November 27, 2012

Short Sci-Fi Stories by German Authors

I'm continuing to explore German science fiction for German Literature Month, and what is better for this than a good short story collection? Unfortunately, I have been experiencing a lot of problems with writing about it, as English-speaking world seems to be utterly uninterested in this kind of literature (only one author in English Wikipedia? Really?) Fortunately, I know German, at least enough to successfully google in it. So the names of the stories and the authors' names are correct, and if you are interested, you can try to search for translations using them. 

I read the stories in Russian. The collection is called "Parallels", and it is part of the science fiction series of books issued in Soviet Union between 1965 and 1976. I've written a bit about each story, and you can decide for yourselves if you want to explore some of the mentioned authors.

  •  Die Experimente des 
  • Professors von Pulex by Herbert Ziergiebel
  • I didn't like this one. It is about a mad professor, breeding huge insects for Nazi army after the war is already finished. Not really my cup of tea. But is you like really creepy stuff, that's for you!

     Trinicia by Gunter Metzner
    Two explorers find a skeleton of a huge carnivorous plant on a far away planet. What killed the thing? And what will they read in the notebook found in the capsule inside it? The story is very simple, but it is very psychologically true.

    Urlaub auf aldebaranisch (Vacation, Aldebaran style) by Michael Szameit
    A somewhat funny story about an unfortunate traveller, who is having some problems with teleportation. I especially liked the description of the aldebaranians. Certainly reminding me of some places I've travelled =)

     Kunstfehler in Harmonopolis by Günter Braun, Johanna Braun
    No crime has happened for some 200 years in the town (and in the world), but then someone begins to rob shops night after night. What should people do? Certainly not close their doors or have a night watch! It would be so offensive to suspect anybody! Then a mad collector of an old forgotten mystery genre is summoned to deal with the robber. I've enjoyed every moment of this story, and I totally recommend it to everyone!

     Die Ignoranten by Reinhard Heinrich, Erik Simon
    What do mineral life forms from other planets think about our planet? An interesting viewpoint, really. Absurdity of the situation is even funny, but it made me think too.

     Insel der Angst by Günther Krupkat
    Nothing really new here. Robots with artificial intelligence are not listening to the mad professor who has build them and want to live as they want, and they usually want to build more robots.

     W by Erik Simon
    A very short short story about the probability of improbable. Real fun!

     Die Spinne by Erik Simon
    The existence of parallel worlds if revealed with the help of... a spider. But a spider running along an non-existing wall. Or should we believe the author at all? I liked the description of the main character's flow of thoughts, and the idea is interesting in itself.

     Der Schritt aus dem Jenseits by Frank Rychlik
    This one is just perfect! After the accident the main character has some strange memory issues... and I'll never tell you what is the matter in the reality, because it's too good. Just read it!

     Imago by Wolf Weitbrecht
    The story is written by the main character as a plea of not guilty (or whatever is the proper judicial term) when he is under jail for killing his colleague's son. But of source, this colleague is an old mad professor, and his son is really a "new evolution step for a mankind". Or so this professor claims.

     Nichts als Arger mit dem Personal by Siegbert Günzel
    What are you to do when your wife buys a new robot-housekeeper, who is the exact copy of a famous singer, and who sings even better than the original? Buy a famous actress for yourself, of course. New level of arguing in a family of the future. Liked it!

     Begegnung im Licht by Gunter Metzner
    Two spaceships of two different civilizations, who had no idea of the existence of each other, meet for a short time in the outer space. And fly further.

     Nebel by Jörg Gernreich
    Didn't understand anything in this story. Read again. Again didn't understand anything. Maybe it's not me?

     Ende einer Karriere by Günter Teske
    It's a book about sport. And cheating in it. But with new, horrible methods. Reading about all this was a bit nauseous, but the idea is very true: the sport has no value in it when there is cheating.

     Der Haltepunkt by Rolf Krohn
    Science fiction + classic mystery? Yes please! There is a stop on an old railway, where everybody sees a murder when passing for the first time. And the main character wants to know, what happened here long ago. The setting is so traditionally-cozy, that the answer is even more unexpected.

     Bazillus phantastikus oder Die Nixe mit dem Hackebeil by Günther Krupkat
    How does a romantic become a married fatty philistine in the distant future? The same way as now. A sad story, but very truthful.

     Der astronomische Dieb by Gerhard Branstner
    We all think science fiction is sad and philosophical. But try these short anecdotes about the adventures of two resourceful friends in the outer space! A very nice change, and I really liked it.

     Parallelen by Alfred Leman, Hans Taubert
    A contact between two very different civilizations is described from the two different point of views. And they are so different themselves, that the actions of ones are completely inexplicable for the others. Interesting idea!

    I enjoyed the book very much, and I hope it'll encourage some of you to explore German science fiction (which I never thought even existed before this month :) ), as it is really diverse and engaging!

    November 24, 2012

    Weekend Quote: Moby-Dick

    I've decided to celebrate my half-way through Moby-Dick by joining Weekend Quote, hosted by Half-Filled Attic. I am highlighting quite a lot while reading, as I completely love Melville's philosophical passages, but those two are my favourite so far:
    Chapter 52:
    Round the world! There is much in that sound to inspire proud feelings; but whereto does all that circumnavigation conduct? Only through numberless perils to the very point whence we started, where those that we left behind secure, were all the time before us. 
    Were this world an endless plain, and by sailing eastward we could for ever reach new distances, and discover sights more sweet and strange than any Cyclades or Islands of King Solomon, then there were promise in the voyage. But in pursuit of those far mysteries we dream of, or in tormented chase of the demon phantom that, some time or other, swims before all human hearts; while chasing such over this round globe, they either lead us on in barren mazes or midway leave us whelmed. 
    Chapter 68: 
    It does seem to me, that herein we see the rare virtue of a strong individual vitality, and the rare virtue of thick walls, and the rare virtue of interior spaciousness. Oh, man! admire and model thyself after the whale! Do thou, too, remain warm among ice. Do thou, too, live in this world without being of it. Be cool at the equator; keep thy blood fluid at the Pole. Like the great dome of St. Peter’s, and like the great whale, retain, O man! in all seasons a temperature of thine own. 
    But how easy and how hopeless to teach these fine things! Of erections, how few are domed like St. Peter’s! of creatures, how few vast as the whale!
    And a small one, which I completely adore:
    Chapter 46:
    ...of all tools used in the shadow of the moon, men are most apt to get out of order.

    November 22, 2012

    Banquo from The Tragedy of Macbeth

    Why is this picture here again?
    Because it's awesome, of course!
    When we say "Macbeth" we probably think of Macbeth himself or his wife or the witches. We don't usually remember Banquo. Who is he anyway? He even dies in the third act.

    However, his role is crucial in the play. His name is first mentioned in the play in scene two of act one, and together with the Macbeth's name:
    Dismay’d not this
    Our captains, Macbeth and Banquo?
    And this makes us understand, that they are compared throughout the play. This is confirmed in the scene of predictions. See how the witches hail Macbeth:
    All hail, Macbeth! hail to thee, thane of Glamis!
    All hail, Macbeth, hail to thee, thane of Cawdor!
    All hail, Macbeth, that shalt be king hereafter!
    And Banquo:
    Lesser than Macbeth, and greater.
    Not so happy, yet much happier.
    Thou shalt get kings, though thou be none:
    So all hail, Macbeth and Banquo!
    And it is Banquo who first warns Macbeth to beware the predictions of witches:
    And oftentimes, to win us to our harm,
    The instruments of darkness tell us truths,
    Win us with honest trifles, to betray’s
    In deepest consequence.
    When Macbeth becomes king, he starts to fear Banquo. I think, that apart from Banquo suspecting Macbeth of "playing foul", there is an issue of fertility/infertility between them. Banquo is promised to have his sons on the throne, and his name will continue in the generations, while Macbeth will perish, and all his treacherous deeds have been for nothing.

    Banquo is not only the opposite of Macbeth, staying faithful and not seduced by the promises of future. His death takes place in the very middle of the play (scene three of act three) and marks the "point of no return" for Macbeth. There still was hope for the new king if he hasn't continued to kill, but he does. And after Banquo killing is easier and easier for Macbeth.

    So Banquo, a nobleman of Scotland, is Macbeth's doppelgänger, a symbolical character that helps the reader get some important ideas of the play

    November 20, 2012

    Der Elfenbeinturm (The Ivory Tower) by Herbert W. Franke

    I didn't know any German science fiction authors before this week, which is a Genre Fiction week of the German Literature Month. I started by plain googling, and discovered that German science fiction is a big field with a lot of well known authors in it. This one caught my attention with a beautiful allegorical name, and I don't regret I've read it.

    The Ivory Tower (although I'm not sure it is correct translation, as I read it in Russian) is a science fiction novel which takes place in the dystopian (or utopian?) future. All decisions are made by a giant computer, which has all the information about everything. This computer, as well as the government itself, is situated on the moon, where only authorized scientists can get. But a group of liberal revolutionists plan to destroy this big computer to make people "free" in their understanding of the word.

    I cannot say more about the plot without including any spoilers here, so I will just say that the novel is very dialectical and philosophical. Of course, there is a lot of action there, but sometimes characters just stop to discuss some theoretical issues concerning the destiny of humankind. Sometimes you even feel that the situation was created specially to give the characters an opportunity to talk. But the ideas themselves are rather interesting and uncommon, so this book will be interesting for the adepts of the genre.

    Herbert W. Franke (born 14 May 1927 in Vienna) is an Austrian scientist and writer. He is considered one of the most important science fiction authors in the German language. He is also active in the fields of future research, speleology as well as computer graphics and digital art. You can see the list of his works here.

    November 19, 2012

    Eugénie Grandet by Honoré de Balzac

    Eugénie Grandet - Alida Valli, Gualtiero Tumiati

    This is a short novel, which introduces us to the life of a provincial miser and his family in the town of Saumur. Felix Grandet has made his fortune all by himself, and is considered the richest man not only in the town, but also in the whole region. His wife and daughter, however, don't know anything about their riches. They sew their own clothes, they can't buy anything without the approval of Grandet, they can't even make fire whenever they want. Needless to say that they don't have a lot of social life apart from entertaining two local families, who both seek to marry their sons to young Eugénie.

    But everything changes for them when Eugénie's cousin Charles, a young and bright gentleman, comes from Paris as a consequence of a tragic event. The cousins fall in love with each other, but their feelings are not approved by the old Grandet. Moreover, Charles has to go to India to win his own fortune soon, so their love ends abruptly. But not for Eugénie, for whom this feeling is everything she has in her life. This feeling changes her dramatically in a very short time, but will it overcome her dry and strict upbringing which has trained her to value money more than everything?

    If you have read some Balzac before, you would probably guess the answer, but I will not include any spoilers here. This book is very powerful, it describes people for whom money is everything and the measure of everything (still topical, isn't it?), it speaks about society and it's mercenariness and indifference towards individuals, but, most important, it puts a question: can we determine our life and who we are ourselves, or are we bound to follow our parents' path?

    The book is beautifully written, and even when nothing really happens is it completely impossible to put it down. I especially liked the setting of the tragedy: every single thing in the old house is described in detail, and you can easily visualise how dim and dull their rooms and their lives are.

    I also liked how Eugénie's character develops when she discovers love. I admire how she finds strength to openly oppose her father and to stand to her guns even when treated very badly. She is still very submissive, but then she is very religious too, so this can be explained. She also sees money only as means, not as an object, which should be respected, especially considering her father's attitudes.

    All in all, the book is a perfect representative of "La Comédie humaine" and so far this is my favourite novel by Balzac.

    Eugénie Grandet is a book from my Classics Club list

    November 16, 2012

    2013 Challenges

    I'll just put them all here in no particular order with rules and my intentions.

    What's in a Name Challenge 2013

    Between January 1 and December 31, 2013, read one book in each of the following categories:
    • A book with up or down (or equivalent) in the title: Deep down True, The Girl Below, The Diva Digs up the Dirt
    • A book with something you'd find in your kitchen in the title: Loose Lips Sink Ships, The Knife of Never Letting Go, Breadcrumbs
    • A book with a party or celebration in the title: A Feast for Crows, A Wedding in Haiti, Cocktail Hour under the Tree of Forgetfulness
    • A book with fire (or equivalent) in the title: Burning for Revenge, Fireworks over Toccoa, Catching Fire
    • A book with an emotion in the title: Baltimore Blues, Say You're Sorry, Dreams of Joy
    • A book with lost or found (or equivalent) in the title: The Book of Lost Fragrances, The World We Found, A Discovery of Witches
    Books may be any form (audio, print, e-book), books may overlap other challenges, books may not overlap categories. Creativity for matching the categories is not only allowed but encouraged. You do not have to make a list of books before hand and you do not have to read through the categories in any particular order.

    To learn more about the challenge or sign up please go here.

    The Colorful Reading Challenge 2013

    The Colorful Reading Challenge is simple:
    1. Just choose 9 books with colors in the titles.
    2. The books can overlap with other reading challenges (because let's face it, we need them to.)
    3. Post your links to your reviews each month to share with other participants.
    4. The challenge runs from January 1, 2013 to December 1, 2013.
    5. Read to your heart's content!

    To learn more about the challenge or sign up please go here.

      Vintage Mystery Reading Challenge 2013: Scattergories

    This challenge runs from January 1, 2013 to December 31, 2013. All novels must have been originally written before 1960 and be from the mystery category. To complete the challenge you need to read books from minimum 8 of the following categories:

    1. Colorful Crime: a book with a color or reference to color in the title
    2. Murder by the Numbers: a book with a number, quantity in the title
    3. Amateur Night: a book with a "detective" who is not a P.I.; Police Officer; Official Investigator (Nurse Keate, Father Brown, Miss Marple, etc.)
    4. Leave It to the Professionals: a book featuring cops, private eyes, secret service, professional spies, etc.
    5. Jolly Old England: one mystery set in Britain
    6. Yankee Doodle Dandy: one mystery set in the United States
    7. World Traveler: one mystery set in any country except the US or Britain
    8. Dangerous Beasts: a book with an animal in the title (The Case of the Grinning Gorilla; The Canary Murder Case; etc.)
    9. A Calendar of Crime: a mystery with a date/holiday/year/month/etc. in the title (Hercule Poirot's Christmas, Holiday Homicide, etc.)
    10. Wicked Women: a book with a woman in the title--either by name (Mrs. McGinty's Dead) or by reference (The Case of the Vagabound Virgin)
    11. Malicious Men: a book with a man in the title--either by name (Maigret & the Yellow Dog) or by reference (The Case of the Haunted Husband)
    12. Murderous Methods: a book with a means of death in the title (The Noose, 5 Bullets, Deadly Nightshade, etc).
    13. Staging the Crime: a mystery set in the entertainment world (the theater, musical event, a pageant, Hollywood, featuring a magician, etc)
    14. Scene of the Crime: a book with the location of the crime in the title (The Body in the Library, Murder at the Vicarage, etc.)
    15. Cops & Robbers: a book that features a theft rather than murder
    16. Locked Rooms: a locked-room mystery
    17. Country House Criminals: a standard (or not-so-standard) Golden Age country house murder
    18. Murder on the High Seas: a mystery involving water
    19. Planes, Trains & Automobiles: a mystery that involves a mode of transportation in a vital way--explicitly in the title (Murder on the Orient Express) or by implication (Death in the Air; Death Under Sail) or perhaps the victim was shoved under a bus....
    20. Murder Is Academic: a mystery involving a scholar, teacher, librarian, etc. OR set at a school, university, library, etc.
    21. Things That Go Bump in the Night: a mystery with something spooky, creepy, gothic in the title (The Skeleton in the Clock, Haunted Lady, The Bat, etc.)
    22. Repeat Offenders: a mystery featuring your favorite series detective or by your favorite author (the books/authors you'd read over and over again) OR reread an old favorite
    23. The Butler Did It...Or Not: a mystery where the butler is the victim, the sleuth....(gasp) the criminal....or is just downright memorable for whatever reason.
    24. A Mystery By Any Other Name: any book that has been published under more than one title (Murder Is Easy--aka Easy to Kill [Christie];Fog of Doubt--aka London Particular [Christianna Brand], etc.)
    25. Dynamic Duos: a mystery featuring a detective team--Holmes & Watson, Pam & Jerry North, Wolfe & Goodwin, or....a little-known team that you introduce to us.
    26. Size Matters: a book with a size or measurement in the title (Death Has a Small Voice, The Big Four, The Weight of the Evidence, etc.)
    27. Psychic Phenomena: a mystery featuring a seance, medium, hypnotism, or other psychic or "supernatural" characters/events
    28. Book to Movie: one vintage mystery that has appeared on screen (feature film or TV movie).
    29. The Old Bailey: a courtroom drama mystery (Perry Mason, anyone?Witness for the Prosecution...etc.) 
    30. Get Out of Jail Free: This is a freebie category. One per customer. You tell me what special category the book fits ("It's got an awesome cover!"..."First book I grabbed off my shelf") and it counts. Only thing I won't take is "It's a Vintage Mystery!"--that's a given. :-)

    To learn more about the challenge or sign up please go here.

    Books On France 2013 Reading Challenge

    For this challenge all books related to France count: 
    • it can be set in France,
    • written by a French author,
    • written in French (not Canadian French),
    • about a French theme: French cuisine (how the French influenced American cuisine is accepted for instance), French fashion, etc.

    I'm going to go for level 2, “beaucoup”= 6 books, which is enough for the beginning, I think.

    To learn more about the challenge or sign up please go here.

    New Authors Challenge 2013

    • The challenge will run from January 1, 2013 through December 31, 2013.
    • Since this is an author challenge, there is no restriction on choosing your novels. They can definitely be from other challenges. However, the authors must be new to you and, preferably from novels.
    • Anthologies are a great way to try someone new, but only a third of your new authors can be from anthologies.

    I'm going to try 25 new authors in 2013.

    To learn more about the challenge or sign up please go here.

    Narrative Poem Reading Challenge 2013

    • The challenge will start on January 2013 and end on December 2013.
    • Only narrative poems will be counted. If it's just a good poem, but not a narrative poem, it doesn't count.
    • The length of the poems may vary, from long epics such as Illiad and Odyssey to Poe's The Raven. Don't worry about it. If you read a collection of narrative poems, you may write a review for each poem or as a group of it. But please put all reviews in the master post that will come later on..

    I am aiming at Orpheus level (5 – 8 narrative poems) and here is the list of boos I plan to read for the challenge (may change!):
    • Chaucer, Geoffrey: The Canterbury Tales
    • Ovid: Metamorphoses
    • Milton, John: Paradise Lost
    • Scott, Sir Walter: The Lady of the Lake
    • Virgil: Aeneid
    • Coleridge, Samuel Taylor: The Rime of the Ancient Mariner
    • Re-read some Scandinavian mythology or Tolkien (?)

    To learn more about the challenge or sign up please go here.

    2013 Outdo Yourself Reading Challenge

    2013 Outdo Yourself Reading Challenge hosted by The Book Vixen

    Reading Challenge Details:
    • Runs January 1, 2013 – December 31, 2013 (books read prior to 1/1/2013 do not count towards the challenge).
    • The goal is to outdo yourself by reading more books in 2013 than you did in 2012. You can move up a level as often as you’d like but no moving down.
    • Books can be any format (bound, ebook, audio).
    • Novellas that are at least 100 pages in length, as well as full-length novels, will count for this reading challenge.
    • Re-reads and crossovers from other reading challenges are allowed.

    I'm going for "Out of breath" level, which is to read 6-10 more books in 2013 than in 2012. I'll fill in the concrete number by the end of 2012.

    To learn more about the challenge or sign up please go here.

    2013 Ebook Challenge

    It's not actually a challenge for me, as I read mostly on my Sony reader, but... it can be fun! I've chosen level 4 - Memory stick – 50 ebooks, but I hope I'll be able to go up to the next level with 75 ebooks. I will not plan my books in advance, but I'll submit reviews.

    To learn more about the challenge or sign up please go here.

    Monthly Key Word Reading Challenge

    The task is to read one book each month whose title includes one or more of the key words for that month.
    A title can be a variation on one of the key words. For example, a title could include the word 'snowing' or 'snowflake' even though the key word is 'snow.' Key words can be tweaked. For example, "Cinder" or "Ashes" can count for the key word 'Fire' and that would be just fine. If the key word is 'family' then a title could include the word 'sister' or 'mother.' If the key word is 'food' then a title could include the word 'cake.'

    Monthly Key Words:

    To learn more about the challenge or sign up please go here.

    November 11, 2012

    Death in Venice by Thomas Mann

    Death in Venice is a short novella, but there's much in it. I must warn you, that the plot can seem very creepy. That's how Goodreads puts it:
    Published on the eve of World War I, a decade after Buddenbrooks had established Thomas Mann as a literary celebrity, Death in Venice tell the story of Gustav von Aschenbach, a successful but aging writer who follows his wanderlust to Venice in search of spiritual fulfillment that instead leads to his erotic doom. In the decaying city, besieged by an unnamed epidemic, he becomes obsessed with an exquisite Polish boy, Tadzio.
    This sums up the plot pretty well. But Aschenbach's unhealthy obsession with the boy is paralleled with the myths of Greece and is not really that horrible. Nothing happens between them, anyway. They just look at each other, and that's all. Their relationship is purely aesthetic, higher than any ordinary, plain feeling. This relationship crowns a well-organized, normal life of a well-known, respected author, and it is so much not like him, that it leads him finally to his death. He reminds me a bit of Humboldt, of course, and of Faber (from Lolita and Homo Faber, resp.) or rather they should have reminded me of him, as this novella was written long before both.

    The novella is full of beautiful (in form, not in content) descriptions of Venice, of touching and chaotic feelings of the main hero and or intricate philosophical passages about beauty, love, age and life. Pretty much about everything, yes. It reads fast, and you just can't put it down. It left a great impression on me, and I totally recommend it to everybody. Read it!

    Death in Venice is a book from my Classics Club list

    November 10, 2012

    Macbeth - Act V and final thoughts

    Act V is a retribution for all the terrible things done by Macbeth couple.

    Lady Macbeth becomes mad, can't sleep and commits suicide. Macbeth is abandoned by all his lords and attacked in his castle by thousands of English soldiers. The witches' predictions came true, but not to the favour of Macbeth: the forest came to his castle, as soldiers held the branches in front of them to conceal their numbers, and he was killed by a man who was not born by a woman, but who was "from his mother’s womb untimely ripp’d". This is a nice touch that all the prophecies were actually correct, but not in the way Macbeth interpreted them.
    Dunsinane Hill from Black Hill
    So what the play is about? I think it is about fate and the will of a man. To which extent are our deeds predetermined? Can we avoid our fate if we stay faithful, honest and clean? Somehow all that was prophesied by the witches comes true, but it is also clearly shown that it was Macbeth's choice to begin murdering.

    The play is about the natural order of things, which must not be broken, and that a murder is the most horrible of the deeds that can break this natural order. But it also shows us that this order will inevitably be restored, and life will go on. But not for those who have opposed the nature and have made their life as horrible as Macbeth's:
    Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
    That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
    And then is heard no more: it is a tale
    Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
    Signifying nothing.

    Macbeth - Act IV

    Scene 1

    In the cave of the witches the cauldron is boiling, and Macbeth comes to get answers to his questions. Only we never hear his questions, as it is said that the apparitions know his thoughts. He again gets three predictions. An armed Head tells him to beware Macduff, a bloody Child - to be bloody and resolute, as "none of woman born shall harm Macbeth", and a Child crowned with a tree in his head prophesies, that "Macbeth shall never vanquish'd be until Great Birnam wood to high Dunsinane hill shall come against him". This reassures Macbeth, but something else tortures him - he wants to know if "Banquo's issue ever reign this kingdom". Now, why does this trouble him so much? I guess it is the issue of fertility here - Macbeth has no children, and that's what really troubles him. Anyway, witches show him the line of kings of Banquo's blood. Macbeth is in rage, and when a messenger comes to tell him that Macduff has gone to England, he decides to "surprise" his castle and kill his wife and children. (Seriously, I think he really has some complex about not having children, if he wants to kill everybody else's)

    Scene 2

    In Macduff's castle his wife is worried that her husband has left them, but still hopes that nobody will touch he and her children, as they haven't done anything. Of course, this didn't convince the killers sent by Macbeth. She and all her children are killed.

    Scene 3

    The war is coming. Macduff has found Malcolm in England, and they arrived to the decision to go to war for Scotland. When Ross comes with news of the slaughter of Macduff's family, they are even more determined. Moreover, England is ready to give some thousands for their cause. 

    What I like most in this scene is the description of the state of affairs in Scotland, as seen by a patriot:
    Alas, poor country!
    Almost afraid to know itself. It cannot
    Be call’d our mother, but our grave; where nothing,
    But who knows nothing, is once seen to smile;
    Where sighs and groans and shrieks that rend the air
    Are made, not mark’d; where violent sorrow seems
    A modern ecstasy; the dead man’s knell
    Is there scarce ask’d for who; and good men’s lives
    Expire before the flowers in their caps,
    Dying or ere they sicken.
    How much sorrow is there in those lines! Can't it be applied to some countries today? Yes, it can. And I'm not even pointing at the one in particular. At least not explicitly.

    November 9, 2012

    Macbeth - Act III

    Scenes 1 - 2

    The scene begins with Banquo talking about the prophecy. He feels, that Macbeth "play’dst most foully for’t", but the predictions have come true, and now Banquo considers his own part of the prophecy - that his sons will be kings. Such a pity to see the true, valiant Banquo also coming to the "dark side".

    Meanwhile, Macbeth (already a king) doesn't feel safe while Banquo, who knows the prophesy and suspects him, is around. So he hires two killers to get rid of Banquo and his son when they come back from their trip on the horseback. I guess, this doesn't mean he repents much of the murder, eh? Note, that Macbeth has taken initiative in evil, and later he doesn't even tell his wife what he has planned.

    Lady Macbeth comes to her husband to give him some consolation and encourage him to "be bright and jovial among his guests to-night". But they both suffer from the consequences of their deed and they are both unsafe, as they think that Banquo and his son endanger their rule. "Full of scorpions is my mind" says Banquo, and he tells his wife that he has ordered to kill both the father and the son in some hope of tranquillity. But I doubt they will have any tranquillity now after such a deed. As one lie entails another, one murder entails more murders. That's how the world works.

    Scene 3

    A short scene, in which Banquo is killed in the ambush of the killers, but his son manages to escape, following his father's last words:
    O, treachery! Fly, good Fleance, fly, fly, fly!
    Thou mayst revenge. O slave!
    Scene 4

    I'm always confused when a ghost makes an appearance. And it seems that Shakespeare likes to use them. But my feeling towards them is very much like Macbeth's:
    Blood hath been shed ere now, i’ the olden time,
    Ere human statute purged the gentle weal;
    Ay, and since too, murders have been perform’d
    Too terrible for the ear: the times have been,
    That, when the brains were out, the man would die,
    And there an end; but now they rise again,
    With twenty mortal murders on their crowns,
    And push us from our stools: this is more strange
    Than such a murder is.
    In the banquet scene the ghost of Banquo seems to represent conscience, as only Macbeth can see him, and as it appears when Macbeth speaks about Banquo's absence.

    Macbeth's madness has completely betrayed him, but Lady Macbeth tries to conceal the truth, she tries to protect her husband by saying it's only a short fit and by asking everybody away. She doesn't even blame him for the scene after everybody have left. What a good and true wife, isn't she?

    Macbeth understands now, that "blood will have blood", but he is not sure of his way, and he decides to seek the advice of the witches again:
                             I will to-morrow,
    And betimes I will, to the weird sisters:
    More shall they speak; for now I am bent to know,
    By the worst means, the worst. For mine own good,
    All causes shall give way: I am in blood
    Stepp’d in so far that, should I wade no more,
    Returning were as tedious as go o’er:
    Strange things I have in head, that will to hand;
    Which must be acted ere they may be scann’d.

    Scene 5

    Enters Hecate, all rage because she wasn't invited to take part in playing with Macbeth's fate. For those who den't remember, "Hecate or Hekate is an ancient goddess, frequently depicted in triple form and variously associated with crossroads, entrance-ways, fire, light, the Moon, magic, witchcraft, knowledge of herbs and poisonous plants, necromancy, and sorcery" (Wikipedia). Well, first the ghost, now this... It gets stranger and stranger.

    Scene 6

    Two noble lords ironically discuss the recent events:
    My former speeches have but hit your thoughts,
    Which can interpret further: only, I say,
    Things have been strangely borne. The gracious Duncan
    Was pitied of Macbeth: marry, he was dead:
    And the right-valiant Banquo walk’d too late;
    Whom, you may say, if’t please you, Fleance kill’d,
    For Fleance fled: men must not walk too late.
    Who cannot want the thought how monstrous
    It was for Malcolm and for Donalbain
    To kill their gracious father? damned fact!
    How it did grieve Macbeth! did he not straight
    In pious rage the two delinquents tear,
    That were the slaves of drink and thralls of sleep?
    Was not that nobly done? Ay, and wisely too;
    For ’twould have anger’d any heart alive
    To hear the men deny’t. So that, I say,
    He has borne all things well: and I do think
    That had he Duncan’s sons under his key —
    As, an’t please heaven, he shall not — they should find
    What ’twere to kill a father; so should Fleance.
    So nice, isn't it? "Men must not walk too late". Note that Macbeth is called a tyrant for the first time in this scene.

    Meanwhile we get to know that Macduff has gone to the English court where Duncan's son resides and enjoys the favour of the English king to ask for the restoration of order in Scotland. And the lords wait for the news with hope.

    November 7, 2012

    Macbeth - Act II

    Scene 1

    The last pangs of Macbeth's conscience before the actual murder take place in this scene. True Banquo can't sleep because of some foreboding feeling, and he tries to talk to Macbeth about the witches and their predictions. Macbeth asks Banquo to "cleave to his consent" (probably meaning the time he'll become king?), but his friend is too noble, he will "keep his bosom franchised and allegiance clear". Now this is a clear opposition of the two characters. They are very similar in their social position, but choose different ways. We'll see where it'll bring them.

    The following monologue of Macbeth shows some signs of madness. He dreams of blood and a dagger, and it is clear that he is frightened of what he is going to do, but the decision is made, and he finishes like this:
    I go, and it is done; the bell invites me.
    Hear it not, Duncan; for it is a knell
    That summons thee to heaven or to hell.

     Scene 2

    The murder of the king happens off-stage, and we can observe only the spouse conspirators after the deed is done. Macbeth is very affected. He hears condemnatory voices and cannot pronounce "Amen!" and he is afraid to go back to the place of the murder to conceal the evidence. But he is not the most interesting character in this scene. Lady Macbeth - that's the one who completely fascinates me with her businesslike and down-to-earth approach. Just listen to this:
    Who was it that thus cried? Why, worthy thane,
    You do unbend your noble strength, to think
    So brainsickly of things. Go get some water,
    And wash this filthy witness from your hand.
    Why did you bring these daggers from the place?
    They must lie there: go carry them; and smear
    The sleepy grooms with blood.

    But she is not completely heartless. Despite all her determination and lust for power she cannot kill the king herself, because he reminds her of her father. Am I trying to find excuses for her? Not at all, I just admire her as the most powerful character in the play so far.

    Scene 3

    Donalbain and Malcolm disappear
    The murder is discovered. Look how our conspirators behave themselves: Macbeth admits that in his grief he killed the guards, who now cannot defend themselves (very conveniently!), and lady Macbeth - faints! Who can believe that a woman who faints when hears of murder, have methodically planned it and performed part of this plan?

    Noble lords are going to have a council and decide who is to blame, and valiant sons of Duncan - fly! They are so afraid of being killed too or probably of being accused of the murder, that they leave the country, leaving all their legacy and reign behind. How very convenient for the treacherous couple, now nobody can doubt it was his sons that killed Duncan

    Scene 4

    This scene brings us back to nature and we got to know what bad omens happened that night. Nature again reflects the deeds of men, and now it is
    A falcon, towering in her pride of place,
    Was by a mousing owl hawk’d at and kill’d.
     Meanwhile we have our suspicions confirmed - Duncan's sons were accused of the murder as soon as it became known that they fled, and Macbeth is already on his was to Scone to be invested. The lords are also leaving the unhappy Macbeth's castle, not very optimistic about the future and the new king. So, with Shakespeare's constancy in making his own predictions true, we can say, that bad things have only begun to happen.

    November 6, 2012

    Around the World in 80 Books Challenge

    Around the World in 80 Books Reading Challenge

    You would probably say that I'm hooked on challenges, but I really like the idea of this one. It is called Around the World in 80 Books and is hosted by Stacey at Have Books, Will Travel.

    I have made my own rules (I may, may I?), as Stacey's are probably too much for me. So here is my modified version:
    • I have five years to complete my journey. My start date is November 6, 2012 and my end date will be November 5, 2017. Who knows what will happen in 5 years, I'll just go at my own pace and pick up what I like, as my main reason for this undertaking is to explore a bit and probably find something new out of my comfort zone.
    • I'm counting the books that take place in a particular country. If a book takes place in multiple countries then I will count it towards the country I don't yet have in my list. A cheat? You bet! ;)
    • I can't promise to research a lot about the country, but if there are some cultural peculiarities in the book, I may include some background knowledge that I find interesting in my reviews.
    I'm not going to make a list in advance, I'll just put here the links to the books which count, and we'll see where it'll bring me!

    My Book List:

    • Povídky z druhé kapsy (Stories from Another Pocket) by Karel Čapek
    3. ITALY:
    4. FRANCE:
    5. RUSSIA:
    • Осенние визиты (Autumn Visits) by Sergey Lukyanenko
    6. USA:
    7. JAPAN:
    8. GREECE
    9. SUDAN

    visited 9 states (4%)
    Create your own visited map of The World or jurisdische vertaling duits?

    November 5, 2012

    The Classics Club November Meme

    This month we are invited to answer the following question:
    What classic piece of literature most intimidates you, and why? (Or, are you intimidated by the classics, and why? And has your view changed at all since you joined our club?)
    Well, I am very easily intimidated ;) And there are usually 2 reasons for it:

    1) The content. I would never have made such a progress with Moby Dick if not for the Moby Dick Big Read project. There is such a lot in this book, that it's just impossible to digest it without some help. Sometimes I need to get the context, look for clues, or otherwise I don't understand what this all is about. Last time I was googling the standard volume sizes of the time for the "Cetology" chapter, and I have never imagined I would ever need such a knowledge.

    2) The language. I am not a native English speaker, but I always treat translations with suspicion and prefer to read in the original if I can. That's why I've never read any Spanish authors for the long time - I was waiting until my Spanish was enough ;) I don't usually have problems with English, but such writers as Shakespeare and Poe always scary me (although I love them!) because I know I'll need to consult my dictionary too often.

    Length does not usually scary me (I've read War and Peace twice, haha!) but there are special cases, of course. For example now I am reading One Thousand and One Nights, and it never ends!! I don't want to say I don't like it, it's most enchanting, but you need to make pauses not to get tired of the style, and so now it's in my reader for half a year, and I'm only in the middle of it.

    Macbeth - Act I

    Act I, scenes 1 - 3

    The first 3 scenes set the stage for the whole tragedy. The weather is stormy, which hints that there'll also be a tumult of feelings in the play. The witches are also part of the nature - they appear in the storm, they rule the winds and they crash people's lives. Meanwhile the situation in Scotland is also far from calm - the king of Norway together with one treacherous thane rise against the rightful king. They are defeated, not without the help of Macbeth, and the title of the traitor - the thane of Cawdor - goes by king's wish to Macbeth. Inheriting the traitor's title doesn't mean anything good, eh?

    The most powerful scene is the meeting of Macbeth and the witches. They greet him with the title he knows he has, with the title he doesn't yet know he has (the thane of Cawdor) and with the king's title. To make things worse the moment later appear two noblemen, who bring him news of his new Cawdor title. Enough to believe in the whole prophesy, and Macbeth, secretly wishing to be the king, never doubts it.

    Now, is it a predestination and do witches really see the future? I think not. I think the decision is still to be made by Macbeth. In scene 3 he still hopes that the prophesy will come true without his help, but surely he must know the old king must be dead to have a new one? So here is the moment where the thought is planted in Macbeth's mind, and we'll see if it's enough to make him a traitor too, as his predecessor was.

    Act I, scenes 4 - 7

    In these acts we finally see who wears the pants in Macbeth's household. Lady Macbeth is the one who really makes the treason happen. She knows her husband is too soft and true, and, it seems to me, detests him because of this. She understands that never again will she have such a perfect chance to become a queen  - her husband is convinced that this must happen, and the king is going to spend the night at their castle. She also realises that she is to guide her husband and organise everything, because he is ready to stop at any moment, as, despite his ambition, he likes the king, he is his liege and he is recently rewarded by him. But what can he do if she has a perfect plan, and she uses her woman's jedi-tricks, including "you are not a man" and "you don't love me anymore? See how she prays for the strength to accomplish the deed:
                                                                        ....Come, you spirits
         That tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here,
         And fill me from the crown to the toe top-full
         Of direst cruelty! make thick my blood;
         Stop up the access and passage to remorse,
         That no compunctious visitings of nature
         Shake my fell purpose, nor keep peace between
         The effect and it! Come to my woman’s breasts,
         And take my milk for gall, you murdering ministers,
         Wherever in your sightless substances
         You wait on nature’s mischief!

    Gives me shivers! But although she terrifies me and I can't approve of her readiness to kill, somehow I also admire her, because she is so strong and determined.

    So act I is finished, and I am already thrilled! The murder hasn't happened yet, but it is there from the first lines, and the growing anticipation makes the first act such a brilliant piece of writing.

    November 1, 2012

    Macbeth by William Shakespeare

    It's November, and "Let's Read Plays" challenge has started!

    For my November reading I've chosen Macbeth by William Shakespeare. I've already read it in Russian when a kid and I don't remember much, only the witches ;) So now I'll read it in English and really slowly, to get all the nuances.

    I've found a good electronic edition on my favourite site - eBooks@Adelaide and I also use some short commentary to help me make my way through the play (Act IAct IIAct IIIAct IVAct V). I also peep in the dictionary quite often and sometimes in the translation for the longest and the most elaborate phrases.

    I will update this post as I read to include my thoughts and comments, and in the end I'll write something like final review. I would be glad to find somebody who also does Macbeth this month to share the experience!

    Reflections act by act:

    Act I
    Act II
    Act III
    Act IV
    Act V and final thoughts

    Macbeth is a book from my Classics Club list
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