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The Sea Priestess/Spin State

It should be noted: These are not book reviews. I think of them more as reading notes. This is my journal, and I’d like to record some thoughts on each book I read. That’s all.

Title: The Sea Priestess
Author: Dion Fortune
Published: 1938

I’ve long had an interest, however weak, in esoteric matters. Since the birth of my daughter I’ve been particularly interested in goddess worship, or more specifically the modern revival of ancient goddess religion. That interest has led me to the fascinating blog Panthea and also to this novel, The Sea Priestess by Dion Fortune.

This is the tale of a bored British real estate broker who gets involved with a seemingly ageless woman who may just happen to be the reincarnation of a priestess from ancient Atlantis. They get up to some pretty occult stuff together. I think if Dion Fortune had written this a couple centuries earlier she might have been burned at the stake. It gave me a little thrill to see my daughter’s name mentioned in some of their ritual chants.

Choice quote:

‘Is that the river down below you?’ she said.

I told her it was.

‘The one that comes out at Dickmouth?’

I told her that was so. ‘This is the Narrow Dick,’ I said. ‘Where the Broad Dick is, I have never been able to discover.’

My juvenile amusement at these place names was, unfortunately, the highlight of the book. It’s not that the book was bad, just kind of boring. It was not too too boring — I finished it after all — and it was pleasant in its own way, as reading a chapter or two helped me get to sleep at night.

However, because of these somnorific qualities, it took me longer to finish than it should have, which left me less time than I’d have liked to read my book club selection.

Title: Spin State
Author: Chris Moriarty
Published: 2003

It looks like a typical 300-page paperback, but when I actually cracked it open I was surprised to discover it’s twice that long. I had a mere ten days to read it, and I’m a slow reader.

So I tried to read this one more quickly, especially toward the end. I made a point of not letting my eyes drift backward in the text to re-examine the previous sentence, the previous paragraph, the previous page. I discovered I could read much more quickly if I enforced this discipline. Apparently my eyes dart around quite a bit when I read. So that was interesting.

As for the book, it’s a mish-mash of many different sub-genres of science fiction: military sf, feminist sf, hard sf, space opera, cyberpunk. It’s also a murder mystery and a romance, with some espionage thrown in for good measure. It’s got quantum teleportation, cloning, wetware, artificial intelligence and — oh yes — mining. No, not data mining, I mean digging holes down in the dirt.

Sounds like a mess, but it’s actually fairly coherent, with a compelling protagonist and admirable pacing. There’s a lot to like here, but it’s ain’t perfect. It really seems to go on too long and there’s so much stuffed in there it just becomes ridiculous and loses strength because of that. Still, considering this was Moriarty’s first novel, it’s an impressive accomplishment.

One thing that annoyed me was the imagining of a faster-than-light technology. This kind of pseudo-science is fairly common in the genre. Usually I can excuse it as a literary device that allows the author to explore some other theme. But here, I found myself wondering why. I think authors are drawn to the notion of people zip-zip-zipping all over the galaxy for the sheer glamor of it. I think there’s a psychological connection with our desire to consume all fossil fuels so we can zip-zip-zip around our planet. I’d rather see stories that try to remain within the bounds of what we currently believe to be possible. For the record, quantum entanglement is not generally believed to enable fast-than-light communication.

But I quibble.

Choice quote:

“What’s a Pontchartrain?”

“The Pontchartrain. It’s a lake on the Mississippi, that used to flow through New Orleans.”

“Before the floods, you mean.”

“Before that, even. The river — the whole Mississippi Delta actually — shifted. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers spent, oh, a century dredging and channeling and building levees. Defiance of nature, on a megalomaniacal scale. People wrote books and printed articles and whole theses about it. The river finally had its way, of course. It jumped its banks right around the time the oceans really started rising. Shifted the delta halfway across the Gulf of Texas. I wish I could make you feel what it was to be in New Orleans, stranded in the middle of a man-made desert while the ice caps were melting and we were watching floods in New York and Paris on the news every night. It was… unforgettable.”

That passage had me flipping back to the front to check the copyright date.

Published inBooks & Reading


  1. Blogger after my heart no lie.
    I just finished a second trip through Neil Stevenson’s Baroque Cycle.

    Other of my other favorite authors (out of zillions) for post global geography scenarios is Bruce Sterling (Heavy Weather) and Peter F. Hamilton (Greg Mandel series).

    We wit’you, Noble Editor B. Cut my teeth on the “Operation Manuel for Spaceship Earth”. HA!
    I will check these out.

    Thanks again,
    Editilla~New Orleans Ladder

  2. Edward Whimont’s “Return of the Goddess” and Nor Hall’s “The Moon and the Virgin” are two very good nonfiction works that you might enjoy.

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