Before “miasma” became a term for tainted, disease-bearing air, it had a more complicated meaning to the ancient Greeks. MIASMA: Pollution and Purification in Early Greek Religion by Robert Parker looks at the Greek belief not only were certain acts (being around a corpse, violating sacred land) inherently contaminating but that the one so infected could spread the contamination unless purified (an entire family could be forced into exile with the contaminated one). Parker concedes this is a tricky subject as the details are rarely spelled out, so cultural scholars have to derive them from off-hand references, laws, myths and drama. There’s also the problem of different, overlapping concepts (was shunning people for miasma different from shunning enages, those marked by the gods for punishment) and that different city states and eras had different interpretations (a small village has different issues with contamination than a city of 3o,000). Still, Parker does a good job look at how Greeks under spiritual pollution (which may have had a physical element too) and the overlap with disease, curses, divine vengeance and law. Interesting in its specialized way.
THE POWER by Naomi Alderman has a great concept: women suddenly acquire the ability to throw force lightning, making them able to overwhelm men for the first time. In Saudi Arabia, they rise up against the government; sex slaves in the Balkans turn on their master; and in the US, a female politician takes advantage of the crisis to rise to higher office.
Which is part of what frustrates me about this book: there’s more than enough sexism and abuse in the US, I don’t know why Alderman doesn’t show that as being equally brutal, rather than just a struggle for power (it’s like the perennial right-wing argument that women here have it so good compared to the rest of the world, they should just shut up!). And while I can buy the women turning out as oppressive as men, I don’t buy them immediately adopting male attitudes (with exceptions, like the anchor woman giving her colleague back his own patronizing treatment) or that a woman-ruled system would be identical to patriarchy, just gender-flipped. In many ways, this comes off as a right-wing caricature of feminism as The Feminists. I’ve seen similar ideas done better.
THE ALTERED HISTORY OF WILLOW SPARKS by Tara O’Connor is an uninspired graphic novel in which a teenager gets the power to rewrite her life only to discover (gasp!) that there are Serious Consequences. This is a routine high-school life story with a slight fantasy element, though I admit the amount of similar stories I’ve seen probably biased me from the get-go (it’s really hard to impress me with something in this line).