The Egyptian

I finished The Egyptian by Mika Waltari, and while it was a beautiful journey, it was an emotionally draining one.  It should be noted that the book itself is a product of WWII, so delves into some pretty dark territory.

While the 1954 Hollywood epic made the story of Akhnaton and his god Aton into a proto-Christian morality play in which Akhnaton was perhaps a prophet of the one true god before his time, Akhnaton and the monotheism he attempts to impose on Egypt are portrayed in a much less black and white fashion in the book.  Akhnaton is a benevolent tyrant who seeks to impose his utopia on Egypt for the good of its people though he himself is shielded from any consequences of his policies.  The love of peace and hatred of war makes Egypt weak before its devious enemies, seriously compromising its national security through appeasement and belief in the goodness of one’s foreign foes.  The equality preached by Akhnaton in Aton’s name becomes the rallying cry of class warfare, as the poor and the slaves rise up to punish the rich and bring every man down to their level, and Egypt is turned into a land of thieves and ruffians.  The Pharaoh’s plan to redistribute the wealth of Egypt is a miserable failure, for akin to the seizures of farmland in 20th century Africa, the productive farmers are driven off their lands and replaced by ignorant neophytes whose early crop failures plunge Egypt into famine.  Worship of Aton and the war between the gods Aton and Ammon seem less of a metaphor for any sort of proto-Christianity but a conflict between the corruption of state capitalism and national socialism or Bolshevism.

Sinuhe loves Akhnaton and loves the vision he offers of a world of love, peace and equality, but Akhnaton’s way is awash in blood and costs Sinuhe all he holds dear.  The recurring motif is the failure of the human character which dooms (or at least taints) great enterprise.  It also leaves one with the bleak impression that there is nothing for man but what he leaves behind and that is far from guaranteed, whether it is Akhnaton, who is struck from history, Aziru the Amorite King, who is executed with his family and fed to wild beasts, or Sinuhe, who believes his account will be destroyed upon his death in his house of exile. Though it’s a beautifully told story, imagine if Ben-Hur ended with his family still presumed dead and they never met Jesus.  While I did mention that the themes of the Egyptian are more political than religious, there lurks in Sinuhe’s longing something of a note of tragedy about a pre-Christian world in which all the gods are false and corrupt, demanding endless blood and sacrifice; Sinuhe does cling to hope for the Aton that is a god with and within all men and before whom all are equal.

Of interesting note, the one Karma Houdini ended up being Nefernefernefer, the courtesan to whom Sinuhe gave all of his (and his parents) property leading to his original exile.  Despite ending the book with wealth beyond measure, even Kaptah, Sinuhe’s loyal servant and comic side-kick has gone through his fair share of torment and anguish. In the film, Nefernefernefer returns afflicted with a disfiguring disease (strongly implied to be syphilis) and Sinuhe mercifully treats and forgives her in a grand redemptive gesture.  In the book, during the riots in Thebes where the supporters of Aton are destroying the temples of Ammon, Sinuhe hands her over to the embalmers in the House of Death to have their way with her, only for her to charm all of them and con all of them out of their ill-gotten treasures stolen from the wealthy dead, and that’s the last we hear of her.

As much as I enjoyed The Egyptian, I’m looking forward to decompressing with something a bit lighter.

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Weekend Megahaul & Other Stuffs

I can’t help myself.  I know I buy books at about a 5 to 1 ratio of how quickly I can read them, but I see stuff and am all “I’m going to read that eventually!”  Well, this weekend was no different, except in that it may be one of my most impressive hauls yet.

I finally found a copy of Nine Princes of Amber; for the longest time, I’d given up on grabbing various Zelazny books I’d find at thrift stores, because I had ended up with a random assortment of mid-to late Amber books that I didn’t want to read until I’d read the first one.  Well, now I’ve got the first one.  Not only did I find NPoA, I got The Visual Guide to Castle Amber which is sort of like a system-agnostic setting supplement module disguised as a handsome hardbound book.  But to take things a step further down the Amber rabbit hole, I found one of those solo RPG Choose Your Own Adventure books that takes place in the Amber setting.  And a similar book from the same line that is a Starship Troopers solo RPG CYOA with a foreword written by Gary GygaxIllustrated Changeling looks like it’ll be pretty awesome, and despite its alleged flaws, I couldn’t pass up a hardback of Jack of Shadows for $3.

It doesn’t stop there: I actually had to pass up a few books that I really wanted, because I was already getting hardbacks of Araminta Station and Ecce & Old Earth by Jack Vance, as well as a floppy 35cent pulp print of The Space Pirate.

Because they’re short and were only $1, I got the 1st and 3rd Dreamlord books to supplement the 2nd (which was never printed with a number in either of its editions apparently).

You’d think that was an impressive haul, but wait, there’s more!  I got an issue of Top in SF with the Bradbury/Brackett collaboration Lorelei.  Sure, it’s a reprint (the PS with Lorelei is one of the Holy Grails of SF pulp), but it’s something!  I also got the Fantastic with Leiber’s “Dr Adam’s Garden of Evil” as the cover story, and the all-star F&SF with Flowers for Algernon.

In fact, the place I went had a TON of issues of F&SF from the 50s.  I’m kind of impressed by how boring the average F&SF cover has always been.

Before I can even think about diving into the new haul, or even whittling down the stacks from previous hauls, I need to finish The Egyptian, which had been sitting on my shelf for far too long.  The Egyptian was probably one of my favorite movies of all time.  It might also be shaping up to be one of my favorite books.

I’ve always got a kick out of the fact that the most well-known lines of MLK’s “I Have a Dream” were plucked and paraphrased from Sinhue’s epic speech at the end of the movie:

“I will wear the clothes of a slave and kick the sandals from my feet and speak to the wives as they fry their fish before their mud huts before the river, to the porters on the docks, to the smiths by the bellows, to the slaves under their yokes, and I will say ‘A man cannot be judged by the color of his skin, by his clothes, his jewels, or his triumphs, but only by his heart. A good man is better than a bad man.  Justice is better than injustice.  He who uses mercy is superior to him who uses violence, though the latter call himself Pharaoh and make himself master of the earth.  We have but one master: the God who made us all.  Only His truth is immortal, and in His truth all men are equal!”

I’m not criticizing King, I’m saying he knew epic when he saw it and had great taste.

Later this week, Fortress Europa, maybe a Short Review, and almost certainly an update/reminder on the zine project.