July 22nd, 2009

breaking bad

Wild Seed

On audio I am listening to Wild Seed by Octavia Butler. I'm not sure if this is a book absolutely everybody on my f-list will have already read? It was written in 1980, and I read it at that time, though I've almost forgotten what happens.

Butler writes in the biological SF/horror field, and a lot of her work is illuminated by her cultural heritage as an African-American woman. Wild Seed follows the journeys of two almost-immortal creatures, Doro a kind of soul vampire and Anyanwu a shape-shifter, from their origins in Africa thousands of years ago, through the African diaspora, to the Southern States of the US. The imbalance of power between them and their human prey/children reflects some of the experiences of slavery - for example Doro is breeding humans to develop their psychic gifts, as this makes them better meat. His village settlements parallel the slave plantations among which he lives, and the effect on his male victims of having their sexual autonomy and responsibility forcibly taken is a key theme in the chapter I am listening to at the moment.

The premise of the story is almost too fantastic to believe, but the tone is very authentic and tough, so it doesn't fall down. I think it's a good example of a type of American Gothic: southern plantations, decay and bad magic. It's a good reading by an African-American man, called Dion Graham, who does a good range of different southern US voices, and has that calm authenticity that takes you past any reservations.
breaking bad

The feeling of Albi

metafilter reminds me that today is the 800th anniversary of the Albigensian genocide, strictly of the first massacre of that war.

The huge brick fortress-like cathedral at Albi is worth a visit. It has an atmosphere of evil which is interesting to experience. It was built after the Cathars were crushed, to emphasise the dominance of orthodoxy over the region, it is huge and ugly and it includes a vast interior picture of souls being tortured in hell, which I think is extraordinary to see.

A lot of people (including me) come away from that part of the world with strong and not always entirely rational feelings. For example I'm pretty sure Kate Mosse wrote Labyrinth (though I haven't read it) in the grip of that feeling, and there are others. Darkmans by Nicola Barker has a character obsessed with Albi cathedral. Arthur Guirdham took it literally, and thought he and his friends were reincarnations of people who had lived there.

I know some people think events imprint on places. Or it may be that events leave a strong cultural residue. There's a recognised Jerusalem syndrome, which affects people from cultures for which Jerusalem is highly significant. Is that significance literally imprinted in the bricks and mortar of the place? Or (I suspect) entirely in the mind? And the same but for a different group of types, in whom I include myself, for Albi and Carcasonne.

ETA - and I see there's a Stendahl syndrome, which is based on Florence.