I have mentioned in reviews of modern adaptations of Medea that she is one of my favorite mythological characters. Her story in the hands of various a...moreI have mentioned in reviews of modern adaptations of Medea that she is one of my favorite mythological characters. Her story in the hands of various authors is endlessly fascinating to me. It’s a tale that touches on themes of love and hate, obsession, faith and loyalty, and in its most profound reading reflects human beings in their most complex nature. Up to now, my favorite translation has been Frederic Prokosch’s, written in 1947 and which I have in a collection of Greek plays edited by Dudley Fitts. When I read it, I thought it read easily, with an energy I had found lacking in others. With Robin Robertson’s Medea, I have a new favorite, though I would still recommend Prokosch’s. Robertson’s interpretation is even crisper, more energetic and more lyrical than Prokosch’s, and made me appreciate Euripides’ subtlety more than ever before. (view spoiler)[(Note: I’ve yet to read Carl Müller’s version. I liked his versions of Prometheus Bound and Herakles. He tends to be more prosy than poetic so I have a feeling it’ll read more like Prokosch than Robertson.) (hide spoiler)] Below is a brief example of the differences I’m getting at. It’s the tutor’s observation to the nurse about Jason’s actions and human nature. The first is Robertson’s take, then Prokosch’s, then the Loeb Classical Library’s version:
What mortal man is not guilty? A new woman in the bed leaves no room for anyone else. He has forgotten everything, including his boys. Has it dawned on you that we’re each of us human: we put ourselves above all others.
And which of us has not done the same? Haven’t you learned long ago, my dear, how each man loves himself far more than his neighbor? Some, perhaps, from honest motives; some for private gain. So you see how Jason deserts his children for the pleasure of his new bride.
As what mortal is not? Because of his new bride, the father does not love these boys: are you only now learning that each man loves himself more than others, some justly, others for the sake of gain?
As I wrote, Robertson has made me appreciate Euripides’ complexity more, and upon reflecting in the course of writing this, I’ve come to see Medea and Jason as two sides of the human coin. On one side is Medea, who is close to the Homeric heroic ideal; on the obverse is Jason, who is a “modern” man. Neither image is particularly flattering but both carry conviction because both ring (all too) true.
What follows are simply some of my favorite passages. Lines that – for whatever reason – struck me. The more I find myself reading Euripides, the more I find myself liking him, so I definitely recommend him. Ideally, we’d read him in the original Greek but as most of us have let our Ancient Greek get a bit rusty, seek him out in your native tongue at the very least.
NURSE: I’ll try, of course, but I doubt I’ll persuade her. When any of us approach you can see her hackles rise – like a lioness when you get between her and her cubs. If only we could charm her with music; but those old composers were such fools: they wrote melodies only for the happy times – festivals, grand banquets, celebrations. None of them thought to make a music for real life, music that would salve our wounds and soothe our bitter griefs. Didn’t they see these wounds and griefs destroy us, and a music that healed such sorrow would be precious? What is the point of music and song at a feast? People are happy when they’re full. We need a tune when there’s no food there to eat.
MEDEA: My reputation, yet again! It goes before me like a curse. My father should never have allowed me an education, never raised me to be intelligent. Those who are out of the ordinary attract jealously and bitterness. If you try to bring new wisdom to fools, the fools are furious; if your mind matches the minds of the city’s intellectuals then they’re threatened.
MEDEA: There are no names for something as foul and spineless as you. A man who is no man at all. How dare you come to us here, where you are most despised. Is this your idea of courage or heroism, to wrong your family and then visit them? Loathesome, shameless, evil man.
CHORUS: On the matter of children: many times we’ve argued, many times we’ve lost. Men’s skill in rhetoric is more subtle, more practiced than our own. But women have a Muse, too, who gives us wisdom, and this is our opinion: those men and women who have never brought up children are, by nature, blessed. They never suffer those extremes.
Look at the parents, worn down by love and worry. Are their little ones sick? Are they hungry? Will they grow up well, or badly? And worst of all, after years of this, the fear all parents know: that they’ll outlive their children. That Death will come, with his casual, careless hand, and knock them off the world.
Yet we persist – in search of love, or heirs, or some brief brilliant proof that we exist – and the fruit of all this anxious love is grief.
MEDEA: Hate on! I am so sick of your pathetic voice. [This last line, taken out of context, may not make much sense. It comes at the end of a brilliant, bitter back and forth between Medea and Jason at the end of the play, and I shudder to imagine the loathing and contempt with which a good actor would deliver it.]
This was a very disappointing reference work. I’ve mentioned in other reviews of similar books that I live for this kind of information. I’m not a fol...moreThis was a very disappointing reference work. I’ve mentioned in other reviews of similar books that I live for this kind of information. I’m not a follower of the Wheel of Time or A Song of Ice and Fire but I’ve got the encyclopedias. Nor am I a great fan of Peter Hamilton but I’ve got The Confederation Handbook. The same is true of Star Wars. My fanfic version of SW is radically different from the canon but I still have Star Wars: The New Essential Chronology and Star Wars Millennium Falcon Manual.
Don’t get me started on Star Trek. My version may have parted company with canon years ago but I’m still a sucker for the latest reference manual or timeline. (Or RPG supplement – I recently purchased the Klingon and Romulan handbooks for ADB’s role-playing game based on their ST boardgame, Starfleet Battles, which I and my friends spent many happy hours playing back in the ‘80s.)
So I was looking forward to this compendium of Doctor Who characters. I’ve been watching the Doctor since the ‘80s, when the local PBS station began airing the Fourth Doctor (Tom Baker – who remains my favorite from the original run). I followed faithfully up through the first episodes of the Sixth Doctor (Colin Baker), when college and a dislike of the second Baker’s portrayal diminished my interest in the errant Time Lord. In the years since, I’ve managed to see most – if not all – of Pertwee’s (#3) run, some of Troughton’s (#2), and some of McCoy’s (#7). I watched the 1996 Doctor Who film with Paul McGann, and I liked him though the movie itself isn’t very good. When I stumbled across the reboot with Christopher Eccleston as the ninth regeneration, I was so very pleased (he is my favorite doctor of the new series, and I think I may like him even better than Tom Baker). But then he left after a year, to be followed by David Tennant and Matt Smith. I don’t dislike either actor in the role but I’ve never been taken with their characterizations [note 1]. Now, I am happily anticipating Peter Capaldi as the Doctor. Anyone who watches a lot of British TV will immediately recognize Capaldi. He’s one of those character actors who appears in everything. I first saw him playing Vera, a cross-dressing prostitute, in the original Prime Suspect series; and I most recently caught him playing King Charles II in The Devil’s Whore. And he’s no stranger to Doctor Who, having played the father in the Pompeii episode (“The Fires of Pompeii”). I’m looking forward to his interpretation of the Doctor.
It’s odd but recently I had been contemplating what I found lacking in the new Doctor Who, and I had come to the conclusion that – among other things – we needed a more mature incarnation (Capaldi is in his 50s) [note 2].
All this is rather beside the point and a long-winded way of getting around to why I found this particular book a disappointment, so ahead with the review.
My chief complaint is the author's appalling lack of discrimination. Each entry gets a page. This is fine for characters/races who appear for a single story (cf., the Zygons or the Krillitanes, to name two from the old and new series, respectively). But considering their central role in both series, don’t the Daleks deserve a bit more? And certainly the various Doctors deserve more than a page that is mostly white space and factoids?
As for this let-down, I can only recommend the book to Whovian completists (and even here, it’ll disappoint, since it doesn’t cover all of the myriad races and characters who’ve popped up since the first episode in 1963).
NOTE 1: If I were to commend any role Tennant’s played it would be his Hamlet more than his Doctor. I picked up Tennant’s Hamlet a few years ago not expecting much based on my experience with Doctor Who but was blown away by the performance.
NOTE 2: Assuming Capaldi is not the final Doctor, I was also thinking that BBC should push the envelope for his next regenerations. A nonwhite Doctor? (For some reason, I keep seeing Idris Elba in my head.)
And why couldn’t the Doctor regenerate as a woman? Alas, these will likely remain unrealized dreams limited to my fanfic version of the Whovian universe.
But speaking of canon. In the old Doctor Who, Time Lords were limited to 12 regenerations. In fact, one of the Master’s many crimes was stealing bodies so he could live beyond his final incarnation. Will the new series simply ignore the old rule or will they contrive some means around it? I look forward to the answer.(less)
Sandi's review nails it when she writes "Existence is a giant mess of a novel."
At its heart, this is another attempt to resolve Fermi's paradox, which...moreSandi's review nails it when she writes "Existence is a giant mess of a novel."
At its heart, this is another attempt to resolve Fermi's paradox, which asks the question, "Where is everybody?" The basic resolution is reminiscent of Alastair Reynolds's in his Revelation Space series. And I liked that aspect of the novel, and, if Brin had contained himself to that story, then I might have been be able to give it that extra star.
But he doesn't. This book is all over the map with multiple story lines and POVs that - as many reviews here point out - go nowhere (i.e., the Hacker Sander/dolphin thread, the Basque Chimera/Neanderthal story or the Autism Plague).
Ultimately, the chief reason I can't recommend this novel is an essential philosophical difference between the author and myself. Like many of the hard SF writers today he leans strongly toward libertarianism and a childlike and absolute faith that technology will answer all the myriad problems we face. True, there are nods toward the unintended, often maleficent consequences of constant "progress" but the only possible answer to them is more, more, more technology. Anyone who might have a different viewpoint is a bad guy (i.e., The Prophet) or is sneeringly referred to as a "do-gooder."
Which leads into my second philosophical objection - A pathological disdain/dislike (bordering on hatred?) of Nature. All things - in this book - are meant to be used or modified to the benefit of the human race. And not only that but humans are meant to bring all the "benefits" of consciousness to other beings (i.e., dolphins). It's the greatest difficulty I had with Brin's "Uplift" series, and Existence often reads like a Christian fundamentalist bringing the Gospel to the Godless savage.
For all his nods toward diversity and the richness of human experience, Brin's universe (for me) is a bleak, soulless, mechanistic nightmare.
And a sexless one as well.
Not in the sense that there's no sex (though, fortunately, Brin avoids any - inevitably - awkward sex scenes) but one in which the only major female character (Tor Povlov) is rendered genderless very early by a terrorist attack that leaves her a cyborg. And all the other women in the book are motivated by maternal instincts.
I wish I were exaggerating but even the token woman scientist - Emily Tang - is motivated to acquire alien technology because she learns that they have artificial-womb technology.
All right - I should point out that Brin is brimming with interesting notions. I've reached the point where that's about the only reason I read hard SF anymore. I'm not a Luddite who would see modern humans reduced to their hunting/gathering ancestors. I retain a belief - perhaps as equally naive as Brin's in technology - that there's a balance to be found in how the world is and how we would like it to be, and that we can find it. But I can't see it in Brin et al.'s visions.(less)
This is the second book in Nancy Springer's series about Sherlock Holmes' younger sister Enola. She's in London and trying to stay below the radar of...moreThis is the second book in Nancy Springer's series about Sherlock Holmes' younger sister Enola. She's in London and trying to stay below the radar of her brothers while still doing good, and the stresses of maintaining several identities is beginning to grind Enola down.
She stumbles upon an apparent elopement of an upper caste daughter and only just manages to keep out of her brother Sherlock's hands while solving the mystery.
As with the first book in the series (The Case of the Missing Marquess), this one is a fast paced, enjoyable read. The Mesmerism plot is hackneyed but - upon reflection - is reminiscent of Conan Doyle's style of writing in some of his Sherlock stories.
Highly recommended both to adults and/or that adult looking to find something exciting for his/her "rugrat" to read.(less)
Always on the look out for things to stock my nieces' bookshelves with and being a fan of Sherlock Holmes, I was very pleased to come across Wealhtheo...moreAlways on the look out for things to stock my nieces' bookshelves with and being a fan of Sherlock Holmes, I was very pleased to come across Wealhtheow Wylfing's reviews of this series on my update feed, especially as it's Hailey's birthday this month (May).
Enola Holmes is the much younger sister of Mycroft and Sherlock, and for the past 14 years has been living with her mother on the family's estate, Ferndell Hall. When Mum disappears on Enola's birthday, the girl comes under the direct guardianship of Mycroft. A state of affairs that quickly grows intolerable since Mycroft's (and Sherlock's) idea of a proper lady includes corsets and boarding schools. Fortunately, Enola is a worthy fruit of the tree that produced her brothers, and her mother has left her clues that give her the resources to strike out on her own, escaping to London, where she quickly becomes involved in the case of a missing heir. All the while, she's also trying to find out what happened to her mother.
This is a very fun, very fast read with a likable character in Enola and is definitely recommended for the 10-14 crowd, but also worth a look if your a fan of the Great Detective.(less)
I'm not a big Star Wars fan beyond the original three movies and Timothy Zahn's Thrawn books but this is a well drawn and reasonably interesting look...moreI'm not a big Star Wars fan beyond the original three movies and Timothy Zahn's Thrawn books but this is a well drawn and reasonably interesting look at the origins of the Jedi.(less)