The Feast From The East: Tales From The Cosmic Casbah

Something To Read With Relish

And Tempt The Taste Buds… 

SinbadThe dream I had, Rachid, this is all part of it somehow! We’ve been brought here by some mysterious force. Is it not written that a wise man will try to realise his dream, to follow it?” 

Rachid: “Some say it is through dreams that Allah speaks to mortal man… Captain! He who walks on fire will burn his feet…” 

The being “spontaneously generated” in a cave on a remote island, many parsecs off the Arabian coast. Seafarers discovered that stranger and brought him to Baghdad where he described in intricate detail th countless worlds to be found beyond our own, before the Caliph assured him that none of these realms could surpass the beauty of his own land and the glory of Allah.

This is the synopsis for Theologus Autodidactus, written by Ibn Al-Nafis, dating from as early as the 13th century is believed (in some quarters) to be the earliest precursor of science fiction, although its curious contents lean more towards science-fantasy. 

The notion of Middle Eastern Science Fiction seems so unlikely, compounded by the view that science and the proliferation of (new) ideas conflict with the principles of Islamic ideology. And yet there is so much more to this surprisingly burgeoning scene than it looks. The recent successful SF and Fantasy Book Festival held in Abu Dhabi highlighted what this unexpected region has to offer – most notably:

Iraq+100, a groundbreaking SF anthology that poses an intriguing challenge to contemporary Iraqi writers:

What might your home city look like in the year 2103 – exactly 100 years after the disastrous American and British-led invasion of Iraq?

And now there is the English translation of Frankenstein in Baghdad by Ahmed Saadawi. 

From the rubble-strewn streets of US-occupied Baghdad, Hadi the junk dealer collects human body parts and stitches them together in order to make the government grant them the proper burial they deserve. However, the corpse goes missing; soon, a wave of eerie murders sweeps the city, leading to reports of a horrendous-looking criminal who, though shot, cannot be killed. 

Hmm, not my cup of (cardamom) tea, this, but interesting to see how arguably the most famous classic SF/horror theme has inspired a uniquely – not to mention unlikely – Middle Eastern variation.

“Two tablets brought forth to the light, yet a third remains from sight.

“A final place must still be found, a place that lies deep below the ground…” – The Oracle Of All Knowledge. 

Once upon a time, shortly after we moved to my childhood home, my parents let out our upstairs rooms to students attending the local university. The vast majority of them hailed from the Middle East. So, fortunately, from a very young age, yours truly grasped the opportunity to savour the music, language, art, aromas, rugs and – Allah be praised! – delicacies of distant domains. 

Thus, fuelling my imagination by gawping at various awesome adventures such as The 7th Voyage of Sinbad and – ah! ‘im again – The Golden Voyage of Sinbad; and much later, stopping at nothing to acquire my own ornate antiquarian hardback edition of Tales From The Arabian Nights (translated and annotated by Richard F. Burton – the definitive rendering) (1888) – plus acquiring a degree in Near Eastern Archaeology – Brad was all set to trample all over such esteemed sites as Babylon, Nippur, Lagash and Umm Dabaghiyah (umm-what?!)… until…

Mum beseeched me not to go, fearing an escalation in tensions and violence in that region – ultimately, in sheer disbelief, yours truly witnessed/read about the vandalism and destruction of Iraqi cultural heritage (during 2003-04) from the relative quiet and safety of Bangkok instead…

To accentuate this scheherazade for the senses, there will be light sprinklings of the more exotic platters that nestle deep within the jukebox @ Brad Manor – all by the same combo who accompanied me on the streets of Manhattan, kept me occupied during those looong hours waiting at Middle Eastern airports, and inspired me to write both fiction and non-fiction during the Pre-Bradscribe Era @ a lovely seaside retreat on the Gulf of Thailand… 

“Flashing swords, leaping bandits, holy magic, bloodthirsty monsters, and sumptuous cuisine… what more do you want me to do, draw you a map? Read this thing” – Scott Lynch. 

Throne Of The Crescent Moon (first published in 2012) is a lush fantasy set in an alternate medieval Middle East. Doctor Adoulla Makhslood, the last real ghul hunter of Dhamsawatt, King of Cities, Jewel of Abassen is aching to retire – presumably to spend lazy days relaxing with copious cups of cardamom tea –  but a new threat of ghuls: zombie-like beings reanimated by evil sorcery, more fearsome than any he has ever encountered, brings him back into this rather unusual fray.

Before setting out wholeheartedly to acquire a copy, my heart sank upon recalling my persistent – almost legendary – inability to track down any potentially groovy novel that comes to my attention.

And yet!

Before you can say: “Trust in Allah, but tie up your camel,” the very tome of which we speak managed to reach my grubby mitts, for a hardback copy indeed lay in wait at my nearest library!

The book itself has received rave reviews and its author, Saladin Ahmed happens to be the very same Saladin Ahmed who contributed to the recent Star Wars Canto Bight anthology compendium and – my minions inform me – is now writing Spider-Man! So far, it is proving to be an engrossing read; like one reviewer remarks, it plays in your mind rather like a Ray Harryhausen fantasy – high praise inseed! 

And why does the premise sound so intoxicating? 

Because it seems exactly like the sort of Arabesque swashbuckling fantasy adventure that Brad would write. Come to think of it, not so long ago, he DID attempt such a saga, whilst living near the beach a few years back – inspired by my study of ancient seafaring.

Accounts by Arab writers of exotic eastern lands can be dated as far back as the mid-9th century CE. The earliest existing text: the Akhbar al-Sin wa’l-Hind (unfortunately anonymous) compiles stories from merchants who told of uncharted islands rife with pirates, troglodytes, headhunters and “beasts” more fantastic than anything Magizoologist Newt Scamander encountered! 

More crucially, this is where we first obtained those fantastical tales of Sinbad, that adventurous sailor who had to brave evil sorcerers, giant crabs and whatnot WITHOUT the comfort of cardamom tea…! 

“He’s awake and listening to us. Sly little rascal. But royalty has need of slyness. And if he’s really the Kwisatz Haderach… well… Sleep well, you sly little rascal. Tomorrow you’ll need all your faculties to meet my gom jabbar” – Reverend Mother Gaius Helen Mohiam.

Well, bless my Chicken Arabiatta!

It is difficult to discuss this material without acknowledging the HUGE impact of Frank Herbert’s Dune. 

Exuding more pertinent geopolitical resonances in the 21st century than it ever could have managed on its initial publication in 1965, Herbert drew inspiration from the Bedou way of life, to create an elaborate desert culture: the Fremen, native inhabitants of the planet Arrakis, also known as Dune. 

For possibly the first time, numerous examples of Middle Eastern terminology filterted into Western literature. In their jihad against House Harkonnen, the Fremen launch razzia raids, wear aba and bourka robes, fear a “devil” named “Shaitan” and so on.

Please click here for an expanded study of this landmark work, winner of both Hugo and Nebula Awards, and praised by Arthur C. Clarke for its “depth of characterisation and the extraordinary detail of the world it creates. I know nothing comparable to it except The Lord Of The Rings.”

“Is that the end… of all the races and civilizations, and the dreams of the world, to be able to leave a few stones buried beneath the sands, to tell the Dark that we were here?” – Niun.

Another SF series profoundly influenced by Middle Eastern themes came in the eclectic form of the Faded Sun Trilogy by C.J. Cherryh.

Set in the Alliance-Union universeKesrith, Shon’Jir and Kutath each chronicle the Mri-Wars in this coming-of-age saga of Niun, the plucky protagonist.

The first volume begins with the Regul having just concluded a forty-year war with humanity. As part of the peace, they are ceding the desert world of Kesrith to humanity. However, they have neglected to inform its inhabitants, the Mri, who have served them as mercenaries for over two thousand years. These mercenaries have been nearly exterminated in these wars, and young Niun is one of the few remaining warriors. When the Regul seek to double-cross his people, he and his sister Melein, the last of the priestly Sen caste, form an uneasy alliance with the human Sten Duncan to rescue a holy relic that may hold the key to the Mri’s survival.

Despite being shortlisted for the Nebula Award in 1978 and the Hugo Award in 1979, this – and its two successors – are among the most elusive SF series to track down in print!

Time to set sail – for “every voyage has its own flavour”further east, beyond the Pillars of Hercules, across the azure Maha Thalassa towards the enchanted shores of what Persian seafarers called: “Al-Hind”…

“Mighty Kali. Mightier than thou am I. Make obeisance to me…! Dance. Dance for me!” – Khoura. 

 

“One of the five best SF novels ever written” – George R. R. Martin.

Why shouldn’t India have its own panoply of science fiction tales?

Delve into the wondrous textures of Hindu mythology and it will not take you long to discover bizarre accounts of gods striking out of glistening cities in the clouds, charging across the sky in “celestial chariots” firing bolts of lightning against inhuman enemies…

So it comes as no surprise that Roger Zelazny drew extensively upon such myths to produce one of the SF greats: Lord of Light. 

A distant world where gods walk as men, but wield vast and hidden powers. Are they truly immortal? Who are these gods? Their names include Brahma, Kali, Krishna and also he who was called Buddha, the Lord of Light, but who now prefers to be known simply as Sam. 

Although it has not ascended to Dune-like heights of literary adulation and popularity, Zelazny’s masterpiece is richly-conceived and plotted, and still widely-regarded by those who know as a richly-crafted work, its curious yet compelling non-linear narrative lauded by other top contemporary SF authors.

Your foreign correspondent here will endeavour to surge through this classic right now (for the unpteenth time) aided by a set of lamb biryani, with a bowl of naan chips, baked with cumin, coriander and kalonji seeds, (seasoned with Kashmiri spices and coconut – the way Brad likes ’em!) – and a cup of cardamom tea, of course

Love, light and peace.

 

“There is that about them which repels… The trident of Shiva cuts a path through everything. But no matter how much he destroys, we raise up more against him. So he stands like a statue, uncreating storms we will not let end” – Tree Of Green Fire. 

“You pace the deck like a caged beast; for one who enjoys the hashish you should be more at peace…” – Sinbad.

 

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Origins Of An Ace Oddity: The Blogger Recognition Award!

Yay, Let The Word Go Forth! Bradscribe Is Officially Awesome! 

korath

“Omnium rerum principia parva sunt [Everything has small beginnings]” – Cicero.

Thanks to Michael J Miller @ mycomicrelief for nominating me for the Blogger Recognition Award!

Michael not only writes consistently brilliant reviews of comic books, but is a superhero ‘imself, having decided to take a stand on the side of Truth and Justice and SPEAK OUT about what is happening to his country. His site is well worth a visit or three! It’s ram-packed with goodies and he’ll be pleased to see you!

It’s always a thrill, and a great honour, to be recognised – and highly regarded – by your fellow bloggers; and it only seems like yesterday when I nominated him for the Mystery Blogger Award!

Personally, February is always the most trying month for me – this year’s has brought its own extraordinary events (best left unmentioned); writing usually pulls me through hard times, but considering how substandard the drafts produced during this past frenzied fortnight are, well… (best left unpublished! – most unlike me, innit?!)

Michael’s unexpected – and uplifting – congrats message this week could not have come at a better time.

Bless yer heart, amigo!

Anyway, here are the rules for the Blogger Recognition Award:

1) Thank the blogger who nominated you and provide a link to their blog.
2) Write a post to show your award.
3) Give a brief story of how your blog started.
4) Give two pieces of advice to new bloggers.
5) Select other bloggers you want to give this award to.
6) Comment on each blog and let them know you have nominated them and provide the link to the post you created.

Right, how in blazes did all this madness begin?

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“A beginning is a very delicate time” – Princess Irulan. 

Know then that it is the year 2555.

Living in a predominantly Buddhist country, that was what it said on our Buddhist calendar.

You knew it better as 2012. 

Early in that year, after yet another dispiriting reply from a prospective editor – more of a “better luck next time,” rather than an outright rejection – he wanted to see “my blog.” Such a platform had frittered away @ the back of my mind for a few months, but that provided the impetus to get it started. 

Every good writer needs a portfolio of work; without anything in print/online – it was imperative to sort something out. And PRONTO.

But how?

This involved swottin’ up on specific technical gubbins from scratch. Having downloaded the necessary How To files, well…. sheesh, it might as well have been in Lithuanian – none of it made any sense. Weeks – then months – passed and the stalemate had not shifted; it wasn’t until eventually watching a YouTube vid over and over again did the rudiments of blogging finally sink into my stubborn noddle.

And then… hey! Holy Danish inter-lockin’ blocks, Bradman!

Now yer ready, whaddya gonna write about?!

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“Ready are you? What know you of ready…? This one a long time have I watched. All his life has he looked away… to the future, to the horizon. Never his mind on where he was. Hmm? What he was doing. Hmph! Adventure. Heh! Excitement. Heh! A Jedi craves not these things. You are reckless!” – Yoda.

Brad won’t fail ya – Brad‘s not afraid. 

In the beginning, my Very First Post irresistibly concentrated on my unique background back then: living on the Gulf of Thailand. A world traveller with 5,000 Followers, producing Posts attaining 300 Likes each, Liked me straight away – instantly providing me with my own initial band of potential Followers to invite over to my site! It took only my second Post: Science Friction to collect NINE Likes – wow, methinks, this bloggin’ lark’s a doddle…

Even @ that initial stage, SF had not become my main focus, but after scant success with other Posts delving into various other beloved topics such as history, coffee and whatnot, SF became the official theme of this blog. Over 150 Posts – produced in three different countries – have carried the Brad Seal of Awe Since 2013. 

When my laptop’s screen went on strike last July, the remainder of ’16’s Posts had to be prepared @ a few Public Libraries in the local region.

One morning, while compiling one of my more ambitious Posts, one crusty, dreadlocked youngling – with skateboard in hand – leaned in, having recognised Arsene: our cute bunny forever immortalised as my Gravatar. 

“Hey, I really dig that site! It’s-” 

Upon seeing me activate my Dashboard, he gawped.

“Blimey Charley!” he chirped in amazement. “You- you’re Bradscribe?!” 

“What, didn’t think I wuz this ridiculously good-lookin’ in real life, huh?” 

After being evicted from the building (hey! you’re not allowed to natter in libraries) we skedaddled to the nearest coffee den.

“I wanna blog, man,” the rapscallion sniffed. “How can I be as successful as you?” 

“Well, two tips must ye learn to become a successful blogger… but first, m’young an’ eager padawan, help yerself to some ginger cake.”

Ah yes, the CAKE – hoo-boy, he LURVES a scrumptious slice a’ sveetness aound ‘ere, doesn’t ‘e, eh?!

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“Okay, first of all, you’re copying me from when I said I had a plan… And secondly, I don’t think you even have a plan!” – Rocket Raccoon. 

“No, really, kid – THESE are the TWO most important essential titbits I reckon ya need:

1). Be a friendly host

“Blog it and they will come!”

Nah, no matter how awesome your writing, there is no way to ensure that any readers will immediately swing by. Remember, MILLIONS of of blog posts are produced DAILY, so you have got to get out there and invite them over. 

And when other like-minded bloggers folla the courtesy of leaving a kind Comment, always reply: thanking them and generating a rapport. So they feel obliged to come back for more. The few times me Comments have appeared on newcomers’ sites, only to be ignored; not surprisingly, they vanished from the blogosphere soon after… 

ALWAYS reply, ya dig?! 

And:

2). DON’T pick yer nose while I’m explainin’ this to ya – jeez, man! 

Are ya done…? Good.

2). Be unique

A hefty proportion of those countless blog Posts are movie reviews – some are so formulaic it’s all too easy to get confused as to which blogger is which. Not only blog about what you love (and love whatchu blog), whatcha write should represent YOU as an individual: your thoughts, your interests, your personality.

In order to stand out from all those MILLIONS, it’s best ta produce something different – something distinctive. 

Be unexpected, unusual and – oh yes -unique. 

And if all else fails, it ‘elps ta offer them something irresistible. Hence, the cake…

“All the best to ya, kid. Good luck…”

mad-max-thumbs-up

“My name is Max. My world is fire and blood. Once, I was a cop. A road warrior searching for a righteous cause. As the world fell, each of us in our own way was broken. It was hard to know who had more cake… me… or everyone else…” – Max Rockatansky. 

As the rules for the Blogger Recognition Award stipulate no number of Nominees, we’ll go with my lucky number: 7.

So, all you lucky Nomineesmy (whisper it: all-female!) Magnificent Seven– time to stand and save a Mexican village from bandits and be recognised!:

boxofficebuzz

byhookorbybook

cafebookbean

livingabeautifullife

morganhazelwood

recoverytowellness

wordsforeverything

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Cheers!

Fifty Years On Arrakis: The Source Of The Spice

The spice exists on only one planet in the entire universe, a desolate dry planet. 

The planet is Arrakis, also known as Dune.

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“Deep in the human unconsciousness is a pervasive need for a logical universe that makes sense. But the real universe is always one step beyond logic” – Frank Herbert. 

“These waves [of sand] can be every bit as devastating as a tidal wave,” Frank Herbert – then a freelance writer concentrating on ecological matters – stated in one article pitch during 1959. He was referring to the sand dunes of Florence, Oregon, and the relentless way they shifted eastwards, “pushed by strong winds off the Pacific.” 

His interest in this topic led to research into deserts and desert cultures, eventually inspiring him to draft two short novels, serialised in Analog Science Fact & Fiction. He later reworked the material into a single volume, which has led some critics – even this year: the fiftieth anniversary of its initial publication – hailing it as the finest science fiction novel of all time.

In the far future – the actual year consists of five digits – Arrakis is the only known planet to produce the most precious substance in the universe: the spice melange. 

The spice extends life. The spice expands consciousness.

It also induces an “enhanced space-time perception”; aliens known as the Guild Navigators use the orange spice gas to fold space, thus travelling to any point in the universe without moving. 

It is highly addictive, capable – after ingestion – of turning the eyes of any user a deep blue. Spice mining comes with the major hazard of attracting colossal sandworms about several hundred metres in length. This most prized commodity is integral in maintaining the transport, supply and communication networks of Shaddam IV’s Empire. 

Paul Atreides: son of Duke Leto of the House of (the somewhat-Homeric) Atreides turns out to be their messianic leader: Muad’Dib, as foretold in ancient prophecies. Endeavouring to irrigate the deserts and regenerate the planet’s life-system, he sets out with his band of Fremen warriors – an indigenous nomadic race – to halt all spice production on Arrakis. 

Essentially, Herbert was promoting environmental awareness long before it ensnared mainstream sensitivities.

DUNE VI by HR Giger
DUNE VI by HR Giger
Character designs for Jodorowsky's Dune, created by French artist: Moebius.
Character designs for Jodorowsky’s Dune, created by French artist: Moebius.

“The way in which ecological relationships are made to stand for supernatural ones makes Dune one of the archetypal examples of fashionable ecological mysticism, and this may help to explain its great popularity” – Brian Stableford. 

There are strong hints of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Mars fantasies and Isaac Asimov’s Foundation saga, as well as touches of E.E. “Doc” Smith’s Lensman space operas in Frank Herbert’s Dune. Having studied Jung, Herbert met, in 1960, Alan Watts, a prominent advocate of Zen philosophy. “Long conversations” ensued. The basic sci-fi premise, distant in both time and space, gradually appropriated deeper, temporal, psychological and spiritual dimensions.

At some point this Winter, one challenge on my list is to watch Jodorowsky’s Dune (2013): a critically acclaimed documentary about the greatest SF cinema masterpiece never made. It would have made for a formidable production: both HR Giger and Moebius provided concept art; Orson Welles and Salvador Dali were persuaded to take prominent roles; and Pink Floyd would provide the soundtrack. 

Instead, we have David Lynch’s opus, (in)famous primarily for dividing critics and fans. Having completed a version several hours in length, the producer Dino De Laurentis wanted it cut down to just two. Lynch baulked at the idea and protested to have his name removed from the final print. Some regard this huge box office disaster as the Worst Film of 1984. 

No matter what the detractors of Lynch’s film might say about it, its visual effects – particularly its assortment of matte paintings – creature and costume design, some ornate sets, plus Lynch’s own distinctive surreal touches, make it, for me, a quite engaging spectacle.

It is ironic to think that not only did Jodorowsky’s Dune fail to get off the ground, but the original Dune novel almost never materialised at all neither! Firstly, 400 pages in Hardback, and then a whopping great flopping paperback tome of 900 pages, this is when publishing houses preferred brevity above all.  Nevertheless, it won the Hugo Award in 1966, and the inaugural Nebula Award for Best Novel. 

Not surprisingly, Herbert had to deal with twenty rejections before his hefty manuscript was eventually accepted in 1965 by Chilton, a Philadelphia-based trade and hobby magazines publisher – home of the unsurpassable Dry Goods Economist(!)

A HD still from the 1984 film, featuring one of Albert Whitlock's finest matte paintings.
A HD still from the 1984 film, featuring one of Albert Whitlock’s finest matte paintings.

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“Paul Atreides is a young white man who fulfils a persistent colonial fantasy, that of becoming a God-king to a tribal people. Herbert’s portrayal of the ‘Fremen’ owes much to TE Lawrence and Wilfred Thesiger’s enthusiastic portrayals of the Bedouin of Arabia’s Empty Quarter” – Hari Kunzru. 

In my horde of dust-gathering SF novels, there is Children of Dune, the third volume in the series, which just happened to be (back then) a rather laborious slog. It had failed to inspire me to read the original, but now – in this half-century anniversary year, and now blessed with a more sensible stock of patience and maturity – it would be appropriate to finally catch up with it, and assess for myself whether the “greatest SF novel ever” tag is warranted.

Herbert’s incorporation of Bedouin traits into the Fremen culture – even the use of such terms as razzia, bourka robes and jihad – holds more potency now in 2015 than it ever did in 1965. 

On a personal level, there is something irresistible about desert planets in sci-fi. Perhaps Tatooine in Star Wars – blatantly inspired by Arrakis – got there first. Look at Uncle Owen’s moisture farm: ripped straight from Herbert’s ecological leanings. The desolate terrains vividly – and colourfully – designed by such iconic artists as Eddie Jones and Peter Andrew Jones remain particular favourites. Yet no matter how individualistic those visions were, there is something about these desert scenes that will always link back psychologically to Frank Herbert’s Dune. 

In the original novel, the First Planetologist of Dune, named Kynes (incidentally the main protagonist of the very first draft) pondered this:

“Beyond a critical point within a finite space, freedom diminishes as numbers increase… The question is not how many can possibly survive within [the planetary ecosystem], but what kind of existence is possible for those who survive?”  

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