Monday, 11 January 2010

SF reading update - A Case of Conscience; Hyperion

I am still struggling through James Blish's A Case of Conscience, but I'm nearly finished! It's not even that long a book - I'm just not feeling much love for it. The science is absurd, as is the logic behind the apparently random events of the book (e.g. the crazy smokes at the bizarre dinner party, and the only (?) alien on Earth being a popular talk show host). I should finish it very soon though, and then I can rant or complain about it at length.

I have, however, started reading Dan Simmons's Hyperion, which I am thoroughly enjoying. I have finished reading Father Hoyt's tale and the embedded narrative of Father Duré's journals - they form one of the most fascinating, and chilling, treatments of religion in science fiction that I have read. Since the priest's story is told primarily through Duré's journal (of which Duré is of course the narrator and the protagonist), it should prove to be a useful text to study for my honours thesis. I found it interesting how Duré's faith fluctuated between weakening (when he arrived at the planet and believed the Church to be doomed), strengthening (when he found the 'basilica' and supposed proof of his faith), and weakening again (when he found this cross-centred faith to be quite evil, and was unable to understand how God could allow such a wickedness to take place). Though perhaps weakening and strengthening are not the words I am looking for - more like pessimism and optimism perhaps; or fluctuating between seeing God as a merciless, even cold and heartless deity, and a powerful, loving and merciful one. I can't wait to see how the story turns out. Thanks to those who recommended it! It has already been worth while.

"Dante's Medieval World", Part I

Today I'm writing from the Hotel Flora in Prato, Italy. On 4 January my wife and I left Australia for Italy to undertake a one month international study intensive called "Dante's Medieval World" with Monash University. The course, which uses Dante's Divine Comedy as a starting point for studying medieval Italy, is being taught out of the Monash Centre in Prato, a small but beautiful centre occupying one level of the Palazzo Vaj. Aside from regular lectures, tutorials and reading groups, there are numerous site visits and day trips. We have been to Florence and Pisa, and we still have day trips to Arezzo, Bologna, Lucca, Siena, and San Gimignano to come.

One of the most amazing experiences thus far has been witnessing the Procession of the Magi - the traditional Florentine celebrations of the Epiphany. Hundreds of people dressed in the most amazing colours and marched around the streets of Florence, finally arriving at the Duomo (where we were). There was sword fighting, a nativity, a choir, the procession, a message from the Bishop, and lots of balloons.