Tag Archives: book reviews

COTTABUS PLAYERS (CIRCA 420s B.C.): ANCIENT GREEK COMEDY

Balladeer’s Blog examines yet another ancient Greek comedy which has survived only in fragmentary form.

Theater of Dionysus

The Ruins of the Theater of Dionysus in Athens.

COTTABUS PLAYERS (c 420s B.C.) – This comedy was written by Ameipsias, whose career as an Athenian comic poet ran from approximately the 420s B.C. to the 390s B.C. In the Dionysia Festival of 423 B.C. he won 2nd Place for his comedy Connus and in 414 B.C’s Dionysia he won 1st place for The Revelers. Ameipsias also won 1st place at a Lenaea Festival but the year and title of his entry are not known.

Regular readers of Balladeer’s Blog will remember that Cottabus was a party game in ancient Athens and had two variations. The “lesser” variation involved the hard-drinking guests (and virtually ALL guests at ancient Athenian parties were hard-drinking) throwing the wine-lees at the bottoms of their cups at a plate balanced on a pole, with the winner being the one who knocked the plate off the pole.

masc chair and bottleThe “greater” variation, to the proud, sea-faring Athenians, who “ruled the waves” long before Britons came along, involved throwing their wine-lees at plates floating in a pool, with the winner being the one who sank each plate. This small-scale equivalent of naval warfare was, according to Athenaeus, the more prestigious version and was characteristic of a more “high-end” party.

The all-important Chorus of this comedy by Ameipsias was presumably a set of rowdy, drunken Cottabus players. Let’s take a look at what can be gleaned from the surviving fragments:

** The comedy’s characters were SO drunk (“How drunk were they?”) they were using their projectile vomiting instead of wine-lees to sink the floating plates.      Continue reading

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THE ADVENTURES OF AN ENGINEER (1898): ANCIENT SCIENCE FICTION

Adventures of an engineerTHE ADVENTURES OF AN ENGINEER (1898) – Written by Weatherby Chesney, better known as C.J. Cutcliffe Hyne. This is a collection of short stories about the scientific adventurer Richard Felton.

Part pulp hero and part proto-Quatermass, Felton’s escapades also put one in mind of Quentin E Deverill from the cult show Q.E.D. aka Mastermind. Seventeen stories are featured in this collection, among them:

THE RULER OF THE WORLD – Felton is persuaded by his old friend Braithwaite to construct a super-scientific aircraft for him. Richard does so, and after a test-flight with Braithwaite to demonstrate how deadly the flying machine is, the latter reveals his megalomaniacal plans to use the aircraft in a Roburesque plan to conquer the world. Our hero must try to stop him, even if it means destroying his own creation. Continue reading

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KILLRAVEN NINETEEN: THE TWENTY-FOUR HOUR MAN

FOR PART ONE OF BALLADEER’S BLOG’S EXAMINATION OF THIS OLD, OLD MARVEL COMICS STORYLINE CLICK HERE  The revisions I would make are scattered throughout the synopsis below.

Killraven 24 hour manAMAZING ADVENTURES Vol 2 #35 (March 1976)

Title: The 24  Hour Man

Synopsis: The ruins of Atlanta, GA. October, 43 years in the future. Killraven and his Freemen continue their uprising against Earth’s alien conquerors. The rebels are walking through Oakland Cemetery overlooking the city and encounter a beautiful but crazed young woman in tattered garments kneeling beside the emaciated corpse of a green-skinned humanoid clad in gold armor and matching helmet.

24 hour manWe readers watch the Freemen through the eyes of a yet-unknown character named Emmanuel who has been watching them enter his domain from hiding. The crazed, kneeling woman is his mother. Narration tells us that her unhinged whimpering is the same noise she made when bringing Emmanuel into the world.

“But that was a lifetime ago … All seven hours of that lifetime.” (Remember the story’s title.) The insane woman finally notices the presence of Killraven and company. In a panic she says “Who is there? Not G’Rath! G’Rath must stay away!”

The woman looks over our heroes then says “Do I know you? Have you come to … to save me? Don’t you know it is too late! Too late to save me. You are too late, you see. I have borne G’Rath’s child! Yes, I have.” Lightning flashes overhead and thunder rumbles.

The woman’s frantic rant continues: “My body nurtured it, yes, and sustained it, yes, and gave it life … midnight life, yes. Because it WAS midnight, you know … midnight when G’Rath’s child left my womb! And now it is morning, yes. And the spawn of G’Rath and I will seek its OWN.” So saying the woman runs off through the cemetery and our heroes run after her.      Continue reading

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A FANTASTICAL EXCURSION INTO THE PLANETS (1839): ANCIENT SCIENCE FICTION

Fantastical excursionA FANTASTICAL EXCURSION INTO THE PLANETS (1839) – Written by an unknown author. The anonymous narrator of this novel is taken on a visit to assorted planets and other celestial bodies. The figure who transports him is a winged, rainbow-colored sprite whose face and body constantly change slightly, allowing no lasting impression to be made out.   

MERCURY – The narrator discovers Mercury to be a sunny but not scorching planet of pleasantly aromatic meadows and trees. The inhabitants are beautiful, angelic creatures of indeterminate gender whose light-weight bodies permit them to virtually float around like feathers.

              masc chair and bottleThese beings devote all their time to frolicking, singing and making music on other-worldly stringed and wind instruments that the narrator compares to lyres and flutes. The closest thing to actual labor that the Mercurians do is to cultivate flowers then weave them into chaplets and garlands with which to adorn themselves.

VENUS – Next our narrator and his winged guide visit Venus. This planet is covered with roses, myrtles, amaranths and asphodels plus alien flowers flaunting colors unknown on Earth. The flatlands are all covered in short green grass which smells of lilies and violets. Continue reading

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KILLRAVEN EIGHTEEN: KILLRAVEN MEETS SPIDER-MAN

FOR PART ONE OF BALLADEER’S BLOG’S EXAMINATION OF THIS OLD, OLD MARVEL COMICS STORYLINE CLICK HERE  The revisions I would make are scattered throughout the synopsis below.

Killraven future shockMARVEL TEAM-UP Vol 1 #45 (May 1976)

Title: Future-Shock

NOTE: Killraven meets the time-traveling Spider-Man in this story. Team-up titles, like Marvel Two-In-One and Marvel Team-Up or DC’s The Brave and the Bold were often considered non-canonical by comic book fans.

              The purpose of such team-up books was largely promotional. A superstar of the respective publishing company – Spider-Man for Marvel Team-Up, the Thing for Marvel Two-In-One and Batman for The Brave and the Bold – would star in an often half-assed story. The high-profile character’s fame would, it was hoped, put more eyes on the less popular figure they were being teamed up with and increase that less popular figure’s sales.

              Another purpose was to retain copyrights on characters in Marvel or DC’s vast, increasingly overpopulated shared universes. A long unused figure not popular enough to carry their own comic book could be used in a one-shot team-up story, thus satisfying copyright law without the expense of trying to use the superhero in another failed title of their own.

              Given Killraven’s forever-struggling sales there’s little doubt this team-up story was done hoping Spider-Man’s fame would boost those sales.

Killraven cornerSynopsis: August, 43 years in the future. The story is set in the war-torn No Man’s Land on the outskirts of New York City. This of course makes no sense since Killraven and his Freemen were at this point in America’s Deep South. (KR even refers to recent events so you can’t say this tale is set during the 3 years when Killraven and his rebel group were headquartered on Staten Island.)

              Again, this reflects the “who cares about continuity” nature of many such team-up titles. 

REVISION: That’s why I would have this story set in Troy, Alabama, with the Freemen still lost and wandering through the biologically mutated jungle which now covers much of the American southeast.

Back to the unrevised story: Spider-Man is using Reed Richards’ copy of Dr Doom’s time machine to leave 1600s Salem, where he and assorted guest-stars had just had an adventure.

              Saddened that he could not save the victims of the Salem Witch Trials (well, duh), Spidey morosely tries to return to his own time, only to overshoot his mark and wind up in the New York of Killraven’s future. In that future, Earth is being ruled by its alien conquerors, Martians in the original story but Zetans in my revisions.       Continue reading

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THE DOMINION IN 1983 (1883): ANCIENT SCIENCE FICTION

Dominion in 1983THE DOMINION IN 1983 (1883) – Written by “Ralph Centennius,” the presumed pseudonym of an unknown author.

Oh, Canada! Our neighbors to the north hopped on the speculative science fiction bandwagon with this short story. The premise is that the author is looking back at the 100 years of Canadian “history” from 1883 to 1983.

In futuristic 1983 the population of Canada is 93 million, there are 15 provinces and the country is a model for the world in terms of peace, learning, arts and sciences. We readers are told that there was a period around 1885 when many Canadians supported the idea of Canada becoming part of the United States, but this movement faded after losing at the ballot box.

Mascot new lookCanadian technology leads the world, with rocketships that can fly at a mile per second and electric automobiles for ground transport. Electricity is the predominant energy source, and Electropolis, the first all-electric city, was recently completed. Continue reading

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ALEXANDRE DUMAS’ THE BLACK TULIP AS A SWASHBUCKLER

black tulip 2Regular readers of Balladeer’s Blog will remember my review of three neglected swashbuckler novels by Alexandre Dumas. (For those three – Georges, Captain Pamphile and La Dame de Monsoreau click HERE )

Regular readers will also recall my look at the way Dumas’ The Corsican Brothers is NOT really a swashbuckler story in the spirit of The Three Musketeers, The Count of Monte Cristo or The Man in the Iron Mask, but because it’s a Dumas tale it often gets adapted AS IF it’s an action-oriented sword and pistol saga. 

And that brings us to Dumas’ novel The Black Tulip set in the Netherlands’ city of Haarlem in the 1670s.

black tulip 3When I was a little boy thrilled with the Musketeers, Monte Cristo and Iron Mask I excitedly grabbed The Black Tulip to read, assuming it, too would feature derring-do and swordplay. Much to my disappointment the novel instead dealt with attempts to cultivate a black tulip, the mob-slaying of Netherlands politicians Johan and Cornelis (sic) de Witt, romance and the redemption of personal honor.

Using the approach of the adaptors of The Corsican Brothers, let’s MAKE The Black Tulip a rousing swashbuckler just because it’s by Dumas.

THE BLACK TULIP (1850) – I would make it so that “the Black Tulip” was a masked and costumed identity adopted by the novel’s hero Dr Cornelius Van Baerle in order to pursue his crusade to redeem his family honor, tainted from the scandal following the grisly slaying of the de Witts (Insert your own Joyce de Witt joke here). Continue reading

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