Archive for the ‘Chat’ Category

The 2012 edition of Roadside Picnic, by Arkadi and Boris Strugatsky, carries an Afterword by Boris.

See my earlier review:
https://michael9murray.wordpress.com/2014/12/14/roadside-picnic/

For the book:
https://www.amazon.co.uk/Roadside-Picnic-Boris-Strugatsky/dp/0575093137/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1519149548&sr=1-1&keywords=roadside+picnic

In this Afterword he describes the chequered career of the book: it was by no means a straight-forward publication. Initially the story was published, unscathed, in the Leningrad Avrora literary journal, 1971, and was then put forward for inclusion in an anthology, Unintended Meanings, consisting of two of their earlier stories, and to be published in 1972. Here the problems began.
The anthology was to be published by a company called Young Guard. The YG belief was that science-fiction literature was intended only for children and teenagers. Adult themes, and especially language, what the editors listed as ‘Comments Concerning Immoral Behaviour of the Heroes’, ‘Comments Concerning Physical Violence’, etc,  had to be eradicated. And there were 18 pages of these.
There are times, places, to negotiate, and times to stick to one’s guns.

The brothers put together a dossier of all these problems and obstacles, thinking to put it out somehow – by samizdat, if nothing else. There were months between replies to their queries, years of wrangling. Then…
Arkadi died, the Wall fell, Communism… faded away.
And the dossier became redundant. The departments, the people causing the problems, also, faded away. Perspective came in. And they all seemed little more than a plague of gnats, biting flies, blown away by the first change in the weather.

Take note, ye bureaucrats: this you are also.

The book opens with a radio interview. The person being interviewed is a Dr Pillman. He introduced the Pillman Radiant. 13 years previously had been the Visitation: 6 spots in an arc across the surface of the earth had experienced the phenomena of the Visitation. One hit Dr Pillman’s home town. It left catastrophe in its wake.
Dr Pillman extrapolated back from impact points to an area in space in the Cygnus constellation: Deneb, the main star. Except, he is at pains to point out, he did not discover this, it was actually a schoolboy, and published by a college student.

What actually do you do? the interviewer later asked  His reply is interesting: for the last 2 years he has been a consultant in the UN  Commission on the Problems of the Visit.
Roughly speaking, we make sure that no one else outside the International Institute gets access to the alien marvels discovered inside the Zones.
Couldn’t you be rather more specific? the interviewer asks.
Wouldn’t you rather move on to the arts?
Dr Pillman hedges, and also distances himself from the Visitation. Even when it had hit his home town. This is interesting.

Why is this ‘interesting’? Because his comments  and evasions make him out to be something of a policing authority. I had taken him initially as a kind of KGB man, but he turns up later as a Nobel Laureate – not the exposure for a secret policeman.
For the Soviet publishers all books for young people had to be clearly moralistic and
didactic. The story admits the existence of such agents, and the part they play in society. Did the YG editors read this as giving him the thumbs up, by having him be at pains to point out the origin of the research that he had taken credit for? Dr Pillman as a Good Citizen?
Except you cannot find a shiftier character in the book, and that is saying a lot.

This, also, sets the scene for the roles of the ‘stalkers’, who enter the Zones to collect articles for sale on the Black Market. This is a highly dangerous activity. Guards are entitled to shoot to kill.
Not only that, but the dangers of the places are beyond imagining.
The Institute has highly detailed aerial photographs to guide patrols and official collection visits. They prove useless. as we see in the book: effects are not static, they wander. Some are invisible.

Which leads to:
I was also particularly interested in another aspect of the book, the attitude to language in dealing with the unknown. There is the language of the physicists, the ‘eggheads’, and of the stalkers.
– Incidentally, this was the first time the English word ‘stalker’ was introduced into Russian/Soviet language and literature  They pronounced it ‘stulker’.

On an official collection visit to the Zone, Red, the ex-stalker and now lab aide, and his laboratory boss Kirill Panov, come across a wandering phenomenon. It is invisible; but it affects gravity in its locality, creating an extra-strong temporary force.
‘Got it. You look for graviconcentrates?’
………………………………………………………………
………………………………………………………………
They are like that, the eggheads. The most important thing for them is to come up with a name.
The next move forward they make, and Red stops them, breaks into a sweat.
Instinct. Gut reaction.
Instinct versus knowledge. Knowledge is the aerial photographs; instinct tells them if they move forward from that spot they’re doomed.
Just before this:
Over the pile of ancient trash, over the colourful rags and broken glass, drifts a tremor……. Damn these eggheads, a great job they did; ran their road down there amid the junk!
What can be seen and measured, and what cannot be. The road was plotted by markers previous teams had positioned. It was a safe route.
For a stalker there were no safe routes: each venture was a life-and-death challenge, literally. They had no maps. They went always at night (they could be seen and shot during the day), and on hands and knees, mostly, feeling, sensing, their way onward.

This also introduces the theme of the limits of knowledge: here was an alien technology that made no sense to our sciences; it wiped our knowledge off the board. Which left you with… the instincts of the stalker. Science gets you killed.
You think, ah, that’s a graviconcentrate – and the book notes how blasé the scientists become once they name a phenomenon. But it remains deadly: that is its only definite, dependable, feature.
The stalkers call it a bug trap – to be caught in that invisible, wandering, anomaly is to be squashed flat by the gravitational field. How do they know? They have seen its effects on fellow stalkers.
The scientist’s phrase merely describes; the stalker’s phrase expresses its impact.

Arkadi’s background was that of editor and writer, and Boris that of scientist. Both, highly trained and experienced in their fields. And yet to them, language could not compete with reality.
Was it that the Soviet experience had devalued the meaningfulness of words to such an extent, that they could no longer be relied on to carry content? Be careful who one talks to: communication became a nuanced trade of possible meanings.

Politically, we can read here, that the Visitation introduces something way off the Marxist-Leninist map, far away from their neat dialectics of history. We read here of highly successful cultures, civilisations, that do not owe anything to Marxist-Leninism (or Capitalism). It is… the unthinkable – in both science, and (pseudo-)scientific political theories.

As unthinkable, it is also nameless.
And Arkadi and Boris bow neither to psychological, political, nor scientific certainties here. It not a Freudian Unthinkable, nor a scientific or sociological category-without-a-name.

The artefacts obviously have a purpose to their owners, but that is at present unknowable to us.
This is reality, and neither science nor theory can cope with it, because they exercise retrospective assessments.
This is reality-in-the-field, and the human person is naked before it. In the last resort, the approach to the golden ball, the stalker must shed everything. The result of the ‘wish’ is a judgement, of a kind, on his capability to embrace his humanity.

In time, we learn, even the scientist invent their own jargon for the artefacts they handle, try to investigate. Their jargon has a wry amusement, a bleak humour. It expresses, rather than describes. It expresses their frustration with the artefacts – they can use of them, oh yes, but have no idea what their proper and original uses were. The Visitors remain as unknown in purpose, intent and being as they always did.

But this is, after all, only a sci-fi novel.

Red looks lovingly into his daughter’s eyes, they are by then perfectly round, and the iris’ now completely dark; he lovingly strokes the long golden brown fur on her face.
The indications are that she is reverting to an earlier form of evolution, due to the effects of the Zone, and Red’s constant activities there.
The bodies that emerge from the cemetery, walled by the Zone, appear to be  formed from basic organic material. They have reverted to their earlier existence, as walking, breathing bodies.
This reversion theme also crops up in the ‘episode’ Red experiences crossing the road. He loses sight of the street, the ordinary world, instead he sees everything in terms of basic shapes: cones, cubes, spheres (Cezanne would have loved it).

The last part, 4, is Red’s quest – not quite for the Golden Fleece, but the fabled Golden Sphere, which grants human wishes – is mostly in the form of internal dialogue. And the Strugatskys convey with great expertise his troubled state of mind, his struggles with himself, and for some form of clarity.
His much-loved daughter, ‘the monkey’, now has been diagnosed as no longer human; his dead father ‘lives’ with them, responding occasionally to stimulus. Both daughter and father howl into the night at times. All the neighbours have gone – they are isolated, for all the money from black-market trading. We learn how Red tried all ways to keep them, get the children to play with ‘monkey’, how his friend even tried to bribe people to stay.

What would his wish be? What is certain, is that he had no intention of coming out alive.

Only a sci-fi novel.
I do feel, though, that the undifferentiating pessimism undermines the classic status of the book. The book references Kurt Vonngegut.
Was this the first time the classic certainties of the time had been openly questioned? Is that its originality?

 

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The Song Weigher, The Complete Poems of Egill Skallagrimsson. By Ian Crockatt, Arc Publications, 2017

Egill Skallagrimsson, writes Ian Crockatt in his Introduction, was the most original, imaginative and technically brilliant of the old Norse skalds.

It is no small feat then, that he has taken on this task of rendering the complete poems of Egill Skallagrimsson, in as close a Norse metric as possible.
The oldest, earliest, of the old Norse sagas is Egil’s Saga. As we have it, it is a wholly prose translation. Egill’s poems, scattered throughout, also have this form.
It was Ian Crockatt’s task to render the prose form into the recorded poetic metrics of this consummate writer. Our English cannot reproduce the old Norse sound, nor syntax, and so Ian Crockatt had to call upon his own great skills and expertise to render accessible and understandable, indeed appreciable, all Egill’s poems, in translation.
He has succeeded brilliantly.

Unlike the skald of Ian Crockatt’s previous book in this field, Rognvaldr Kali Kolsson, Earl of Orkney (Crimsoning the Eagle’s Claw), Egill Skallagrimsson is not a very likable man. He is too red in tooth and… well, sword. He is too intent on his warrior trade, and lacks the leavening of Rognvaldr Kali Kolsson’s poems to Ermingerd of Narbonne, his journeys to Jerusalem, his humour, and playfulness.
He does, however, have his own laments for his lost sons, as well as his unstinting praise of friendship, and rare poems of love. The life was not easy for those of more liberal dispositions; these poems chart the ups and downs of the life a warrior led, if he was to survive. And Egill was a survivor.

Egill’s main antagonist in his poems was Erik Bloodaxe (Eirikr Blodox).
He’d actually killed Eirikr’s son at one point, then later, shipwrecked whilst sailing to offer his sword to British Saxon King Adalsteinn, ended up seeking some accommodation in Blodox’s own halls. Understandably, his wife, Gunnhildr, wanted Egill’s head.
He was able to save the day through his reputation.
What reputation?
His reputation as the best, most gifted, inventive, skald of the day.

His ‘accommodation’ was to take the form of suitably outstanding verses for Eirikr’s family. These are the Hofuthlausen – the Head Ransom – of Egill Skallagrimsson.
Such was the value of a skald’s work in-the-day, that it could save a life.
He composed 21 verses for his own head. And obviously lived to tell the tale.
He lived long enough to bemoan the loneliness and neglect of the old warrior’s fate.

His own father was also a highly prized skald.
These verse forms were notoriously complex, involved, tightly controlled, with rules and strictures. But mercifully few were longer than 8 lines in length.
For the Head Ransom he produced a new form, with shorter verses interspersed between the regular length verses, and introducing a greater preponderance of end-rhymed lines. It is suggested that this last embellishment echoed the dominant British form of the period, and so was a gesture towards Eirkir’s British base in England.

For deeper discussion of the verse forms, see my earlier post on Rognvaldr:
https://michael9murray.wordpress.com/2014/10/19/crimsoning-the-eagles-claw/

If, like me, you are a bit of a metre-geek, you’ll love these.

And so, I had a go, using the dominant Drottkvaett form. Eight six-syllable lines, tied in couplets by alliteration, and each even line with two full rhymes. Trochees tend to be the dominant metre.
A recent trip to London gave me these:

Sea-toadstools, slow-flowing
seep of traffic-halted
jet-black, wet, jellyfish’d
jacks. Belligerent
brolly-bargers billow,
hail-stone and sleet harassed:
the City trawling home
to suburban harbours.

Ok.
So what about the use of kennings – you know, the allusions to, but not actually naming of, things known to one’s audience?
I actually state in the piece what the subject is, in the second part.
I tried to keep the sea-theme throughout.
Hmm.

A kenning is a compound word, made from a base word for a thing, and its ‘determinant’ ie what modifies that base word. In Icelandic there is also a highly allusive element, usually to an element in another saga, and/or their world of myths and gods.
Kipling’s ‘old grey widow-maker’ for the North Sea, is fairly easy for a British person.
Ian Crockatt lists and explicates the kennings used in the poems in a very useful appendix. He also has an excellent appendix on Verse-Forms. Invaluable.

So I tried this one, in a similar setting. What do my kennings refer to?

Canyons of steel and concrete
caught blue-red rain. It blew
to yelps under yellow lights –
baffled us battling
back through. Don’t be seduced,
strangeness does that. Estrange
sight’s stranger: blood’s seen there,
someone’s hurt; someone’s own.

Or, grimly, ambiguously –

Hail and sleet half the day –
how the light is slighted.
What we see’s how wishing
works its superstitions.
Outside worsens: our take
on the season. Reason’s
tangled with belief. Truth?
We’ve wrecked the weather?

 

Ok, these are first tries, and I was trying for more subtlety.
There is still so much yet to learn about these verse forms.

I hope I have passed on the spark of these to you.
They are certainly a great way of ‘keeping one’s hand in’ in those times of drought.

Reposted from 2013

One of the first Philip K Dick novels I read was Lies Inc, initially published in 1966 as The Unteleported Man. I was immediately hooked.

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The one image of the many I want to bring to mind, is that of the means the original inhabitants of Whale’s Mouth, NewColonizedLand, used to scuttle earth’s colonisers.

For those who do not know the story, it is set far into the future. Lies Inc is an Earth-based organization intent on creating a quiescent population. They do this by continually bombarding people’s minds telepathically with a feedback of personal memory mixed with inconsequential thought. The person cannot distinguish an original thought, or follow a through-line. They can conduct relatively easy tasks but are unable to question authority to any disruptive level.

On Whale’s Mouth, the original inhabitants of the planet, on being taken over by earth people found could not challenge the colonisers technologically, so they picked up on Lies Inc’s techniques. They formed themselves into books; each book comprised the life story of whoever its reader was, and the story was full of instantly recreated memories of the reader; most importantly, the story took the reader up to their present moment. The effect was that the readers became so enthralled in their own life stories, a ‘take’ on their own life story, and so they became caught in a solipsistic loop, incapable of further action.

For those who are not afraid of spoilers, it’s like this:
Whale’s Mouth is an advertised planetary haven, bucolic and peaceful, with planet-sized room for emigrants. The only problem is the teleporter has no return function.

What emigrants discover is a mechanised, industrial world, that is building up an army to take on earth and subdue it to its own totalitarian rule. Via a return-functioning teleporter: oh yes, is does work both ways, but it’s best no one knows – they aim to take the Earth.
To subdue new emigrants they drug them with psychotropic drugs in transport, and by the time they come down it’s too late. Some don’t come down, however. This is their story, as with all PKD stories. This last group try to discover of all their psychotic visions of their present condition, which is the true one. They had, I think, 9 to choose between: which one repeated?

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The solipsistic image has so many repercussive parallels in our culture. Do we see here the attraction of the soap opera, of the highselling magazines? The hook is in the ability to describe the life, making coherence out of the jumble of impressions, half-resolved tensions, aspirations based on rickety superstructures, the half-understood, and the ignored detail. But is it the ‘real’, the ‘true’ or even the ‘valid’ story?

This also is dialogue, with the protagonist of the book, and the antagonist of the memory. The book ie autobiography, as a memory-place. Memory-places are essential to us: our house, apartment, car even is a memory place. We decorate and ornament all with our own or combined personal effects. We live within mirrors, we feel comfortable there. It is not our image pleases so much as what we effect: that we can trace our place in time and space with these designs and objects.

Another way of seeing this is in our use of chiasmus, a device of two parts that relate to each other intimately. They relate either antithetically or sequentially: they parallel each other either inversely or directly. But they have a crossing point, a connection. You can find chiasmus in everything we make. Take music: listen to the patterning of counterpoint; but importantly the structure of a fugue by Bach; a symphony, even. Listen to the arch structures of Bruckner’s later works. There is the setting up of structures of phrases and musical relationships, and there is the restatement of key phrases and structural elements, changed perhaps, but only within the parameters set up in the first part. It is everywhere in architecture.

And truth, and its lie – to work the lie has either to counter point by point the truth, or bear no relation whatsoever, be so outlandish… but even there, it depends for its existence on the other’s condition. The relationship is always tacit, implicit; like atomic entanglement, they co-depend on each other.

Our reasoning uses the same structures: think of dialectics. It is a form of two parts, intimately related: it sets up a tension, an interrogation, as in music, and holds it in harmonic relation. Think of the basis of argument, discussion.

Think of Shakespeare (if you must!). His Sonnets are full of struggle and tension. The root cause of this tension is the structure: he posits an argument, a statement of being, then complicates it with antithesis. The form, the Sonnet, is his resolution, a form that exists outside the personal world of the self; it is a statement of the tension, but not the thing itself: an artifact, that has its separate existence. This theme is another major theme through the Sonnets.

In his early plays we see him use chiasmus prodigiously; in Love’s Labours Lost it is a great piece of language-furniture. The form then goes through variation and development in the Sonnets, to emerge in the later plays as a major structural element. Look at MacBeth: both Lady M and M set out from antithetical positions, then diverge as events draw them, to end up in opposite camps. The language of Macbeth himself is full of chiasmi that express his feeling of entrapment within a structure of act and retribution: ‘Foul is fair, and fair is foul’. Contra-diction, frustrated movement, entrapment. Macbeth is ensnared by his reason, and what options it gives him; he has no way out.

From chiasmus to ring: is this from dialectic’s thesis and antithesis, to synthesis? Is the ring-structure that of the syllogism? It is still a trap, a gilded cage. If we look at the pioneering work in neuro-phenomenolgy of Professor Dan Lloyd we see similar forms: the sensory input, and the brain’s mapping, create a back and forth response (as he puts it a ‘recursive recession’) that maps our body in space: the mind’s space. It is the superstructure of consciousness. We are forever trapped in our images that are and are not ourselves.

I have become very wary of dual-option thought: yes-no; this or that; up or down, Conservative-Labour; Republican-Democrat. Think of the Matrix: this reality, or that one – that’s all, folks!

I want a way of thought that works on multiple bases and results in multiple possibilities. I want a way of thought more in tune with a multiverse, that allows more options.

There is a greater harmonic out there to tune to.

Time to move on, folks.

PS
So, where do you stand now with Philip K Dick?
I had a go at re-reading Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep/Blade Runner, recently. I couldn’t read it; I could not believe how bad it was: clunky, nearly every ‘ist’ in the Equality book… and Deckard just escaped one close shave, to jump right into another without  a single ‘Hang on, this guy….’.

Yep, time to move on, folks.

Reposted from 2014 – because I think it’s a good ‘un.

ROADSIDE PICNIC, by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky. Published by Gollancz Sciene Fiction, 1977

CAUTION Contains Spoilers!

RP1

For such a short book this is extraordinarily provocative.
Published in the Soviet Union by two technical and science professionals, the novel keeps close to the real world. And this allows any deviation to appear even more devastating.
The book gives us a number of accounts over a period of time, of an event that happened in the recent past.
Style-wise we hear ‘70’s gritty Americana, full of dime-store fiction traits, and reeling with unregenerated gender mine-fields. The setting of the book is in fact i’n undisclosed areas.

The basic premise is given early on, and we learn the details and consequences as the different narratives develop.
Twenty year’s previously the Earth was visited by an alien race. It seemed to happen on a sudden and be over before anyone realised.
The opening narrator is a Nobel Prize winning scientist, whose work revealed the origin of the Visitation to have been in the region of Cygnus. Coming in on the earth’s transit the Visitors landed in an arc of six separate places across the surface of the earth.
What was discovered in these places afterwards was so anomalous and dangerous that these landing places had to be fenced off, isolated: people had to be protected from them. The Zones were the site of strange artefacts, substances, occurrences.

Local people not caught in the original Visit became ensnared in a fascination for the Zone. Stalkers would enter in secret , learn safe pathways, where the danger areas were, and bring out objects. Red Schuhart was one of these. Stalking was punishable by imprisonment, but it was a compulsion. The objects retrieved developed their own black market system, because some, like the batteries that never ran out, showed great potential.  But there were also spillages: ditches full of ‘witches  jelly’ which we later learn was colloidal gas – no matter what the name, its effect on the human body was devastating.

Stalkers developed their own terminology for what they came across in the Zone: ‘witches jelly’, ‘so-so’s’, ‘mosquito mange’, ‘black sprays’.
Scientific Institutes provided a legitimate outlet for interest in the Zones. Red took a post at the Institute. His boss was a Russian, Kirill, the only one Red could respect and admire. Kirill’s motives were purely scientific, but he was careful, knew how to play the game with the authorities, and yet retain his integrity.
They were working with ‘empties’, until  Red mentioned he knew where there were some ‘full empties’. What were these? No one knew – the Zones contained areas of a completely unknown kind of physics. ‘Empties’ were like glass jars, with metal top and bottom – only the glass, or whatever was the container material was not visible or accessible to analysis: two metal discs held in an unbreakable relationship; but Red had seen them contain blue material in between.

In one of the witty concepts of the book they gained a license to enter the Zone, and used the ‘flying boot’, a kind of hover car. The ‘full empties’ were obtained, and Red was paid handsomely, but the consequences were severe: a moment’s lapse of concentration led to disaster. And guilt. Money, guilt and a mind increasingly disordered by Stalking in the Zone, left Red to count the continual cost.

What was the Visitation? At one point Red runs through the possibilities – was it a statement of intent by an alien race, of contact? Will they come again? It was certainly an indication that we are not alone in the universe, and that there were other intelligent beings out there. That they had an interest in us.
Later he wondered with a jolt – was it the beginning of an invasion? A slow seep of poisonous ideas and materials into our ordered world?
Or was it, as someone else said, just a roadside picnic site – that they never even knew or cared we were there? That all these objects, anomalies left behind, were just the garbage and refuse of lazy, loutish picnic-ers?

All this alien technology threw our own scientific knowledge and certainties into the waste bin. And along with them our ideas and hopes of progress. Our own civilisations can be seen to be no more that errors, blips, on the universe.

On a political level, the book, written in the coldest parts of the Cold War, gives us the greatest achievements of two civilisations: the American, and the Soviet. If these are only roadside picnic spots, then in the way the alien science throws all earth’s discoveries in physics, chemistry, all the hard sciences, out of the window, we glimpse a metaphor for the wanton waste and failure of those two huge political systems.
In the way these greatly more advanced species act, we see the concepts of morals and ethics, of diplomacy, of value, of all we hold most dear, thrown into question. Advancement in the sciences need not equate with advancement in behavioural attitudes. If that is so, then what is this term ‘advancement’?

And we begin to see the ecological impact implicit in this – a mirror of our own impact on the earth. The spill-off materials altered the soil, composition and environment, of the Zones in unpredictable and unimaginable ways.
It was found that the children of Stalkers were different; there was no detectable radiation in the Zones, but things were beginning to happen. Red’s own daughter changed – she was born with a hair covering, but a child despite that. In time she became less human, but not some other species. One night Red’s father appeared; he had died years before the Visit. ‘They aren’t people’, scientists declared. ‘We call them moulages’ they were the bones of the dead, and flesh material had gathered around them again. They walked, ate, breathed. What were they?
Like Red’s daughter they were not human, nor an alien species, but existed in some form, in some definition.

And the denouement was a final trek into the Zone for the fabled Golden Ball.
It granted wishes, the legends said. As Red made the perilous journey it was to be a journey into the self: they will not be any old wishes it grants, they will the deepest wishes, the deepest most unknowable of the heart’s desires. He was the last of the real Stalkers – only he now had the nous, the  knowledge, for a protracted, perilous journey through the Zone.

All along, with the terrible price he was willing to pay, he had to prove he was worth this, that he was fundamentally a ‘good’ man – even with his petty, lowdown history, with the last ultimate deed that he was prepared to allowed happen, he had to be fundamentally ‘good’, ‘honest’, one of the few, the book reveals, of the surrounding sharks, gangsters, and abusers of the community around the Zone.

The book leaves us with this.
We now realise he never intended to come back; his last act was to be one of sacrifice for the sacrifice he committed in order to gain access to the greater good.

Was that a wish to wipe away the Zones altogether, as if they had never happened? Was ignorance preferable? Or did he wish something else?

Theodore Sturgeon, in his Introduction, writes of the book’s ‘deft handling of loyalty and greed, of friendship and love, of despair and frustration and loneliness…’. Another angle of the book is that between the ideal, the desired, and reality. The book opens with Doctor Valentine Pilman trying to deflect the interviewer from pinning him down as the originator of the Visitor-origin area: it was not so straight-forward or simple, a boy came up with the idea, but he himself got the Prize.
Throughout we see the desired life, rewards, and then the reality at odds with these. At the end we see the Golden Ball –… only then Redrick looked up at the ball. Carefully. With caution. With a sudden fear that it would turn out wrong – that it would disappoint him… it was not golden, it was more a copper colour…’.

The influences of the book can be seen in Tarkovsky’s film ‘Stalker’, based on the Red’s character.

RP2

The witch’s jelly/colloidal gas’s effects can be seen in the the ‘mineral acid’ blood of the aliens in the film Alien . The Zones uncannily reflects Chernobyl’s own devastated zone.

Arkady and Boris Strugatsky:

RP3

Ebook: The Spider and the Spies: The Secret Files of Stasi & Co, by Karen Margolis
https://www.amazon.co.uk/Spider-Spies-secret-files-Stasi-ebook/dp/B0758145MD/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1515355645&sr=1-1&keywords=The+Spider+and+the+Spies%3A+The+Secret+Files+of+Stasi+%26+Co%2C+by+Karen+Margolis

Karen Margolis gives here first-hand testimony of her experience of the GDR, and the Stasi State.
Some years ago, after much deliberating, she decided to apply to read her Stasi files. Their filing system was hermetic, to say the least.

It was not an easy decision.

What do you hope to find, and what do you dread?
There are always surprises, unwelcome or not. The husband of a close friend, himself close, had a quiet word: You may well find my name there.
She could not say anything to her friend, his wife.
And so the game of confidences, secrets, continues, just as it did under the system.
The stomach-churning knowledge, that blights relationships, friendships, even marriages.

And what of the ‘outing’ that was endemic for a period? To whose advantage was that? Hardened agents, with years of training and experience in emotional blackmail and manipulation, could still come out of it relatively unstuck. Transferable skills. The old tricks. And they were useful in the new Germany.
Miriam, in Anna Funder’s book, Stasiland,
https://www.amazon.co.uk/Stasiland-Stories-Behind-Berlin-Wall/dp/1847083358/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1515355920&sr=1-1&keywords=stasiland
found herself working under an ex-Stasi officer on a radio station, using the same tactics to manipulate people, this time the staff, as he had back then.
Also, see: The Disclosures of Respect: The Public Exposure of Stasi Informers after the German Reunification, by Juan Espindola
http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.896.3940&rep=rep1&type=pdf

Anna Funder’s book is based on her research for a radio programme. She advertised for interviews. She focussed particularly on the role of the Secret Police, the Stasi.
One of the names that came up, was a Herr Von Schnitzler. He was popularly known as Herr Von Schni, because that is how far the announcer got before being turned off. He ran a regular TV programme, The Black Channel. His programme followed airing of programmes from the West, and he sat there afterwards onscreen and pulled the programme to pieces. Many named him the most hated man on TV. You can imagine his hectoring, bigoted sneer.
How to deal with such a character in an interview. To Anna Funder’s credit she did it, she got in under his radar:
‘There was a serious attempt to build a socialist state, and we should examine why, at the end, that state no longer exists. It’s important.
He replied:
‘I noticed relatively early… that we would not be able to survive economically.’

This is important. She cites figures in the book, on East German production, and particularly on the biggest employers (‘There is no unemployment… you are seeking work’). The retreating Soviets had dismantled and shipped back what plant machinery they could, at the end of the War.
And it turns out the biggest employer in the whole of East Germany was… The Stasi.

I am not talking about the tens of thousands of informers: their remuneration was pitiful, but the managerial ranks: it was based on military lines, so the Colonels and upper and immediately lower ranks.
The biggest employer.
And their GDP?
0.
They ‘produced’, in turn, nothing.

In fact, a good case can be made for them undermining the survival and productivity of the Sate.
They demoralised, victimised, ruined lives, destroyed families, lied outright, falsified… murdered. But actually produced nothing. Unless you think an atmosphere of paranoia and continual fear a product.

The people separated the Stasi from the State: they supported the State, and hated the Stasi. They were in reality one.
When the end came it was the Stasi took the brunt, and the State officials in wealthy dachas and country houses were un-reproached. That was, after all, ‘normal.’
Peter Schneider, in The Wall Jumper,
https://www.amazon.co.uk/Wall-Jumper-Penguin-Modern-Classics/dp/0141187980/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1515355862&sr=1-1&keywords=the+wall+jumper
cites many examples of Easterners supporting the Eastern system, its social security, its low prices.

So when you come to the impact of this on people, it is The Stasi you think of first.
Their presence was everywhere.

Don’t let them through your door! Someone says.
– In the 1970s the response was a grim resentment, an entrenched attitude.
The 1970s were grim everywhere.
– The 1980 generation’s attitude was Ignore them. Have fun. Enjoy.
But if you didn’t let them in, they would summon you. If you didn’t go, they would pick you up at work, school, on the street.

Give them nothing.
They had meticulous details about your personal life, so much so that the notion of a private life would seem a mockery. And they had ways of manipulating you into quiescence, through shaming, robbing you of choice, free will, revealing that what you thought was basic humanity, was a construct, and so, manipulable.

Where did this information about you come from?
Ask yourself: could you bear to know? Would your life be easier, happier, not knowing? To not know is not necessarily to speculate What? and Who? but also perhaps to wonder What if not?
Peter Schneider’s character, Robert, would say that way of thinking was naive, Western. For him the State controlled every time you moved your hand to drink coffee, which coffee you drank, when you drank it, and why.

Where does the truth meet reality?
In testimony, like Karen Margolis gives here.
This is a valuable book. We still need to understand those difficult times.

HENS

Posted: January 1, 2018 in Chat
Tags: , , , ,

000_0190    Sand-bath time!

These are our pride and joy.
They were both supposed to both be hens: bantams. That’s what we asked for; they were to keep our found-hen company.
That was Pearl.
She was wandering down our road (we once had a tiny flock of twittering game birds – quail – pass through. They all must have flown down from the hills, and the game centres there, somewhere). I saw her one afternoon on a neighbours’ low shed roof, and a local cat was stalking her. Donning my superhero costume I was out, and rescued the fair maiden.
She had cat-scratches on her legs, but was otherwise ok.

Pearl was my special friend.
She would come looking for me, especially in the evening, roosting-time. She would look up at me in my chair; I’d pat the chair arm, and she would flutter up, then walk up my arm to my shoulder, shuffle in under my hair, against me. She’d flick my hair over her, like a wing, then nestle. Until she got too hot, then ‘d have to go somewhere cooler.

Originally we got her a small batch of rescue-hens for company. She would keep challenging them, though, in a ‘I was here first’ type of way; they would just pick her up by her comb, and she’d dangle helpless.
The rescue-hens we have kept have not lived too long. Their livers are usually too badly damaged through over-rich feeds of that first year of intensive farming, to produce their ‘right type’ eggs.

Pearl was extremely fragile and nervous; her egg-laying times were a nightmare. She was prone to fits at those times. Giving her medicine on one such occasion caused her to have a heart-attack. She died as we tried to make her well.

000_0164

She died, and… these two are still here.
And as you can see, he is anything but a hen.

As bantams, they are only tiny: 18 inches long, and high. The cockerel was very sick when he arrived – it took months of all manner of nursing to bring him round. And full of fleas – it also took many months to fully rid him of those, and their eggs.

We had them outside in a coop, but neighbourhood cats took an interest: just snack size.
The crunch came when we looked out the window to check on them one day, and there was a hawk standing squeezed up against the bars, head through, looking in greedily, while they quivered in fright at the back.

100_0141

And you wouldn’t believe how mischievous they are – the hen in particular. Is there a rule says the smaller they are the naughtier they are?100_0143

And noisy. When they want something, either food or just a bit of attention, she cries and each time it gets louder, then louder again, and so on until we respond. He just shouts – being small, it is a piercing shout that can be heard everywhere.

The more we chat with them, the more they respond in kind – the cockerel (name omitted for privacy) actually copies our syllables. Very touching, that.
Also touching is how he looks after the hen: whenever he finds food he stands back and clucks continuously until she comes over. He often misses out, if she eats it all. Whenever I bend to their level he stands before her, challenging, and warding me off.

If anyone is considering keeping some bantams – they are great fun – be warned: they are difficult to feed. It has taken us literally years to find a food they will accept and eat. And they now eat with relish, where before we were constantly worrying over them: Garvo Alfalfa Feed for Chickens.

Our pride and joy.

The Demaundes Joyous
The lightness of these, when measured against the Old English Riddles, makes them seem mere bagatelles. Quite a lot of those Old English Riddles are light and jokey also; it is just the labour of translation makes them seem less. But for ease of reading, and sheer fun, we  have these.
Did I mention translation? Yes, well, these are also translations – but not from the heavy?, stodgy? Anglo-Saxon – no, they are from the Romance of northern French.

The Demaundes Joyous

1 Who was Adam’s moder?

2 What space is from the hyest space of the se to the depest?

3 How many calves tayles behoveth to reche from the erthe to the skye?

4 Which parte of a sergeaunte love ye best toward you?

5 Which is the moost profitable beest, and that men eteth leest of?

6 Which is the broadest water and leest jeopardye to passe over?

7 What beest is it that hath her tayle between her eyen?

8 Wherefore set they upon churche steples more a cocke than a henne?

9  Why doth an ox or a cowe lye?

10 Which was first, the henne or the egge?

11 Which tyme in the yere bereth a gose moost feders?

 

– It is always best to have a ‘flavour’ of the kind of answer expected. So, here is the answer to Question 3:
No more but one if it be long ynough.

If you want to try and answer these… then let’s say you must do so in the curious English of their period.

The source of these Demaundes Joyous is Wynkyn de Worde, 1511.
The collection contains about fifty such riddles – I have skipped the more church-orientated, and so maybe a little obscure now eg Why come dogges so often to the churche? etc.
My source says the collection here is based partly on an early sixteenth-century French collection, Demandes joyeuses en maniere de quolibets.

There are some old crocks here: Which came first, egg or hen? But there is no Why did the chicken cross the road? Maybe that is in the other forty, not included.
Some are a little… indelicate? Some just crazy. All have the flavour of their period.

Enjoy.

Happy Festive Season!