Sunday, 6 May 2018

Read "Altered Carbon" (2002) by Richard K Morgan, which is now a TV Series and apparently won the Phillip K Dick award in 2003. Its premise is a near future society where human consciousness can be digitalized.

Initially reading it feels very much like a book version of Blade Runner, unsurprising given its science fiction Noir setting that continues a lineage that could be traced to Phillip K Dick. Could listen to a Vangelis sound track while reading it, perhaps M83 is the more contemporary version of this. It also has femme fatal characters, that kind of give credence to the New Yorker article "How Women See Male Authors See Them" (2018), but I know 13 to 35 year old me would have liked it. A decade and a half later and different times.  The protagonist channels the type written by Raymond Chandler or perhaps Micky Spillane and has some interesting ideas on human psychology that probably in real life would result in a Phineas Gage level of functionality, but it is science fiction.

Will probably watch the TV series.

Sunday, 29 April 2018

Reading "A Tale of Three Cities : Istanbul" by Bettany Hughes

Currently reading "Istanbul : A Tale of Three Cities " by Bettany Hughes (2017).

So far it has hit most of the major historical points of the city once known as Constantinople but now knowed as Istanbul, as per the They Might be Giants Song.

Hughes starts of with the archaeology of the site which builds up to its settlement by Megaran Greeks, of a predominantly Dorian culture in the 7th century BC,  Byzantos (Ox-ford) became part of the Via Egnatia under Roman rule, which consolidated its economic importance. This economic importance is discussed as one of the main reasons Roman Emperor Constantine I in 330 AD made it his imperial capital and Bettany Hughes describes its consequent accretion of Holy Relics to make it a symbolic center of a Christian Roman Government. Interestingly after it was conquered by Ottoman Turks in 1453 AD around Constantinople a site of Abū Ayyūb al-Anṣārī was "discovered", one of the companions of Muhammad (Sahaba).

Although military campaigns and conquests are discussed, it is not a book about military activity but a discussion of the culture and experience (lives) of the occupants of the city that came sequentially to be known as Byzantos, then Konstantinoupolis and then ultimately Istanbul ("Eis tin polin" to the city) through this she supplies cultural information and conjecture on things ranging from the predominance of star and crescent moon symbols in the city under pagan Roman rule as part of the cult of Hecate, the importance of the Illiad to the citizens of Constantiople and the role of the Harem in economic development of Renaissance Istanbul.She tends to conjecture on the hidden lives that are not recorded in history, the woman, slaves, serfs and the existence of diasporas within the city reflecting its cosmopolitan nature. She devotes a whole chapter (and really who wouldn't?) to Justinian  and Theodora (6th century AD) and conjectures that Procopius's description of Theodora's determined speech during the Nika riots was an insult because it challenged gender roles and portrayed Justinian as being more cowardly than his wife. Where possible Hughes's conjecture is backed up with historical and archaeological evidence, but the tone of the book is less academic and more casual, chatty, the book is meant to be entertaining and I think for the most part it is.

Really, the "Istanbul : A Tale of Three Cities" (2017) is a great source of  cultural material that I haven't come across in the academic sources I have read, possibly reflecting how scanty my reading probably is and can be argued to provide a summarizing of the subject. You won't find a detailed analysis of the political machinations of Empress Irene (752- 803 AD), as an example of real life "Game of Thrones" but you will find a description of the Prince Islands where royalty was exiled to and the mention of the practice of rhinotomy and the sense of what life in the Imperial court may have been like.

The following is a link to a lecture titled "Istanbul: The Worlds Desire", which is a title of a chapter in the book, which among other things, details the exchange of Constantinoples silk products as a prestige commodity during the early middle ages.

Reading "Mythos : The Greek Myths Retold" By Stephen Fry (2017)

Have read Stephen Fry's (2017) "Mythos" published by Michael Joseph : Penguin Book.
His writing has his voice and although the anthropology is a bit suspect, it is imbued with his characteristic wit, his conjectures on language as he describes the myths he has chosen are fascinating. Such as,

"Our word for "hearth" shares its ancestry with heart, just as the modern greek word for hearth is "kardia". In ancient  Greece the wider concept of hearth and home was expressed by "oikos", which lives on for us today in words like "economics" and "ecology". The Latin for hearth is "focus" - which speaks for itself. It is a strange and wonderful thing that out of words for a fire place we have spun "cardiologist", "deep focus" and "eco-warrior" (page 58 : 2017)".

Some of the tales (myths), in terms of entertainment value, are better than others, the cosmology can be a bit dry in the middle but it does convey the logic behind a prescientific cosmology, the tales are saturated with Stephen Fry's commentary, I particularly liked the tale of the bees. Take my opinion as you will.

Monday, 16 April 2018

Read “The Tangled lands.” (February 2018). Authored by Paolo Bacigalupi & Tobias S Buckell 

I read it in one day, for the price of a movie ticket. It is a book containing four sequential short stories that elaborate a particular niche and theme within the grim dark fantasy setting of Khaim, The Blue City and its ecologically devastated environs, ruled by The Jolly Mayor and assisted by Majister Scacz.  Khaim was once part of a grand (Jhandpara) Empire built and connected by magic as the dominant technology but the fallout to this excessive magic use was the spread of toxic bramble feeding on magic use, that overtime has led to the settings devastation of ecological proportions. 

Individuals in the setting are faced with a game theory dilemma of not using magic to solve unique issues, thus sacrificing their needs (sometimes a choice of life or death) for the greater good versus using magic to solve an otherwise insurmountable problem, ranging from a bit of magic (“really such a small amount of magic”) to the power mad aspirations of the official Majister, either use adds in a quantitative way to the spread of the bramble. It is an obvious environmental catastrophe metaphor which dwells on its cause and outcomes. In an effort to control this ecological disaster magic use by non approved sources is outlawed by death, enforced by The Jolly Mayor.

The toxic bramble is held back by bramble crews in leather hoods and masks wielding fire, scythe and sickle with children collecting the pods and seeds, trying not to be stung by the brambles toxic thorns. These crews and the lower echelons of society pay the diffused price, there is an obvious hierarchy and bitter economy to the fantasy setting.

Paolo Bacigalpi wrote “The Alchemist” that establishes the world setting and “The Children of Khaim” that explores a sinister shadow economy while Tobias S Buckell wrote the “The Executioness” which explores the wider hinterland and other solutions to the issue of the Bramble and the last story “The Blacksmith’s Daughter” which I feel is an interesting exploration of the circumstances of the protagonist and feels to me like a grim western in a fantasy setting, which may not be a fair description. Each of the four stories is a kind of snapshot in time of the progression of the setting and features reoccurring characters to convey a sense of their careers and the consequences of the preceding stories. Apparently the two authors collaborated over skype and much drinking was involved (Hendrickson 2018). Of course there is a drunk review of this book, because why not.

Currently I am now reading Bettany Hughes “A Tale of Three Cities : Istanbul” (January, 2017), in it she speculates that the general ecological cooling in 535-536 AD may have led to the emergence of the (Yersinia) Plague of Justinian, increased mobility of Turkic tribes and an increased acceptance of marginalization of the female roles in Christianity, argued in terms of the writing of Saint Augustine of Hippo. It is generally agreed that early Christianity featured more equal status religious roles for women than Christianity as the official state religion after the Edict of Thessalonica in 380 AD, the conversion rates for early Christianity are similar to 20th century Mormon conversion rates, occurring exogenously through family units through the primary female members (Stark 230 : 1995).  Of course a counter argument is that incorporation of Christianity into the Roman systems of power would increase its patriarchical features as traditional (pagan) Roman society was organized around patriarchical roles.  

There is an idea that the experience of environmental catastrophe can influence the formation and nature of a religion, which underlies the story of  "The Executioness" and influences the game theory choices that people make in the fantasy setting of the story.


  • Hendrickson, Eric. (March, 2018). Overgrown Empire: Paolo Bacigalupi & Tobas S. Buckell's The Tangled Lands. @ https:// Last accessed 16/4/2018.

  • Stark, Rodney (1995). Reconstructing the Rise of Christianity: The Role of Women. From Sociology of Religion Volume 56, Number 3. Pages 229 -244.

Monday, 12 March 2018


By Matthew Foltz-Grayat

Wednesday, 22 November 2017

Occasionally Youtube has some pretty interesting videos that are not just about cats falling or going into things, although those are still just great.

Here are some silver screen training movies that run the gamut of suspiciously pure propaganda,  to cartoons that are surprisingly technical and some of them answer questions I never knew I had, such as how would people cope with being in a sinking submarine and what did Dr Seuss do doing during World War 2?

  • Land and Live in the Desert 1945, I became invested in the fates of Bob and Skipper. For soldiers under stress they are quite polite. There are a whole series of these, Sea, Jungle & Arctic. Nothing about how to survive in an urban environment like Karangahape Road, Auckland though, (essential advice, do not make eye contact).
  • Submarine Escape. "Experts at grabbing sack time." vs chlorine leak. Actually quite sophisticated procedure with variation of practices according to urgency. The SEA's are multipurpose. Described hazards, oxygen poisoning, anoxia, decompression sickness and excitement, you know, assuming there are no obstructions and everything goes to plan.
There are a whole series of SNAFU movies, apparently all voiced by Mel Brooks, which is why it sounds like Bugs Bunny, they are sort of definitely made for adult males and probably in the circumstances of their intended audience, they would sort of, definitely grab my attention.