Arty Evil Icon


wardytron and I went to Cappadokia on an insanely cheap trip advertised with my RSPB membership. It was just £190 each for flights, four and five star hotels and a round trip tour that ended up being nearly 2000km, and another £175 quid each for lunches, dinners and entrances to all the museums etc.

It's a heavily subsidised way of getting people into the colder parts of the country in the low season. As it turned out, it was much, much colder than anticipated. It was supposed to be rather like April in England during the day and Jan in Scotland at night. But it was much colder than that, minus ten or more (less?) most days and minus 20 at night.

It was spectacularly good. The tour guide was a boring pain in the arse, and a few of our travelling companions were dreary, ossified, sheep-like 'old people', made to seem drearier still by comparison with the lively and cheerful folk of the same age. Despite the coach party aspect, this felt like the first proper travelling I have done since Sri Lanka. It was immensely interesting and inspiring.

We started in Antalya on the Med, in an eerily quiet but comfortable resort hotel where we had the first of many delicious buffet dinners, with glorious salads and surprisingly good bread and bowls of fresh herbs, and hardly any olives at dinner and loads of them for breakfast. The fact that they cater mostly for Germans in the summer months was plain. Dishes were labelled in German, which I would sometimes maliciously mis-translate as 'liver' for fussy, whingeing Brits. There were also a lot of curious non-pork, sausage-like products that were vaguely Soylent Greeny.

This was the view of the cold, sparkling Med from my bed on the first morning.


We didn't get a double bed that night (sometimes we got two giant doubles) and we didn't have the heating on that night or any other. Andrew was very cold that night because he is too stupid to operate a bed, and climbed under the thin quilt and on top of the luxuriously thick duvet. He's a potential Darwin award candidate, really.

Our first jaunt was to the Roman ampitheatre, viaduct and reconstructed bridge at Aspendos, a Greco-Roman city in what the Romans would have called Pamphyria. This is part of what remains of one of the gateways of the aqueduct.

aspendos aqueduct

And this is another part of it. I was horribly touristy and gawped at the lady pulling up her trouser leg, as I realised that the traditional criss-cross, baggy trousers with gathered ankles have no inside leg seam. I thought this might be draughty, but grasped how practical they are when I realised most of the toilets in rural places are squat jobs. That was also when it occurred to me they'd be much handier for a tuppenny upright than a skirt or sari.


It was coldish, but the sky was as glorious as it looks, and even the leafless trees were brilliantly full of birds. Over lunch - deliciously grilled trout - we saw a kingfisher. He was longer-bodied, and a much more pastelly orange and turquoise than his British counterpart, but had a less ostentatious hat.

The scenery was glorious. There were orange and lemon trees everywhere, and we even picked some oranges here, which I made into marmalade when we got back. This is the view over the orange groves to the Taurus mountains.

orange trees and mountains

We drove up into those mountains the next day, following the increasingly snowy Silk Route, and were supposed go through to the highest, narrowest mountain pass, which is over 1800km above sea level. But were turned back by the miltary police at 1200km, due to the raging blizzard above us. This meant we had to retrace our route back down to the Med, drive 40km along it and go through another pass. This was an additional eight hour journey, when we had been not much more than an hour away from our final destination. It was the only grotty bit of the trip, because we spent the whole day on the coach, really, apart from a drab lunch.

Eventually we made it across the frozen, light pollution-free Anatolian plain, and to a ludicrously luxurious high rise hotel, the only high building in the town of Konya. It was a hair-raising drive for our poor driver and those who, like me, were awake and looking out of the window and could see the very few cars on the road skidding around us, but thankfully all the coffin-dodger types were snoring.

This is a pic I took driving on the same route the next day, when we were pretty much the only vehicle on the road, apart from a crashed coach, deep in a snow, that we passed en route.

anatolian plain

It was bleak but beatiful, and there were thousands of birds, especially flocks and flocks of sparrows and finches and other assorted little brown and green and red jobs, and giant bruisers of corvids and at least three different raptors (there may have been four; I banged my head hard on the coach window trying to establish that).

For miles the only sign of human control was the power cables, though I was strangely touched to see a long track of straight, steady human footprints next to the road, and beside them the wildly far-looping prints of a clearly very excited dog. It was almost as though his gleeful barks were still echoing in the air above. There were other prints, too, of wild cats and wolves. There were massive stretches with no sign of human habitation, then little vineyards where the wintry vines were reduced to black, gnarled stumps like the twisted skeletons of burned and dwarvish witches, and lacy apple trees adorned with glistening balls where the mistletoe held the snow, precariously.

We spent two nights and two days in Goreme, the centre of a huge UNESCO World Heritage site, travelling about and marvelling at the unearthly gorgeousness of the landscape. I hate to mention it, but know it will impress those of you in the cheap seats to know that some of Star Wars was flimed here.

fairy nobs

At most of the places we stopped there were women with rough market stalls or little squares of fabric on the ground selling local crafts and pomegranate juice and lovely mulled wine, and men touting from proper shops and covered stalls. I haggled vigorously with all the men I bought stuff from, but Wardy and I both overpaid the women.

Everywhere (outside Antalya) there were far more men than women out of doors and all the women wore headscarves. There is no requirement or expectation or even mild insinuation that tourists (unlike local Coptic/ Orthodox Christian women) should do so. I did have an odd experience when we stopped for a rest break, and a busload of men poured into the cafe. One pushed past me and then stepped back, looked me up and down, and up again, and scowled contemptuously at the clearly offensive scruffy bun my hair was twisted into. I walked back to where Andrew was standing, and when the man came back past, he looked at the two of us, made a blessing-like gesture with his hands, and a bow of evident apology that looked keenly-felt. I think he had assumed from my colouring that I was a loose and scandalous Turkish woman, and then realised I was an apparently perfectly acceptable tourist. When I was on my own some of the male shopkeepers etc managed to be both horribly obsequious and horribly sleazy at the same time. I'm inured to the latter but find the former really difficult to deal with. One of the things I loved about Sri Lanka was the courtesy and dignity in social and commercial transactions; sellers sold hard, but only beggars actually bent and pleaded.


Some of these 'fairy chimneys' are still used as homes. We saw a whole undergound village, used by its inhabitants to escape invasion and worse; ancient underground Christian churches (St George is a local boy), and all sorts of peculiar natural glories. The modernish houses in villages nearby, with their snow-covered steeply angled rooves and satellite dishes looked very Western, reminscent of ones I've seen in Germany and Northern France, especially when you drive towards a village from the north, and can't see the solar panels and water heaters on them. Then, they look very European and 19th century, and the minarets look oddly space-age in their midst. When you get closer you can see these houses stand next to mud brick, square-roofed huts with layers of lean-tos built on like an extended,precarious house of cards, with no evidence of modern conveniences:


These houses, constantly being shored up, are built in exactly the same way as stone age ones excavated nearby. There is a strong and frequent sense, in Cappadokia, of previous ages pressing through to the present; the past is no mere ghost here. There were also some gloriously foreign and unlikely everyday objects that I liked almost as much as the proper sights. Just look at this Ottoman Aga / hostess trolley hybrid:


The Goreme valley is the idea climate for hot air ballooning, and we were gifted this spectacle with our unfeasibly early breakfast on the last morning there:

The delays to our itinerary meant I didn't go up in one; I couldn't face the 4.15 start, the cost and my trepidation. But they look lovely. I made up for it by having two magnificent massages.

This is Andrew, looking a bit Beatle-ish in the snow. You can play 'spot the ball' with the snowball he threw (it missed!). We had great fun fooling about in it. The snow sparkles magically, partly reflecting the blueness of the sky, partly because there is so little pollution in the water. It is hard to mould into snowmen because it is so cold it becomes solid ice if you squash it (the miss was deliberate).


I learnt quite a bit from our tiresome guide - or at least could weave his witterings into my existing knowledge - about the Hittites and early Christians and Selchuks and Ottomans. What I knew knothing much about were the Sufis, and visiting a Dervish centre was a bit of a revelation. I will definitely incorporate them into something I do at school to demonstrate the liberal, contemplative and joyful face of Islam; the celebration of music and body and love and even wine. I will probably give them some poems by Rumi and see if they can guess the culture and age of them. I bet they won't; he's like a lovely mixture of Donne, Catullus and Emily Dickinson. We went to his shrine at the mosque in Konya and were royally pissed off that we got less than an hour there, but three hours in the carpet cooperative (where I did buy a tiny cotton carpet with flying room for only one large-bottomed passenger). It was the first time I had been inside a mosque:


It was not quite what I was expecting, really. I feel quite at home in Anglican cathedrals that used to be Catholic, but the Catholic ones feel very foreign to me; when I go into them in Italy or France I suddenly feel less European and more English, even as I am marvelling at their beauty. This felt less alien, which was surprising, and the lack of images and icons makes it seem contemporary-er, somehow. We had to wear thin disposable plastic galoshes, rather than take our shoes off, and the sussuration of all those lumbering tourist feet on the flagstones sounded like sinister, whispered prayers.

On the journey back we realised just how hair-raising that narrow mountain pass - with less than a yard's clearance on either side of the coach, and one side a sheer drop and the other a dense forest - would have been in a blinding blizzard. It reminded me of a sort of frontier town version of Switzerland:


I took that pic at about 1600km above sea level. The 1800km section we'd passed through just before was all snow and shadows and being inside cotton-wool clouds, and I was too busy being thrilled by it to attempt a photo. Only 200m lower, everything was softer and damper and a bit like Scotland:


A couple of hours later we were back by the Med and another resort hotel complex; confusingly modern when we arrived in the dark and bewildering tropical in the morning light:


We skipped the early start and the tour on the last full day, and bunked off with the sweet young London-dwelling Columbian couple we made friends with, and bimbled gently around lovely rainy Antalya. It was a bit of a culture shock to be somewhere so modern-feeling, with girls swarming about in clingy leggings, swishing their loose hair, and coffee bars and bars and fancy restaurants and proper shops and a lovely pub. It's a very pretty place:


We also had the only hotel room that had elements of Turkishness in its decor, with traditionally-patterned fabric and tiles. The others were all comnfortable, even luxurious, but the one in Antalya was very pretty. It was depressing to have to leave it for an early flight. The journey home was a bit more cramped and cloudy and tiring than the one there. On the way over where we swooped over the Alps in clear blue light, and I took this photo, which I love and is now my screen-saver:


We did have reservations about the organisation of the trip; I'd have preferred some slightly later starts, and more scope for independent bimbling, but the price was amazing. I shall definitely do another of their trips, perhaps next year, and explore the other end of the Mediterranean coast and inland from Troy.
Arty Evil Icon


I normally read LJ by clicking on my friendslist and then scrolling backwards by repeatedly clicking the 'previous ten entries' button. That button has vanished!

What should I do to rectify this, lovely LJ people?
Catherine the Great

The King of Hearts Didn't Make Tarts

revonrut asked why we call it the United KINGdom when we have a queen.

We do it because the words 'king' and 'queen' had very different meanings and still have different values. 'King' comes from the Anglo-Saxon cyninge which originally meant supreme (elected) military leader with an implied sacral element. Her or His Britannic Majesty is still the titular head of the armed forces, to whom military personnel swear allegiance and Defender of the Faith. 'Queen' comes from Old English cwean (and/or Scots Gaelic wheen?) both of which meant litle more than 'wife'.

Eventually using the word 'queen' only for the wife of a King is pretty typical of English, where two words which were synonymous in their root languages are subsequently endowed with different meanings and values, and are consequently useful to unpick for their implications about culture, politics and gender. An obvious one is the way we use Anglo-Saxon words for animals, and Norman French ones for meat: cow/beef, sheep/mutton. I have read - in an A level English Language textbook no less - that this was a reflection of the superior culinary standards the Normans introduced. That's both a simplification and a cliche. The people shovelling the animals's shit in the barn were more likely to be the invaded, and the people scoffing the meat in the hall were more likely to be the invaders. The two mingled of course, but the fact that French became the language of the fine dining and Old English the language of the farmyard is reflected in the language we speak now.

The problematic nature of having a Queen as King, when the words are still laden with different values and implications, is why the term 'Prince Consort' was invented for Victoria's Albert. It ws too risky to call him a King, even a King Consort. It was one of the reasons why ELizabeth I never risked diluting her precarious authority and status by taking one of the many husbands who was mooted for her. HRH The Duchess of Cambridge - Princess Kate - will, in due course, will be called Queen, despite being a commoner, if Young Baldy Big Ears becomes King. It's already been publically stated that the calm, competent and well-adjusted Duchess of Cornwall will never bear that title if Old Baldy Big Ears becomes King. She's never sought the title of Queen (of Hearts or anything else), and there is a depressing assumption that residual public sentimentality about the dead, kitten-faced, neurotic, cripple-hugger would make it very difficult for her to do so.

It would be better - well, less problematic - to suggest calling Lizzy Two 'King', rather than calling it a 'Queendom' while she's Head of State. Which she is, as the elected PM still has to go through the ceremony of asking her permission to form a government, and she opens Parliament each Autumn. It is not an entirely ceremonial role, and could, in extreme circumstances, be a much more interesting one.

Ther cultural assumptions around gendered titles for royalty can be seen in any pound shop, with the amount of pink, sparkly tat retailed at and for little 'princesses'. Even the least politically aware father is unlikely to call his son his 'little prince', and there aren't blue, sparkly outfits for boys in the shops. 'Prince' still retains a veneer of power. 'Princess' is either a term of endearment (harmlessly affectionate or problematically patronising, according to one's poloitical outlook) or actively pejorative, as in 'Jewess Princess'.
  • Current Music
    bords squabbling and Radio 3
  • Tags
Arty Evil Icon

drink Red Bull before you go, and save your popcorn for the end

Well, the shocking news is that Hobbit 2: Desperation of Smeg is much, much better than Hobbit 1:Some Short Fat Ugly People get Chased About by Some Tall fat Ugly People. It took me a whole ninety minutes before I got bored, and the remaining three hundred and fifty minutes were still nowhere near as dull as the last film.

This may have been because I saw it in 3D, which meant the fight scenes were more interesting, and the giant spiders were properly exciting, and when bugger all was happening there was still the chance that a wasp might appear to fly out of the screen and liven things up a bit. The fight scenes in this one were often outside, in lovely bits of New Zealand, with personable elves wielding swords balletically, which is a huge improvement on the first one.

There was a female character in this one too, who did a lot of fighting and shouting, which was good. Unfortunately, she also did a bit of mumsy healing and a lot of falling in love with the least-munting of the dwarves when she should have been killing orcs. 'You can be hairy, smelly and ill-shaped but if you talk some syrup about your mum and are mildly amusing, high-achieving hot chicks will fall for you' is not a helpful message for this film's target audience, really.

You can't help but wonder why, if there was a big enough budget for three whole films and a load of glitzy tech and location shooting, no one thought to send the lump of ham-in-custard playing FlangeDrool, King of the Elves (is he 'Ducky Elf', eremite?) for some acting lessons. Or was his tendency to say everything slowly and portentously while moving awkwardly just a sop to the LARPers in the audience? The script is no help, though, any more than it is for Boring CroakinDild, King of the Dwarves, who is the other dud who gets far too much screentime. Perhaps I am being unjust because he just reminds me of every self-important, whingeing bloke with dirty dreadlocks and dirtier nails I've ever met in a goth/rock club.

Stephen Fry is good value, though, playing the Doge of a sort of Dickensian Jaywick-on-Sea as a pantomimic cross between David Cameron and Jimmy Saville. He is one of the many poor unfortunates in the cast with a cheap, ill-fitting, ginger wig, though these are perhaps less distracting in 2D. The first five minutes of Smeg the Dragon are brilliant to look at, but he soon palls, and this is where the film really starts to drag. You'd have to be prepared to have your credibility stretched to breaking point or be really into Shirlock (the modern one, who spends a lot of his time flouncing his curls and swirling his skirts in the manner of Miss Temple, hence the disambiguative spelling)/ Watson fanfic to enjoy the waste of two good actors and a huge budget. Save your popcorn for that bit, which is probably excruciating if you are watching in 2D.

They missed a trick with the music for the credits. Gold by Spandau Ballet would have been appropriate, amusing and woken the audience up, but instead there's some abysmal folk. I think this will probably be my favourite of the three films, as I suspect the last, like the first, will feature interminable scenes of dwarves eating and singing. If they could have been broken down into a TV series, I think these film would have been really excellent. I liked the book a great deal when I read it as a kid, though not enough to reread it as many of my friends did, and I abandoned my only attempt to read Lord of the Rings shortly after. It is a children's book, and a TV series with this kind of budget and lavish attention to detail would mirror, for children, the involvement of the experience of reading it. Alternatively, one good long film could have the captured the excitement of the plot and the worlds it creates, but three great long, floundering epics do not justice to it, really, both overwhelming and undervaluing it.
Aubrey Beardsley Standard

Where have all the (lovely, boozy, reckless) flowers gone?

Peter O'Toole was my first, possibly my only proper crush. I am immune to fannishness, generally; I've just been shrieking in dismay at the telly because wardytron and were about to watch Friday's episode of Mastermind and realised it was a bloody Dr Who-themed one. I thought the Beeb's self-promoting tosspottery about that anniversary was finally over. But I was - am - a fan of Peter O'Toole. I actually thought about him, daydreamed about him when he wasn't on a screen in front of me, read books about him and followed his career.

It is odd, given my predilection for men with blue eyes, that I developed my giant crush on him watching black and white telly. I remember him in the series Rogue Male when I was little and really, really, rooting for him. And I was bewitched by him when Lawrence of Arabia was first shown on TV. It wasn't just his beauty, it was the nervous, dangerous energy that dripped off the screen whenever he was on it. He was thrillingly alive, even when his roles were poor and his performance overblown. To me, he is the opposite of Robert Redford, whose youthful beauty was so static and lifeless it atrophied, grotesquely, in early middle age. And he is different from the equally beautiful Paul Newman, who holds his power in reserve, and uses it in performance, in precise doses. Redford is completely devoid of that magic energy, Newman is completely in control of it, and O'Toole leaked it as casually, as pungently, as sweat.

I met his first wife, Sian Phillips, when I lived in Wales. I had a friend who was close to her, and knew her throughout her marriage to him. There is a large body of Welsh luvvies who are convinced that she could have been the female Richard Burton - in terms of celebrity and wealth - if she had wanted to, and if she hadn't played second fiddle to O'Toole. In person, she has phenomenal presence, but it's glacial, inscrutable, with sudden flashes of vivid, sensual fire. I was too young and self-absorbed when I met her to know what to make of her; to discern whether she wasn't aware of quite how compelling she was or simply chose not to trade explicitly upon her beauty. Perhaps it simply went too far under the radar of those who could have made her famous. Female beauty and charisma are so essentially performative that when they are not actively displayed, they go unremarked, even in an actress. I'm thinking now of the story about Marilyn Monroe, at the start of her fame, walking down the street with an old friend, quietly being Norma Jean and saying 'Shall I be her, now? Shall I be Marilyn?' and turning up the wattage and affecting the wiggle and slipping into that role. Possibly the only men whose masculine charisma was so forcible assumed were those in the same sorry position as Rock Hudson.

I met Peter O' Toole once, in Cardiff. 'Met' is something of an exaggeration. He was in Wales filming Rebecca's Daughters and we had both just got off the London train. I discovered him standing behind me in the taxi queue outside the station. I turned round and there he was, swaying slightly like a poplar in his Crombie(?) coat, lazily emitting a force field of thrilling magnetism, with those eyes boyishly sparkling over a yawn like a ancient lion's. I couldn't speak but I kept opening and shutting my mouth and some syllables must have fallen out. 'How do you do?', he said, and he took my hand and shook it. My lucky, lucky hand. And then he said - projected - as if I were hard of hearing or foreign - 'I'm Peter O'Toole. I'm in Wales making a film called Rebecca's Daughters'. He said ' in Wales' as if he couldn't quite believe it himself. Then he swept past me, into my taxi, and disappeared, leaving only a faint odour of cologne, wet dog and magnificence behind him. Even old, and way past his heyday, he had that quality - in spades - that all stratospherically sexy people have, that renders one unable to take them in one, or a dozen, or a hundred glances. You just have to keep on looking, and wanting. That's why they are so compelling on the screen, because the camera is never sated.

I can't think of any 21st century men who are nearly as exciting as him. My female friends all seem to have the hots for David Tennant or Benzedrine Crumpetsnatch. Perhaps I am just old, but Tennant just seems too eager and twitchy and side-kickable to be a sex symbol. Besides looking a spaniel carved out of scone dough, Cumberbatch always seems a bit dreary. If you snogged him he'd probably taste of bile disguised with toothpaste, not fags and whisky and wickedness. The internet as I know it creamed its collective jeans over him when he held up a hand-written sign telling the paparazzi to stop taking pictures of him, and go and take some in Syria. That seemed to me, at best, the self-important posturing of a sixth-former and, at worst, as pompous as a man who pays to get into Spearmint Rhino and them berates his lap dancer for not performing Swan Lake. Tool, not O'Toole.
Aubrey Beardsley Standard

National Poetry Day

I like this simple, lovely poem. I think it needs a wider audience.

For the Child Who Became Christopher

May you come safe
and flawless

May they gaze in awe
at your small creased wrists
and marvel
at your perfect breath
and ordinariness

May they gurgle at you
and drool gratitude

May your gaze and grip
reassure them

May your limbs
be proper and deft
your crawl furious
your falls neat

May your most frightening dark
be in stories
the deepest thunder
over the hills yonder

May no one fence you round
with their own hopes
or shawl you in their dreams

May your teachers learn
from your crazes
and amazements

May your friends
be a bridge to cross over
in any weather

May you have without too much wanting
and want without too much need

May there be sacred places
for you to return to

May stones fall short
and only low branches break
and swings miss you
on the way back

Roger Hull
Bette Davis

Stuff For Sale - go on, fund my summer debauchery for me!

Loads of size 12 - 22 stuff for sale, including lots of BNWT poshish stuff and some fetish wear. Most of it has never been worn (and if it has, it hasn't been sweated on because I can't). Some things look a bit squashed from being stored, but all has been stored smoke-free and with lavender bags and cedarwood balls, and everything has been aired in the sun over the weekend. Pay by Paypal or bank transfer, open to offers, postage not included but negotiable and you can collect from Liverpool St, High St Ken or Northolt. Everything will be despatched very promptly as I am moving next week.

Collapse )

Collapse )

Collapse )
Aubrey Beardsley Standard


Excellent post by pw201

Originally posted by pw201 at Yep, it’s still there

8856bff18d7ac166b097e64a71f2ca83A friend on Facebook linked to Louise Mensch vs Laurie Penny on the “check your privilege” thing. He went on to say he hadn’t come across that phrase, and wondered if it’s anything more than thinly veiled argumentum ad hominem. I done a comment, which seemed long enough to blog:

It’s jargon from the Internet social justice warrior subculture, as far as I can tell, so if you haven’t heard it, hang out on Tumblr, LiveJournal or bits of the feminist blogsphere (or, you know, don’t). It’s becoming more mainstream, if those articles are anything to go by.

The injunction to “check your privilege” means different things at different times. Sometimes it means “you are not in a position to know that”. For example, if I claimed “there is no homophobia in Cambridge”, someone could rightly point out that I’m not that likely to be a victim of homophobia. Saying that continues the argument by undercutting my claim.

Sometimes it does seem to act as what Suber calls “logical rudeness“, that is, saying “CYP!” insulates a theory from argument by attributing some fault to those who do not believe it, stopping the argument about the theory by switching it to an argument about the unbeliever. As Suber says, though, it’s not clear that there’s a general duty to respond to would-be debunkers of theories we hold, and claiming that, say, feminism is nonsense because so many feminists are fans of privilege checking is itself rude. However, Suber doesn’t seem to address the point that, if we’re interested in having accurate beliefs, we should debate those with the strongest counter-arguments: our rudeness should not allow the opposition to conclude we are mistaken, but it should worry us.

Using “CYP!” a single line response (on Twitter, or in a comment box, say) is just blowing off steam or cheering for your team, as far as I can tell. It doesn’t actually mean anything other than “yay for us and boo for you!”

Originally posted at Name and Nature. You can comment there. There are currently comments.

*Holier Than Thou
Clockwork Bart

I tried. Really I did.

Almost half a decade ago, when I turned 40, vin_petrol gave me a gift at the last of my three birthday parties.

It was a book. A book called THE BOOK OF THE NEW SUN Volume 1 Shadow and Claw by Gene Wolfe, in the Fantasy Masterworks series. You can, if you have ever met me (or probably even if you haven't), imagine how delighted I was to receive this item. Vin knew what my reaction would be, but said I shouldn't judge a book by the lumbering role player in a cloak and oddly-shaped codpiece on its cover, because it was his favourite book, and if I only gave it a chance, I would appreciate it as great literature, despite its genre.

When everyone was banging on about Game of Thrones (which just sounds like a spam email euphemism for coprophilia to me), and saying how good the telly series was, I wondered if the book Vin gave me was the book it was based on. So I dug it out and read it.

As soon as I mentioned on FB that I was reading it, Vin and steer started arguing over whether it was a fantasy novel or a sci fi novel. I think genre is irrelevent; it's just a terribly bad novel.

It is fantasy, not sci fi. It was written in the seventies and set a million years in the future, in a dystopian world that is loosely like the dark ages. Great sci fi is fascinating for what it reveals about the present in the way it depicts the future, but the future in this novel is just a tired mishmash of the past. This means the writer can use all sorts of ideas and features of the past and indulge himself in some terrible schoolboy Latin, but without any of the coherence or accuracy of a half decent historical novel.

Vin and Steer both claim it is beautifully written. It is very heavily influenced by Lord of The Rings, with the same strangulated, portentous leadenness of language. It has the same sort of 'can you guess where this came from, ooh aren't I well-read and isn't this book really, properly, intellectually serious' preoccupation with nomenclature. There is no sense of pace or urgency even in the bits that are supposed to be pacy and urgent. They are just as turgid and long-winded as the rest. It claims to be Volume 1, but it is actually two books. I'm afraid only made it through the first.

Gene Wolfe's - I bet that wasn't the name his parents gave him, by the way, I bet he was called Brian Evadne Spengler III - hero is an orphan, a torturer, has a sort of gothwish cloak of near invisibility and considerable sexual appeal and stamina. Most of the women he meets are remarkable for their near total lack of clothes and huge norks, described variously as 'two halved melons topped with cherries' or 'creamy amplitude'- I kid you not. He writes about women as if he has never spoken to one, let alone seen one naked (the blurb said he studied mechanical engineering at university).

I worked out it was't the Sport of Lavatories book pretty quickly, when I recognised the name of the author of that on the back of Book of the New etc attached to the quote 'One of the greatest science fantasy epics of all time'. It's put me right off reading anything by him, so I think my foray into 'science fantasy' is over. Unless, of course, anyone can recommend me anything of the calibre of Gormenghast.