Dune (Dune Chronicles, #1)Dune by Frank Herbert

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

“Unique among SF novels… I know nothing comparable to it except The Lord of the Rings.” ~Arthur C. Clarke

I’ll begin with what I saw when I first checked what my Goodreads friends had to say about their experience with Dune:

Thank the gods it was Kivayan, my friend Kuba from Poland, who first made it clear to me how important it was that I read Dune, and not just the first book, no, the whole original series, because only then would I be able to witness the genius of Frank Herbert’s grand image (that there was my attempt to express “big picture” in a more fittingly epic way). Thank the gods it was him and not someone else’s opinion which would have left this book under my personal radar, where it had been for many years.

Scratch that. It hadn’t been under my radar. I’d been aware of it since I was little, mainly from video games or perhaps Karina—I just didn’t know exactly what it was about. All this desert, the sandworms… It looked boring. Like something too slow, deep or intricate for me to enjoy. And let me tell you, I wasn’t wrong: if I had dipped my toes in the spicy sand before I’d reached a certain point in my life, I’m confident I wouldn’t have enjoyed it at all. If I had to say, I’d place the point in question around the time I started watching Game of Thrones, playing alt-history games and reading books like The World Without Us or The Dark Tower.

I had started being able to enjoy books like Dune, only I couldn’t make the connection in my head and notice the switch. There was nobody to suddenly come up to me and tell me that the famous, apparently super-influential old SF book I’ve always thought I wouldn’t enjoy, actually involves loads of topics I’d find very appealing: religion, feudal politics, anthropology, psychology, history, ecology and many others, creating a narrative about how narratives, and historical narratives in particular, work, which I expect to discover further in the next books. Well, there was someone: it was Kuba. But if it hadn’t been for him and a few other people like Amberclock who told me about Jodorowsky’s Dune or JMG who often mentions Dune in his Archdruid Report posts, I’d still have the impression that the book is a boring classic, that it’s to SF what perhaps Proust is to modern literature: supremely influential and important, but not enjoyable.

Of course, I was wrong. I may be wrong about Proust, too. But that’s the point: we’re talking about preconceptions here.

What surprises me is that, for it’s alleged importance, very few people I talked to about Dune while reading it even knew of it. For a book that supposedly played an important role in the popularisation of ecology as a word as well as a term and for one which is among the all-time bestsellers of the genre, it is forgotten today by most. I’ll go down a path I don’t think it’s fair to go down on, but how many people know of Tatooine and how many of Arrakis, Dune, the Desert Planet that surely inspired it?

Nevertheless, I found its ambience as a contemporary read very comfortable, even if 50 years have passed since it was written. Water as a super-valuable commodity (with all related cultural conventions) feels right and is played perfectly. Arrakis is majestic. Reading about the Fremen was very interesting and convincing, and I thoroughly enjoyed discovering the book’s unknown world by looking up the juicy neologisms in the appendix (every book like this should have one!)

Not all’s perfect with Dune, don’t get me wrong. Its characters can feel one-sided or shallow, even Paul, who at times comes off superhumany… but then, hey, he’s supposed to be the one, isn’t he? The various political actors and the role of spice in all of this aren’t very clear, but you know, it’s one of these books you’ll read again and next time it’ll make more sense.

But the weak points don’t matter. Dune is a classic, period, and I’m happy for once to have truly enjoyed a classic because it’s a classic, not despite the fact. What can I say? Herbert’s foreword to the book reads:

“to the people whose labors go beyond ideas into the realm of “real materials” — to the dry-land ecologists, wherever they may be, in whatever time they work, this effort at prediction is dedicated in humility and admiration.”

Good man.

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Review: Blankets

BlanketsBlankets by Craig Thompson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a graphic novel (comic?) of great depth and maturity. I could relate to Craig, his childhood, his feelings and his actions, as another child that had to grow out of faith, albeit a much milder variety. Blankets had some pages where I just stayed, I had to: it often made me feel I was in front of a profound representation of human truth that no words could accurately portray. Right now I don’t think I can write a review that can really show why I know I’m going to read this again sometime, but someone else has, so allow me to link to the review by Good OK Bad:…

Thank you Daphne for lending me this. 🙂

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Plus*2/Minus*2 Summer Edition! Part 2

Ships, ships, ships, only a pee away from shit. _-

I believe that I was one of the best customers of the shipping companies this summer. A normal person wouldn’t take more than 4, 5, a maximum of 6 ships during the summer. Not me. Hohoho, not me. Between mid-May and my trips to Athens for supporting Alexandra’s exams effort and mid-August and our return to Mytilini, I travelled in a grand total of 18 ships (not 18 unique ones). My rough estimation is that I spent a total of 156 hours of this time travelling at sea. That’s about a week’s worth of non-stop travelling!

The problem is that greek ships are, well, shippy. I mean shitty. Most of them are old, the new ones are too expensive, the food and drinks on board are ridiculously expensive, they go slower than what they claim to in order to save fuel… They treat passengers as if they’re worthless sheep. Even when some of the crew are trying to be polite, you know that the general company policy is “passengers are sheep, and you are the herders!” It’s just a huge industry of money-thirsty shippers. They are the ones who control the Aegean Sea. I really hate them all. What I hate the most is the spam with which they bomb you on board: the safety messages, the cheesy music (especially ANEK’s, although Hellenic Seaways is epic as fuck! Tan-taaaaaan, tan-tan-taaaaaan…), “passengers wishing to di(n)e are kindly requested to proceed to the self-service restaurant, “due to increased truck, the ship will delay”, I could go on forever! These can be a good source of amusement for the first few trips but after hundreds and hundreds of hours on board it gets kind of… annoying.


Anyway, it’s no wonder I find it ironic when people wish me a good journey before I hop on a boat for the umpteenth time; it’s become a second nature finding a comfy spot, laying my sleeping bag, watching One Piece or reading a book for tens of hours at a time, no matter how shippy the shits are! Oh, the joy of studying 12 hours worth of voyage away from your own, but also your girlfriend’s, home…

Destruction of small neighbouring house _

Ever since I was knee-high to a grasshopper, I remember walking by a strange old house on my way to school and the neighbourhood mini-market. I could see this house from the heights of the balcony of my room for many years. It was a nice old abandoned house, with dense foliage and many cats living around. I never really knew if anyone did live there, apart from the cats. The guy owning it supposedly died at some point and his wife moved to another house.

A few months ago, to my great astonishment, mum told me that they had put up a sign in front of the house announcing that the house would be demolished and a brand new block of flats would be built in its place. Right then, I felt as if part of my childhood died.

The actual demolition only started in July. Hammers and bulldozers worked furiously every morning. The noise of course was too much to handle so me and Alex always had the balcony door closed, which led to extreme temperatures building up in my room. Mum warned me that during most demolitions swarms of cockroaches crawl out of the fresh ruins looking for new homes. Not really into the idea of hosting a dozen or ten cockroach clans, we decided that we shouldn’t leave the balcony door open even at night.

This went on for many weeks. Even when we left Athens a few weeks ago, terrible machines were still digging for the foundations. The hole was already abyss-like in depth.

In a few months from now, my once bright room will become dark and gloomy. This new apartment building will block all light coming to the back side. But it’s not only this. When certain things occur, it just hits you that you’ve grown old enough to see the world change. Nea Smyrni has sure changed in the 15 years that I remember it. The Alsos next to our home, the new parking, Nea Smyrni square, the tram… The city has even expanded during my lifetime. Places I remember as being just soil and nothingness (at the borders with Brahami) are now fully urbanised. Nea Smyrni has sure changed.

Recently, I found out that Nea Smyrni was originally meant to remain a lower density suburb. The height of apartment buildings used to be regulated everywhere in the city but along Syggrou Ave. Only after 1974 and the fall of the Junta were the regulations revised. Ever since, the number of small houses has fallen dramatically. I don’t think the surviving ones will be around for much either, unforunately…


Alexandra’s Dream +++__-

Quick question: What had Alex been doing the past year? I’ll let you think for a second. Yeeees…

If you haven’t remembered by now, allow me to remind you. She was studying for her Panellinies!

Yes, Panellinies. This little final exam that gets all 17-year-old nervous and their parents broke. This exam that’s stuck somewhere between the Middle Ages and the Paleolithic Age that forces teenagers to decide what they’ll do for a living within a matter of months. This incredible exam that works by somehow making mathematics, greek language and physics only slightly less important than special subjects when calculating points for entry in the university or school of choice. I could go on.

Alex had a strange experience last year. When we met, she was studying German so that she could go to Austria and become a better musician. Apparently though, she had a change of heart somewhere along the road and decided that she did not want to either leave me, her country, (the rest of) her loved ones ;P or all that. To just suddenly go and live abroad for almost 6 years. I agree, that would be a shock, even though shocks can be useful from time to time. All was good then. She didn’t have to leave and we could stay together. Here comes the strange experience though: she realised that she was already 22 and had not lived the life of a student, she hadn’t gone through this magical process of living on her own! Many times before had this change of scene been delayed and her not going to Austria was added to the list. What was she to do?! Oh the horror! I can still remember when we were talking on MSN and she was panicking about her future, or lack thereof, as it seemed at the time at least.

The answer came quickly. She did not have to move out of Greece to receive the musical education of her dreams. A bit of research later and along came Musical Studies Dept, Ionian University, Kerkyra (Corfu… silly name). It sounded like best thing since Geometry Wars. Indeed, all opinions agreed on how it was one of the best, if not the best, musical universities in Greece. The problem? She couldn’t just walk in and start lessons; she had to be admitted. And how do people get admitted to universities in this day and age? Exactly.

Panellinies was the name of  the game and Alex was more than willing to play. She even travelled to Kerkyra to see for herself before doing anything rash. Typically, she fell in love with the town and student life. I was slightly depressed at the time; no matter how good and well it is in Mytilini, I will never forget my disappointment when I failed entering Audiovisual Arts in the Ionian University.

All this was around this time last year. Alex did play hard. Harder than I expected. I was telling her “you’re gonna get in, but only just. You’ll be too lazy to get a better score, but not lazy enough to fail”. This year we even met every weekend almost, much more often than last year. She’d have all the excuses in the world to not go very well. But she did. And it was awesome.

In May I watched her as she fought hard for her 6 compulsory subjects: greek, maths, biology (easy and hard mode), physics and chemistry. If you’re wondering what all that has to do with music, well… don’t ask! Her score was a very satisfying 14860, thousands of points above the previous year’s minimum. She hadn’t even begun with her music subjects yet! But that was the catch; one wrong step at that point and all would have been for nought as it’s necessay to have a score greater or equal to 10/20 in both music subjects to get into a university musial dept.

The harmony exam was a breeze, Alex got more than 18 in that one. Dication was a surprisingly cruelexam though. It was plain evil. Girls got out of the exam centres crying, everyone was pessimistic, it was a mess. Alex was on the positive side although not certain and got a 12 finally, thus securing her entry in the uni and ending a few weeks of nervous uncertainty for both of us.

A few weeks ago the official result were announced and as we all expected, Alex is among the people that will be studying Music in Kerkyra starting this year. She’ll probably be getting a laptop too for her superb results!

It’s been a happy story till now. But there is a darker side to it, as the most perceptive of you will have noticed.

Till now, our relationship with Alex has been mostly uncomplicated. I live in Mytilini, she lives in Athens. A big obstacle for some that we jumped over easily. As if it did not even exist. Only rarely has distance ever affected our relationship. Distance can also be refreshing for a relationship. As I said in my previous Plus/Minus, travelling 8-12 hours at a time is manageable, as is travelling twice a month to Athens and back. No big deal, right?

Right! But what about… 24 hours worth of travelling? Starting in a few weeks, Alex will live in Kerkyra. That will be her effective home. Consider this: Mytilini is on the border with Turkey; Kerkyra is on the border with Albania and the western-most island of Greece, only a few hours away from Italy. How will this ground-shaking change affect our relationship?

This past summer I’ve been thinking about all these things. Not just me, of course. Alex has been just as pondersome. This feeling that our days are numbered hung, and still hangs over us, affecting our emotions. The natural response is to try and make use of these remaining days the best way one can. This often backfires… The looming sensation that time is running out often makes one take even less advantage of what time really remains. But maybe it’s because deep down we refuse to believe, no, we refuse to make the “time is running out” a facet of our reality. I still do not feel as if it’s anywhere close to being over. On the contrary.

All that said, how does this imminent change (and its awaiting) strike me, in the end?

++: Alexandra’s finally finding her career path. It is the change she’s been waiting for years. She’ll do what she loves most and get even better at it. I can’t even imagine what great music she will compose! She will find new friends in the ultimate artsy-cultural university city in Greece. I am really and sincerely happy, most of all, that she’s getting exactly what she fought for, she’s doing what she dreamed of doing. It is something a lot of us forget to do nowadays. We compromise. We think too much of what people will (or won’t) say or what people will or won’t do as a reaction to our actions. Alex is setting an example. An example of purity of intent. How difficult is it for us people to know exactly what we want to do and be sure that it is exactly what will make us happy? Besides: travelling to Corfu? Count me in!

+: The distance between me and Alex will soon double. What will happen between us? Taking for granted that we will keep on seeing eachother no matter what, there are two scenarios within sight:

1. Distance only makes us realise how much in love we are with eachother. Our less frequent meetings are much more intense and we live happily ever after.

2. We’ve thought of giving eachother the freedom to experiment with random people if we so wish (now we’re yound and free etc) while still, in theory at least, remaining a couple. I can already imagine the clusterfucks such a scenario might produce, the jealousy and quarreling… but we will end up together in the end, and we’ll live happily ever after.

Whichever of these 2 scenarios happens, increased solidarity is something that might help me concentrate on my last year on this island and all this might implicate…

_: …but it’s all nice and good declaring beforehand that my last year in Mytilini will be be better if I concentrate on Mytilini-centric activities. How can I say that when I’ve been with Alexandra for more than 1.5 years already?! I may not have forgot how it was before her, but I sure don’t know how it’s going to be after her. They say that you only really appreciate something when you’ve lost it…

_-:…and even if I won’t have lost Alex, it will be harsh. It’s coming closer and closer, and the closer it comes, the harder it hits me. The day I’ll take the ship to Mytilini and she won’t follow me… and knowing that after a few days she’ll be in Kerkyra, in one of the most important moments of her life, and I won’t be there for her… and also knowing that being there would only make it worse for her… but definitely, I don’t wanna think about that day…

OK, OK. That last part was a bit emo. But you can’t help it. Most emos become emos over stuff like this. Now just let me look at the glass half-full again…