Writing about religion

I have been wanting for some time to do occasional posts on the subject of religion in the second millennium BCE. Today’s post is a general start, loosely based on the rather short piece I did for the Orangeberry blog tour (Orangeberry book tour main page, or more specifically a guest post at Just My Opinion)

In that among other things I wrote

I enjoy writing about religion, or more exactly, I enjoy writing about people who have a religious faith. It is simply not possible to write about most ages of past human experience without including the religious life somewhere. Too often in books you come across a few very simple, and in my view quite unrealistic stereotypes. So there is the rabid fundamentalist, who reacts with violence to anything that seems to threaten his or her world view. Or there is the ruthless cynic, who knows it’s all make-believe and just wants to exploit others. Or there is the naïve villager, who is duped and never questions the wider system. Or there is the wise sage who holds to personal spirituality without the inconvenient trappings of any specific religion.

Now, I have at various times in my life mixed with and known people of faith who belong to various different religions, and I have to say that these simple pictures do not do justice to most of them. In terms of religious faith as well as other areas of life, people are more complex, and more interesting, than these stereotypes. They have doubt as well as faith, selfish as well as noble motives, mixed feelings about the religious institution they belong to, and, usually, commitment to a specific form of religion rather than a vague abstraction. They are often keenly interested in other forms of religion as well as their own, even if they think that those are ultimately incorrect.

Castlerigg stone circle, Lake District, England

For today I want to think about the many facets of religious life. The one which seems most obvious, judging from some of the books I read, is that of doctrine. I suppose it seems easy to quantify and approach, and is frequently used as s soft target by hostile writers: “these simple deluded folk really believe that the world was made from a discarded banana skin” or some such. For writers of a scientific disposition, it may seem a natural way to define a religion.

But many people who are spiritually inclined are well aware that this is a very small part of the religious life. In actual fact, doctrine is a serious intellectual pursuit and is frequently, in part, hard to follow. It also typically, in recognition that both the universe and the human organism are fantastically complicated things, has ideas and concepts which at first sight appear completely contradictory. The Egyptians, along with other peoples, were fond of this, making the quest for “Egyptian theology” quite a fruitless one. Some religious traditions have deliberately used these oppositional ideas to try to jog people out of complacency.

But more to the point, doctrine is not the centrally important thing to most religious groups that some writers present it as. To be sure, some groups place a very high store on sound knowledge, but still only as one facet amongst a much larger whole. In the Late Bronze Age world that I write about, doctrine is almost invisible. Readers will get very little sense of the details of Canaanite or Egyptian thinking from my books. The “favourite” goddess in Kephrath is Taliy, hardly one of the better known members of the Canaanite pantheon. Makty-Rasut, the main character in Scenes from a Life, expresses personal devotion to Seshat – again a figure that I suspect most people will need to use Google to learn about!

The second main area that you often find explored in fiction is spiritual experience; this typically gets a positive press, as it seems not specifically to tie in with the details of religion – “Trust your feelings, Luke”. It is certainly true that people recount their personal encounters with the numinous in very similar ways, regardless of their specific personal tradition. It is also true that these experiences are, seemingly, accessible to all, and evidence suggests that many, perhaps most people experience something of this at least once during their lives. Such experiences may be triggered by prayer or praise, but also by natural beauty, or sex, or moments of altruism. But equally, people who experience these moments more than just once in a lifetime have usually been involved with a particular religious tradition for a long time, and are thoroughly steeped in its particular disciplines and habits of thought. Even Luke has to disappear for an unspecified period of time to become trained and effective.

But there are other dimensions of religion which are often overlooked by writers. One is that of personal devotion. It seems attractive to some people to write about big temple ceremonies and lavishly dressed priests or priestesses – but in an agricultural world with no mass transportation, such pilgrimages must have been extraordinarily rare. Social classes below the elite may never have experienced them. For most people, the religious dimension of their life would be expressed in the home, or the village, with their families, friends, or next-door neighbours. Archaeological evidence and ancient texts support each other here, and we have strong evidence of household-level observance of rites and duties. I have equipped Kephrath with a high place, a small stone circle within and around which both religious and social events happen. We know that most settlements in the ancient near east had such arrangements of stones, though we do not know the details of how they were used. Today’s “community centres”, so important to isolated immigrant groups at risk of losing their identity after moving to a new nation, serve a similar purpose of blending religious observance and social need. In the absence of a dedicated religious building, the community centre serves as the focal point. Makty-Rasut, in Scenes from a Life, has a small statue of Seshat that he carries with him as a personal focus for prayer and devotion wherever he is living.

And this brings me on to the final dimension of the religious life for today – the social aspects. For many people in today’s world, in many different religions, social dimensions are in fact the most important ones that define their identity. Many Jews, Christians, Moslems, Hindus, Buddhists, and so on find their main experience of religion in the intricate web of the society around them. Huge numbers of people now and in the past have identified their religion not by rational assent to a doctrine, nor by vivid personal experience, but by the intimacy of their social network, and the place they and their family hold within it. The shape of a society (or a sub-group within society) is fashioned as an expression of religious commitment. Professor Dunbar has written of the cohesive effect of religion within human society (see for example a presentation he gave at a debate on race, religion and inheritance) – and also questioned whether this can or should continue in the future. That is a subject for another post – for today it is enough to recognise the central place of social interactions within people’s religious life. One of the central difficulties Makty has to face, though he does not really know how to articulate this, is how to step outside his familiar social circle into a different world. His statue of Seshat serves as a link back to the world he has known.

Enough for today – in a while I shall be writing about how religion changed between the second millennium Bronze Age and the first millennium Iron Age.

Another stop on the blog tour

Just a quick post tonight, with more to come later in the week hopefully.

The latest blog tour stopover is a guest post at http://www.aspiringbook.com/2013/11/writing-about-past-richard-abbott.html. The topic is “Writing about the past” and is a brief foray (via Star Trek) into the delights of writing creatively within a set of boundary conditions. In the case of Star Trek, the boundaries are set by the franchise holder. For those of us who write historical fiction, the boundaries are the things that are known about the past!

I have also been working on a cover for Scenes from a Life and am so-so happy just now. Needs more work…

Dead Romans – a review

David Cord, author of Dead Romans, supplied me with a free pre-release kindle copy to review. Here it is…

Dead Romans, by David Cord, is set in a place and time that I did not know much about – Ephesus around 165 AD, at the end of the Parthian campaign conducted by Lucius while he was co-emperor with his father Marcus Aurelius. The immediate crisis is a particularly severe outbreak of plague, apparently brought back by the soldiers as they returned from further east.

The book gives every impression of being carefully researched, at both the wider political level and as regards the details of ordinary Ephesian lives. Even a brief search online will reveal something of the history behind the novel. This wide spectrum of background research supports, and is crucial to, the particular style of the book.

David has chosen to structure the book by showing us three very different perspectives on the same events. In this way, the same people, places and events adopt a quite different significance in each portion. A person who might be a powerful and intimidating figure to one of the three is a mere annoyance or irrelevance to another. The first protagonist is a local shepherd, the second is Lucius’ mistress, and the third, intermediate between these in social location, one of the city bakers who also has pretensions to be an author. Their lives intersect in various ways. I am very partial to the inclusion of several different voices within a book, and have not often come across this particular strategy for including them.

So this triptych effect worked very well as a structural device for me, and gave considerable depth to the presentation. The three individuals naturally had entirely different views on what was or was not important, and their varying positions in society are well described. One difficulty for some people might be that the story does not go very far beyond what you have learned after the first third. However, there is some advancement in the plot, and there are certainly new pieces of the jigsaw that are provided.

Each of the three is given a fairly plausible back-story, so that you as reader can see how their personal histories are driving their present-day actions. Reasonably enough for story purposes, each of them is somewhat unusual as a member of their class. They stand out as remarkable individuals who each try to push back the limitations of their social role.

There were some difficulties. The central section, focusing on Lucius’ mistress Panthea, relied rather too heavily for my preference on her sexual activities, which tended to be squalid rather than exciting. Her back-story provides a rationale for this, and to be sure she is a courtesan whose main attraction to Lucius was presumably her sex appeal. However, Lucius is presented as a sensitive individual who wants more than an athletic bed partner. Panthea herself is supposed to be multi-talented in languages, philosophy and the arts – which makes good sense for someone aiming to catch the eye of royalty. But her part of the story is overwhelmed by sex, and somehow loses sight of other facets of her self.

The final portion, following Aristides the baker and potential author, ends up rather blurring his life with that of his prospective literary patron. Towards the end of the book is was not very clear which of them was in central focus. However, Aristides has much more contact with the soldiers than the other two, and these encounters are handled very persuasively. He certainly emerges as a plausible figure.

On a technical level, the pre-release kindle file I was provided with had a number of quite serious flaws. However, both author and publisher have told me that these have been corrected in the release version. All being well, future readers will not be distracted by these. Taking this final piece of editing into account, I have not let these problems affect my opinion.

On balance, for me, this was a four star book. On the basis of imagination and background research, I have no hesitation in commending it to others. It is a good introduction into a rather lesser-known slice of history, and many of the people described, both major and minor characters, are convincing. However, I was not won over by the central portion dealing with Panthea. It felt to me as though her potentially fascinating contribution was rather flattened into a single, rather repetitive, series of movements. The book as a whole is definitely worth reading, especially for those, like me, who enjoy historical fiction that is not preoccupied with battle scenes. The details of daily life in Ephesus emerge well from these pages, and I am certainly glad to have read this book.

The survival of Egyptian influence in Canaan

Another portion of the author’s notes from Scenes from a Life. This one briefly explores some issues surrounding the survival of Egyptian influence in the province of Canaan, after the collapse of the New Kingdom.

At one time scholars thought that Egyptian involvement collapsed extremely quickly, within a few decades after 1200 BCE or so, leaving essentially no Egyptian presence in Canaan. More recent careful investigation has shown that the actual situation was more complex. Egyptian rule in any direct sense was certainly over, and standing garrisons of troops were recalled. However, Egyptian influence remained considerably longer in the form of buildings, styles of pottery, and writing.

The author’s main interest is in the written word, and here we find several fascinating issues. Firstly, the style of Egyptian writing we now call hieratic survived in the former province of Canaan for a long time, especially for technical information like weights and measures. In Egypt herself, writing style evolved from hieratic to demotic, but the older form remained in the province. The obvious conclusion is that the style was learned during the period of occupation, and stayed in use after that had ceased – it is like a fossil relic of this earlier time.

Now, learning hieratic is a process that needs good teachers and a scribal tradition. We do not have direct evidence for schools of this kind in the form of buildings or monuments. However, these little marks of numbers and letters, scratched into the surface of various everyday artefacts, show that scribes trained in the Egyptian manner were still carrying out their trade in the province. The novel uses phrases such as “quick scribal signs” for this writing style. This is in contrast to what Makty-Rasut calls “proper writing” – hieroglyphic – which would be used back in Egypt for official or ceremonial purposes.

Next we have the evidence of the rather later biblical psalms. Several critics have noticed that one group of these, those which are petitionary pleas for help in time of trouble, bear strong resemblance to earlier letters written by subordinates to their political superiors. A writing style originally used in the secular sphere for addressing someone of higher rank, was adopted for religious use addressing gods. This would seem quite an obvious idea for someone who has been trained in official protocol and is then asked to create spiritual songs.

British Musuem - one of the Amarna letters
However, the resemblance is stronger than that. Specific kinds of phrasing, and specific kinds of appeal for help, turn up in political letters from around 1350 BCE, and also in the earliest psalms from around 1000 BCE or so. Moreover, they do so in the same geographical location – Jerusalem (Shalem in this story). This again suggests that there was a continuity of tradition that spanned those years.

In Scenes from a Life it is suggested that this link was set in place by an Egyptian scribe who found reasons of his own to move out to the province. Scribal teams in Egypt were well coordinated, with clear specialisation of skills, and it is easy to imagine that such a person would be able to organise and motivate a group of people in Jerusalem, whether Egyptian or native-born.

Books on the Underground

I have previously posted about this scheme, in which authors contribute books which are marked with a distinctive sticker and then placed for public consumption on the London Underground. Loads of people read something on the Tube, if only the free Metro newspaper, so the scheme is a great idea. Check out the website http://booksontheunderground.tumblr.com/ for more details. Anyway, there have been two sightings of In a Milk and Honeyed Land in the last few days – at Earls Court on Monday, and Notting Hill Gate today. Let’s hope someone is enjoying the read…

Other news from the Orangeberry book tour –

  • An extract (first chapter) and brief description at The Book Connoisseur
  • An author interview and some blurb at The Reading Cat – the interview has some stuff about the forthcoming Scenes from a Life as well as more general things.

There’s more to come over the next few weeks… which should keep me quiet in between proof-reading and such like.

Egyptian poetry and tomb writing

This is another portion from the author’s notes at the end of Scenes From a Life. This, and the rest of the book, is undergoing heavy proof-reading and editorial work just now…

Chapel entrance, Luxor

Tomb inscriptions are one of our main windows into Egyptian life at royal and elite levels. Tourists to Egypt, and visitors to museums all around the world, still look at these today. Here in London, the New Kingdom Egyptian galleries in the British Museum provide excellent background material to this story, as well as being well worth a visit on their own account.

As Makty-Rasut comments to his friend Sanedjem-Keni, the royal tombs focus almost entirely on formal religious themes. These are often individually expressed in different tombs, but display broadly the same ideas and images. This is because of the specific role that the ruler was expected to fulfill in the afterlife. A great deal depended on him carrying out the right actions in the right way, so the tomb decorations revolved around ensuring that he would be armed with accurate information for the task at hand.

The tombs of elite individuals lower down the social ladder – priests, high-ranking soldiers, city officials, and so on – are very much more varied. Some scenes are popular and appear often, such as a hunting scene of a married couple on a boat in marsh-lands. Others, however, are unique, and capture for us something of the particular life of an individual. If the person had carried out any sort of official duty then we expect to find something of this in the tomb record. In addition, lively and inventive images can pop up in surprising places. We learn far more about life in Egypt from these tombs than from those in the Valley of the Kings.

An important part of the tomb was the autobiography. This was not intended to be a dispassionate or balanced account of the person’s life. Rather, it served as a kind of CV justifying to the gods why that individual should be allowed to enjoy the delights of the afterlife. These autobiographies therefore seem to us to be grossly self-congratulatory. In the early days of Egyptology, they were treated with great suspicion, or dismissed as having no historical merit. Nowadays they are regarded with more sympathy, and sifted for nuggets of value in amongst the generally up-beat expressions.

In Scenes From a Life, the snippets at the start of each even-numbered chapter are an invented but credible tomb autobiography for Makty-Rasut. Each one speculates how he might have presented for eternity the events described in that chapter. In contrast, the poems at the start of the odd-numbered chapters are taken from, or adapted from, one or other of the love poems which have been found in Egypt. Many of these were discovered near Luxor, in particular among the workmen’s houses at Deir al-Medina.

When reading translations of ancient Egyptian material, it is always worth remembering that the plain text version we read is only part of the whole. It is loosely similar to hearing the dialogue from a film soundtrack without seeing the pictures, since our written form is almost completely divorced from any underlying visual content. It does not really matter to us, and is largely overlooked, that the letter “A” originally derived from the head and horns of an ox. Today we routinely separate out writing from illustrations.

But with Egyptian writing, the visual and textual parts of an inscription were a unified whole. Since most letter signs still clearly showed their origins as pictures of real-world objects, it is easy to integrate the two. There are many places where one sign in the written text is placed so as to also form part of a composite pictorial scene. In other places, design elements in the picture can be read as words or suggestive puns.

The “hunting in the marsh” scenes mentioned above are loaded with such elements, indicating that the picture is not really about catching ducks or fish. The main message told by the visual metaphors is one of love, passion and fertility. A scribe such as Makty-Rasut would show his skill by weaving in such “hidden” stories in amongst a more simple surface-level picture.

Coachman, the ongoing book tour and other news

Well, several things to talk about today. First and foremost, Erin over at Bookworm’s Fancy has kindly taken another guest post of mine, this time a review of Coachman by Sue Millard (see http://bookwormsfancy.com/2013/10/coachman-by-sue-millard-guest-review-by-richard-abbott/. I really enjoyed both reading the book and writing the (5*) review – and also having the opportunity to wander a few minutes down the road from work and seeing what some of the locations look like today. For fun, I have included another photo here, this time of the current building on the site of the coaching inn that features in the book (The Swan with Two Necks). For more about what I thought, and more pictures, check out the Bookworm!
The former Swan location

Now, as well as that there have been another few stages in the Orangeberry blog tour:

Finally I have found time for some book reviews! Here are the links on Goodreads…

That’s all for now, some more updates about Scenes from a Life will follow shortly…

Ancient Egyptian dream interpretation

Well, proof-reading Scenes from a Life is going nicely, but it could hardly be called gripping work, however necessary it is. So in parallel with that I am going through the author’s notes section at the end of the book and filling in parts of that. One of the sections is on the way that ancient Egyptians interpreted dreams – which I find particularly interesting – so I thought I would copy chunks of it into a blog article.

Basically, the matter arises because the main character Makty-Rasut is rather shaken out of his comfortable life by a series of dreams, which are interpreted in part for him by a priest called Senenptah. Here is the current version of this part of the notes… The white sandals turn up in several of Makty’s dreams.

Egyptian dream interpretation sounds entirely random if you see the texts just in translation, but in the original language it makes far more sense. It was largely based on ideas of word-play – if you dreamed of one thing then the interpreter would think about other objects or situations that sounded similar or had similar verbal roots. There was also, as with dream theory in other cultures, a strong emphasis on identifying whether the situation would turn out as favourable or unfavourable for the dreamer. I have largely ignored this second strand of interpretation in Scenes from a Life, but in reality Senenptah would routinely be trying to ascertain from Makty’s dream accounts when an action should be taken or avoided to achieve a good outcome.

Now, interestingly, similar ideas are used in some modern schools of dream interpretation, especially those having a Jungian influence. In these, the unconscious processes active in dream sleep may well use word plays or visual puns to transfer meaning and significance to the conscious mind. So, hypothetically, dreaming of falling over – taking a trip – might suggest a journey, or even a drug experience.

Back with Makty-Rasut, the connection Senenptah makes between white sandals and a journey with auspicious conclusion is based on an actual dream text we have, specifically papyrus Chester Beatty III. This dates from less than a century before Makty’s time, and was found at the royal workmen’s village at Deir el Medina, on the west bank of the Nile opposite Luxor and so very close to Makty and Senenptah’s homes. It is currently in the British Museum. It contains a large number of single line interpretations, each of the form “If a man sees himself in a dream in [some situation] then: [interpretation]“. Each interpretation has a brief summary as either GOOD or BAD, followed by a brief explanation. The words GOOD or BAD are picked out in red ink rather than the normal black.

The relevant line of this text is “If a man sees himself in a dream shod with white sandals, BAD; it means roaming the earth“. Normally in Egyptian culture, roaming the earth would be perceived as BAD as it would mean being uprooted from the social network in which the person was embedded – family, friends, work, ancestral burials and so on. A journey would especially be seen as BAD if it involved travelling out of the Beloved Land (Ta Meri in Egyptian) as it carried the risk of having to be buried outside the land’s borders. In Makty’s case, the journey turns out to have a GOOD ending, but this is because of the particular circumstances of his life rather than normal ancient Egyptian thinking.

One of the several themes of the Egyptian poem The Tale of Sinuhe concerns the anxieties felt by Sinuhe himself and others who hear of his situation, at the thought of burial in a remote and rather uncivilised place. Likewise, one of the great motifs of his reconciliation and return to Egypt was the promise that a proper burial would be possible when the time came. The Tale of Sinuhe was composed several centuries before the setting of this story, but remained popular for many years, and copies have been found near Luxor, in particular at the workmen’s village.

The other word associations Senenptah makes for Makty are invented, but credible given the nature of the scheme of interpretation. Perhaps in time archaeologists will uncover an Egyptian text which confirms them! For example, when Senenptah asks Makty if he has seen a royal sceptre, or a large dish, the words used sound like (and are spelled very similarly to) words for Asiatic and north respectively. These sorts of clues would suggest to the priest that Makty was being directed by his dreams to travel north into the Asiatic province, here called the Kinahny lands. Many of the other details that are picked out in the dreams have a similar basis; others are just regular dream imagery that readers can enjoy deciphering for themselves.

All good fun… and a nice intermission from proof-reading!

All the Scenes from a Life are there!

Well, it’s true – just last night I finished the last sentences of Scenes from a Life. Of course, that is far from saying it is finished… for one thing I have to do my own read-through and catch as many of the little slips and errors as I can find. And get some external advice on this as well. And finish the author’s notes at the back, which will have a mixture of historical and textual notes including a paragraph or two on how ancient Egyptians interpreted dreams.

So there’s plenty to do yet, but this seems to me to be a good milestone to celebrate.

Other news – the Orangeberry tour continues with a guest post at Quality Reads UK. This was a brief look at how to present religious institutions in fiction – lots of people go down the route of large temples, structured hierarchy etc, but I wanted to capture something much less formal that would operate on a local village scale. The next event on the book tour is on October 1st.

I’m hoping to do a short series of more historically-oriented blog posts in a while, partly prompted by the very short guest posts I wrote for the blog tour. So look out over the next month or so for some bits and pieces on life in the second millennium… BC.

Book review – “The Blazing World” by Margaret Cavendish

Today’s blog is a book review, but unusually for me of a work by a long-dead author, Margaret Cavendish, Duchess of Newcastle-upon-Tyne (1623-1673). She published The Blazing World back in 1666, the same time that John Bunyan was serving a prison sentence for his beliefs and Samuel Pepys was writing about the Great Fire of London. I came across it in a list of seminal female science fiction writers which circulated on Google+. Nowadays it is available on kindle at a very reasonable price, and no doubt elsewhere as well, a fact that might well intrigue and amuse Margaret.

As I go on to say in the review, the book is not for readers who crave a fast-paced plot with regular cliff-hangers. Its concerns are very different from those of many modern authors. But as a window into the forward-thinking perspective of an older time, and as a precursor to much modern writing, it deserves better exposure. Happily, it is taught as part of some English literature university courses here in the UK, and available electronically to an interested modern reader. Long may this situation last!

Book Cover - Margaret Cavendish's Blazing World

==============The review===========

I first heard about Margaret Cavendish’s The Blazing World through a friend on Google+ and was intrigued. A female science fiction writer from the time of the Plague and the Great Fire of London? Since the kindle version is so extraordinarily cheap I had to follow this through, and am very glad that I did.

First though, let me say that not all readers will enjoy this book. It is, naturally enough, written in an older form of English in which many words do not have quite the same sense as today. The most obvious example is “artificial“. Today, if we see “artificial” in contrast to “natural” we tend to think that using “artificial” suggests that the thing is lacking in some way, clunky in comparison with the natural. But in the 17th century, it was used to indicate that something has been made by art, or artifice if you like, and so reveals something of ingenuity or creativity, as opposed to a raw product. A precious stone just out of the ground would be natural; the polished and shaped gem would be artificial.

Also, Margaret had no interest in fulfilling the plot expectations of some modern critics. Many things do happen, and I found the overall imaginative sweep gripping, but you won’t find a visceral cliff-hanger every few pages. Personally I liked this and it was a refreshing change from some of the formulaic modern material one encounters.

Finally, Margaret is just as interested – perhaps more so – in the philosophical shape of her world as the material one. There are descriptions of the physical layout of the Blazing World and how it might be accessed from our own. But there are also long sections in which one of the main female characters engages in intellectual debate with some of that world’s schools and learned institutions. Some of these are sympathetically presented, others plainly satirical, though you would have to know more than I about the intellectual landscape of her time to really appreciate the satire. It’s a bit like reading parts of Dante and trying to puzzle of why a particular person is being lampooned.

All in all, some modern readers would become impatient and frustrated with the book. For those who persevere with it, the gentle charm of the book draws you in. There is an inter-planetary war, and the invention of devices like submarines and torpedoes, but the real interest is in the intimacy of human contact, and the ultimate superiority of the world of the imagination over the world of external things. Particularly striking examples are “Why should you desire to be Empress of a Material World… when as by creating a World within yourself, you may enjoy … as much pleasure and delight as a World can afford you“, and again “if any should like the World I have made.and be willing to be my Subjects, they may imagine themselves such… but if they cannot endure to be Subjects, they may create Worlds of their own“. This theme increasingly comes to drive the narrative.

I became convinced as I read that modern authors such as Arthur C. Clarke have been influenced by The Blazing World. I was particularly reminded of the passage from 2001: “So almost certainly there is enough land in the sky to give every member of the human species, back to the first ape-man, his own private, world-sized heaven–or hell” – though in that case Clarke was thinking purely concretely in terms of stars in our galaxy, rather than imaginatively.

So five stars from me, along with a sincere wish that in whatever form Margaret might yet survive, she is able to receive modern appreciation of her work. This tale is not for everyone, certainly not for those who are impatient for a high-octane or erotically-charged plot, but personally I thoroughly enjoyed meeting this work and its author.

Writing, both historical and speculative