberries and cream with meringue. Note safety goggles - only try Guerilla Gastronomy under Art Supervision.

Thanks to Art, I am now also the proud owner of a meringue-smashin' toffee hammer; another life victory realised.

Here are my faves from the rest of the art tour I undertook with my esteemed colleague - at least those of which I could take a half decent photograph.

A most excellent piece of art (Ben Rowe/Laura Skinner)

Retro on several levels

Stephen Cornford's wall of vintage tape-recorders making like a steam train (if they'd have made the tuneful crackle of a Spectrum game loading then it'd be some kind of creepy nostalgia trap and I've have never left)

And finally

For those who wondered what Birmingham Central Library will look after The Apocalypse, we now have an answer. James Fowkes, your diorama could only be more awesome if you had monkeys or zombies in it. Or zombie monkeys.