Roz Kaveney (rozk) wrote,
Roz Kaveney
rozk

Friday stuff

I just don't seem to be posting at present, partly because of various pre-publication things - I am on Night Waves at 9.30 on Radio Three discussing 'Brick' - and partly because I am engaged in a 'tidying the flat' exercise. Workmen are coming in on the 12th of next month, and I will need to live in rather fewer rooms for a month, which means now is the time for disposing of all those crappy VHS tapes of opera off the TV, and taking Interzone stacks down to the BSFA, and throwing out all clothes now too small for me to wear ever again...

Oh, and Tauris and I have signed contracts for 'Hobbits, Androids and Dinosaurs', the second Reading SF Film book, and have said yes to me and jennyo doing the Nip/Tuck As Queer Reading Of Heterosexuality book. So if anyone wants to contribute to that, just let me know.

I seem to have pulled my piece from Stacey Abbott's Alias book, which is mutually embarrassing, but we have irreconcilable attitudes to rewriting, style and allied issues. Sometimes bullets have to be bitten and in due course I will post it here, after rewriting it to take account of everything that happens in the runup to season end.

I've finished a draft of my Barnesville paper, which is the Whedon chapter from the Superheroes! book.

*****

The Afghan hijackers affair reveals precisely why Tony Blair is now too tired to go on being PM. I don't like his policies, and I don't like his style, but the important issue is that Prime Ministers have to remember that they are part of a constitutional arrangement which has rules. They can't just change those rules because they are not happy with outcomes.

The hijackers were arrested and duely tried and convicted on their arrival in this country; it was decided to allow their families to settle here, and not be charged with complicity, on the grounds that they could not be proved to have known what was planned. The Appeal Court decided that under law as it stood at the time, and with the Taliban in power, hijacking a plane to get your families out from under was the act of a reasonable person, and set them free.

The only reason this is still an issue is that successive Home Secretaries did not like this decision. It is, of course, always open to Home Secretaries and Prime Ministers to propose new legislation that makes hijacking an offense in any circumstances and one whose perpetrators should not be able to circumvent immigration or refugee processes for them or their families. There is a good case for doing this to deter hijacking, though not a good one for doing it to placate the Daily Mail.

However, law is not made retrospectively. They were acquitted and reunited with their families and as far as that group goes, that should be the end of it. It is cheap and tacky for Blair to court popularity with the Sun and the Mail by going after them now.

While the Taliban are no longer in control in Afghanistan, it is hardly a place to which people now settled in this country for some years should be sent back.

Hard cases make bad law is a rule that cuts both ways. Given the Home Office's over-preparedness to send people back to intolerable situations - to face the private vengeance of divorced husbands now allied by marriage to corrupt but not actually tyrannical regimes, for example -, any time they lose is probably a good thing.

And if homophobia in Poland gets much worse, they may have to deal with refugees who are actually white.

*****

Oh, and another review.


THE LAST WITCHFINDER by James Morrow (Weidenfeld 497 pp £12.99)
reviewed by Roz Kaveney

Some writers defy genre categorization because genre's comfortable repetitions are alien to their sense of urgency. James Morrow is a writer who can seem priggish, because he writes in order to tell us things, to admonish us about our coming destruction of the world , or about the battle between reason and superstitionl. Sometimes his work has used sf tropes, but only because it was the way to get things done; what he is, deep down, is a satirist and a moralist.

'The Last Witchfinder' sets its cards on the table from the start, with the identity of its narrator, who introduces themself as Newton's Principia, and tells us all about books, their destinies and their feuds. While telling us the tale of their favourite reader, the Principia also gossips about a long-standing feud with the Malleus Maleficarum, Kramer and Sprenger's manual for the identification, torture and extermination of witches. Morrow has many merits, but subtlety is one he not so much lacks as disdains.

Jennet is the daughter of witchfinder Walter Stearne, an ambitious dolt with a streak of sadism well disguised as zeal. His decision to pursue informations laid against her favourite aunt, a natural philosopher, sets Jennet on a mission not only to defeat her father, but to destroy his life's work. This she pursues on two continents for much of a long life, with the help of a traveller in bottled monstrosities, various native Americans, and her young lover Ben Franklin. At the novel's climax, she sets herself up to be tried on capital charges simply to disprove witchcraft's existence as part of her defence; one of Morrow's strenghs is that he makes us love Jennet as much for being an arrogant crank as for being a selfless struggler after truth.

It is also the story of her brother Dunstan, drawn by filial piety into his father's trade and who becomes a monster partly through betraying his real vocation as an artist, partly for love of a particularly evil woman. His wife Abigail, one of the 'bewitched' girls of Salem is portrayed here in a particularly scathing way, as someone addicted to attention and prepared to torture and kill and lie just to get more or it. Superstition and unreason destroy and warp those who pursue them - Morrow does not waste much sympathy on his villains, but in the case of Dunstan, he is at least aware of the pity of it all.

This is a novel set less in the actual long Eighteenth Century than in our idea of it; Morrow scorns accuracy along with subtlety. He needs Aunt Isobel to burn for maximum effect in the face of historical fact about the execution of English witches, so burn she does, as a brazen exception. His exemplary characters are anachronistic in their universal benevolence and lack of bigotry almost to the point of reader irritation. What makes this satirical version of the struggle against fundamentalism so very powerful is Morrow's other strength - his backdrop may be garishly painted but his scenes of natural beauty or urban squalour have the scent of real wildflowers, the squish of real mud and dung underfoot.
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