Meditations on the Antiquity of Birds


On the Antiquity of Birds. (for Beryl)


Such troubled times as these, my friends,

the birds before have known.

They know about them deep,

deep in their hollow bones.

Like humans they set their calenders

by events that happened long ago,

as when in their migrations

They visit the vanished shores,

of continents and oceans

that are forgotten and no more.


Mass extinctions?

They have lived through five or six.

Survived them all with their avian tricks-


Feathered their nests

for the eggs they laid

with the bones of ‘lesser species’.


Even my backyard chickens’ mad, reptile eyes

seem to glare with a royal disdain,

As though some genetic, ancestoral trace

of memory still remains,

of their dinosaur days

when they ruled the roost,

Red in beak and claw,

A Terror to all tiny mammals

those scaled and feathered carnivores.

And through the jungle came the sound

of their mighty roar,

yes through the jungle came their cry,






Book of the Week

Colonialism never died. It just changed its name and hired local cops”

Kim Stanley Robinson, Green Mars


I usually read a couple of books a week, (as well as dipping into others for research, amusement so I might as well start posting the most interesting after each sermon, and perhaps a review or a few thoughts, if I could be bothered. Any responses or recommendations are welcome. Show me your alive readers!

This week I read & recommend,

the Kim Stanley Robinson ‘science fiction’ trilogy, written around1995/96, entitled



Phew! Over 2,100 pages, my head is swimming, my eyes are like sandpaper, but once I got into it I had to continue. A recommended read especially for all anarchists, eco-warriors and social activists

 of varying tendencies, as well as your trekkie type reader. Recommended to me by my old comrade in arms John Treason,

it took me awhile to warm to it.

For the first 149 pages or so I thought it was kind of sub-Asimov, average for its genre.

But it builds, and once it starts getting into various speculative political & economic scenarios as well, well, it makes you think. Even a non-intellectual, ‘arty’ type like me.

It could have  been edited down a bit perhaps, though part of its strength comes from this cumulative effect, the plot and character development building slowly, layer after geologic layer, like the mountains of the red planet itself.

I must admit I tended to skim over some of the longer geological sequences, which plotwise moved the story along at a truly glacial pace, but there’s no doubt about it, the author has done their homework. After 17 years of research Kim Stanley Robinson knows their terra-forming. One could argue that the best science-fiction always has a basis of ‘good’ science at its core.

But what is “good” science. Todays cutting edge speculation is tomorrows quaint anachronism. In sci-fi classics like Robert Sheckleys Mindswap or Norman Spinrads Clans of the Alphan Moon, science is no more than a plaything, a plot tool. But isn’t that true of all science-fiction? This is sci-fi’s weakness and its strength.

Science in science fiction , in whatever guise it assumes, is always the Deus ex Machina,

the God in the Machine, the device waiting in the wings that solves all plot twists with a Gordian slash.

Ironically, science fiction worshipping as it does at the Altar of Technology,

it actually becomes a case of Machina ex Machina,

and soon we have vending machines producing vending machines and the nano-bots have taken over.

Finally, Mr Robinson made the science fiction authors classic mistake, they didn’t pitch their future vision far enough into the future. If you want your science fiction classic to have a long half-life before its transfigured by time into something between nostalgia and kitsch, then set the timer on the door of your literary time capsule to something like 300<+.

That gives you enough time for anything to be possible, and a reading public that will support the sybaritic lifestyles of the heirs of your literary estate into the forseeable future.

Next week I think I’ll read something classical. Tacitus perhaps.


Book of this and every other Week


Edward Gibbons’

The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire”


I have three editions of the Decline & Fall, soft cover, condensed and illustrated, and every few years I read it from start to finish again. I also often dip into it for my own pleasure, and there’s always a copy nearby for reference.

You think there’s anything new in politics? Hahaha!

Read Tacitus. Read this Gibbon. The politicians and generals still play the same old games. The correlations between our own times and the era of the Roman republic seem to me more numerous as time passes. Replace slaves with machines and our culture in many ways is just an echo of those times, a reverberation of customs and laws and and attitudes down the centuries.

The urban masses are still controlled by bread and games. The rich still own almost everything and live lives of sybaritic excess where conspicuous consumption is the norm. Actors and racing drivers are still Celebrities and hob nob with the powerful. Aspiring generals still seek careers in politics. Small nations on the edges of power bloks still serve as pawns in the Great Game, now in its thirtieth century!

Gibbons life work, the D&C is a stupendous piece of meticulous scholarship that covers over a thousand years of history. Aside from the historical lessons to be learned, Gibbons writing style is itself always a pleasure to me. There was a man who knew how to use

the roil and thunder of language!

Elegant, learned, grave & humorous,

always deeply humanist in outlook,

the enemy of superstition & religious bigotry,

and all forms of secular tyranny,

he was both a product of his age and transcended it.

Edward Gibbon is truly one of the great historians of History,

as much as Herodotus and Thucydides in their time.

Ignore this work at the risk of your own ignorance.

I will at times post quotes from the Decline & fall where I feel relevance to our current times.



~ by reverendhellfire on May 2, 2010.

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