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Archive for the ‘Book’ Category

Star Trek Log Six by Alan Dean Foster

Posted by Tracy Poff on September 27, 2017

In February 1976 was published Star Trek Log Six, another entry in Alan Dean Foster’s series of adaptations of Star Trek: The Animated Series.

This would be the last book in the series to adapt three episodes; the remaining four episodes would be expanded to fill an entire book each. I anticipate that those books will be more interesting, but time will tell. For now, let’s look at the three stories in this book: “Albatross”, “The Practical Joker”, and “How Sharper Than a Serpent’s Tooth”.

Albatross

On a routine diplomatic mission, Dr. McCoy is unexpectedly arrested. The charge: genocide. He is accused of causing a plague on Dramia II, either through incompetence or malice. His shipmates must try to find proof of his innocence before it’s too late.

This is an entertaining enough read, but it’s got a few flaws. The biggest is this: Spock arranges for the ship to self-destruct in order to prevent the spread of the plague, and then beams down to Draymia to effect a jail-break. The plague is almost invariably fatal, appears to kill within hours of infection, and has not been cured in decades of research, but he is prepared to gamble that Dr. McCoy will be able to manage a cure in the few hours before the entire planet’s population is killed? When McCoy calls attention to this, Spock replies that he “felt justified in taking a calculated risk.” Inconceivable! Besides that, every doctor that ever worked on curing the plague must have been carrying the idiot ball, since they somehow failed to discover the its cause, which McCoy managed by simply asking the computer what could have caused most of its symptoms.

The Practical Joker

The ship’s computer gets ‘sick’ from passing through a weird energy field, and starts playing increasingly dangerous practical jokes on the crew. Meanwhile, some Romulans intend to capture the Enterprise.

The most interesting parts of this dull story are the unimportant bits thrown in to give it some color.

As an aside, my copy of this book also has an astounding misprint–an entire line printed on the wrong page. The quality of editing in these books is pretty bad, to begin with, but this is a new low.

How Sharper Than a Serpent’s Tooth

Kukulkan, a winged snake, kidnaps Kirk, McCoy, Scotty, and Ensign Walking Bear, and intends to destroy them–and the remainder of the Enterprise crew–if they cannot satisfy him. He is revealed to have visited Earth many years ago, giving Mayans their famous calendar, and similarly influencing other cultures. He wishes for humans to worship him, and in return he will guide them, but it is not to be. As Kirk says, “you cannot have intelligent slaves”. They will not stand for it.

A mediocre story. Essentially not so different from “Who Mourns for Adonais?”, which revealed that the Greek gods were aliens, and a similar concept was on display in “The Magicks of Megas-tu”. This story doesn’t really do anything with the premise, though; Kukulkan is just a generic threat to the Enterprise, and he gets perhaps a page of characterization before the story ends. Kirk and the others get a chance to show–again very briefly–that humanity has moved beyond its savage past, but little is made of it. If Kukulkan really was instrumental in shaping the fate of humanity, why didn’t that get some focus? Disappointing.

In summary

All the stories are competently done, but they don’t offer anything substantial to keep the reader’s attention–no new insights or interestingly different takes on the episodes. It makes me long for the previous book: “The Ambergris Element” opened with a look at M’ress as she decided to enter Starfleet and moved up through the ranks, and it was wonderful. We need more of that! I’m hoping that we’ll get a lot more such asides in the remaining books in the series, since much more material must be created to expand the episodes into novel-length stories. This is another book that is probably of interest only to completionists.

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Star Trek Star Fleet Technical Manual by Franz Joseph

Posted by Tracy Poff on September 27, 2017

So far in our journey through treklit, we’ve seen a lot of adaptations, several nonfiction books, and even a novel or two. Now we come to a new kind of book: a reference book, presented as a non-fictional item from the fictional universe. Today’s subject is the Star Trek Star Fleet Technical Manual by Franz Joseph, published in November 1975. This book was preceded by the Star Trek Blueprints by the same author, published in April of the same year, which I do not presently have access to.

At the beginning is the Articles of Federation for the United Federation of Planets, twenty pages of dull pseudo-legalese devoted to which groups vote on which things and how. The most interesting thing here, probably, is the listing of the initial members of the Federation (in article 23):

The Federation Council shall consist of eleven (11) members of the United Federation. The United Nations of the Planet Earth, the Planetary Confederation of 40 Eridani, the United Planets of 61 Cygni, the Star Empire of Epsilon Indii, and the Alpha Centauri Concordium of Planets shall be permanent members of the Federation Council. The Supreme Assembly shall elect six (6) other members of the United Federation to be non-permanent members of the Federation Council, due regard being especially paid, in the first instance, to the contribution of the members of the United Federation to the maintenance of interplanetary peace and security and to the other purposes of the Federation, and also to equitable geo-galactical distribution;

40 Eridani is the Vulcan star system, 61 Cygni the Tellarite system, and Epsilon Indii the Andorian system.

The Articles of Federation are followed by the peace treaty with the Romulan Star Empire, then the peace treaty with the Klingons imposed by the Organians. After this are many pages of diagrams: the flags of the members of the Federation, patterns for uniforms, schematics for equipment, blueprints for buildings, everything you could wish for.

On the whole, this book is probably better as a sourcebook for Trek-related creative endeavors than as a standalone book.

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The Trouble With Tribbles by David Gerrold

Posted by Tracy Poff on September 9, 2017

Time for another step back in the Trek schedule. Today, we’ll take a look at David Gerrold’s The Trouble With Tribbles, published on 12 April 1973.

This book goes into some detail about how Gerrold came to write the titular episode, and includes several drafts as well as the final script, each annotated with information about how and why some of the earlier concepts were changed for the final script. In addition to describing the writing process, Gerrold gives a bit of information about how the props were made and how shooting went, and finally reflects on the impact the episode has had, both on him and others. He concludes the book with an anecdote about sending a spare tribble to a hospital to encourage a girl, paralyzed by meningitis, in her recovery.

This isn’t the first time I’ve mentioned this book–I noted it last year, when I wrote about Gerrold’s The World of Star Trek (published simultaneously), but I’ve only recently acquired a copy. Was it worth the wait?

Not really. It’s well written, of course, and amusing enough to read, but by the time I got through the final draft of “The Trouble With Tribbles”, I was pretty well sick of the story. Whitfield’s The Making of Star Trek goes into more interesting detail about the production aspects, and Gerrold’s own The World of Star Trek is a more interesting look at the writing. The form of the book is basically autobiographical, but it’s rather scant of details. There’s a little talk at the beginning on how Gerrold has always been a fan of science fiction, and a few more anecdotes scattered throughout, but otherwise the focus is very much on the revision of the script.

My suggestion: unless you’re a particularly big fan of “The Trouble With Tribbles”, read The World of Star Trek, instead.

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Star Trek Log Five by Alan Dean Foster

Posted by Tracy Poff on September 5, 2017

In July 1975, five months after the publication of the previous volume, was published Star Trek Log Five by Alan Dean Foster. This volume, as usual, adapts three episodes from Star Trek: The Animated Series: “The Ambergris Element”, “The Pirates of Orion”, and “Jihad”.

The Ambergris Element

The blurb on the back of the book for this story reads: “Marooned on the strange water world of Argo, Kirk and Spock are in incredible danger . . . pursued by a hideous sea monster!” That is only accurate in the most approximate sense. There is a water world, and a sea monster, but Kirk and Spock aren’t marooned and the story isn’t about a sea monster chasing them. Rather, a sea monster attacks their submarine and they’re injured. The water-breathing natives find and heal them, mutating Kirk and Spock into water-breathers as part of the process. The story is about Kirk and Spock attempting to return to normal, hindered by the cultural traditions of the aliens, but aided by some of the younger aliens, who are willing to ignore the old traditions to do what’s right. The blurb does not do the story justice.

This is a good story, and Foster improves on the episode. An altogether satisfying adaptation.

The Pirates of Orion

Spock has contracted a deadly illness, and the only cure has been stolen by pirates. Kirk must catch them and retrieve the medicine before it is too late.

Like many of these stories, the tension is provided by what amounts to a timer counting down. In this case, Spock’s life is on the line, and to be fair it is interesting to see how affected Kirk is by the situation, but ultimately the plot isn’t interesting.

Jihad

Kirk and Spock, along with several others of various species, are tasked with retrieving a religious artifact stolen from the Skorr before they declare war on the rest of the galaxy. The group must work together in a hostile environment where all previous efforts have failed.

The plot of this story is unsatisfying. It feels like the group just wanders around, stumbling from danger to danger, until finally they discover the artifact, survive the climactic encounter, and the story ends. There’s no particular buildup; the story doesn’t go anywhere so much as it churns in place for fifty pages and then spits everyone out the other side.

In summary

“The Ambergris Element” is the only worthwhile story in this one. The writing is good, as usual (though my edition, at least, is positively riddled with typographical errors), but it isn’t enough to save the other two stories.

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Star Trek 11 by James Blish

Posted by Tracy Poff on August 20, 2017

Published in April 1975, Star Trek 11 was the last entry in that series completed before Blish’s death. Star Trek 11 contains adaptations of six episodes: “What Are Little Girls Made Of?”, “The Squire of Gothos”, “Wink of an Eye”, “Bread and Circuses”, “Day of the Dove”, and “Plato’s Stepchildren”.

What Are Little Girls Made Of?

The Enterprise investigates the planet where Dr. Roger Korby, who incidentally was Christine Chapel’s fiance, disappeared several years ago. They find him working on a technology that can make lifelike androids and even transfer a human’s consciousness into an android. He wishes to use this technology to build a better society, free from want or hate–but is it really better?

Michael Strong’s performance as Korby in this episode was quite good, but Blish eliminates some unfortunate things like Ruk’s “That was the equation!”. I’d say this is of comparable quality to the episode, overall. An enjoyable adaptation of a good story.

The Squire of Gothos

The Enterprise finds a planet on which resides a strange and powerful alien, Trelane, who is very taken with Earth–the Earth of nine hundred years prior, that is. Trelane, styling himself the Squire of Gothos, forces them to dance to his tune for his amusement, while Kirk searches for a way to escape his power.

Surprisingly, this is pretty good even without William Campbell’s excellent performance–perhaps because I’m reading all of Trelane’s lines in his voice.

Wink of an Eye

The Enterprise, responding to a distress call, finds an empty planet. It turns out to be populated by people who experience time at a fantastic rate, making their movements far too quick for the crew of the Enterprise to perceive. The same disaster that caused their immense acceleration also rendered their men all sterile, so their queen, Deela, has taken the Enterprise in order to have Kirk as a mate.

Not too bad, but not great. A substantial part of the appeal of the episode was in seeing the non-accelerated members of the crew frozen in time, but the adaptation doesn’t convey the same feeling.

Bread and Circuses

The Enterprise finds a planet that has developed remarkably similarly to Earth, except that it is ruled by a modern version of the Roman empire. This is cited as an example of Hodgkin’s Law of Parallel Planetary Development–utter nonsense, of course, and not even consistent with other episodes.

As with “Wink of an Eye”, above, and as I said of “A Piece of the Action” in my review of Star Trek 4, much of the good in this episode was in the seeing, so the adaptation isn’t as interesting.

Day of the Dove

The crew of the Enterprise and of a Klingon ship are brought together by an energy being that feeds on hatred. They eventually drive it off by laughing at it.

That summary sounds pretty bad, but it’s a fairly good story, really. Incidentally, this is the first appearance of Kang, who later figures into stories in DS9 and Voyager.

Plato’s Stepchildren

The Enterprise, responding to a distress call, finds a planet where the thirty-eight inhabitants have psychokinetic powers. Their leader Parmen, who is gifted with the strongest power, is ill, and McCoy must save him. Once restored, Parmen is unwilling to let McCoy go–and in any case secretly intends to destroy the Enterprise rather than allow them to leave with knowledge of the planet’s location.

This episode didn’t have much going for it other than watching the actors pretend to be moved by external forces–including the famous kiss between Uhura and Kirk. The theme is simple: power corrupts. The plot resolves conveniently and Kirk rides off into the sunset.

In summary

This volume has a few good stories, and a few middling ones. I don’t know if Blish’s writing is stronger in this one, or if absence has made my heart grow fonder (it has been about two years since my review of Star Trek 10, after all), but I think even the lesser stories were pretty enjoyable. If novelizations are your thing, Star Trek 11 is a good entry in the series.

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Star Trek Log Four by Alan Dean Foster

Posted by Tracy Poff on August 13, 2017

Another day, another book of adapted cartoons. In February 1975 was published Alan Dean Foster’s fourth book of Star Trek: The Animated Series novelizations, imaginatively titled Star Trek Log Four. This volume contains adaptations of “The Terratin Incident”, “Time Trap”, and “More Tribbles, More Troubles”.

If there’s one unifying theme to these stories, it’s that they have very little plot to speak of. Just oops, here’s a bit of trouble for five dozen pages, and then they turn the crank or whatever and the trouble is resolved. For a bit more detail…

The Terratin Incident

The Enterprise receives a strange transmission in a long-obsolete code, the only intelligible word of which being ‘Terratin’. When they go to investigate, they are hit by a strange light, which destroys their dilithium crystals and–it turns out–causes the crew and all organic material on board to begin to shrink. They must find some way to fix things before they become too small to operate the ship.

This story is filled with interesting asides, satisfying bits of trivia about the characters, and an utter lack of developing plot. Just page after page of “and they got a bit smaller, so they had to rig up an extra-long pole to reach the coffee pot”, until finally they get to the end of the story and things are explained, and they solve the problem by sending everyone through the transporter to return them to their natural size.

Time Trap

Exploring a weird section of space, the “Delta Triangle”, a futuristic analog of the Bermuda Triangle, the Enterprise is attacked by a Klingon ship which promptly vanishes. Then they escape from that ship’s compatriots by following it through a pothole in space to a pocket dimension called Elysia where, for some reason, people don’t age and dilithium quickly degrades to uselessness (unreliable stuff, apparently).

This is another story in which there is precious little plot. The Enterprise gets stuck, so they glue it to the Klingon ship for an extra boost, and the problem is solved. The people living in Elysia exist pretty much solely for the sake of communicating to Kirk a last minute warning about a Klingon plot.

More Tribbles, More Troubles

The Enterprise, escorting ships carrying grain, encounters a Klingon ship chasing a small Federation vessel. They beam the pilot aboard just as his ship is destroyed, and what do you know, it’s Cyrano Jones, out selling tribbles again. This time, instead of reproducing rapidly, they just grow to immense proportions. Oh, but actually they still breed explosively, too. So… yeah. Tribbles, again. They beam them over to the Klingon ship, again.

In Summary

This is just not a good selection of stories. If it’d been just one or even two of them that were very light on plot, it’d be bearable, but for all three to be so mindless? It’s pretty bad. The writing is as good as usual, though, and Arex gets a fair bit of ‘screen time’ throughout, which is nice. The show could really have done with some more focus on the non-human (and non-vulcan) crew, so it’s good to see the novelizations correcting that. Even so, I wouldn’t recommend reading this one unless you’re a completionist.

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When a Wolf is Hungry by Christine Naumann-Villemin and Kris Di Giacomo

Posted by Tracy Poff on July 6, 2017

How about another break from the long stream of science fiction? I’ve received a lovely children’s book, today: When a Wolf is Hungry, written by Christine Naumann-Villemin and illustrated by Kris Di Giacomo. It opens:

One Sunday morning, Edmond Bigsnout, lone wolf, left his home in the woods with a great big knife in his paw.

Edmond had a hankering for some rabbit.

Not just any ordinary cottontail, though. What he craved was a grain-fed, silky-haired rabbit, one with just a hint of sweetness. A city bunny.

Edmond finds an apartment building where a likely meal lives, but forgets his knife in the elevator (where it’s found by another resident of the building, who was in need of a knife). No matter, he thinks, and returns to his home, this time retrieving a chainsaw. But when he gets back to the apartment building, he encounters a bear who mistakes him for a new tenant, and just so happens to need a chainsaw. Edmond lends the bear his chainsaw and returns home for yet another tool… and so it goes.

Eventually, Edmond has provided all the necessary tools for a rooftop party. If you can’t beat them, join them, so Edmond moves to the city and becomes a vegetarian–and president of the Good Neighbor Association.

When a Wolf is Hungry a a fun little story. I think I’ve usually enjoyed stories with wolves–Walter the Wolf by Marjorie Weinman Sharmat, or The True Story of the 3 Little Pigs! by Jon Scieszka, for example–I wonder if there’s some connection? The art is very nice (you can see some more samples of it on the artist’s web site)–it reminds me of I Want My Hat Back, a bit–and the story is satisfying.

When a Wolf is Hungry was originally published in France in 2011, and will be published in English by Eerdmans Books for Young Readers on 2017-08-07. It is recommended for ages 4 to 8.

Disclosure: I received this book for free in exchange for a review.

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Star Trek Log Three by Alan Dean Foster

Posted by Tracy Poff on May 18, 2017

Continuing, after quite some delay, my series of reviews of Treklit, we come to Alan Dean Foster’s Star Trek Log Three, another in his series of novelizations of Star Trek: The Animated Series. This volume contains adaptations of “Once Upon a Planet”, “Mudd’s Passion”, and “The Magicks of Megas-Tu”.

Once Upon a Planet

This story is a sequel to the TOS episode “Shore Leave”, in which the Enterprise happens upon a ‘shore leave planet’ that is designed just to satisfy, as Kirk noted, the need of complex minds for the simplicity of play.

The Enterprise has been overtaxed, lately (the stories in these novelizations are written as taking place in sequence), so Kirk asks for something special in the way of reward for the crew, and he gets it: approval for shore leave on the Shore Leave Planet, in the Omicron region.

Upon arriving, Uhura, Sulu, and McCoy beam down together and note that everything seems to be as it was when last they saw the planet, down to the appearance of Alice and the White Rabbit. They go their separate ways in order to enjoy their own–private–fantasies, but McCoy has scarcely come into view of the Southern mansion he dreamed up when he is set upon by armed playing cards, straight out of Alice, who attack him in deadly earnest. He manages to call for an emergency beam-up just in time to escape them.

Shore leave is canceled as the crew of the Enterprise strive to determine why the planet is attacking, why the Keeper didn’t intervene, and what has happened to Uhura, who has vanished without a trace.

This story is pretty good, and translated well by Foster.

Mudd’s Passion

Cutting shore leave somewhat short, the Enterprise is ordered to investigate the activity of an old ‘friend’, Harry Mudd, who we last saw in “I, Mudd”. He is up to his old tricks, swindling people far and wide. This time, he’s selling a love potion.

This story is very thin and no better for Foster’s efforts.

The Magicks of Megas-Tu

The Enterprise is sent to investigate the unusual phenomena at the center of the galaxy, including a ‘negative black hole’ busily ejecting matter, which they presume to be the source of all matter in the galaxy, drawing its energy from a multitude of other universes. Then they begin to be drawn into a cone-shaped vortex which is drawing in–and destroying–matter, from which the Enterprise cannot escape. They gamble that it may be safer in the center of the vortex, and, passing through it, they find themselves in another place, strange to them, operating by no known laws.

The delicate equipment of the Enterprise does not take kindly to this lawlessness, and begins to fail. The crew, dependent on this equipment, begin to fail as well. When the situation has grown most desperate, the Enterprise is suddenly saved by a strange alien–half man, half goat–who appears on the bridge. He restores their environment with what appears to be magic, then introduces himself:

“Who am I? Oh, you want a name! Call me Baal.” He paused thoughtfully. “Or Lucien. Yes, Lucien. But above all, call me friend.” One finger fluttered skyward as he declaimed, “Never could I abandon those who have come so far to frolic with me . . . for such purpose you must have been sent.”

Lucien introduces the to the planet Megas-Tu, where the physical laws correspond to what the humans would call magic. His people had ventured out of their own universe before and encountered Earth, but their welcome had not been so warm. When others of Lucien’s people discover the humans, they quickly put them on trial for the crimes of their species, as exemplified by the Salem witch trials, in which, weakened by the distance from their own world, the Megans were persecuted and even burned.

Kirk argues that if humans were once so savage, they have changed, and continue to strive to change, to be better and more noble. The Megans accept that this may be so, but declare that Lucien still must be punished for bringing the humans to Megas-Tu. Kirk defends him, as well, accusing the Megans of being as cruel as they accused the humans of being. In so doing, he passes a secret test, proving by his concern for Lucien, known also as Lucifer, that humans truly have changed. Should humans again visit Megas-Tu, they would find a warmer welcome.

Where to begin with this one? The adaptation is good–superior to the original. It spends too long on the setup and not enough on the resolution, but it’s still well done. As for the story, it was obvious to anyone just who a goat man named Lucien would turn out to be, but it was satisfying, all the same. Kirk and McCoy question whether Lucien was really the Lucifer of myth, and McCoy concedes that it doesn’t really matter, except:

“It’s just that–if he was, Jim–this would be the second time he was on the verge of being cast out. But thanks to you, this is the first time he was saved.”

The author of this episode, Larry Brody, indicated that originally, the Enterprise was to meet God out in space, but that idea was nixed by the censors. But meeting the Devil in space was fine, and so the episode was born. This episode must have been influential, indeed. In the first episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, “Encounter at Farpoint”, Q puts the crew of the Enterprise on trial for the crimes of humanity, and Picard, too, argues that Q should consider whether humanity is presently as savage as in times past. Then in “Where No One Has Gone Before”, the Enterprise is taken to the edge of the universe, and find it a strange place where reality is impacted by thought. Then, in Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, the Enterprise (under Kirk’s command, this time) visits the center of the galaxy, where they find a godlike being who turns out to be evil.

In summary

The first and last stories in this are quite good, though the middle one is forgettable. That’s a pretty good ratio for novelizations of television episodes. “Once Upon a Planet” is perfectly like any Trek episode you’ve ever seen, and “Mudd’s Passion” is like most of the bad ones. “The Magicks of Megas-Tu” isn’t a top-tier story, but it’s pleasant enough, and interesting in how it presages later Trek. If you’re a Trek fan looking for a little light reading, this book isn’t bad.

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The Iliad of Homer by Richmond Lattimore

Posted by Tracy Poff on May 15, 2017

I’ve been trying to read the classics, and there’s nothing more classic than the Iliad. There are a wealth of translations available. As with my choice of translation for Aristotle’s Poetics, I wanted one that was as similar to the original as was reasonable. To that end, I selected Lattimore’s translation. As he says:

My aim has been to give a rendering of the Iliad which will convey the meaning of the Greek in a speed and rhythm analogous to the speed and rhythm I find in the original.

Rather than strive for poetical language, he aims for a plain and direct translation, as to better reproduce Homer’s directness of language:

I must try to avoid mistranslation, which would be caused by rating the word of my own choice ahead of the word which translates the Greek. Subject to such qualification, I must render Homer into the best English verse I can write; and this will be in my own “poetical language,” which is mostly the plain English of today.

So, what’s this Iliad thing all about, then?

In short, when the story begins, the Trojan war has been on for nine years. Chryseis, the daughter of a priest of Apollo, has been captured by Agamemnon, and he quite rudely refuses to ransom her back. As a result, Apollo punishes the Achaians. To placate Apollo, Agamemnon agrees to return Chryseis to her father, but only if he is given Achilles’ captive, Briseis, in her place. This offends Achilles greatly, so he asks his mother, Thetis, to entreat Zeus to punish the Achaians in order to demonstrate his worth.

The bulk of the epic is a description of the battles between the Greek forces (particularly a few main actors such as Agamemnon, Odysseus, Diomedes, Ajax, and Nestor) and the Trojans, led by Hector, over the course of which the Achaians are pushed back to their ships, as Achilles begged of Zeus. Afterward, Achilles’ friend, Patroklos, is killed by Hector, and Hector is in turn killed by Achilles.

When the epic ends, the Trojans have been driven back into their city, which is yet uncaptured, and Achilles, though still alive, is soon to die.

The story is usually entertaining, but there are several sections which present the genealogy of some character or other, which I found to be of little interest, and the battles are often long strings of “Foo, son of Bar, beloved of Zeus, was struck by the spear under the nose, and it pierced through. The darkness closed over both eyes, and he fell to the ground, thunderously, and his armor clattered upon him.” Even bloody battles can be made dull by too much of this.

The most interesting part, I think, is how recognizable the characters’ motivations are. Achilles is motivated by anger at being slighted, and in the end by grief and rage at the death of Patroklos. Or take Athena, who is upset with Aphrodite. She grants Diomedes the ability to recognize who among the combatants are gods, and tells him:

Therefore now, if a god making trial of you comes hither
do you not do battle head-on with the gods immortal,
not with the rest; but only if Aphrodite, Zeus’ daughter,
comes to the fighting, her at least you may stab with the sharp bronze.

Or when Diomedes is struck by an arrow shot by Paris, who brags of his success, and replies with this boast:

You archer, foul fighter, lovely in your locks, eyer of young girls.
If you were to make trial of me in strong combat with weapons
your bow would do you no good at all, nor your close-showered arrows.
Now you have scratched the flat of my foot, and even boast of this.
I care no more than if a witless child or a woman
had struck me; this is the blank weapon of a useless man, no fighter.
But if one is struck by me only a little, that is far different,
the stroke is a sharp thing and suddenly lays him lifeless,
and that man’s wife goes with cheeks torn in lamentation,
and his children are fatherless, while he staining the soil with his red blood
rots away, and there are more birds than women swarming about him.

Lattimore’s translation is generally very easy to understand, though his choices for writing names can take some getting used to: he renders Ajax as “Aias” and Achilles as “Achilleus”, for example.

The direct, unpoetical language has its benefits, I suppose. The translation is never confusing by fault of overly florid language. But all the same I find myself a little disappointed how much it reads like ordinary prose; I enjoyed the more lyrical style of Cowper’s translation, though it was a bit harder to follow.

Overall, I enjoyed the Iliad and was satisfied with Lattimore’s translation. Even if it weren’t an important work of literature, I think the Iliad would still be worth reading. It’s not a quick read, by any means, but it needn’t seem intimidating, either. If the Iliad is on your reading list, go for it!

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Aristotle’s Poetics: Translation and Analysis by Kenneth A. Telford

Posted by Tracy Poff on May 11, 2017

Returning to my long project of reading the classics, I read Aristotle’s Poetics: Translation and Analysis by Kenneth A. Telford. This particular version appealed to me because it is meant to be a very literal translation:

In this translation of the Poetics the primary concern has been to make as literal a reproduction of Aristotle’s words as is consistent with readability. I have not tried to give the treatise any grace or facility of expression which the Greek text lacks. Nor have I tried to make the translation an interpretive reconstruction of what might be presumed to be Aristotle’s intention.

This book must be considered in three parts: the translation, the work itself, and the analysis.

As for the quality of the translation, I find no fault (speaking as someone with no knowledge of Ancient Greek), and the footnotes were generally very helpful in identifying the works Aristotle refers to or providing references to other sections in the text which relate to the current argument.

The work itself is very interesting. Aristotle has much to say about the proper construction of a tragedy that is applicable to writing generally, and it is astonishing to me how much of what he says is still reflected in writing advice today. Following are a few excerpts I noted.

A plot should have unity:

A plot is not a unity, as some suppose, by being about one agent, for many and indefinite things happen to one agent, some of which do not make a unity.

Therefore:

[Plot] ought to be imitation of action that is one and whole, and the parts of the incidents ought to be constructed in such a way that when the parts are replaced or removed the whole is dislocated and moved. For that whose presence or absence makes nothing evident is no part of the whole.

Regarding characters:

There will be character […] if the speech or action makes it apparent that the agent has made a choice, and the character is effective if this choice is effective.

I’ll leave the excerpts at that, but there are many other interesting sections throughout. There are, though, several sections much more specifically concerned with the tragedy as such–details about its structure, the use of spectacle or melody, etc.–which are of perhaps less interest as they apply less to literature in general.

Finally, the analysis.

I feel like I had a better understanding of the Poetics before I read the analysis. It seems to have a good, coherent framework and supports its arguments well enough, but it seems to me that it is much more concerned with showing that the argument of the Poetics fits that framework than with elucidating the subject of the book. There is, no doubt, some understanding to be gained by doggedly viewing every statement in the book as relating to one of the four causes of whatever is presently under discussion, but how much? I would much rather see some deeper consideration of the argument, rather than merely its form. Is Aristotle right about what best serves the catharsis of pity and fear? What can we take away from his discussion about word choice? Is he correct in his assertion that the tragedy is superior to the epic in that it is shorter? The analysis is concerned with none of these.

On the whole, I think this book was well worth reading. I have no basis for comparison of the quality of the translation, but it seemed lucid enough to me. I’d recommend anyone with an interest in literature take a look at it. I wouldn’t bother struggling through the analysis, though. For what it’s worth, I grant any future readers dispensation to skip that.

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