The Fall: The evidence for a Golden Age, 6,000 years of insanity, and the dawning of a new era by Steve Taylor

I usually write about books that I enjoyed reading. This book, though, disappointed me. Yes that is my opinion in one word: disappointing. Don’t judge me bad, I still think it is worth reading, but it starts quite promisingly and quite fast you realise that it is rather a book of pseudo-science than of real science. And let me explain…

This book presents a theory that society as we know it has developed several pathologies, all of which can be attributed to one major event: the Fall. It is practically a boom of the ego-sense, as a result of a major environmental change that took place 6,000 years ago, which led to war, patriarchy and inequalities, child oppression, monotheistic religions and abuse of nature. This boom affected most of the world’s population, but there are a few communities that stayed pure.

I personally liked the argument of the book and had high expectations about it. The main problem of it, is that it relies heavily upon empirical science and this is used especially in points where there is disagreement with the theory. For most of the book there are references thrown around, but quite fast expressions like “let’s assume that”, “it is probably a mistake to refer/speak”, “it is likely that”, or “I believe” start appearing everywhere. And of course you can make an assumption, but then present evidence about it, right? Evidence that is kind of generally accepted and not just cherry-picked to support your theory.

This is the main flaw for me. I am a scientist and I have written several peer-reviewed papers. This document would not have passed a peer-reviewed process, although probably it was not intended as one, but as an effort to explain science simply for everybody. But it is different to explain simply science and different to cherry-pick proof. Evidence is selected so as to serve the author and his theory. In one paragraph the democracy of the Athenians is selective and the native Indian American’s social structure praised as really democratic and a few paragraphs further the latter is admittedly also quite “special” too, but that is not important because the Indian Americans serve better our theory, as they are considered a pre-Fall nation and the Athenians a ante-Fall one. Commonly proven theories are merged with the ones commonly considered fake and this soup is used to prove the general theory of the Fall. The whole process of proving the Fall theory is further destroyed, when the author makes clear a few personal preferences of him, such as the far eastern philosophy (Buddhism) or the native American societies, even if these do not follow totally the pattern of his theory.

As I mentioned already, I started this book with every good faith that it will be interesting. In a lot of parts, I was mentally nodding to the way the author was presenting the theory. But quite quite often I was becoming sceptical about the argumentation and trying in vain to find true evidence in the text. Below I mention some of the individual points that contain a lot of discussion for me:

  1. In the beginning there were small things, such as in page 20 the comment that “serfdom was common throughout Europe, especially Eastern Europe and Russia”. Well, a big part of what is today considered Eastern Europe was part of the Ottoman Empire for most of its middle-age history up to the 19th or 20th century, where serfdom was not the common political scheme. The population was conquered by the Turks, but there was taxation per head both for the muslim and the non-muslim population, so as to be able to manage the vast areas of the empire and the diverse communities it had. But ok that is just a small detail, right?
  2. At a point comes the romantic description of the Minoan Civilisation. They are considered un-fallen, with equality in their social structure and connection to Earth and nature. On the other hand, from the legend we know that they did have a king, king Minos, and there are definitely palaces that were excavated by Evans, a detail that doesn’t totally fit in the whole description of the un-fallen societies.
  3. Quite often myths are presented as evidence, for example Atlantis in page 150. I personally believe that myths contain fragments of real events, but they can not be used extensively as evidence de facto. I remember a sentence from the book “The Burrowers Beneath” of Brian Lumley “If you give to a legend a concrete location you strengthen it somewhat, and if that locations yields up something from the past, centuried relics of a civilisation lost for aeons, then the legend becomes history”. I think this is what the author tries to do in this book, by strengthening the legends.
  4. All throughout the book the status of women is discussed as being better in the pre-fall communities. And in page 118, the theory that these people heard voices in their head instead of “I”thoughts is elaborated. The example used is that a woman hears the voice in her head telling her that “she would better finish gathering food for the day and go home, because her husband might be coming home from his hunting expendition now”. Nice example to advocate for the better position of women in that era!
  5. In page 67 the position of women in ancient Greece is described. It is not totally wrong the description itself (yes it was like this in ancient Athens), just the generalisation that it was like this in the whole of ancient Greece, when it is known that women in Sparti had a different status (even if not totally equal to men, but still quite higher compared to the Athenian women) and there are theories advocating that the Spartian way was more common than the Athenian in the other Greek city-states.
  6. In page 179 “the female brain is predominantly hard-wired for empathy. The male brain is predominantly hard-wired for understanding and building systems”. Doesn’t this argumentation imply that men are better in science than women, one of the main stereotypes of the current society that have been proven to be wrong?
  7. In another chapter, the book refers extensively to the Aborigines of Australia, but the Maori of New Zealand do not fit in the pattern, so they are neglected, although they would fulfil all the initial qualifications that the Aborigines or the Polynesian natives have. Is this cherry-picking?
  8. In page 234 it is argued that “linear time seems to have developed at roughly the same time as other effects of the second phase of the Fall, such as monotheism and intensifed warfare – that is during the mid to late centures of the 2nd millenium BCE.” That for me means around 1500 – 1000 BC. But himself the author presents as examples of the cyclical time the Mayans, which are estimated at ca. 2000 BC to 1697 AD, the Greeks, estimated (if we exclude the Minoans) at 1600 – 146 BC, and the Hindus, which are estimated at ca. 4500 – 2000 BC. How does the author result in dating the linear time? By connecting it to Judaism, that is the only monotheistic religion at the time. Don’t forget that Christianity appeared around 40 AD.
  9. Again in page 243, the environmental abuse is connected to monotheism and is traced back to “the beginning of the Iron Age, around 1500 BC.” And a bit later it is argued that ” early polytheistic gods were associated with natural phenomena, presiding over mountains, rivers and seas”. As I mentioned in the previous point, Judaism did appear around 1500 BC, but Christianity that replaced the polytheistic religions of Europe did not appear before 30 to 40 AD. So it seems that the dating of the Fall theory is based on Jusaism, which would be an exaggerated extrapolation for the religions of the rest of the world, wouldn’t it?
  10. In page 239, I quote from the book: “Many of us are fairly indifferent to social and political problems until they affect us directly” and the author finds me nodding to his comment. Then he continues with examples, mentioning “the issue of nuclear power may not bother us until a power station is built a few miles away and the children in our town develop leukaemia”. This is how an argument starting nicely ends up awfully with a generalisation that is unacceptable from a scientific point of view!
  11. In pages 246 – 7, there is a beautiful example of demonising science too. I quote from the book: “Modern science is carried away with a desire to manipulate all natural and biological phenomena, to completey understand the world and construct a complete explanation of everything, which will give it a satisfying sense of control and conquest. In this regard, it’s not surprising that most scientists are men, since the male ego craves for this kind of dominance much more than the female.” How can such sentences appear in a text that want to prove itself objective and scientific! As a female scientist that have been working for years in promoting the environment and convincing people for the climate change, this sentence is absolutely unacceptable! The author should read the book The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark by Carl Sagan. Although yes there are people that abuse science, science in itself is rather pure and not a way to dominate.
  12. In page 250 it is admitted that the evidence of the theory lies in the fact that the cultural changes the book talks about happened at exactly the same time in history and to exactly the same human groups. This is only true as far as it concerns Judaism and the Simitic part of the human race. All throughout the book there are points where exactly this way of proving seems to be faulty and empirical.

In general, it is a pity! The theory would have been so interesting to be proved and the author’s outlook for the future is full of hope. That’s why it is still worthy to read it, but it should also be important to distinguish between what is science and what is pseudo-science and not present the latter as the former. I mentioned it earlier, but I will say it again, that as far as it concerns science, Steve Taylor should read the Demon- Haunted World by Carl Sagan (you can see my review of this book here). He will find out that he falls totally in the category of pseudo-science Sagan describes. Most of us scientists go through the process of having our theories controlled, by our peers. I did mention it already, that I do not think this theory would have withstood any peer review.

Have you read this book? What is your opinion about it? I would be happy to hear some more comments about this book!


Temeraire series by Naomi Novik

My previous post was about one of the best greek fantasy series I have read. This gave me the incentive to write about another fantasy series, this time not in greek, that I read in the end if lady year and i enjoyed really a lot: the Temeraire series by Naomi Novik.

The idea behind these books is brilliant: how the world would have been if dragons existed. The author answers this question for the period of the Napoleonic wars and creates a really interesting story! Naomi Novik gives the historic facts a fantasy touch, creating therefore a really interesting alternative story.

In the Temeraire series, the existance of dragons is normal. There are several breeds and they are creatures with intelligence that communicate by talking the human language and collaborate with humans with different ways. For some nations they are like gods and they are worshipped and obeyed, while for other nations they are rare and scary, but they are definitely not evil by default and they are used for special tasks, due to the fact that they can fly. As the story takes place in the beginning of the 19th century, in an era during which Europe experienced extensive wars, dragons are used as aircrafts and constitute the official Airforces of the European nations!

The Temeraire series consist of 9 books. The main two characters of the series is William (Will) Laurence, a british naval officer, and Temeraire, a chinese dragon. In the nine books we follow their adventures around the world from Europe, to China and Japan in Asia, to Africa, to South America and even Australia. The strange duo meets a lot of other humans and dragons, make friends and enemies and gain experience that will form their ideas and lead them to take difficult decisions. In total an exciting alternative version of a major part of the European history. Most books move with fast rhythms with only a few exceptions. Some of them were so captivating, I could have skipped sleeping to see what happens next! I did read the first five of them within 20 days, and the whole of series in 40 days!

And now I am going to write my review of each book individually. In case you want to avoid spoilers or you don’t want to know which books were less interesting than the others, you have to stop here.

In the first book, His Majesty’s Dragon, Laurence’s ship captures a French frigate and seizes its precious cargo: an unhatched dragon egg. Unfortunately the egg hatches before they reach England, so as to deliver their treasure, and dragons are creatures that create special bonds with the first person that harness them. Laurence is the first one to harness the baby dragon and names him Temeraire, after a ship! As a result, Laurence’s fate is changed after this and from naval officer he ends up part of the British Aerial Corps, as captain of a rare in England dragon. During this book, this strange duo discovers themselves.

Already from the first pages of this book, I found it so captivating and I could not set it down! Temeraire is a really intelligent dragon, who learns fast, but finds it difficult that he is different from all the other dragons. Laurence is himself also different from all the other Aerial officers. He has not grown up with their mentality, and he is already a bit too old to change from the strict, noble upbringing. I really enjoyed that he was not pretending to be a hero.

In the second book, Throne of Jade, a diplomatic incident occurs when the Chinese find out that their noble gift, intended for Napoleon, ended up into British hands and is used as a common dragon. Temeraire is really of the royal dragon family in China and it is absolutely a disgrace that he is used as a common dragon, so an angry Chinese delegation arrives in Britain to reclaim him. Laurence and Temeraire, relactuntly, have to travel back to China, in a long and dangerous voyage. In this book there is less action compared to the previous one (a big part of it takes place on a ship afterall), while political games are played in every turn either in Britain or in China. We get to see how dragons are treated in China and Temeraire gets to meet his mom and his family and be treated as a royal. In the meanwhile he learns to write, gets a girlfriend and a really strong enemy too!

The third book, Black Powder War, is about the return of Temeraire and his crew back home. This time they don’t go by boat, but decide to follow the land route, as they receive the mission to collect three eggs from the Ottoman Empire on behalf of Britain. We follow their adventures as they cross all of China and Asia, to reach their capital of the Ottoman Empire. There they get treated strangely, as there is nobody that seems to know about their mission. More adventures and problems follow, as they try to cross over Europe to reach home in a chase against time , but central Europe is in war with Napoleon, who by now has reached Prussia.

I personally enjoyed this book more than the second one, but not as much as the first. Both the dragon and his crew add up experiences and they get some more unexpected friends in a group of feral dragons they faced in the mountains of Asia. Temeraire, who has a special ability in learning languages, expands his knowledge, gets to taste life as a feral, learns the fighting techniques of the Prussian Aerial Forces and observes the French Aerial Forces. He starts forming the dream of his life, that dragons and people will live in harmony in Britain and Europe, the way they do in China. All this knowledge will be useful in the future and I hope that his position in Britain will improve.

In the fourth book, Empire of Ivory, Temeraire and his crew end up in Africa. The English dragons have become sick and are slowly slowly dying. The doctors notice that Temeraire is immune and his crew remembers that during his trip to China he got sick and they suspect that he was cured by something found in the Cape town area and became immune. So Temeraire and his formation travel to Cape Town to try and find the cure. That leads to an incredible adventure, as inland Africa is ruled by a collaboration of dragons and humans. Each tribe has its main dragon that is a reincarnation of all the spirits of their ancestors.

It is so interesting to see that dragons play different roles in different parts of the world. In Britain they are only beasts, in China they are entities and in Africa they are Gods. This book is based less on historical facts. It is nice to meet again Maximus and Lily, the British friends of Temeraire, which I had personally missed in the previous books. The story escalates tremendoulsy and the book finishes with an absolute cliffhanger!

The fifth book, Victory of Eagles, continues at the point the previous one stopped. Temeraire and Laurence are punished for what they did in the previous book, but Temeraire is too precious to risk executing Laurence for treason. In the meanwhile, Napoleon has defeated all other European armies and finally decides to attack Britain. After his successful crossing of the Channel, Temeraire and Laurence become far too valuable to be wasted around in breeding the former and prison the latter, so they are called back to service. Well, Temeraire has already proved to have a strong character and have had ideas of his own, so he becomes the kind of leader he was born to be! Thanks to a misunderstanding, he organises the breeding dragons into a regiment and succeeds in a few victories against the French before the British army had time to realise where the French were. From there on, the war becomes more serious and the defense more organised and Temeraire achieves in realising some parts of his dream for the dragons.

As in the previous book, the story escalates all through this book, but the end is a bit of an anticlimax. Nevertheless, it is a new start for Temeraire and Laurence, even if closing the door behind them is at the same time sad. Since this book, there is another dragon with strong opinion in the group, Iskierska, but she is totally different than Temeraire. Nevertheless, she is funny, although annoying from time to time.

The sixth book, Tongues of Serpents, takes place in Australia, but the story itself here is less exciting and the rhythm much slower. It was all a bit too obscure for my taste and too bizzarre. I found this book the least interesting of the series.

In the seventh book, Crucible of Gold, Laurence and Temeraire find themselves in South American and the Incan empire. The plot gets an even more alternative route compared to history. I found this book interesting in the first half, up to the point the group reached the capital of Incas, but it became a bit boring from this point on. Excitement was building up with all the mishappenings during the trip from Australia to Cusco, but their arrival to Cusco doesn’t continue as interestingly. It rather gives the impression that the author did not have any good ideas for what could happen there, or maybe we really had to feel how boring it was waiting at the court of the Incan empress.

The eigth book, Blood of Tyrants, finds Laurence in Japan, suffering from partial amnesia. He doesn’t remember anything of what has happened during the last eight years, so he thinks he is still a naval officer. After several adventures, Temeraire finds Laurence and helps him to retrieve his memory. They travel once again to China and this time they end up in Moscow, accompanied by several Chinese fighting dragons, so as to help the Russians to fight Napoleon.

The story in this book moves fast! Incidents happen everywhere. Laurence has to escape from Japan, while he is not sure why he is there or where he came from. I read in several reviews that people didnt like the amnesia trick. Living with a parent who has days during which he has forgotten even strong emotional moments as my mom’s death, yes I believe it and I can understand it. In general, I liked this book. Once again, the story is interesting. We get to see how another nation treats their dragons: Russia seem to be the worse in Europe! 

The ninth book, League of Dragons, is the last in the series and I found it a really nice ending! A lot of war action and the end of the Naopoleonic wars are included in this book. Well, the outcome is not different from history, but the way reaching it is! I was so interested to see what Laurence and Temeraire would do after the war and I definitely like what they decided! It totally fits Temeraire!

I totally loved this series! Thank you so much Naomi Novik for an amazing story! I have always liked dragons, but they are usually presented as evil and mean. I wish the discussions about turning it to a tv series goes through. Do you think the series will be as good as the books, or do you think they will be disappointing?

Since my other hobby is crochet, I have created my own version of Temeraire, although to be honest he looks more like Maximus than Temeraire. What do you think?

My Temeraire (left) with his friend the Basel Basilisk (right)

Τριλογία των Γιών της Στάχτης του Ελευθέριου Κεραμίδα

Today my post is about the best Greek books I read so far this year and my review will be in Greek!

Δεν γράφω πολύ συχνά στα ελληνικά, αλλά μερικές φορές επιτάσσεται! Επίσης έχω σταματήσει να γράφω για τα βιβλία που διαβάζω, όχι επειδή σταμάτησα να διαβάζω γενικά, αλλά επειδή δεν βρίσκω πάντα ενδιαφέρον να γράψω κάτι στο μπλογκ μου για αυτά. Κι όμως υπάρχουν κάποια που αξίζουν λίγο περισσότερο χρόνο. Σε αυτή την κατηγορία εντάσσονται τα τρία βιβλία των Γιών της Στάχτης του Ελευθέριου Κεραμίδα.

Το πρώτο βιβλίο έχει τίτλο Κοράκι σε άλικο φόντο και εκδόθηκε για πρώτη φορά το 2010 από τις εκδόσεις Πατάκη. Το διάβασα το 2014, χωρίς να έχω πολύ εκτεταμένη εμπειρία στην κατηγορία του φανταστικού, αλλά παρόλα αυτά με εντυπωσίασε. Έκτοτε περίμενα με αγωνία τα υπόλοιπα βιβλία της σειράς. Δυστυχώς λόγω της κρίσης στην Ελλάδα η έκδοση των υπολοίπων βιβλίων άργησε, αλλά το 2017 εκδόθηκε επιτέλους το δεύτερο βιβλίο με τίτλο Βέλη και κρόκινες φλόγες και το 2018 το τρίτο βιβλίο με τίτλο Δρυς με φύλλα σμαραγδιά από τις εκδόσεις Mamaya.

Έχοντας και τα τρία βιβλία πια στα χέρια μου, και με εκτατεμένη πια εμπειρία διαβάσματος βιβλίων φανταστικού, αποφάσισα να τα διαβάσω ως σύνολο. Και να λοιπόν η γνώμη μου για αυτήν την ελληνική σειρά φανταστικού.

Πρόκεται για μια πολύ αξιόλογη και αξιέπαινη προσπάθεια να δημιουργηθεί μια σειρά επικής φαντασίας στηριγμένη στην Ελληνική παράδοση και ιστορία. Το γενικό πλαίσιο της ιστορίας είναι μια τεράστια έκταση διαφόρων χωρών με κέντρο το Βασίλειο των Αιγλωέων που θυμίζει έντονα την Βυζαντινής αυτοκρατορίας (έκπληξη ε;) και γείτονες που στο σύνολό τους συνθέτουν μια γενική άποψη της Μεσογείου. Μοιάζουν οι Περαντινοί με τους Βενετούς και Γενουάτες ή είναι η εντύπωσή μου; Όπως και να έχει, αναμειγνύονται ωραία τόσο ιστορικές εικόνες όπως φανταζόμαστε την αυλή του αυτοκράτορα ή στις επαρχιακές ακριτικές πόλεις, με όρους όπως τελέσματα και βδελύγματα, που θυμίζουν έντονα την παλιά ελληνική παράδοση. Η επιλογή των προσώπων, που συνδυάζουν ανθρώπους με μάγους και ιδιαίτερα πλάσματα, είναι καταπληκτική!

Ο κόσμος στον οποίο εξελίσσεται η τριλογία

Οι βασικοί ήρωες της ιστορίας είναι τρεις:

  • ο Σεβαστιανός, ο οποίος είναι ανώτατο μέλο της Αιγλωικής αυλής και συνωμοτεί για τα δικά του συμφέροντα εκμεταλλευόμενος την διαφθορά που επικρατή στην Αυλή
  • ο Φιλάρετος είναι ένα περίεργο μωρό, που μεγαλώνει μέσα και ελαφρώς έξω από ένα Αιγλωικό μοναστήρι, αποκλεισμένος από τον έξω κόσμο, γνωρίζοντας μόνο τον πατέρα του και όχι την μητέρα του
  • ο Αργυρός, ένας ξένος μισθοφόρος στην Εταιρία, ή ήρωας στην Ναντάρ ή κάτι άλλο αλλού…

Στο Κοράκι σε άλικο φόντο στήνεται η πλοκή. Είναι ίσως το πιο αργό από τα τρία βιβλία, αλλά είναι σύνηθες στις σειρές φανταστικού. Οι χάρτες και η εντυπωσιακή λίστα των προσώπων (η οποία σωστά μεταφέρθηκε στο τέλος του βιβλίου στην αναθεωρημένη έκδοση), καθώς και η περιπλοκότητα της πλοκής ήδη κατατάσουν το βιβλίο συγκρίσιμο των βιβλίων ξένων συγγραφέων του είδους. Προσωπικά μου άρεσε ο τρόπος που οργανώθηκαν τα κεφάλαια: στηρίζονται σε μια χρονική περίοδο και τα υποκεφάλαια αφηγούνται τα γεγονότα που λαμβάνουν χώρα σε αυτή την περίοδο για τα διάφορα πρόσωπα της ιστορίας. Μικρό διαμαντάκι η παρουσία της Χρυσορρόης, του τελέσματος που προστατεύει την Αιγλωική Αυτοκρατορία .

Το Βέλη και κρόκινες φλόγες ακολουθεί τις περιπέτειες των τριών βασικών προσώπων, ενώ στην πλοκή ξεχωρίζουν μερικά ακόμα:

  • Ο Αργυρός καταξιώνεται στον επίσημο στρατό, αλλά όχι χωρίς δυσκολίες. Τον αγαπώ για τον ωραίο τρόπο που λύνει τα προβλήματα και στο τέλος όλοι (ή μάλλον σχεδόν όλοι) μένουν ευχαριστημένοι. 
  • Ο Φιλάρετος έχει αποκτήσει φίλους και κάτι χάνει κάτι κερδίζει. Τον αγαπώ που είναι ένας αγαθός γίγαντας που τώρα όμως ξέρει κάτι ακόμα για την πολυπλοκότητα της ζωής και δεν είναι πια αφελής. 
  • Ο δε Σεβαστιανός τρέχει γύρω γύρω στην αυτοκρατορία να σώσει όσα μπορεί από τις δολοπλοκίες και τις αυθαιρεσίες, τώρα που έχει καθαρίσει το μυαλό του…
  • Έχει προστεθεί ο Μελέτιος, ένας φαρμακός, κάποιος δηλαδή που φτιάχνει καταπότια και δηλητήρια. Έχει ήδη εμφανισθεί στο προηγούμενο βιβλίο, αλλά σε αυτό διαδραματίζει πιο σημαντικό ρόλο. Τον αγαπώ, γιατί φαντάζομαι πως αν ζούσα σε αυτή την εποχή, μάλλον κι εγώ φαρμακός θα ήμουν 🙂

Το δεύτερο βιβλίο της σειράς ξεπερνά το πρώτο σε τέχνη. Λογικό αφού και ο συγγραφέας εξελίσσει το γράψιμό του και η πλοκή δεν χρειάζεται να εξαντληθεί σε περιγραφές. Το μόνο στοιχείο που με στεναχώρησε, ήταν η απουσία της Χρυσορρόης, η οποία έχει αντικατασταθεί από τον Προφήτη. Ο Προφήτης, όμως, είναι απλά ένας ιδιαίτερος άνθρωπος, και όχι κάτι τόσο εντυπωσιακό όπως ένα τέλεσμα, ενώ παράλληλα, η παρουσία γυναικείων προσώπων υποβιβάστηκε έντονα. Υπάρχουν κι άλλες γυναικείες παρουσίες στο βιβλίο βεβαίως, αλλά καμιά τους δεν ξεχωρίζει. Αντιθέτως όλες τους μπαίνουν στα κλασσικά καλούπια των παραμυθιών, δηλαδή είναι είτε πριγκίπισσες, είτε εταίρες ή υπηρέτριες, είτε κακά θηρία.

Όμως έρχεται πόλεμος…

Το τρίτο βιβλίο Δρυς με φύλλα σμαραγδιά είναι ίσως το καλύτερο από τα τρία βιβλία της σειράς! Η πλοκή κλιμακώνεται, η μεγάλη μάχη έφτασε και το ενδιαφέρον κρατείται αμείωτο! Καθένας από τους βασικούς χαρακτήρες των προηγούμενων βιβλίων επιτελεί τον σκοπό του, ώστε να νικήσουν οι Αιγλωείς και να αποφευχθεί ο κίνδυνος που διατρέχει η αυτοκρατορία. Θα τα καταφέρουν όμως;

Ο Αργυρός, ο Φιλάρετος, ο Μελέτιος και επιμέρους πρόσωπα όπως ο Υέτιος, ο Λεωντής και ο Γελαστηνός βρίσκονται όλοι στο ίδιο σημείο! Μόνο ο Σεβαστιανός δεν είναι προσωπικά εκεί, αλλά αυτός πρέπει να μείνει πίσω να στηρίξει την οργάνωση του κράτους, όσο οι υπόλοιποι μάχονται στην Κουβρατία.

Το εντυπωσιακό σε αυτό το βιβλίο είναι πως οι περιγραφές των επιμέρους μαχών δεν επαναλαμβάνονται, αλλά καθεμιά είναι δυαφορετική, ενώ παρακολουθούμε τις εξελίξεις και από τις δύο μεριές των στρατών. Ο συγγραφέας μας μεταφέρει μπροστά στα τείχη της Ναρδικής, όπου βλέπουμε τον Φιλάρετο με κομμένη την ανάσα να πολεμά τα δεντρο-τέρατα. Ο Υέτιος έχει πληγωθεί, θα ζήσει; Πού είναι ο Βράχος και ο Αργυρός; Αντιδράστε γρήγορα πριν οι Κουβράτοι επικρατήσουν! Εντάξει υποστηρίζω τους Αιγλωείς (είναι άλλωστε οι δικοί μας οι Βυζαντινοί), αλλά και μερικοί ήρωες των Κουβρατών είναι επίσης συμπαθείς. Άλλωστε ποιος θα ήθελε να βρεθεί απέναντι από τον Φιλάρετο!

Το μόνο πρόβλημα του βιβλίου είναι πως δεν φαίνεται να ολοκληρώνεται η ιστορία. Πολλά θέματα μένουν ανοικτά! Τί θα γίνει με τον Αργυρό και το σκοπό της ζωής τους; Τι έγινε ο Φαέθωντας; Και ό Σεβαστιανός δεν θα βρει ποιος τον κυνηγά; Οι πριγκίπισσες δεν θα μάθουν τα σχέδια του πατέρα τους; Και τι είναι τελικά αυτή η Μεταξία; Γιατί όλοι οι βασιλιάδες των τριών κρατών έχουν κοκκινομάλλες ερωμένες; Στην Διωτία επικράτησε ο πρώτος πρίγκιπας; Και οι άτιμοι οι Περατινοί, τα μωρά που βρήκαν, το Σκιάχτρο ή πώς τον λένε; Τί θα κάνει ο Υέτιος με τις εμπειρίες που απέκτησε;

Όχι μόνο ένα αλλά δύο ή τρία βιβλία απαιτούνται για να απαντηθούν όλα τα θέματα… Δεν μπορεί να τελείωσε αυτή η σειρά! Κύριε Κεραμίδα πείτε μου πως θα συνεχιστεί!

Επιπλέον θεωρώ πως πρέπει να πω πως μου άρεσαν πολύ τα εξώφυλλα, όπου κυριαρχεί το έντονο χρώμα. Ο συνδυασμός τους με τον τίτλο είναι εντυπωσιακός. Ο δε χάρτης, έχει βελτιώθεί αισθητά από την πρώτη έκδοση του 2010 και αποτελεί πολύ χρήσιμο εργαλείο κατά το διάβασμα των βιβλίων.


Chronicles of Brother Cadfael

It has been a while I haven’t written anything about books, but this doesn’t mean that I have not been reading. On the contrary, I have emerged myself in the 12th century England. In the past months I read a number of books from the Cadfael Chronicles I hadn’t read before.

The Cadfael Chronicles is a series of historical murder mysteries. It consists of twenty books written by Ellis Peters, which is the a pseudonym of Edith Pargeter (1913 – 1995).

The main character is Cadfael, a Welsh in origin middle-aged Benedictine monk at the Abbey of Saints Peter and Paul in Shrewsbury, England, in the first half of the 12th century. Before becoming a monk he was a Crusader in the Middle East and there he learnt a lot of things about the healing abilities of plants and herbs and the modern therapeutic knowledge of the Arabs, so once he became a monk, he was able to put his knowledge in practice and he served as the herbalist of the Abbey. In addition, he was a skilled observer and had a really strong own sense of justice. As a result, he served as a detective of his time and a medical examiner, as well!

Shrewsburry abbey
The map of the Abbey (Credit: Cadfael wiki)

Each book includes a self-sustained mystery. Brother Cadfael is involved in all of them, some times because the crime took place in the Abbey, some times because the local sheriff Hugh Beringar had learnt to trust Cadfael’s observations and abilities and some times just because Cadfael was present in the discovery of a crime and he was by nature too curious and inquisitive.

Besides the crime, in each book there is also a small side-story of a couple in love. Brother Cadfael always supported these lovers-to-be, thus provoking the sympathy of the reader! This side-story binds harmonically into the main story-line and it doesn’t attract the attention away from the mystery.

Ellis Peters’ mysteries are brilliant! The stories are so accurately adjusted to the era they refer, when there was anarchy in England and a civil war between King Stephen and Empress Maud. They include historical elements and several of the characters that appear in the books really lived at that time, but the books are totally fictional. The murders are not pompous, but more what it would fit in the 12th century. It is clear from them that Ellis Peters had done a profound search and knew well the period she decided that Cadfael lived.

It is advisable to read the books in the correct order. As I mentioned earlier the mysteries are self-standing in each book, but it is better to follow the order of the books for the surrounding details: the life of brother Cadfael and Hugh Berignar or the rest of the monks, the historical background and the characters that recur in later books.

I started the first book in 2014 and slowly slowly read half of the series until earlier this year.  I did not try to read all of the series in one go. I was really enjoying the short books of Ellis Peters and, for me, Brother Cadfael was a refuge whenever I was bored of other books. Of course in a series of twenty books not all of them are equally interesting. Some are more and some are less. In April this year I felt tired of reading disappointing books, so I decided that I have waited enough with finishing the series and it is time to continue with the rest of the Cadfael books.

I would totally recommend this series to anybody who enjoys historical mysteries. As I mentioned earlier, there are no pompous murders or huge conspiracies in them. There are problems that would occur in medieval England and around an Abbey. I enjoyed the English language in the books too. I read a couple of books translated in Greek, my own mother tongue, but I did not enjoy them. The translation had resulted in losing a bit of the medieval atmosphere the story had in the original language.

This year I read the following books of the Cadfael Chronicles:

  1. The Pilgrim Of Hate, nr. 10 of the series
    I  have already commented this book in my previous post of The books I read in May.
  2. An Excellent Mystery, nr. 11 of the series
    Also included in The books I read in May.
  3. The Raven In The Foregate, nr. 12 of the series
    In this book Brother Cadfael and Hugh Beringar solve the mysterious death of the pastor of the local church, who didn’t last but a few weeks in this position. This book has all the whit and the mystery that I like about Brother Cadfael, contrary to the previous book where the solution was obvious. So many suspects, but none clearly guilty. I couldn’t figure out the solution till the last pages! And of course, the solution is such, so that it doesn’t insult or create problems for anybody that doesn’t deserve it.
  4. The Rose Rent, nr. 13 of the series
    Another book, where I did not manage to figure out the culprit but a few pages before the end! Besides Brother Cadfael, the main heroine of this book is the young widow Perle. She has donated her house to the abbey with the only condition to be provided of a rose from the bush in front of it on the day of the celebration of Saint Winifred. But she is still young and rich and strange things start happening in her life. Suitors, people interested in money and in the middle of this a young woman who doesn’t want to get married and a rose bush.
  5. The Hermit Of Eyton Forest, nr. 14 of the series
    The main theme of this one is the effort of a powerful dame to manipulate her grandson so as to gain more lands and influence. But life is not simple, so two side stories are getting mixed up in the whole scene: a fugitive worker from a lord and a lost treasure from Empress Maud.
  6. The Confession Of Brother Haluin, nr. 15 of the series
    Another strong dame in this book, as in the previous of the series. In this one a sad love story led a young and promising man to the cloister. Eighteen years later and after a close-to-death experience, brother Haluin decides he needs to face his old demons and find the grave of his old love. He goes on this quest escorted by brother Cadfael, as he is a cripple now. But destiny brings it that he discovers that his love story ended differently than he was told. The girl’s mother has manipulated the lives of several people but the truth comes out before the story is repeated in the next generation. Not my personal favourite of the Cadfael series…
  7. The Heretic’s Apprentice, nr. 16 of the series
    One of the best books of the series for me! Usually Peters avoids direct conflicts with the church, although brother Cadfael has more open views on his practice of the Benedictine order he belongs to. After all he comes in trouble with Prior Robert and brother Jerome quite often. But this book is different: it deals with the compulsory orthodoxy and what is heresy.
    A young guy has been travelling to the rest of Europe and to Jerusalem with his master and returns to England to deliver his master’s body for burial to the Abbey and a present for the adopted girl of the family as her dowry. As with everybody that lives for a while abroad, he finds the family he used to work for changed with the years. The two nephews of his master have taken over three business and run it smoothly, the adopted girl has grown to a beautiful young woman and the rest of the staff have grown used to his absence. He himself is also mature and his horizons have opened with all the new things he learnt in the journey. As a result he uses his mind to understand life and the religion, something that is considered a sin to the closed-minded old clerk and shepherd of the family. As the latter two feel menaced by the young man’s presence, the first one for his position and the second one for the girl, they use what he told them in a moment of loose tongues about the way he understands religion, to accuse him for heresy. By chance there is a higher cleric present in the Abbey, who follows strict orthodoxy and the case escalates tremendously. Especially when the old clerk is found stabbed in the back!
  8. The Potter’s Field, nr. 17 of the series
    This mystery I found a bit tricky! The abbey gets to exchange a field with another monastery and while they start ploughing it, they discover the skeleton of a female. To whom does it belong? The family, which donated the field to begin with, gets involved and especially the younger son, who had become a Benedictine novice but changed his mind towards the end of his trial period. I really enjoyed it!
  9. The Summer Of The Danes, nr. 18 of the series
    This was one of the longest books of the series. It takes place in Wales and not in the Abbey and brother Cadfael finds himself travelling in his homeland and talking his mother tongue, as a translator for Deacon Mark, the ambassador of the Catholic Church of England to Wales. There they are involved in the internal troubles of the prince of Wales, Owain Gwynedd. Cadwaladr, Owain’s brother, plans to regain his lands by inviting Danes from Dublin to threaten Gwynedd. In this book Cadfael becomes a hostage by the Danes!
    I found this book a bit tiring with all the different things that are happening at the same time.
  10. The Holy Thief, nr. 19 of the series
    The holy relics of Saint Winifred disappear in the fuss of a possible flood and a young guy, who knew who had taken her, is found dead. The most interesting part was when the fortune of Saint Winifred is decided, using the sortes Biblicae, placing the book of gospels on Saint Winifred’s reliquary and opening the book randomly, thus choosing a verse. Another book where Cadfael does not agree with the strict practices of other members of the Benedictine order.
  11. Brother Cadfael’s Penance, nr. 20 of the series
    In the last book, Brother Cadfael reveals one of the biggest secrets of his life: that a character that we met in an older book, Olivier de Bretagne, is really his son. He comes in direct conflict with his vows as a monk and he leaves the Abbey on a quest to find his son, who was captured in a battle and he is missing. The story takes place mostly in Greenhamsted, England. Cadfael following his internal sense of justice and fair-play, manages to influence the whole history of England, by avoiding a conflict between Empress Maud and Robert of Gloucester, her half brother and most loyal and useful supporter. A really nice way to finish the series!

In parallel with the books I started watching the series based on this series. I should note that they are only based on the books of Ellis Peters, as a result there are a lot of deviations from them. I did not enjoy the series so much. They did not manage to transfer the atmosphere of 12th century England to me, the way the books did. And having read the books, I found disturbing the changes of characters to their more evil version.

Have you read this series? Have you watched the tv-series? I would love to hear your comments on any of them!


The books I read in May

I got disappointed from the books I was reading during the last two months. I was following an urge to reduce my list of books-to-read, which consists of several random books. I am an active bookcrosser (if you don’t know what this is, check my post about Bookcrossing), so I have accumulated several random books that I got as exchanges or in games over the past years.


In May I followed this urge, so I read Mortal Remains by Gregory Hall, but I am afraid I can’t recommend it to anybody. According to the presentation of the book, it is a brilliantly plotted story of crime and passion. According to me it is a book that originally looks promising, but then these hopes die. Well, the story is about two siblings, a woman and a man, who came from an important family of the town of Oxfordshire, but with a strange past. Their father disappeared many years ago and they had no clue about him, but he was stained as a spy and a traitor. A body is discovered more than 20 years later and the whole story comes up again with an “exciting” solution.

I really tried to follow the escalation of the story, although it was taking far too long. And in the end the solution was far too complicated. Several crimes combined in order to influence the life of the two main characters. Did the mother plan to kill the father, or was it his lover? And what about her affair too? Was the father’s lover Polish, French or what? Wait, there is also a twin added in the pot, eh sorry story. And drugs and art fraud as well! And more corpses are coming up!

After this book, I lost my patience of reading random books. So I went back to an old classic series I had left behind: Brother Cadfael of Ellis Peters! In May I read two books, of this series:

  1. The Pilgrim Of Hate, nr. 10 of the series
    In general I like Brother Cadfael, but this was not one of the best. Admittedly not all books of a 20-book-series can be really good. This book left me the impression that it was a wrap-up of the story. Cadfael is getting older and so he felt the urge to confine to a friend. Hugh Beringar (the local sheriff, a good friend and the father of Cadfael’s godchild) is the lucky one to learns two of the main secrets of Cadfael. On parallel, there is the story of two pilgrims that arrive in the abbey for the feast of Saint Winifred, but that one is a bit too strange.
  2. An Excellent Mystery, nr. 11 of the series
    This was a story of love, in contrast to the previous one that was a story of hate. And it was a bit of a special book! The mystery itself is not so difficult (I figured out the solution by page 80), but nevertheless the book doesn’t become boring. It is still interesting to see how the secret will be revealed in the best interest of the people involved. This means that even if I knew what they will find out, I was still following the story, so as to see how the young hero discovered the truth and how Ellis Peters brought the revelation, in the best interest of all the people involved.

Admittedly, none of the books I read in May will be remembered for long, but Brother Cadfael is a nice series of books in total!


Books I read in April

We are in the middle of May and I think it is time to make my mash-up for the books I read in April.

There are months that I read a lot and fast and months that I am slow, I find the books tiring or I am just too busy to read. April belongs rather to the first category.


In the beginning of the month I read two books of Umberto Eco. I think The Name of the Rose is his most famous book. I had read it several years ago, while I was still in school. While browsing though the two shelves of my library where I keep my to-be-read, I saw a small book named Postscript to the Name of the Rose. Combining the two books resulted in getting a different grasp of the medieval detective story of Eco.

The characters of the Rose are so nicely exposed and described, that the reader can understand the inner thoughts of them and why the Abbot or Brother William behave the way they do. The story escalates with each day and each crime and the different stories are so nicely set in order to confuse the reader exactly as William is confused. Adso’s innocence is so obvious! By the way, Brother William is one of my favourite detective characters! I was just disappointed by the edition of the book I was reading (Vintage from Penguin), as there are so many passages in Latin that are not translated for the rest of the world who doesn’t speak this dead language. I am pretty sure that in the older Greek version I had read, the editor had included translations.

The rest of the month I read rather disappointing books: the Second Life by S.J. Watson and The Lost Symbol (Robert Langdon 3) by Dan Brown. It seems both these authors share similarities. They both had a good start, Dan Brown with the Angels & Demons (Robert Langdon 1) and The Da Vinci Code (Robert Langdon 2), and S.J. Watson with Before I Go To Sleep. But both the books I read were disappointing.

In Second Life none of the characters are likable. The story involves adultery, internet dating, threats, murder, blackmail and it ends without ending… What I mean is that the end is inconclusive. We have no idea what happened. There is no clue about what decision Julia, the main character in the book, took.

The Lost Symbol was boring. It should have been entitled The Boring Symbol. Once again conspiracy theories, a secretive fraternal organisation (Freemasonry in this book), and a big city (Washington D.C.). Somebody tries to become the absolute evil and our hero Robert Langdon tries to solve the mystery, but fails in grasping the full picture. Dan Brown tries to follow the same recipe as the previous books in order to produce another best seller, but results in a boring book, with a stupid and uninteresting ending in the mystery. Honestly I have Origin (Robert Langdon 5) already in my hands from a friend, but I am not sure I will even give it a try…

I think I won’t read any more books of either Dan Brown or Watson. After these books, probably you won’t be surprised if I tell you that in May I haven’t read a lot…


Books I read in March

Continuing the posts I create as a mashup of the books I read per month, it is time to write about March. I started really well in 2018, reading at least 5 books a month for January and February. Well in March I slowed down and I finished only two:


It is the first book of the “John Dee Papers” series. As far as I could find there are only two books in this series and they were published in 2010 and 2012 respectively, so I expect that there won’t be a third one coming.

The story takes place in 1560 in England, when young Elizabeth Tudor has been queen for only a year. She would reign for another 43 years (until 1603), but Elizabeth was not a strong monarch either and the experiences gained during the reign of Mary I, who was Catholic and prosecuted Protestants, were awful. This is the atmosphere built in the beginning of the book. John Dee was at the time of the story 32 years old and already a renowned scientists (mathematician, alchemist, astronomer and astrologer). Elizabeth used him as an adviser, but his studies were seen with suspicion from catholic neighbours and in general his fame was better outside England than inside his home country. Elizabeth engaged him in a quest to recover the bones of Arthur of Avalon from the famous mystical town of Glastonbury. The legacy of Arthur was important to Elizabeth, so as to reinforce her claim of the throne. In this quest, John Dee was accompanied by Robert Dudley, the queen’s childhood friend, one of the most powerful men in the country and the most important of Elizabeth’s suitors.

The book adapts to the way of life and talk of the period, with John Dee being the narrator of the story, and it succeeds in building nicely a dark atmosphere for the period. But this is done in a very slow pace. This is exactly one of the reasons that made me read the book slowly, too. It took me quite some time to read the first 100 pages and even more to emerge in the story and start living it, the element that makes me want to read further. I found the narration a bit confusing and, although it might be true, John Dee was a hero living a bit in the clouds, a fact that was adding in the confusion. After the point that the group reaches Glastonbury, the story becomes much more interesting. It evolves in a historic mystery and our John Dee is the hero of the day, saving his beloved queen and the first love of his life!

I feel that I have to mention separately a character of the book: Eleonora. She is the local doctor of Glastonbury, the daughter of a doctor and a lady that understood herbs and their value, and who ends burnt as a witch. Eleonora seems to be a strong woman, who likes studying and goes against the rules of the period for women. She is such a nicer character and so much more amiable than any of the other characters in this book!

Earlier this year I read the first book of the No1 Ladies’ Detective Series and I loved it! So I continued with the second book of this series I had in my library already, although it is the fourth book of the series. In this one Mma Ramotswe has moved her agency behind the garage of Rra Matekoni, as a result of their engagement.

In the beginning, the book summarises things that have happened in the previous books, but are important so as to understand the background: who is Mma Ramotswe and what has happened to her and the main characters of the series from the time the detective agency opened and the time when this book is taking place. As a result, it is not difficult to follow the story, even if this is the first book of the series you get in your hands.

I found this book less funny than the first one, but still with a wit and an intelligence that makes me want to read more! Mma Ramotswe goes through problems with motherhood and has to handle a delicate case with her friend and colleague Mma Makutsi.

I enjoyed these books so much, because they are down-to-earth. They don’t try to impress with conspiracy theories or terror, but the cases are simple, every day matters. I like the feeling they give me of living in a village with dirt streets and open and kind people. It reminds me a bit of the small village my mom was from on the Peloponnese, and where I spent my first summers (although the streets are not from dirt there).

After reading these two books, I decided to buy some more of the No1 Ladies’ Detective Series books, but not to look for the second of the John Dee Papers!

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International children’s book day

Today is the International Children’s book day. It is celebrated on the 2nd April, on (or around) Hans Christian Andersen’s birthday. The idea of the day is to inspire the love of reading and to call attention to children’s books. What a nice idea!

I think everybody has held at least one book in his hands. I can’t be sure at what age I touched my first book. Probably far too young and I am not sure those books had a good life. Several years ago I found in my parents’ house a travelling guide of Chios, the island we come from, that was full of irregular lines with pen and I asked my dad about it. He answered that it is a book I had put my hands on when I was young…

Trying to think of books that I read as a child, there are a few that I can mention. Naturally I grew up with Aesop’s Fables. My parents have recorded my trials to start talking and in one of these recordings I am trying to narrate the story of the fox and the crow: the crow has found a nice piece of cheese and the fox that is hungry tries to get it from him. The fox manages by flattering the crow about his nice voice and as he tries to sing, he drops the cheese.

Another book I am sure I read early enough was Τα ψηλά βουνά by Zacharias Papandoniou. The title means “The high mountains” and it is a classic greek children’s book. I am not sure it is translated in English.

I started learning and talking English really early in my life. I am not sure anymore which was the first English book I read but I remember one vividly: Now You Can Read About Things That Go. It was presenting all means of transportation, from bikes to spaceships, by starting from their early editions and finishing by what the authors considered as future editions. It is there I first read about Laika, the dog that flew to space, and then the humans that followed. I still remember how impressed I was when I read about Valentina Tereshkova, the first female to go to space in 1963. Yes girls can do it too!

2018-04-02 13.01.20 666-IMAG3140.jpg

I still enjoy reading children’s books. In 2016 I read Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll in the Penguin Classics edition (I do like Penguin Classics!). An amazing book, which probably I should have read quite much younger, but maybe now I could appreciate the writing of Lewis Carroll more profoundly. It made me feel like a child again and to try to think out of the box. We all know the Alice in Wonderland part, but I enjoyed the part of Through the looking-glass much more. It is definitely based on no-sense elements, but not at all stupid. Alice is challenged with things she doesn’t understand but that may make some sense if you follow a more unconventional way of thinking. I loved the example of the flowers talking: “Are these the only ones? No. Why the rest do not talk? Because they are on soft soil, so they are asleep, while these ones are on hard ground, so awake”.

Which children’s book has made a deep impression on you? I would love to hear your answers.

Ποιο παιδικό βιβλίο σας έχει εντυπωσιάσει ή σημαδέψει; Ποιο θα προτείνατε;

Welches Kinderbuch hat euch am besten gefallen? Ich würde mich über eure Antwort freuen.

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Γκιακ του Δημοσθένη Παπαμάρκου

Today my post is about the best Greek book I read so far this year and my review will be in Greek!

Το πρώτο μου ποστ στα Ελληνικά, για ένα δυνατό βιβλίο που διάβασα τον Ιανουάριο, το Γκιακ του Δημοσθένη Παπαμάρκου!


Γκιακ σημαίνει αίμα στα αρβανίτικα, και κατ’ επέκταση αίμα, συγγένεια, φυλή αλλά και φόνος για εκδίκηση. Είχα ακούσει πολλά για αυτό το βιβλίο. Φίλοι μου είχαν μόνο καλά λόγια να πουν. Συνήθως δεν ευχαριστιέμαι διηγήματα, δεν μου αρέσει όταν η ιστορία τελειώνει γρήγορα και δεν μου επιτρέπει να μείνω στον κόσμο του βιβλίου για μεγάλο χρονικό διάστημα. Κι όμως αυτό το βιβλίο ήταν όντως όπως μου έλεγαν οι φίλοι μου!

Το Γκιακ αποτελεί μια συλλογή εννέα διηγημάτων, οι ήρωες των οποίων έχουν ένα κοινο: είναι παλέμαχοι της μικρασιατικής εκστρατείας. Η Μικρασιατική εκστρατεία είναι ίσως θέμα σύνηθες και πολυχρησιμοποιημένο, αλλά το βιβλίο αυτό είναι διαφορετικό.

Σε καθένα από τα διηγήματα του Γκιακ ο ήρωας προσπαθεί να αντιμετωπίσει τους δαίμονές του, αυτούς που δημιουργήθηκαν λόγω των τρομακτικών εμπειριών του πολέμου. Είναι απλοί στρατιώτες και δεν αναλύουν τα στρατηγικά λάθη και τις επιτυχίες. Επέζησαν τον πόλεμο και συνεχίζουν να ζουν μια φυσιολογική ζωή, αλλά με κάποιο “κουσούρι”. Η επιφάνεια συγκρούεται με την συνείδηση ή το υποσυνείδητο που έχει βάρη. Όταν ξεκινά ο αναγνώστης το κάθε διήγημα, όταν συναντά τον ήρωά του, αυτός ο ταλαιπωρημένος άνθρωπος αισθάνεται την ανάγκη να εκμυστηρευθεί κάτι που τον βαραίνει. Η αφήγηση είναι σε όλα τα διηγήματα σε πρώτο πρόσωπο και σε στυλ διαλόγου με τον αναγνώστη ή με κάποιον άλλο εκεί γύρω. Το χαρακτηριστικό αυτό είναι πιθανότατα και ο λόγος που δεν με ενόχλησε το τέλος του ενός διηγήματος και η αρχή του αλλου. Ένιωσα σαν να μιλούσα με τον παππού μου που πολέμησε στον δεύτερο παγκόσμιο και τον οποίο πρακτικώς δεν γνώρισα, αφού πέθανε όταν ήμουν δύο ετών.

Οι ιστορίες είναι μικρές και γραμμένες σε λίγο ιδιωματική γλώσσα, κοντά στην αρβανίτικη διάλεκτο. Παρά το γεγονός ότι δεν έχω καμία σχέση με την διάλεκτο αυτή, με καταγωγή από το βόρειο Αιγαίο, η γλώσσα του βιβλίου όχι μόνο δεν με δυσκόλεψε ιδιαίτερα, αλλά το έκανε ιδιαίτερο. Μου αρέσουν βιβλία που αξιοποιούν διαλέκτους, καθώς έχω την αίσθηση πως τείνουν να εξαφανιστούν.

Το Γκιακ είναι ένα βιβλίο 120 σελίδων. Θα σκεφτόταν κάποιος πως εύκολα διαβάζεται σε μια μέρα. Λάθος! Οι ιστορίες είναι δυνατές και πολλές φορές βίαιες, η καθεμία με διαφορετικό τρόπο και προσωπικά χρειαζόμουν χρόνο να τις σκεφτώ και να τις χωνέψω. Μετά την εκμυστήρευση του ενός ήρωα, δεν είχα όρεξη να τον ξεχάσω και να γνωρίσω τον επόμενο. Η αλήθεια είναι πικρή και πολλές φορές άσχημη.

Καταπληκτική δουλειά. Από τα βιβλία που με σημάδεψαν, με έναν τρόπο που μου θύμησε τα βιβλία που διάβαζα όταν ήμουν παιδί. Η θεματολογία δύσκολη αλλά πραγματική. Νομίζω πως αν με ρωτούσε κάνεις να ξεχωρίσω ποιο διήγημα μου άρεσε περισσότερο θα απαντούσα μάλλον το πρώτο “Ντο τ’α πρες κοτσσίδετε” και το “Ήρθε ο καιρός να φύγουμε”. Νομίζω πως ακούγοντας την λέξη ‘γκιακ’ θα σκέφτομαι πάντα την ιστορία με τις κοτσίδες!





The Demon-haunted World by Carl Sagan and where are we since he wrote it?

Besides the books I wrote about in the post of February, I also read The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark by Carl Sagan.

As an teenager I think I was in love with Carl Sagan. I was watching his Cosmos series in the TV and I was imagining myself studying astrophysics. When it was time to decide what to study I was satisfied with something less impressive but probably easier for the market: Chemical engineering.

It is a stirring, brilliantly argued book, that becomes too difficult in some parts, but in the end is absolutely rewarding.

I think the book can be split in three parts:

  1. Sagan begins with describing the basic elements of science in total: experimentation, proof and skepticism that leads to reexamining and correcting errors. He also introduces the difference with pseudoscience. This first part serves as the introduction to the whole book.
  2. The second part is dedicated to pseudoscience. He assesses common misconceptions or believes that have no logical background, such as aliens, faces on the moon, crop circles, astrology, mediums, etc. It is a long part, where he states all data available, such as the top secret military balloons, the people that admitted making the crop circles, or performing tricks to convince other people that they communicate with ghosts and the geology and information we now know about the moon or Mars. He goes through the centuries, trying to explain why people are prone to believe in pseudoscience and he compares the visions of aliens to the visions of God and angels and saints or demons and Satan. In one word, they are all hallucinations. This part is really long and therefore can be tiring. Especially if the reader does believe in some of the ideas that are assessed, Sagan can seem like mocking or attacking. I personally disagree that he is making fun of people. He is a scientist and he is trying to prove his statements with logic. The only thing you can probably accuse him of is being an atheist.
  3. The third part focuses back on real science. There is no black and white: science has been used for both good and bad reasons. But it is the fault of people and not of science itself. There have been scientists who supported weapons like the hydrogen bomb, and scientists that opposed the use and foresaw the disastrous results they can cause. But science is based on skepticism and criticism, and that is the absolute key to freedom.

I enjoyed the third part the most. The most amazing chapter for me was the one entitled “No such thing as a dumb question”. Sagan highlights in this chapter what we do to children to make them uninterested to science and not willing to ask questions. How adults find questions of young children, such as “Why is the Moon round?” or “Why is the grass green?”, ridiculous and irritating or feel that it is not worthy even to answer them. On the contrary, they are neither ridiculous nor always so simple to answer! I quote the explanations he gives to the two questions posed before:

“Many of these questions go to deep issues in science, a few of which are not yet fully resolved. Why the Moon is round, has to do with the fact that gravity is a central force pulling towards the middle of any world, and with how strong rocks are. Grass is green because of the pigment of chlorophyll, by why do plants have chlorophyll? It seems foolish, since the Sun puts out its peak energy in the yellow and green part of the spectrum. There is something we still don’t understand about why grass is green.”

Having proved that even simple questions hide early scientific interest from the children’s side and how adults can kill this interest at such an early stage that it becomes so difficult to regain it later, the author suggests “correct” ways of answering:

“There are many better responses, than making the child feel that asking deep questions constitutes a social blunder. If we have an idea of the answer, we can try to explain. Even an incomplete attempt constitutes a reassurance and encouragement. If we have no idea of the answer, we can try to find it in encyclopedias or take the child to the library. Or we might answer: ‘I don’t know the answer. Maybe no one knows. Maybe when you grow up, you ‘ll be the first person to find out’.”

How many children born in the new millennium have even entered a library? Of course computers and internet are big help in finding information, but how much is skepticism and criticism cultivated in the young generation, so as to help them judge which information is real and which is not?

While reading this book, I kept thinking that I am glad Sagan is dead already. If he could see at what level logic and the support to science from the society is today, if he could hear the comments that come out of important political mouths (mainly in the USA), I think he would be totally disappointed. He would see that the main efforts of his whole life didn’t have any influence yet. I really hope they will at a point, but I don’t think we are on a good path…