wormwood, earth and honey
by Catherine Edmunds
85 pages, Paperback
Circaidy Gregory Press, 2008
Reviewed by John Irvine
Catherine Edmunds’ new book of verse ‘wormwood, earth and honey,’ recently released by and available directly from Circaidy Gregory Press, could not have got off to a better start for me. The cover art, her own creation, is my kind of art: bold brush strokes, visual texture and rich colours. In fact, the cover art has an almost ethereal marine feel to it.
I am familiar with Catherine’s work, and have been fortunate enough to read it on many occasions. There is, though, a vast difference between reading the odd offering and reviewing an entire volume. Firstly, I chose poems at random from throughout the book, reading to set within my mind a ‘feel’ for the collection. Then I took it quietly and slowly, as the exceptional poetry herein deserves to be taken. What a smorgasbord of sensations I encountered:
Eric was fashionably dressed
in bumptious cumulo nimbus
a cave beneath a jasmine tree, full of secrets
dying leaves, wormcasts, earth and honey
whereupon it (the wind)
transmogrified into a golden retriever
and glorious madness:
Erik laughed with the sound of thistles
waggled antennae and smirked at Mavis
Catherine is no superficial poet awash with jolly statements that cannot possibly be misinterpreted. She is a thinker’s poet, a writer whose words very often conceal and beguile, and whose meanings frequently wear the camouflage of allegory and metaphor. If you want the most from her poetry, you will have to think about it. This is not a book for skimming during a free moment in the lavatory. Even her humour requires careful attention.
She is a compelling storyteller, weaving complex and sometimes lyrical tales with surprisingly few words. There’s no waste with this poet. Every word, every line break, every nuance is calculated for maximum effect. The lady handles drama, sentiment, nonsense and humour with equal aplomb. Catherine is what every seriously talented poet must be: a gimlet-eyed observer.
She is also versatile. Not content with just the contemporary style of free verse, she is equally at home with the sonnet (a particular favourite of mine,) haiku/senryu and a plethora of other styles and fancies.
Pernickety paragons of punctuation will be disappointed. There isn’t a lot of it. For me, though, the lack of it gives Catherine’s work a sense of immediacy and sometimes restlessness that I like very much indeed.
So… if stolen hedgehogs, unrequited love, heroic prunes, things called Eric, romantic mittens, unhappy penguins, myth and legend and assorted other unforgettable characters are your meat and spuds, then this book is for you. But make no mistake: this book is not just about fun and games. There is a very serious underbelly throughout this book. Sometimes angry, sometimes hopeless, sometimes just plain glorious. It’s all in there:
his foot’s kicked a twelve inch monkey wrench
he picks it up, nods once to the car
then goes to look for his mother
it’s not a police matter
they’re just bruises
as clouds gather
walk with me in colour
A favourite piece? Well, I think I’d have to confess and say that ‘grandfather’s beard’ took my fancy. Perhaps not the most deeply meaningful of Catherine’s offerings, but it is dry and wry enough to purse my mouth… with laughter. Or maybe ‘The Ballad of Shane and Mavis.’ Or perhaps even…
To sum up: this delightfully complex volume of poetry will please any reader who likes to take their time, ponder a lot and gaze at the heavens, but someone who also has a sense of the ridiculous. If I had one regret it would be that Catherine didn’t see fit to sprinkle a number of her wonderful drawings throughout the book.
I give this book my Supreme Golden Syrup Pudding Award… I read it twice before lunch, and now I’m off back for thirds.
Snake Oil Science:
The Truth About Complementary and Alternative Medicine
by R. Barker Bausell
352 pages, Hardcover
Oxford University Press, 2007
Reviewed by James Swingle
Self-styled experts trumpet claims for complementary and alternative medicine (CAM). Friends and acquaintances extol the virtues of therapies they've tried personally, ranging from acupuncture to homeopathy to energy healing. And if you're like me, you've tried a few (or many) alternative therapies yourself. Some of them come with a hefty price tag. But which ones actually achieve the results they claim? Turns out, probably none of them.
R. Barker Bausell provides not just a great analysis of the experiments done on CAM, he gives an insightful, insider's tour of how scientific experiments work, and why the different components of a well-designed experiment are necessary. He covers confirmation bias, the publication bias towards positive results, the difficulty of keeping participants from figuring out which group they're in, and the problems with smaller, poorly designed experiments—in particular those that don't account for the placebo effect. One of the strengths of the book is how well Bausell lays out the reasoning behind his conclusions. At no point does he wave his hands and jump to conclusions—he takes us along on the journey, showing how he arrived at each conclusion.
Bausell devotes a good amount of time to thoroughly explaining the placebo effect—both providing a mechanism for how the body could produce that effect, and presenting the overwhelming evidence the placebo effect exists. Turns out, about 35% of the population of any experiment will likely benefit from the placebo effect. Given that statistic, experiments that don't control for the placebo effect will often show the therapy as achieving positive effects, when in fact any intervention, from sugar pills to waving chicken entrails while singing "We Are the Champions", would work just as well as long as it, too, triggered the placebo effect.
Bausell looked at CAM trials that met four criteria: (1) random assignment of participants to a CAM therapy or a credible placebo control group; (2) significant size (50 or more participants); (3) a drop-out rate of less than 25%; and (4) publication in a high-quality, peer-reviewed journal. Given those criteria to ensure the size and quality of experiments, he found no evidence that CAM therapies worked.
For me, one surprise was that acupuncture didn't fare any better than other CAM therapies. Before reading this book, I would have said that I thought there was some reasonable evidence that acupuncture was effective, at least for some conditions. However, as Research Director of the National Institute of Health-funded Complementary Medicine Specialized Research, Bausell himself was in charge of conducting and analyzing trials on acupuncture. And those trials came up negative.
This book is wonderful science writing. Bausell takes us through the basic concepts with writing that is clear and engaging. He rigorously analyzes the evidence regarding complementary and alternative medicine, and shows CAM therapies just don't work. So spring for a copy of the book, and then confidently save yourself from spending another cent on acupuncture, herbal cures, homeopathic remedies, energy healing or any of the hundreds of CAM therapies ever again.
Infinite Space, Infinite God
ed. by Katrina and Robert Fabian
279 pages, Paperback
Twilight Times Books, 2007
Reviewed by Carole Ann Moleti
A Monstrance, the vessel for display of the consecrated Eucharistic Host, adorns the cover of Infinite Space, Infinite God. The reader is thereby forewarned. This anthology explores the mysteries and absolutes of the Catholic Church, with no apologies.
Editors Karina and Robert Fabian intersperse seven essays with fourteen science fiction short stories, beginning with "The Catholic Church and Humanity." Does the soul exist when life is manipulated by humans, not God?
In "The Harvest" by Lori Z. Scott, Father Barry Martinez discovers clones have a capacity for independent thought and action—and thus a soul. He goes up against the proverbial mad scientist running an organ donor factory on a Moon project base. Scott didn't convince me that harvesting after death by poisoning, will yield useable organs and tissues, even if the body is frozen or otherwise preserved.
Adrienne Ray, in "Hopkin's Well," shows Catholics being maligned, persecuted, and targeted for execution as a cult of extremists holed up in a colony on Mars. Substitute any Christian denomination, Jews, or Muslims and nothing changes in this story of bigotry and suppression of religious freedom.
"The Catholic Church and Evangelism" is examined in two stories where the mission to spread the word of God extends beyond the boundaries of Earth.
In "Interstellar Calling" by Karina L. Fabian, a sixteen-year-old girl, distraught over her parents' divorce and an implied sexual incident with her boyfriend, debates her call to religious life. An alien named Pa-iy-yous invites her to fulfill her vocation in space.
Colleen Drippé's "Brother John" chronicles the aftermath of a first contact disaster. He volunteers for a mission to discover who, or what, killed the first landing party on Ryther. Brother John forgives, and bestows upon the transgressors the gift of faith.
Illuminating the theme of "The Catholic Church and Its Servants" Karina and Robert Fabian present "Our Daily Bread." Which sacrament takes precedence: The Eucharist or Holy Matrimony? A space contractor puts his marriage at risk because, as a Deacon of the church, he has a duty to minister to the faithful in space. It takes a miracle akin to the multiplication of the loaves and fishes to help with his final decision.
"Brother Jubal and the Womb of Silence" by Tim Myers is a classic sci-fi story with perfect pacing and beautiful imagery. A monk revels in the silence and isolation on the dark side of the Moon.
There the happily ever after endings and too good to be true protagonists disappear. "The Mask of the Ferret" by Ken Pick and Alan Loewen is a superb science fiction story, combining mystery and intrigue, aliens, clones, space travel, and psionic effects. Yes, there's a selfless priest/hero. But he's got a "bad" side.
"Little Madeline" by Simon Morden is the disturbing tale of a young girl, traumatized by the murder of her father and the alcoholic stupor of her mother. The warrior women of the Order of St. Joan of Arc step in.
Both stories examine the "Catholic Church and Its Religious Orders" with complex characters representative of the priests and nuns that minister to runaways, troubled youths, and the military.
In "The Hosts of the Envoy" by Alex Lobdell, a lone Vanguard pilot, sent out to check the safety of a FTL path, encounters "a minefield of matter, semi-matter, and unpredictable energy fields." A long lost generation ship, desperate to return to Earth, helps him re-fuel but doesn't exactly show him the hospitality he expected. The "Catholic twist" in this one seemed far-fetched to me, but you have to have faith.
In the noir whodunnit, "Understanding" by J. Sherer, a lapsed Catholic detective trails a serial killer. It takes a young novice to help both him and the killer reach "understanding" of the power of God. Excellent tension and description that leads right into the next theme: "The Catholic Church and Its Saints."
"Stabat Mater" by Rose Diamond is a complex, tightly written tale of two women, blessed by the Virgin Mary. Both live their lives haunted by visions and missions She entrusted to them.
Despite many trials, their devotion persists. Diamond draws us to the brink of apocalypse and then takes liberty with absolutes: married and female priests, the power of the Pope, homosexuality, and the sexual abuse scandal. This was one of my favorites.
The "Canticle of the Wolf" by Alan Loewen is an interesting use of personification, reinterpreting the legend of St. Francis of Assisi and the wolf that threatened Gubbio.
In "These Three," Karina and Robert Fabian weave a haunting guardian angel tale, space opera style. A saint in the making intervenes for a young man and a space station on a collision course. I "believe" this one.
"Far Traveler" by Colleen Drippé and "A Cruel and Unusual Punishment" by Maya Kaatherine Bohnhoff examine the theme of "The Catholic Church and Our Souls."
Drippé's time travel twist and Bohnhoff's riveting tale of an IRA terrorist whose death sentence is commuted do not promise reward or forgiveness, but rather suck the reader into the sadness and futility of fanaticism, blind faith, and unquestioning dedication to any institution or cause.
Most of these stories stand up if the "Catholic twist" is removed. Some are impossible to separate from the dogma, and at times made me shake my head or squirm.
What defines a saint or martyr? Who among us would choose to save or face dying at the hand of an alien being, a mass murderer or a half human, half animal clone? How far does one follow Jesus' example to turn the other cheek and to forgive? These protagonists are braver, or more blessed, than I.
As a divine coincidence, I write this on Ash Wednesday when one reflects on her sins and imperfections. The black smudge on my forehead, like the unabashed Catholicism in Infinite Space, Infinite God, defies politically correct silence about religion, acceptance of other beliefs, and secular interpretation of Church teachings.
Those curious about the Catholic faith, and both young adult and older Catholics struggling with the discordance of modern life and Church teachings, will find this an entertaining, thought provoking read.
World Behind the Door
by Mike Resnick
144 pages, Hardcover
Reviewed by I.E. Lester
One day the young Salvador Dali discovers a door in the back wall of a closet. Stepping through the door he discovers himself in a very "Alice in Wonderland" style world - that or a rather vivid hallucination. Nothing in this world is regular - no well is straight, no floor level and no two animals are alike - even when you compare basic things like colour or number of legs and eyes.
He soon meets an inhabitant of this world, a girl named Jinx who is set to become his muse and inspire his most famous works. She is outwardly human in appearance, so much so that she is able to pass through the door to interact with Dali in our world - much as the thought of his hot-tempered jealous mistress Gala Eluard discovering he is spending time with another female scares the hell out of Dali. But her unique perspective on his art and how it might be improved is too appealing for a painter desperately wanting to become a unique artist for his fears over his concerns over Gala's reaction.
Mike Resnick has now written three Art Encounters novels and each one has been of a different genre. Leonardo da Vinci had his encounter with a traveller from the future, in a science-fictional tale that befitted the great scientist; whilst Toulouse-Lautrec's tale is a very mainstream novel. Dali though makes his encounter in a very whimsical fantasy.
This kind of encounter suits the master surrealist. Dali had a reputation for being mad, or at least somewhat eccentric. In hindsight, whimsy seems such an obvious mechanism for telling such a story - Resnick's choice is brilliant. It serves to allow the reader into the thought patterns of the fictional Dali, illustrating a "possible" (okay maybe not the best word) insight into the causes of Dali's progression as an artist.
Dali here is presented here as both mad and sane. His odd mannerisms are those of a man possessed not of madness but determination; a calculating man striving to stand clear of his contemporaries by whatever means he can - affecting a most eccentric look and behaviour to make people remember his name.
But alongside this rational for his outward insanity Resnick has introduced an inward secret madness - that of travelling to a fantastical world through a door in the back of his closet - one seemingly capable of following him wherever he goes.
Being unkind to this book it could be described as highly derivative - a cross between the classic works of Lewis Carroll and C. S. Lewis. Also it is a little lightweight in comparison to Mike Resnick's other titles. To dismiss this so quickly, though, would be unfair - passing on this book because of this kind of prejudgement would be a mistake. The book possesses a certain passion, Resnick is obviously a great "fan" of Dali's work and this familiarity and interest is very apparent throughout the book.
Don't go looking in this young adult novella for the depth apparent in much of the author's other work - such a search will prove disappointing. This book is what it is - a simple fantasy designed to engage a young reader with a great artist through a fictional encounter. And given that scope this is great fun.
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