Tuesday, April 25, 2017

DMI2017, Week 16: "Circe" by Eudora Welty

This week the Queen of Hearts came up in my card deck. Hearts is the suit chosen for Mississippi writers, in honor of the state’s bicentennial this year. It seems fitting that I matched this particular card with the story “Circe” by Eudora Welty (from The Collected Stories of Eudora Welty). This story is a captivating retelling of the story of the witch Circe and her encounter with Odysseus, as told in Homer’s Odyssey.


The basic story is this: Circe lures Odysseus’ men off their ship and entices them to drink a potion that turns them into pigs. One of the men escapes, however, and warns Odysseus of the impending trap if he comes to rescue his men. He is further warned by Athena (via Hermes, the messenger) to protect himself from Circe with the magically protective herb moly. He does, and after rescuing his men, he sleeps with Circe and ends up staying for a year with her.

Welty stays true to the story as initially told by Homer, but what makes this story so intriguing is, of course, her use of language and the way she covers the events of the story. The entire story is told from Circe’s point of view, so that we get the other side of the story, as it were. For example, I was taken by this passage, which occurs after Circe realizes that Odysseus is not going to succumb to her spell:

Before I’d believe it, I ran back to my broth. I had thought it perfect – I’d allowed no other woman to come near it. I tasted, and it was perfect – swimming with oysters from my reef and flecks of golden pork, redolent with leaves of bay and basil and rosemary, with the glass of island wine tossed in at the last: it has been my infallible recipe. Circe’s broth: all the gods have heard of it and envied it. No, the fault had to be in the drinker. If a man remained, unable to leave that magnificent body of his, then enchantment had met with a hero. Oh, I know those prophecies as well as the back of my hand – only nothing is here to warn me when it is now.

This story was truly a treat. I don’t think it’s one of Welty’s better-known stories, but it certainly is worth the read, and deserves five stars for the writing.

Deal Me In 2017 is hosted by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.

Monday, April 17, 2017

DMI2017, Week 15: "Darkness Box" by Ursula K. Le Guin

This week I was led back to Masterpieces of Fantasy and Wonder by the selection of the Three of Diamonds. However, the resulting story choice, “Darkness Box,” is anything but a masterpiece, in my opinion. I had high hopes for this story because, even though I have never read anything by Ursula Le Guin, I knew of her status as one of the most famous living science fiction and fantasy writers. However, this story did not do her justice, I’m afraid (or let’s say, I hope!).


The story opens as a little boy, Dicky, finds a box that has washed up on the shore. Dicky’s mother, a witch, asks what is in the box. “Darkness,” he replies, and she tells him to be careful with it.

Meanwhile, in another part of the land, Prince Rikard is fighting off his rebellious brother’s forces, and none too successfully. Retreating back to his father’s castle, he passes by the witch’s hut, and meets up with her. She calls for Dicky who offers the box to the Prince, but the Prince refuses it, saying all “seagifts” belong to the king. So he takes the darkness box to his father, who is horrified by the gift. It turns out that the box belonged to him once, and he threw it into the sea to get rid of it. He won’t take the box back, and warns his son to keep it locked and never open it. It is no spoiler to tell you that the Prince does open it, but the effects of the box are not exactly what one expects.

This was not a horrible story, but it’s not one to which I’ll return. I will note that, according to the copyright information in the anthology, this story was first published in 1963, which appears to be near the beginning of the time Le Guin began publishing her stories. So perhaps it is a youthful effort that is not terribly representative of her larger body of work. It’s a story that rates only three stars with me.

Deal Me In 2017 is hosted by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

DMI2017, Week 14: "Chicken Little" by Cory Doctorow

The Ten of Diamonds was the card for this week, and it introduced me to a most intriguing story by Cory Doctorow from the collection 21st Century Science Fiction.


We all know the story of Chicken Little and "the sky is falling." It's one of those folk tales whose origins have been lost in the mists of time. What is most interesting is how the basic premise of the story (don't overreact to insignificant events and fall into paranoia and hysteria) has been reworked and reimagined over the centuries.

This story is a fine example of a futuristic scenario in which mass eradication of fear and uncertainty (via pharmaceutical means) is finally a possibility -- but of course the fundamental question is, is this ethical? Is this even good for the human species, understanding that much of our evolution and development has been shaped by that very same fear and uncertainty?

The story's protagonist, Leon, has begun work at an ad agency called Ate. This agency, like many others, seeks to cater to ultra-wealthy individuals who have achieved a version of immortality. As their bodies fail, they move into vats, and are kept alive by the latest scientific developments and hundreds if not thousands of employees who become their "bodies." Still perfectly conscious, they continue to conduct business in this way and become even more wealthy and powerful. So if an ad agency such as Ate can sell even one thing to these individuals, its reputation (and income) is set for life.

This is what has happened to Ate. Long ago, the agency made a sale to one vat person, and the income from that sale has kept the agency going for a long time, and not just with bare-bones accommodations. Ate's offices are in a lavish, state-of-the-art complex and no need of its employees is ever denied. They don't actually have to ever make another sale, that's how good the first one was. The employees do whatever they want to, and are free to pursue any kind of lead that might lead to another sale. And if they could make one more sale, it would cement the agency's existence forever, So this has become the holy grail of the agency, and many employees have come and gone in what has turned out to be a fruitless pursuit. When a person such as one of the vat people needs literally nothing, what can you possibly sell them? So Leon's goal, as is the goal of everyone at Ate, is to figure out what that could be.

One day Leon meets with Ria, an envoy of one of the vat people. She represents Buhle, who went to his vat at 103, the youngest age ever for one of these individuals. It was apparently due to some kind of "accident," and as the story unfolds, this accident becomes critical to the climax of the story. Also, as it turns out, Leon is actually being courted by Buhle, who knows of his past history and also has an idea of what Leon can sell him. During his grad school days, Leon hit upon a new type of drug that allows humans to make cold, rational calculations about events. Taking this drug, no one would ever buy a lottery ticket, for example, because they would know instantly that their chances of actually winning were almost zero. Buhle's idea is that the drug would release humanity from its fear and uncertainty and usher in a new era of optimism and progress. But Leon's resistance to his own creation is that it would also take away many of the things that make human existence so ultimately rewarding in the first place.

I don't want to give any more of the story away, of course, but there are many, many layers to this excellent story which makes it well worth reading. It's definitely a five-star story.

Deal Me In 2017 is hosted by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.