Tuesday, October 6, 2015

The Jewel of Seven Stars, Bram Stoker

Bram Stoker is immortalized through his creation of Dracula. This is a book I have yet to read. I The Jewel of Seven Stars is freely available at Gutenberg.org. This is a relatively short novel. It is set in England as she was before the great wars broke her imperial power.
really should in the near future.

Initially, I found the dialogues to be mechanical and fake. But, as it went on, either it grew on me or I simply didn't notice as much.

The tale follows the first person narrative of Malcolm Ross. He is brought into the story by a love interest, Margaret Trelawny. Her father has fallen unconscious, and she has no idea how to help him. So she enlists the help of several people. Her father is very wealthy. Therefore, he manages to get a full time crew of police to watch over him, a doctor, a nurse, not to mention the serving staff (though most of them abandon the house as their superstitions are awakened by the supernatural events take place early in the novel).

Stoker does a great job of building up suspense throughout the novel. The narrator, as well as the professionals around him, try to interpret all the events in a scientific or logical way, much like any reasonably intelligent person would do. But, I feel like, from time to time, mentioning to the narrator and characters that they are, in fact, in a novel where anything can happen. All efforts of rational explanation or assistance is wasted. Abel Trelawny remains unconscious throughout the novel until all reasonable efforts to awaken him are exhausted.

After a period of time, he at last wakes up. But this is only after experts are consulted. The academic leader in paranormal in Britain is disinterested.

The story follows along the ancient past of an Egyptian queen, Tera. Abel Trelawny's entire life is spent trying to put together the pieces of her burial in an attempt to resurrect her according to the writings which accompany her sarcophagus and the mysterious supernatural items which allow such a thing to be possible. However, as he attempts to remove the mummy, Tera, and her mummified cat, great misfortune falls on many of the party. Some are killed. The mummy returns to the cave which they found it. Meanwhile, in England, Adel's wife dies while his daughter is born.

His daughter is basically a replica of the old queen. She even bears the same scar as Tera. However, one distinguishing feature of Tera is that she has seven fingers. The same is not true of Margaret. I often felt that the plot was leading to Tera taking over the body of Margaret. And, in fact, toward the climax of the novel, she does seem to take over the consciousness: supplying Margaret with knowledge which she could not possess otherwise; with personality shifts between something cold and the warm girl that the narrator loved. But, the ending turned out to be rather anti-climactic. What she really wanted was to be released from the world so that she might pass on into the next. Margaret never was in any danger, nor were any of the others once the spirit of Tera became aware that the group were in fact trying to help her rather than to rob her.

Some interesting tidbits about the story that I gleaned from Wikipedia:

Tera, in the novel, is said to have been blotted out by historians who did not want to recognize a feminine ruler. This is compared to the female pharaoh, Hatshepsut, who was also blotted out by historians who did not want a female ruler: "best erased to prevent the possibility of another powerful female ever inserting herself into the long line of Egyptian male kings" (Wilson, E. B. (2006, September). The queen who would be king. Smithsonian Magazine.)

The novel, as a stand-alone product, isn't really the most fantastic. It's good, but not great fiction. However, digging into some of the criticism on the novel, it becomes more interesting as it shows that it is more than just a simple novel: it is a light critique of the handling of women rulers. 1903, the publishing date of the novel, was just a few years after Queen Victoria's death. 

Another interesting note made on Wikipedia's article is the mention of how Stoker suggested that Egypt was more advanced than England. Egyptians, in the novel, had discovered electricity and radiation thousands of years earlier. What makes the note interesting is that these were omitted from later revisions of the novel (post 1912), probably because of how it challenges the notion of God and Jesus, not to mention the advanced position of England's technology over past civilizations. While the details mentioned in the story may or may not be true, there is nonetheless a substantial argument being made that the Egyptians did in fact have some means of creating electric light. I am unsure of whether Stoker would have known this. Still, we know that Egyptians of that time had some abilities which manage to confound us today: in particular, the building of the Egyptian pyramids: massive structures built to incredible precision.

In light of these additional thoughts, I think it improves my opinion of the novel. 


Lyrotica ~ an anthology of erotic poetry & proseLyrotica is a compilation of several short pieces of fiction put into a short book. It comes from a publishing company called Vagabondage Press. Now, the reason I bring this up is because I have also downloaded many short fiction volumes that have gone through them called The Battered Suitcase. In both that magazine and Lyrotica, I have run into the same issue: there is no formatting. There's no way to tab between stories. There is no table of contents to go to and click a link to take you to a story. The only way to go through it is a single page at a time. This is not fun. Normally, it would be enough to get me to throw it out altogether. Another thing I'll point out is that I rarely like erotic literature. Too often it's a boring affair which fails to trigger any kind of response. A few notable exceptions to this would be The Memoirs of Cora Pearl and the erotic works of Anaïs Nin (thinking in particular of Les Petit Oiseux, whose equal I still have yet to find). That book and the author I just mentioned take erotica to a special place which few authors dare. While, thus far (I have read just a few tales), I haven't really found the tales all that erotic. They haven't turned me on. But, they are intriguing while being sexual. This is something that has managed to drag me past the irritation of poor formatting and made me want to read on regardless. But it also means that tabbing through one story to another and back again as I consider the words I use to analyze to consider my feelings, interpretations, and/or gripes about the stories. Because, going back to one story or another might require seventy clicks to get to.

I didn't read them all. But for those of you looking for something more interesting than the regular bland garbage that is the bread and butter of so many Penthouse and other story bearing porn rags, this isn't a bad read. The stories are written by amateurs, but they're not shallow or repetitive.

- Update: some or all of the writers are not amateurs. One of them apparently was nominated for an award which I assume wasn't won. But in any case, thanks for the correction Jeremy Edwards.

Blowing Off Steam, Shanya Wright

Once upon a time, and in certain modern cultures, a woman's sexuality is something to be ashamed of. After all, it was Eve and Pandora who had brought misery to all men. At least, that's an interpretation that's been followed for thousands of years. In any case, the character in this story makes me think of a Victorian who is taught not to touch herself and hasn't been touched by a man (or woman for that matter), married or not. In other words, she's got a libido that no one is interested in satisfying.

So, when she sits down on the bench on the train, the vibrations give her pleasure. Her name is Victoria, but she has an ereader in her bag. Thus, I believe that the link between Victorian principles of anti-female sexuality are supposed to be read into the story. However, at the end, the conductor who'd seen her pleasuring herself like a horny kitten and been invited to give her itch a scratch, knows she'll be heading back the other way on the train and that he had made plans to nail her then.

Now, there's not really much substance to this story, but I still find it to be a well told tale with a sliver of erotica. It beats the type of crap that mostly rains down the channels. 

"Fertility Goddess", William J. Jackson

 This story makes me think of drugs or alcohol. This story's vixen is plus sized. That's cool. Sexuality is about more than wafer girls and supersexed models, right? Enjoy the moment.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and appeal varies in time and space, not to mention individuals.

"Gilded Cage Smacks of Sanctuary", Dennis Mahagin

This book has more than just short stories. There are also poems.

This poem is a bit of bondage in verse. The author is in a bind. The girl has tied him up and gagged him with, I assume, her panties. She tells him he can't leave her, and he replies that he'd never want to.

 "Possibility", Jeremy Edwards

This story thus far is the most boring. Boring boy meets boring girl and they have boring sex.

  "Letting Go", Imari Shi

OK, this one is a bit more interesting. Young man meets almost middle aged real estate agent. Slowly, he romances her until she's horny as hell. He dances with her. Massages her. Then seduces her into letting him choke her until she's nearly unconscious. Isn't that romantic?

Fantasy & Science Fiction, May

Well, I guess I have finally come to the conclusion that I don't really want too much contemporary fiction. I wonder if dinosaurs died off the planet because monkeys threw toxic feces at them. That's what I feel like: a dinosaur walking through the jungle with these monkeys throwing their tripe at me. In any case, Fantasy & Science Fiction is the one I'm keeping, and Asimov's is out. The dinosaur only has a low threshold for monkey feces.

This edition I finished reading about two or so weeks ago. However, my rigorous schedule, these past few weeks, has inhibited my blogging. I have been reading in the wee hours before work, but haven't managed to instigate a writing session at that time yet.

In any case, this edition of Fantasy and Science Fiction consists of one novella, four novellets, and four short stories. All told, it's around 79k words. I thought May's edition was much better than the one before it. There were still a few poor pieces, but this time they were in the short stories section rather than infecting all sections.

Maze of Shadows, Fred Chappell

This was a fun piece of fantasy. The style that Chappell employed was playful and consistent. The prose was often mixed with colourful metaphors and similes. By way of example, Chappell writes of an inconsequential character, "She ... was pale as the winter moon."

Shadows play a larger than real life role in this story. They may be stolen or sold. They play a role with its caster. If someone loses their shadow, then it can cause some meddlesome problems. In fact, one of the main roles that shadows play in this fiction is that of deceiving the eye. The story is told in first person with the narrator being a shadow placer. He takes shadows from other things to make the evening appear differently than they really are. So, one sees stairs where there are none, or a pathway when in fact it's a precipice that eventually leads to his client's demise. The idea is that potential thieves will harm themselves and never find the treasure that they're after. This would normally work, but in this instance, a blind man who can see no shadow at all foils the false shadows that the narrator and his partner lay about the home.

Cats also play an interesting role in the story. The narrator's side-kick (Mutano), for instance, had his voice taken from him by the cat which patrols the night, a guard in its own right. Sunbolt, the owner of the stolen voice, makes limited use of this command over a human language, saving it for the end in a fight for his life. Mutano's effort to recapture his voice is an interesting subplot, in fact. Cats are given human-like intelligence and highly valued for it, but remain slaves to the human race to be bought and sold according to its value. Mutano, on the other hand, can speak and comprehend the language of the cats. It is only after a particularly valuable and, to Sunbolt, an extremely attractive cat, is offered in exchange for the voice that it gives back to Mutano his voice.

I think that this story has a lot of unique characteristics, an interesting voice, and a pair of plots, which were highly enjoyable to read. Of the stories in this edition of Fantasy and Science Fiction, I thought it was the best.

Liberty's Daughter, Naomi Kritzer

This is another story told in first person. It is a light piece, resembling detective fiction. The main character is a young girl, perhaps adolescent or a young teen, who makes extra money by finding things for people.

The setting is a big part of the plot. It is on a floating man-made island which is governed by several different styles of governments. They range between anarchy and semi-anarchy. They wanted to be free, and so they are free. However, in these states has evolved several classes of people. It is when the narrator is asked to locate a person who has gone missing that the plot to the story is revealed.

The detective is an untouchable due to her father's status. She is therefore able to go about her mission with little to no restraint. She discovers that there are some people selling their organs in exchange for expensive treatments by bonding themselves to jobs that no one will do. She even manages to rescue Lynn Miller from the owner of the company, only to watch her willingly go back into a new contract.

There is one thing that is a little hard to buy in this story. The technology to put such an island together is still quite possibly decades away. We simply haven't created a ship or platform or anything that can withstand the worst that Earth's mother nature can throw at it. To complicate it further, making enormous floating cities would pose problems since there are physical limitations that we face today which may or may not be overcome in the next century. And yet the culture has a hard time acquiring physical goods, like shoe laces, shoes, types of food, etc. The reason I find such a thing funny is because we are on the verge of replicator like technology where a 3D printer ought to be able to make a pair of plastic shoelaces and the many other widgets that people living on the island need or want. I wouldn't be surprised if, in the next 10 years, 3D printers become somewhat ubiquitous either at home or professional shops.

But, a part of enjoying fiction has to be the ability to suspend disbelief.

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