20 12 2012

David Lindsay’s A Voyage to Arcturus

by Camilla Stein

The fact of life is, that we see same things differently at different stages of our growth. Nearly twenty years ago, A Voyage to Arcturus meant almost nothing to me. It was the type of book that I dismissed from its first pages. Why? Oh well… where do I start…

Now, decades later, the book is in my hands again, and I am enjoying its language, its picturesque descriptions and details the author crafted out so many years ago. I cannot put the book down till I’m done with its last page. There’s just so much in it that resonates with my own perspective on things that matter. But let me first divulge why this book is a must read for seekers.

Nearly a hundred years ago, David Lindsay transports three people from Earth to an alien planet far away in a distant Galaxy, near a distant star Arcturus. Pure science fiction. There’s a high-tech device in place to facilitate the maneuver, and some good thinking – respective of the time – put into the science of it all.

The plot is centered around three men seeking a resolution to an incident that occurred on Earth and leads them to believe that something great, grandiose in fact, is happening behind the screen.

And then it gets really corky.

Maskull, the novel’s main character, is separated from his companions and travels through the alien country alone, meeting alien creatures of various kinds, including humanoid species of local population, learning things from them, teaching things to them… but mostly learning.

Maskull is first embraced by the alien race of very benign and loveable nature, insightful and wise, who kill no living creature for their own use, not even plants. They live on nutritious water, and their part of land is welcoming and abundant.

But then, Maskull’s journey needs to continue and he crosses into another part of this alien world. There, he is confronted with a terrible choice, and he commits incomprehensible acts.

“Attach yourself to truth, not to me. For I may die before you, but the truth will accompany you to your death.”

― David Lindsay in A Voyage to Arcturus, 1920.

The author clearly bases his plot on the exploration of good and evil, the eternal dualism that torments humans on Earth – and, so it appears, also on an alien planet. The eternal conflict and the necessity to choose, sometimes being in impossible situations, is according to David Lindsay the biggest problem of mankind. Seeking absolution, Maskull embraces his higher purpose, but then also has to confront his animalistic carnal nature, and in the end it’s this eternal conflict that causes him more harm than the outside elements he’s exposed to on this harsh, unfriendly part of the planet.

He’s learning what it’s like to become attached to a being and ruin the other with his actions. He’s encountering the Maker and is attempting to comprehend the nature of the Universe and all in it, and he learns that things aren’t always what they seem.

David Lindsay also explores a creative source instilled in humans – by way of reflection in an alien creature. Lindsay talks about narcissism that he explains in an agressive alien rite called ‘sorbing’, a way of discontinuing  another being by force, ending the life of another to incorporate the victim’s life essence into their own. And then, the author throws at reader the sweetness of death, habitual, acceptable, very near, an integral part of life.

A Voyage to Arcturus is a science fiction novel, riddled with mysticism and existential questions – and answers – at times deliberately confusing, but also filled with deep meaningful quotes.

The novel is considered impossible to film, due to its bizarre innovative canvas, setting and descriptions that cannot be reproduced on screen. Though attempts were made some fourty years ago, and parts of this story were adapted for a short film production by William J. Holloway that managed to deliver the gist of author’s intention with this book.

The novel ends with a remarkable resolution to the main character’s journey. It seems like an unhappy ending, but in truth it’s not. The conclusion the author makes is simple – there’s more to life than life itself.

I may not have gotten everything out of this by far strangest of books this time, and I look forward to another twenty years to revisit A Voyage to Arcturus.

Copyright Camilla Stein ©2012. All rights reserved.



7 06 2012

On editing Khatyn

Several months ago Glagoslav Publications contacted me for the purpose of editing a novel they were planning to re-publish. When I saw the manuscript, my initial response was very emotional. In my hands was a book that was bigger than life – Khatyn, written by Ales Adamovich, translated into the English language and considered a cultural heritage item, sought after by many World War II researchers.

I remembered how a very long time ago I encountered this book for the very first time. Back then I read it without the full understanding of what the implications of the work were or could have been. Today, from the position of a certain life experience and knowledge, I feel compelled to relay my thoughts about editing Khatyn.

First of all, before I started, I had sought to obtain the original text so as to ensure accuracy of the translation. And from the first pages it became clear to me that the English translation, while being realistically accurate, had also been censored. Despite the brilliant work of the translators some thirty years ago – Glenys Kozlov, Frances Longman and Sharon McKee – some parts of the novel were removed or changed on purpose by the supervising authorities.

There’s no Iron Curtain today, the freedom of speech knows no limits, and a more sincere attitude towards historical truth has been re-visited. In other words, there’s no need to play hide and seek. Therefore, the new edition of Khatyn in the English language will have none of that. It will be a sober, truthful book, as intended by its author. In this renewed edition of the English translation, all missing parts have been restored.

Another important objective while editing was to preserve the feel of the Byelorussian language (the original language Khatyn was written in) and the English language of the time, all while keeping the text’s integrity and continuity intact, and maintaining the pace of the narration. For that, among other things, I decided to re-word names of people and places to phonetically reflect the Byelorussian language, and preserve such words in the English translation as ‘Alsatian’ which has been taken out of common use in the modern English language since early 1970s, but was a widely used term to identify a breed of a German shepherd dog in the 1940s and during the post-war years which is the time of the events in the novel.

It is my hope that I’ve done the job to the best of my ability, and should there be any errors related to my work – they will remain on my account.

Half way into the novel, my bravery began betraying me and I had to take a break. Khatyn is based on the war archives and witness testimonies of a few survivors who managed to escape destruction. Albeit written into a story of a fictional – although based on a real person – character of a partisan boy, documented testimonies of what was done to women and children, began to wear heavily on my nervous system. I don’t think I will ever be able to comprehend genocide; it’s just something that doesn’t fit into a sane brain of a regular person.

Yet, those responsible for Holocaust of Jews and genocide of Byelorussians along with other European nations that experienced Nazi ethnic cleansing, were no monsters at all. They were functionally normal people, believers in a certain ideal, a certain model of the world for them, and they tortured and killed for that. This was their job. And perhaps because they were humans, their crimes cause such agony to us when trying to understand the mechanics of human psyche and the condition of the soul in this…. There can never be justification and pardon for what they did.

Four years ago National Geographics released a documentary Scrapbooks from Hell – the Auschwitz Albums, based on the discovery of photographs from the concentration camp. The documentary ends with an exposition of the deceased as remodeled in an artwork of the memorial complex in Auschwitz, and the thought that we will never know what happened inside the gas chambers.

We won’t unless we read Khatyn.

No gas chambers, but barns, locked from the outside so no one would escape. No gas, but fire and smoke. Smoke suffocated lungs, fire extinguished flesh. Stuffed with human material, barns became graves just as gas chambers of Auschwitz did, and only a rare few people who dag wholes and climbed out through people’s bodies that were collapsing ablaze, hid in the mud among human debris so as not to be discovered; they then spoke of what their eyes had seen:

“I told my son, ‘Over the heads somehow, get out over the heads!I hoisted him up. I myself made my way down below, between the legs. And the dead kept falling on me. The dead were collapsing onto me, I could not breathe. Moving my shoulders—I was physically robust at the time—I began to crawl. Only as far as the threshold, then the roof fell in and the fire engulfed everyone!... I still crawled out, and a German ran over to me and smacked me in the teeth with his rifle butt—and gone were my teeth.”

Writer and journalist Ales Adamovich collected outnumbered witness records (just imagine – of one village only one elderly man managed to escape!) and told the story of the perished people, for us to know what had happened, and how that what had happened in Belarus in 1943 related to that what had happened in Auschwitz.

Khatyn is not written to scare away or to only shed tears. The novel is composed from a standpoint of a young person, and youth is daring, youth is dashing, youth falls in love and romanticizes everything, even war. Youth is courageous, youth is bright, and youth is ever present on Khatyn’s pages. Youth is the future, and the reason why Ales Adamovich did the work – Khatyn is written for the next generation to stand strong.

The book is ready. It will be officially released on June 22, 2012 to commemorate the Nazi attack on Belarus and the beginning of what is known there and in the entire post-Soviet region as the Great Patriotic War, a deadly national fight that lasted four years. Glagoslav Publications once again draws attention to this work of non-fictional fiction, unabridged and unadulterated in its current form, and to the records that had been sealed, and to the thoughts of the author who had witnessed the war before you and I were born.

Khatyn is a must know story, to never forget. Till this very day the story repeats itself elsewhere as brutal massacres shake the world once again, to awaken us from a dormant state, to see the condition of mankind and its desperate cry for change – for one Khatyn is too many.

Camilla Stein.

Copyright Camilla Stein ©2012. All rights reserved.




22 01 2012

Childlike Past and Alien Present:

Super 8 and Attack the Block’s Children and Aliens


The best science fiction stories do more than entertain us with big budget starships or creep us out with freaky aliens. While they entertain and entrance, they also use the fantastic elements of a sci-fi story as tools to create a compelling look at our own modern reality. They make us think about our own time and place. This willingness to employ science fiction to tackle bigger issues turns a special effects-laden blockbuster into a masterpiece.

Last year saw two science fiction films featuring young protagonists dealing with extraterrestrial invasions. Both films offer amazing performances, especially from young actors, accompanied by great action, breathtaking monsters and brilliant directing.

The purpose of this essay is not to dissect the movies as better critics have already had their say on both Super 8 and Attack the Block. Rather, let’s talk about the cinematic worlds that each movie created and see if there are differences between the overall premises and emotional value of each film. Finally, let’s explore how, like all good sci-fi, Super 8 and Attack the Block have a purpose beyond giving us a monster movie’s thrills and chills.

JJ Abrams’ Super 8 came out on June 1st and featured the story of a nice kid named Joe Lamb (played by actor Joel Courtney) and his friends, experiencing the arrival of a vicious non-human being in their American small town while making a zombie movie in the summer of ‘79. Joe Cornish’s Attack the Block was released in the United States on July 29th and features an aspiring young street thug named Moses (played by actor John Boyega). His gang of juvenile delinquents tries to survive an alien attack on their council estate in modern, lower-class London.

In a nut shell, Super 8 brings on the nostalgia for the past, while Attack the Block deals with unease in the present.

At first glance, Super 8 and Attack the Block are very similar. They both deal with a bunch of youngsters taking on a monstrous threat. They both owe a lot to Steven Spielberg’s films, complete with kids riding around on bikes. They both have unflattering portrayals of the government – whether it’s the mysterious military occupiers of Super 8 or the blundering, swarming ‘Feds’ of Attack the Block. They both even have their young protagonists use specialized slang – like ‘mint’ in Super 8 and countless examples of lower class London vernacular in Attack the Block. Finally, each does a good job of capturing the strange feeling of adolescence in a changing, unsure world.

But that’s where the similarities end.

Super 8 is all about a fond remembrance of childhood and the past. The 1979 it depicts is not free from trouble, but the troubles can always take a backseat to creativity. And that creativity is in full bloom. The kids are watching zombie flicks by George Romero, learning make-up from movie magazines and generally indulging their inner Tom Savini by making a film of their own. And so when danger arrives, it’s not even a big deal – it’s an opportunity to add a touch of big budget production to their movie.

That’s not to say there are no conflicts. Presence of a mysterious alien and occupying troops cause their share of problems for all the characters. There is inner turmoil as well, with a young romance for Joe and his changing relationship with his friends. But for the children, all of these travails are youthful and innocent. They’re charming, reminding of the gawky nervousness we all have had in our pasts. The world itself is full of wonder and an overall feeling that if you try hard – and are artistically-minded – everything will work out all right.

You get a few hints of a larger American paranoia, but not many. If we take a quick look at history, we can see that 1979 wasn’t exactly a great time for America. Watergate, the Cold War, racism, riots and Vietnam – all of that loomed large in the national consciousness. George Romero’s 1978 Dawn of the Dead – a film which is referenced by the young filmmakers of Super 8 – perfectly embodies that turmoil. But you wouldn’t get an idea of it when you’re watching Super 8. There’s maybe a mention of the USSR from a housewife at a town meeting, which is played for laughs and Vietnam is used by the kids as a handy bit of back story for their movie. That’s about it.

Director J.J. Abrams isn’t putting a turbulent time of American history under a microscope. But then again, that’s not his purpose with Super 8. He’s trying to capture a sense of wonder and youthful exuberance, aspirations and fears in the film. Overall, Super 8 is about nostalgia. Because of that, its emotional charge is almost an exact opposite of Attack the Block.

The London Riots occurred in August soon after Attack the Block had been released. Whether Attack the Block could be called prophetic or not, it perfectly captures the torment and distress caused by poverty in the more disadvantaged areas of London. That Attack the Block manages to do this while telling a compelling creature feature story, being frequently hilarious and showing the journey of its main character is nothing less than a triumph. Attack the Block isn’t set in a dream world of adolescent longing and artistic experiments. The world in the movie reflects the cold reality of our own – bleak, cruel and sad. And even with all that, Attack the Block still lets you know that there’s room for saving the day and the possibility of change.

Before the aliens show up, the setting of Attack the Block is far from being a pleasant place. Bonfire Night, fireworks and smoke make it look like a war zone. The first thing we see is a mugging at the hands of Moses and his aspiring thugs. Moses and his friends live in the world where the law is unfriendly and is therefore feared. With no chance of outside help, survival is a matter of trust in one’s friends. They’ve got no time to be creative and can only vaguely experience adolescent love.

One particular line perfectly sums up fear created by this environment. When members of his gang are speculating on the origin of the extraterrestrials, Moses suggests that the government engineered the beasts to kill ‘Black boys.’ This conjecture is similar to conspiracy theories blaming the US government for creating the AIDS virus or bringing crack cocaine to America to kill off disadvantaged Black people. The theories are a symptom of the hate and mistrust for a system that has failed. The system doesn’t work in Attack the Block either and the kids and their few allies are on their own.

The film’s ending is built on hope. Moses must learn responsibility and team-up with those he and his friends previously distrusted, if any of them are to avoid death and save the Block. The friendships forged while facing the alien attack are more than just a union against a common enemy. The companionship of these characters of varied races and classes show that differences can be overcome in the pursuit of heroism.

Last year was a good season for science fiction movies. There were many entertaining ones and a few that really stood out. Attack the Block and Super 8 are going to be in the latter category. This evaluation isn’t coming from a film expert, but from someone who does his best to understand a deeper meaning in fiction. The impact of Super 8 and Attack the Block goes far beyond the simple thrills of sci-fi action. These two films hold up a skewed mirror and let us have a good look at our reflections while still telling a compelling story. Super 8 is nostalgic and Attack the Block is nearly prescient, but both of them have the piercing insight that has always been the hallmark of good science fiction.

Michael Panush ©2012. All rights reserved. Courtesy CSReview ©2012.
Twenty-Two years old, Michael Panush has distinguished himself as one of Sacramento’s most promising young writers. Michael has published numerous short stories in a variety of e-zines including: AuroraWolf, Demon Minds, Fantastic Horror, Dark Fire Fiction, Aphelion, Horrorbound, Fantasy Gazetteer, Demonic Tome, Tiny Globule, and Defenestration. He currently attends UC Santa Cruz. Michael began telling stories when he was only nine years old. He won first place in the Sacramento Storyteller’s Guild “Liar’s Contest” in 2002 and was a finalist in the National Youth Storytelling Olympics in 2003. In 2007, Michael was selected as a California Art’s Scholar and attended the Innerspark Summer Writing Program at the CalArts Institute. He graduated from John F. Kennedy High School in 2008 and currently attends UC Santa Cruz.
 Personal Website:
This post is part of the Curiosity Quills Blog Tour 2012. Curiosity Quills is a gaggle of literary marauders with a bone to grind and not enough time for revisions – a collective, creating together, supporting each other, and putting out the best darn tootin’ words this side of Google. Curiosity Quills also runs Curiosity Quills Press, an independent publisher committed to bringing top-quality fiction to the wider world. They publish in ebook, print, as well as serialising select works of their published authors for free on the press’s website.

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