Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Review: The Transformations: a Tale of Modern Sin

Your book review will start in a few paragraphs. While you are waiting, please enjoy the following puzzling non sequitur.

I grew up in the Episcopal Church and, although my religious education clearly did not cover in one coat, there are a few things that remain to me from it. One is the definition of a the word sacrament as "the outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace." I am not particularly religious, and not that into the sacraments, but after forty years I still find the words of the definition endlessly useful for analogy. For instance, consider facial piercings which are "outward and visible signs of inward and metaphorical holes in the head."

If you take the definition and negate one word you get "the outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual disgrace." Doesn't that sound strangely familiar? It's odd that you can take the definition of a rather technical bit of Christian doctrine, make a piddlin' change and suddenly discover that it has turned into a pretty good description of the television gossip show that you try not to watch.

Thank you for your patience. The review of The Transformations: a Tale of Modern Sin starts now.

Dex Quire's new novel, The Transformations: a Tale of Modern Sin, takes its name, its format, some plot elements, and its sense of the divine glimpsed in the ridiculous from Lucius Apuleius' picaresque novel, Metamorphoses, more commonly known as The Golden Ass. The Golden Ass is the only Roman era novel to still survive in its entirety and is still, after 18 centuries, a good read. Quire has set himself the task of re-imagining it for modern audiences. As in Apuleius' original, Quire's story concerns itself with the misadventures of a man who accidentally turns himself into a donkey. Apuleius' hero steals an ointment from a witch believing it will turn him into a bird but Quire's hero orders his from the back of a "men's" magazine:

Increase Your Penis Size!
Onan's Enlarging Ointment:
Increase Your Penis Size!
*Apply twice a day

It came wrapped like a pipe bomb, no external markings except for a New Jersey postmark. The morning it arrived I ran to the bathroom rubbed it on and damn if my c**k didn't instantly start to fill out and enlarge, to feed out like a trombone. I was so happy I grinned into the mirror and my smile pulled right off my face. In fact it pulled and pulled back and back until it grew into a snout and my ears widened and shaped into long goofy triangles. At the same time the little bit of hair I had on the back of my head sprouted and ran, coating my entire body. My belly bulged and seemed to grow as big as a cement mixer. I was winded and dropped to the floor. But somehow I was still standing. I was on all fours. All fours? So far off the floor. Hind legs? All fours!


I was still clutching the tube of Onan's and the writing on the back label jumped out at me:

In case of over application—

Damn! My feet and now my hands were bunching into hooves and I dropped the tube into the toilet. What the hell? I looked into the mirror. I shouted and heard myself:


God help me! I had turned into a f***ing donkey!

[Excerpt from Chapter One which is available as a sample on the publisher's web site.]

You may have noticed from the w**ds that I asterisked out for my review that the language gets a bit frisky at times. Neither Apuleius' nor Quire's book is suitable for the prudish, the prim or the overly sensitive. If you can't handle "adult language" or "sexual situations" -- as they say on MPAA rating cards -- you should give both books a pass. One of the main frustrations of Quire's protagonist is finding himself in a near-encyclopedic assortment of sexual situations with scarcely any actual sex. Let me be clear: it's a kinky little book, but one that is well worth reading and, ultimately, oddly inspiring.

After turning himself into a donkey our hero is shuttled all over the hemisphere, befriends a sad alcoholic elephant, grinds flour for a Jesus-freak commune bakery, is teased by an eco-terrorist, finds the world's best food on a tramp freighter, hears a story of a giant bested by an androgynous prince, meets a jungle hero who would have been more like Tarzan except for his mom, invents new strategies for donkey basketball, finds out that a really smart pig makes fairly ordinary bacon, and gradually comes to realize that there are a lot of wonderful things in the world that you will never see if you spend your life contemplating your navel -- and a few nearby anatomical features.

In the Golden Ass there are a number of other magical transformations leading up to our protagonist's but in Quire's book there is only the one literal transformation (or two if you count the change from donkey back to human.) Apuleius has a character turned into a beaver by a witch who felt she had been romantically misused. The choice of a beaver is symbolic since in ancient times the beaver was reputed to bite off his own testicles when pursued so that the hunter would stop for them and the beaver could escape. (The word "castrate" comes from the Greek "castor" meaning beaver.)

In The Transformations there is only one literal, magical "transformation" but a number of other characters do not turn out to be what we expect, or what they initially appear to be. There is a constant interplay between the inner and outer natures of things. Sometimes this interplay is playfully symbolic -- our alcoholic elephant drinks to forget -- and other times it runs deeper -- as with our hero who physically turns himself into a donkey after years spent making a jackass of himself. On the external, literal level our hero needs to learn how to magically turn himself back into a human (which he would have known if he had read his Apuleius) and on the internal, symbolic level he needs to learn about being a man -- his path to self-knowledge having started with one of the sacraments offered in the back pages of a men's magazine.

The transformations is available in Trade Paperback. and Electronic (Kindle) formats. These links, and the image at the top, lead to the Amazon.com product pages. If you follow my link to buy it I get a piece of the action from Amazon. I think it's four percent. If you all buy two copies I could buy a cup of coffee... if I kick in a buck or two.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Georgia Aquarium Photoblog


The teleospouse and I had an opportunity to visit the Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta just before the new year. The Georgia Aquarium is a huge facility (the biggest aquariumn in the world is the claim) that is right in downtown Atlanta. It makes an interesting contrast to the North Carolina Aquarium which is less of an engineering marvel but it does benefit from its NC beach location which allows a lovely mix of indoor and outdoor exhibits and activities. Both are definitely worth seeing if you get a chance. My posting on the NC Aquarium is here.

We went to the aquarium the Sunday before New Years and it was slammed. Most of the photos are of the huge tanks because the smaller exhibits were generally obscured by kids standing with their backs to the camera with noses and fingers pressed to the glass. Occasionally through the mass of kids and the smeary glass you would catch a glimpse of a fin.


Case in point, I took several photos from this location and this is the only one that came out well enough that I can even describe what I was trying to do. I wanted the kids on the rail in the background reacting to an otter in the middle ground with people in the foreground to establish my location on the other side of the tank. This is a bit of a dark corner of the aquarium, especially on a rainy day, and my choice of subject -- kids and otters -- won't hold still for a long exposure.


But, fortunately, the aquarium offers huge tanks and overhead exhibits and there is plenty to look at no matter how crowded it gets. I only mention the crowding so I can point out that the photos here are not representative of the overall exhibit. There are lots of smaller tanks and criters but they are difficult to photograph in a crowded room where you can't use your flash.


This guy is fairly easy to photograph because he sleeps most of the time. He likes to lay in out of the way, hard to see corners of the tank and snooze. He wakes up every few minutes to swim to the surface for a breath of air and then he finds another corner to hide in for a few more Z's. The result is that the hundreds of kids look in the tank, see a few fish, get bored and move along to the next tank leaving the view more or less unobstructed when the turtle makes on of his regularly scheduled appearances.

i lee5

The Teleospouse snapped this shot of me in the tunnel that runs along the bottom of the tank with the whale sharks in it. I love the science fictional look that the tunnel's joint ring gives to this image.


These jelly fish are sufficiently slow-moving that you can get a decent shot of them even in the dim light...


... and I wasn't the only one taking pictures of them.


Several of the photos in this set remind me of Kelly Freas book covers for Laser Books. Here is an example. The Laser cover specification called for a full-face portrait of the main character in the lower right side of the cover. Several of the photos my wife took of me at the aquarium follow that format exactly.

This is a low-resolution copy of a copyrighted Kelly Freas book cover (Laser Books #34 - SEAS OF ERNATHE). I added the name of my blog and copied it to my flickr account so I could comment on it. You can contact www.northernstarart.com for more information about the painting. I boosted this image from their site.

i lee3

Here is an example. There are several more in my Ga Aquarium set in Flickr.


Here's a nice shot of the Teleospouse with the whale sharks. We took rather too many photos of each other but one wants to have a person in the photos to show the (generally colossal) scale of the place... and she was handy.

I cannot resist mentioning that, although she sometimes complains that I am inattentive, most of the photos she took of me show both eyes and a nose while in my photos of her I was lucky to get an ear.


I like this one too.

whale shark3

The banquet hall has windows giving views of the Beluga whales and the tank with the whale sharks. These offer some of the best views of those exhibits. This photo was taken from the banquet hall. If you go to the aquarium be sure to check out the view from the banquet hall if it is open when you are there.


This is the main viewing window of the Beluga whale exhibit. I like this photo because of the Sponge Bob Squarepants jacket in the foreground. It works better in bigger sizes.


If this guy had just held his head still this woulda been a great picture.

These are just a few of the photos we took at the aquarium. If you want to see the rest this link should bring up a slide show and, if that doesn't work for you, this one should take you to my flicker set for the aquarium.