Book Review: “Fevre Dream” by George R R Martin

Fevre Dream

I was looking for a good vampire novel to get my teeth into and this is it! Mix vampires with a Mississippi steamboat and the author of A Game of Thrones ( A Song of Ice and Fire) and this is the result.

“A vampire story,” said York with a sly smile. “Surely you’ve heard of them before. The living dead, immortal, prowlers of the night, creatures without souls, damned to eternal wandering.”

This story is set in 1857, a down on his luck protagonist Abner Marsh owns a shipping company plying its trade on the Mississippi and its tributaries, unfortunately four of his six boats were destroyed in a catastrophic ice jam in St Louis and a fifth had its boiler blow up. Abner’s misfortune leads him to a midnight meeting with a pale mysterious stranger, Joshua York, who offers to build Abner the steamship of his dreams in return for certain concessions. York dreams of bringing the vampire race and humans into a peaceful co-existence, he has created a drink which quells the monthly blood lust that grips vampires and has them seek out human prey.

The vampires in this book are a different species from humans, it is not possible to convert from one race to the other; garlic, crucifix, holy water etc. have no effect on them. Although sunlight is still deadly to them.

George R R Martin creates interesting characters, which are not simply good or bad but more complex. He also creates interesting plot-lines. The vampires add an element of fantasy to a historical tale of steamboats on the Mississippi. The period is evoked well and you feel some of the passion of the leading characters for their steamboats particularly the Fevre Dream of the title, built to be the fastest and most opulent steamboat on the Mississippi.

This book is a worthy addition to the vampire canon comprising works such as Bram Stoker’s Dracula to Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot and  Anne Rice’s Interview with a Vampire.

The story is well paced, as you would expect from a book about vampires there are some horror scenes, but it is no gore-fest, there is also a lot of period detail about life on the Mississippi immediately prior to the Civil War. Slavery is touched upon, Marsh the protagonist is opposed to slavery but he is no great fan of the abolitionists. The way vampires look upon humans as “cattle” is paralleled with how whites looked upon blacks at the time.

I was going to mention something about Mark Twain meets Bram Stoker, but other reviewers have brought that up.

My rating 5 out of 5

Other vampire books I’ve reviewed:

“Blood Omen 1: Vampire Wars” by K.R.Davies

“The Last Wish” by Andrzej Sapkowski

“Dracula” by Bram Stoker

 

 

 

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Book Review: “The Walker’s Guide to Outdoor Clues and Signs” by Tristan Gooley

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This is an interesting book that looks at the signs in nature that can give us vital clues to where we are going. The skills taught in this book are all but forgotten in our modern age where the modus operandi for navigation is using GPS and when getting lost in the outdoors consulting Google Maps. The skill of reading the land by making deductions from features in the environment is by all means a vestigial one, but as this book proves – the signs are still there and there’s a rich jigsaw puzzle of detail screaming information at us as we walk through nature, and it’s all just a matter of learning to recognize them.

The book is divided into different sections related to plants, animals, weather and the sum, moon and stars. It would prove a useful reference book. I want to go out and explore. Most of the examples are from the author’s own experience in England but there is the tale of his trip to Borneo, where he needed to learn some new tricks when navigating a rain forest close to the equator. I need to research to find out if Georgian churches are laid out like those in England (commonly aligned East – West with the altar at the Eastern end).

There is a Youtube clip of the author navigating his way through a wooded area just using natural signs like lichens. Tristan Gooley Natural Navigator (YouTube Clip)

It is an entertaining book, the travel to Borneo, provides an exotic interlude from the gentle woodlands of England. The chapters when the author is walking with the Dayak in Borneo are of particular interest – his writing is lucid and engaging and really evokes the wonders of the rainforest landscape.

This is a  book that will make you take much more notice of your surroundings when you are walking anywhere.

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My rating 4 out of 5

Book Review: “Brave New World” by Aldous Huxley

This is the first book I have bought on Kindle, I have wanted to buy others but have always had difficulties with my payment cards. I couldn’t find a hard copy of this novel locally; Prospero’s Bookshop had “Brave New World Revisited” but not the original novel.

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Sergeant Peppers cover with Aldous Huxley ringed in blue

Aldous Huxley merited a place on the Beatles Sergeant Peppers album cover amidst an eclectic mix of movie stars, musicians, writers, gurus and occultists. Aldous Huxley’s works, The Doors Of Perception and Brave New World were required reading for the countercultural elite in the 60s. The Doors Of Perception detailed the author’s own experience of taking mescaline, it chimed with the consciousness-expanding ethos of the decade, and even gave The Doors their name.

Brave New World
screenshot from phone

Unusually, this was the second time I’d read “Brave New World“, the first time was way back in the eighties. I rarely reread novels, no matter how much I loved them. I remembered the hierarchy of the citizens of Brave New World: Alphas, Betas, Gammas, Deltas and Epsilons. I also remembered the drug soma and entertaining feelies which were used to keep the citizens happy and passive. But most of the details I had forgotten.

There is an interesting debate, which can be viewed on YouTube, about which dystopian novel is closest to our present situation Huxley’s Brave New World or George Orwell’s Nineteen  Eighty-Four, Will Self champions Huxley’s novel and Adam Gopnik champions Orwell’s. Here is the link: Brave New World v 1984

Huxley imagined a plastic techno-society where sex is casual, entertainment light and consumerism rampant. There are pills to make people happy, virtual reality shows to distract the masses from actual reality, and hook-ups to take the place of love and commitment. Isn’t that all a bit close to home?

The title comes from Shakespeare’s The Tempest :

Miranda:“O wonder! How many goodly creatures are there here! How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world That has such people in’t!”

 

Shakespeare is quoted by the savage, John in the novel when he is confronted by the technologies and customs of civilisation. This is a Brave New World without Shakespeare. Young children are conditioned to abhor books and nature. It is a world where sadness has been virtually eliminated but at a heavy price. From the embryonic stage the inhabitants of the world are grown to fit in. There are different castes: Alphas, Betas, Gammas, Deltas and Epsilons each with their roles to play. The Epsilon semi-morons have the menial tasks, which are not too demanding, they are happy with their lot because they have their drugs (soma) and entertainment (feelies and casual non-reproductive sex). From birth, members of every class are indoctrinated by recorded voices repeating slogans while they sleep (called “hypnopædia” in the book) to believe their own class is superior, but that the other classes perform needed functions. Outside civilization there are reserves for savages, there are also islands like Iceland, where those who are  discontent can go and live. Bernard Marx an unusually short Alpha Plus  visits a reserve out of curiosity and returns with John, a savage who had a mother, Linda, who was stranded on the reserve many years earlier. Mothers and fathers are strange, even vulgar, concepts in the civilised world, where embryos are grown in bottles and there is effective contraception.

Huxley wrote Brave New World in 1931, when casual sex was largely frowned upon, he like Orwell was influenced in part by Yevgeny Zemyatin’s dystopia “We” (published 1924). The names assigned to the bottle grown inhabitants of Brave New World are influenced by historical and cultural figures like Marx, Hoover, Freud, Darwin and especially Ford. Henry Ford, the father of mass production, is almost worshipped like a God, the citizens make the sign of the “T” (after Henry Ford’s Model T) instead of the sign of the cross. The World State calendar numbers years in the “AF” era — “Anno Ford” — with the calendar beginning in AD 1908, the year in which Ford’s first Model T rolled off his assembly line. The novel’s year by our calendar is AD 2540, but it is referred to in the book as AF 632. In the Brave New World art and religion have been eradicated as they create strong emotions.

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Ford Model T (Matchbox Yesteryear)

In Brave New World Revisited (published 1958), Huxley concluded that the world was becoming like Brave New World much faster than he had originally thought. A prophetic fantasy that sheds much light on our own time some 87 years after it was written. For a society developped to eradicate sadness it is a sad and cautionary tale. Huxley understood well how easily we could be distracted by things.

My rating : 5 out of 5

A Trip to Cyprus

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Map of Cyprus, our excursions in blue.

I hadn’t been outside Georgia since April 2017 (seventeen months), and my feet were getting decidedly itchy. I used to travel abroad, every three months or so. Money was quite tight, so I was looking for somewhere relatively cheap, some friendly travel agents I know recommended Hungary, Poland or Cyprus. All these options were tempting, I’d visited all these countries previously, I chose Cyprus because I wanted to enjoy some Mediterranean sun in late October. I had visited Cyprus once before in 1995, then I stayed with my first wife in Limassol and we toured the Republic in a hired car. I also experienced my first earthquake. This time with my Georgian wife, we stayed in Larnaca and took a couple of excursions, one to the Kykkos Monastery and one to the North of Cyprus. In 1995, it wasn’t  possible to cross from the Republic to the North, but they relaxed the rules in 2004 and now there are many excursions available from the south to the north.

 

We flew with Wizz Air from Kutaisi to Larnaca direct. Usually from Georgia we take flights from Tbilisi and have to change in Istanbul for the flight to our destination. Wizz Air is a budget airline operating from Kutaisi, Georgia’s second city. The journey from Tbilisi to Kutaisi is long, around 4 hours in a coach, it was tiring and by the time I reached Kutaisi I felt a cold coming on, not the best start to a vacation. The flight is just two hours, and from Laranka Airport to our hotel was about 3km, so we were able to catch a local bus for just 1.50 Euro.

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Cactus Hotel

Cactus Hotel wasn’t as prickly as its name suggests, it is located in a residential district between the airport and the centre of Larnaca. Mackenzie beach is 10 minutes walk as is the Salt Lake. We chose the hotel for the location and were not disappointed. Walking to the centre of Larnaca took us around 15 minutes, there were plenty of restaurants along the seafront to choose from. Although for three nights of our week’s stay we chose to eat our evening meal in the hotel. The staff were friendly and accommodating to our needs. Breakfast was plentiful. The room was clean but a little small and the view over the street was not the most scenic. If I visit Larnaca again, I’d happily return to Cactus Hotel.

On our first day we just walked along the promenade into the town, and had a fish platter with cod, calamari, prawns and octopus. It was good to have fresh seafood; Tbilisi, our home is far from the sea and seafood is usually cooked from frozen. The cuisine in Cyprus is understandably influenced by Greek cuisine with classic Greek dishes like moussaka, kleftiko and souvlakia on many menus, we ate well during our stay.

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Church of St Lazarus (interior)

Larnaca is the third largest city on Cyprus, it is built on the ruins of ancient Citium and has a claim for being one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world. The Church of St Lazarus founded in the 9th century is impressive. In biblical times Lazarus was raised from the dead by Jesus and fleeing persecution in Judea came to Cyprus. He was appointed Bishop of Kition (present day Larnaca) by Paul and Barnabas. In the Republic of Cyprus there are many Orthodox Churches. In the North many of the churches have been converted to mosques or used as stables for livestock.

We were in Larnaca at the time of the Biennale Larnaca 2018 (17th October – 30 November 2018), the city’s municipal gallery had an interesting display of artworks.

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“Art is whatever you can get away with”… Andy Warhol

Larnaca made for an interesting base, we were able to go to the beach and swim in the sea, enjoy the cuisine and shop for souvenirs but the highlight of our trip was the excursion we took to North Cyprus.

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Salamis

We chose an excursion, which included the ruins of Salamis, St Barnabas Monastery, Famagusta and Varosha “The Ghost Town”.  At the border our passports were screened as we entered North Cyprus a “country” only recognised by Turkey. In Georgia we have two similar “countries” Abkhazia and South Ossetia (Tskhinvali Region). These disputed territories have been in a state of limbo for many years, North Cyprus unilaterally declared its independence on 15 November 1983 under the name of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, it is not recognised by the UN or the Republic of Cyprus. It has been possible since 2004 for tourists to cross the Green Line dividing the island.

Salamis was an ancient Greek city state, earthquakes in the fourth century destroyed the city. There are very extensive ruins. The theatre, and the gymnasium have been extensively restored. Numerous statues are displayed in the central court of the gymnasium most of which are headless.

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Icons of St George in the Icon Museum at St Barnabas Monastery

Close to Salamis is St Barnabas Monastery and Icon Museum. The Monastery of St Barnabas is very important to the Orthodox Church, and is considered a place of pilgrimage. Since the troubles, the monastery has become a repository for the icons of other Orthodox churches in the north of the island. The rooms of the monastery have become an archaeological museum, I particularly like the terracotta figurines from 750 to 600 BC on display with their miniature vehicle (I collect diecast cars and have another blog for that passion: Diecast Car Collector).

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Terracotta figurines at St Barnabas Monastery

Next stop was the Famagusta old Town Centre to see the Venetian Walls in the old part of the town and  visit the Gothic church of Saint Nicholas and Othello Castle.

 

The church of St Nicholas was converted into a mosque in 1571 after the Ottomans  captured Famagusta. Othello’s Tower was built by the Lusignans in the 14th century and may have inspired Shakespeare’s naming of his tragedy, Cyprus is mentioned in “Othello“. The tower, however, is named after a Venetian governor not Shakespeare’s Moor.

 

 

The last stop was the beach located right next to the “Ghost Town” of Varosha, a long stretch of golden sand with crystal clear water.

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Khato with the abandoned blocks of Varosha behind her

We swam in the crystal clear waters before returning to the bus and the Republic of Cyprus.

Our second excursion was to Kykkos Monastery and the pretty village of Kakopetria.

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Tour bus, coffee/toilet break en route to Kykkos Monastery

Kakopetria has quaint medieval streets but when we arrived, the heavens opened and we got soaked. Then it was onto Kykkos Monastery, the biggest and richest monastery in Cyprus, near Throni at Kykkos Monastery is the burial place of Archbishop Makarios III, first president of the Republic of Cyprus.

The rains filled the salt lake at Larnaca and the flamingoes arrived, unfortunately they chose to congregate on the far side of the lake, so I needed my zoom on maximum to get a picture.

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flamngoes on Larnaca’s salt lake

One week in Cyprus gave us an enjoyable break, if we visited again we would go on more excursions.

 

 

“A Clash of Kings” by George R R Martin (Book Review)

A Clash of Kings” is a weighty tome and the second in the series “A Song of Ice and Fire“. My copy runs to page 1009, but this includes almost 40 pages of appendices, which I rarely used. The appendices list the various houses and have some maps.

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A Clash of Kings

The first book in the series is “Game of Thrones“, which I haven’t yet read, I haven’t read it because I couldn’t find it in the Tbilisi bookshops. This is quite common, the bookstores here, stock books from a series but often don’t have the first, maybe someone beat me to it. Paranassus has all the sequels to A Hitch-hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy but not the first book, Prospero’s has Brave New World Revisited but not Brave New World and when I was looking for Game of Thrones in Biblus; I found the second, third and fourth books of the series but not the first.  As I have watched the HBO TV series, this wasn’t such a problem, I had a good idea of the story. I don’t usually read a book after watching a film or TV series, but this was an exception. I love the TV series and eagerly anticipate the final season. Reading this book “A Clash of Kings” may have been a means to satisfy my Westeros withdrawal cravings.

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Robb Stark “The King in the North” in the HBO Series

Each chapter looks at the story from the point of view of a particular character : Sansa, Tyrion, Jon, Arya and even Davos. The title “A Clash of Kings” suggests a lot of kings and a lot of political intrigue, the chapters for Tyrion are particularly interesting in this respect.

Tyrion observes: “My most trusted advisers are a eunuch and a sellsword, and my lady’s a whore. What does that say of me?” (p632)

If you are unfamiliar with the whole Game of Thrones/The Song of Ice and Fire phenomenon, it details a fantasy world, where we learn about two continents Westeros and Essos. In Westeros there are many contenders for the right to rule the lands from the Iron Throne in King’s Landing, the capital. The Game is about how the different factions play against each other with the goal of becoming the ruler of the seven kingdoms of Westeros. The technology of the world is similar to that of England during the War of the Roses in the 15th century, but as this is fantasy there are added elements of magic  and dragons and a napalm like substance called “Wildfire“. The War of the Roses pitted York against Lancaster, here the principal two houses are Stark and Lannister.

In A Clash of Kings we have Joffrey, a cruel and juvenile tyrant like Edward of Lancaster,  sitting on the Iron Throne but he doesn’t control all seven kingdoms. There are Stannis and Renly, brothers of the previous king Robert, who contend their claims. In the north, there is Robb Stark, the self styled “king in the north” and over in Essos, there is Daenerys, who also has a claim on the Iron Throne and has three dragons to boot. The highlight of this second book is the Battle of Black Water which sees the forces of Stannis come to King’s Landing to fight the Lannister forces organised by Tyrion, the hand of the King.

In the book we see the Battle of Black Water from Tyrion’s viewpoint (we also have Sansa and Davos viewpoint but they see little of the overall picture), it would have been interesting to have Cersei’s viewpoint, the mother of the king, and master player in the game.

If I hadn’t seen the TV Series, this book would have been a veritable page-turner, the story is very similar, so there were no major surprises, in a way by seeing the TV Series,  I’d spoilt it for myself. The book does give a lot more detail on the motivations of certain characters. Some of the characters like Jon, Daenerys, Sansa and Arya are much younger in the books than in the TV Series. I have the third book in the series on my reading shelf: “A Storm of Swords” (1128 pages before the appendices!), many fans rate this one as the best. We shall see.

My rating : 4 out of 5