reading 2015 part one

Have been very slack at logging reading this year. Does anyone read these or care, anyway? Who knows. But they are useful for me. So here is a recap, glancing through my diary. Feel like I read a lot less than usual this year. I also think I am getting a lot of my mental stimulation from podcasts these days.


The Pastel City – M John Harrison

First in the Viriconium series. Oddly angled fantasy, a very different mood and mode, elegiac and austere. Written back in the 70s, maybe? Harrison is a wonderful writer and this is bizarre and neat.

Mad, Bad and Dangerous to Know – Ranulph Fiennes

Autobiography of adventurer/explorer/mad bastard Fiennes. What I read of it was entertaining.

Occupational Hazards – Rory Stewart

Scottish dude ends up running a really large province in Iraq under the Coalition Provisional Authority after the US invasion. Really fascinating insight into what trying to run a country and make things better is like when the country is messy and complex, and the area you are in charge of has its own very distinct history and culture from the rest of the country. Things do not go well. Great read.

Think Two Products Ahead – Ben Mack

Really excellent book about marketing and how to think about marketing and communicate what you are doing by a, well, wizard.

8 Tribes: The Hidden Classes of NZ

That book about NZ being made up of 8 tribes. Meh. It was short to skim. Deservedly forgotten.

What We See When We Read – Peter Mendelsund

Really interesting book by a designer – so there was lots of wild design as a book – who loves to read, about what goes on in our heads as we read, and how we visualise and imagine and interact with words. Definitely worth a look if that sounds like you.

Capital in the 21st Century – Thomas Piketty

Epic tome about inequality and how it isn’t going to go away, and in fact has and will worsen, because of how our economic system is structured. Compelling argument. Necessary to be familiar with at least the introduction.

Ritual – Malidoma Some

West African shaman describes the function, role and importance of ritual in the life of his people, with some eye-opening stories.

Conversation – Theodore Zeldin

Something short and light about the art of conversation, I think.

The Laughing Monsters – Denis Johnson

Novel, gave up real quick, Johnson is great but wasn’t in the mood.

Prophet – Brandon Graham (comic)

If you want some very very weird sci fi comics, this is your jam. Epic scope, weird, mad, fun. The most Metabarons-esque thing since Metabarons.

The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains – Neil Gaiman

Nice short story with illustrations, sort of the darker side of Gaiman.

Autobiography – Miles Davis

Entertaining ride, didn’t get too far. Jazz guys were a pretty wild crew, back in the day.

Money: Master The Game – Tony Robbins

Pretty exceptional book about managing money and investing. Robbins used his access to the most successful billionaire investors in the world to model what they are doing and put it together in a system. Essential.

I Will Teach You To Be Rich – Ramit Sethi

Irritating smartarse Indian teaches you money management and investment. Very sharp, good material, but annoying.

A God Somewhere – John Arcudi (comic)

Random grab from the library. Neat take on someone actually getting super powers and the guy who remains his best friend through it.

The Wake – Snyder (comic)

Ditto random. Award winning comic. Decent.

Neonomicon – Alan Moore (comic)

Alan Moore turns his genius to modernising Lovecraft. Really fantastic, and easily the darkest and nastiest thing I have read by him. So good.

Ecko Rising – Danie Ware

Random genre novel from the library on a whim. Sort of a sf/fantasy mashup. Shades of Thomas Covenant without the prose ability. A heavily implanted hi-tech assassin wakes up in a fantasy world, doesn’t know what is going on but has some special abilities in the local sense. Fast, fun read.

New Spring – Robert Jordan

Never knew this existed until I found it and read it. A prequel to the Wheel of Time, which I read a bunch of when I was much younger, then gave up on 300 pages into book 6 when nothing had happened for those 300 pages. This prequel features Lan and Moiraine 20 years before the first book, and how they got to where they got to at the start of the first book. It was really fun to reconnect with that world, though man does Jordan go on and on. Like, a hundred pages of this book could have been summarised in a paragraph or twp, but the depth of the world is amazing.

What I Learned Losing A Million Dollars – Jim Paul

Really useful book about when to get out, and how not to lose money, and the inner psychological game of money and investing. Biggest takeaway is this amazing question: if you were not already in your current situation, would you want to get into it?

The White Lama – Alejandro Jodorowsky (comic)

Fun times as Jodo does Tibet.

An Interpretation of Universal History – Ortega y Gasset

This was actually pretty fascinating. Dude takes on Toynbee’s model of history by showing that the Rome Toynbee takes as an exemplar of civilisation never existed on those terms.

Guide to Tranceformation – Richard Bandler

Bandler returns and summarises his life’s work. Best book you could get on NLP.

Ancillary Justice – Ann Leckie

Hugo Award winner? Real good for reasons it is difficult not to give spoilers about. Slowly uncovering just who the main character is and their history is exceptional.

Infinite Jest – David Foster Wallace

Read about 4/10 of it, which is an immense amount of this tome. It is incredible and Wallace is obvious genius and deserving of whatever praise is heaped upon him. Still, too long, eh? Gargantuan, genius, very funny, very dark, very empathic. No wonder the poor bugger topped himself. Sort of hope to get back to it someday.

Radical Acceptance – Tara Brach

Skimmed it. Woo Buddhist positive psychology.

Bold – Peter Diamandis

Very very interesting book about accelerating change and exponential technologies and what that means for changing the world via business. We are living in very interesting times.

Man’s Search for Meaning – Victor Frankl

Classic book by psychiatrist holocaust survivor about the experience of Auschwitz and what separated those who survived from those who didn’t. Incredible, powerful, stark view into humanity, and what is really important. Essential.

Ancillary Sword – Ann Leckie

Sequel to the above. Still enjoyable but much less interesting since most of what there is to be revealed has been revealed.

Magic and Mystery in Tibet – Alexandra David-Kneale

Woo. If you only read one book on Tibet, this is the one. French woman travels around Tibet in the early 1900s, spending time with hermits and magicians and in monasteries and documenting her experience and the stories people told her. There was some wild and crazy shit happening in Tibet, and credible miraculousness.

6 Months to 6 Figures – Peter Voogd

Sharp, punchy, entrepreneurial book. I rate it.

The Metabarons – Alejandro Jodorowsky (comic)

Jodorowsky’s masterwork, in a number of ways. A lot of what would have gone into Dune made its way into this. Mindfuckingly epic account of a thoroughly unreasonable lineage as they tear the galaxy apart.

Graveyard Book – Neil Gaiman

Read a chapter, Gaiman doing storytelling, was not in the mood.


Moore does Lovecraft in Lovecraft era. Still coming out. Nice.

The Death Cure – James Dashner

Third part of the Maze Runner trilogy. Saw the first movie randomly, the second movie is way better and I recommend it, read this cos I couldn’t be bothered waiting for the third movie. A lot must have changed in the second book to movie adaptation. Anyhow. Decent enough. Very YA.

Beyond the Beautiful Forevers – Katherine Boo

Absolutely extraordinary. Pulitzer prize winning journalist gets to know slum dwellers in Mumbai over several years. Writes up an eventful period of their lives as a novel, essentially nonfiction but written novelistically and based on immense interviews etc. Shattering, profound.

Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself – David Lipsky

Lipsky spent a week interviewing David Foster Wallace on the last leg of the book tour launching Infinite Jest, as Wallace was in the process of going stratospheric. Fascinating as an account of a guy coping with the descent of fame, and as an insight into a remarkable mind. A film of it came out, End of the Tour, haven’t seen it.

Hard To Be A God – Arkady and Boris Strugatsky

Russian SF from way back. Russian observer-scientists go to another planet to document the Renaissance happening in a medieval world… except it doesn’t seem to be happening, if anything, a reversion to barbarism is underway. Great novel. I read it cos I saw the insane, incomprehensible film version at the film festival a year or two ago, and wanted to know what the hell actually happened.

The Magus – John Fowles

The first 3/4 of this are an astonishing novel. The end, well, lost me a bit. But hell, the quality of Fowle’s prose, and the intensity and observation he brings to bear, are exceptional, and the dizzying weirdness of the island and the elaborate charade the narrator is caught up in is unforgettable.

The Three-Body Problem – Cixin Liu

Modern Chinese SF, apparently a bestseller there. Very unique take on first contact and Earth being invaded by aliens, through a very different cultural and historic lens. Recommended.

Killer in the Rain – Raymond Chandler

Early novella from Chandler.

Teaching the Dog to Sing – Jonathan Carroll

Recent novella from Carroll, whom I hadn’t read in years. Alright, I guess.

Harvest – Jim Crace

Multi award winning Irish novel of the end of the era of peasant farming before enclosure. Beautifully written.

Blood Meridian – Cormac McCarthy

McCarthy’s most intense and darkest vision of the old West. If it was the first thing of his I’d read it would have taken my head off. Incredible evocation of landscape and nature and random brutality and the ugliness of humanity, in astonishing prose.

A Visit From The Goon Squad – Jennifer Egan

Pulitzer prize winning novel, told through a bunch of different tangentially related characters set over many years, about growing up and the changes time wrings. Really well done.

The King’s Justice – Stephen Donaldson

Fantasy novella from a real master of fantasy. Good good shit.

Beasts of No Nation – Uzodinma Uweale

Novel about a child soldier somewhere in Africa caught up in a cycle of senseless violence and destruction. Short and unpleasant. Weirdly similar vibe to Blood Meridian, come to think of it.


new draft

just got to write “the end”, two sweet words to write after the preceding 60000 or so, of the first draft of a new novel.

it feels rather too long since I have said this.

but anyway, I know this is where the work begins, and sometime I need to read it and see what I have done and what needs doing, but it is a definite milestone in the process, and for now I can sigh and go flump.

undulating ungulate turned 10 years old a month or so back

undulatingungulate turned 10 years old in September, I have belatedly noticed.


In that time 1125 posts have accumulated, and the world and internet have changed a great deal. Blogging is not what it was when I began pre facebook, twitter, social media, smartphones, apps, etc. These days it is all narrow-casting and niche-focus to build an audience for a blog, whereas the ungulate has been all over various places in its day. Thanks to anyone out there who still reads! Hopefully you’ve got something out of the various content and musings…




Lovecraft, magic, and belief

“A few months before he died Lovecraft wrote to a friend, ‘If the Necronomicon legend continues to grow, people will end up believing in it.'”

— Grimoires: A History of Magic Books – Owen Davies (p268)

Trump vs Sanders 2016: The Battle for America’s Soul

Even having dropped out of deep politics chasing, the US election looms large and wild eyed this year. Something about the truly preposterous nature of the Republican candidature, a rogue’s gallery of lunacy. And the almost unbelievable emergence of what seems an honest decent man from within the US political system, who talks sense, and, on paper as of now, has a shot at becoming the Democratic presidential nominee, and hence President.

As of now, we face an extraordinary potential Presidential election in 2016: Donald Trump against Bernie Sanders.

Let’s take a moment to grok this in all its poetic beauty as it encapsulates the world and its tensions.

On the one hand, Trump. An exemplar of the 1%: a billionaire, full of confidence, bluster and delusion, but doubtless some real ruthlessness and business cunning. An exemplar of the hype and emptiness of American culture: a candidate essentially making it on his celebrity status from The Apprentice. An exemplar of the very particular type of ignorance insularity and success bring: he’s lived in a world where he can have anything he wants, and doesn’t need to engage with reality the way lesser mortals do. A guy who has announced he is willing to nuke Iran. (Hell, nuke anywhere and you are frankly not the same moral species as me.)

On the other hand, Sanders. This clip was my introduction to Sanders. Five minutes of off-the-cuff comments, nailing lucidity and informed sanity. Seriously, it’s like a litany. Long standing independent, tried to get campaign finance reform, voted against Patriot Act, against Iraq War, is against TPPA. Preaches a necessary political revolution to bring politics back into being a democracy rather than an oligarchy and seems to mean it. Is old enough he doesn’t seem to mind if they shoot him for standing up for working people.

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So there we have it. A perfect choice. The fate of a nation’s soul. And, unfortunately, quite a lot of the world.
I love the symbolism. Seven years ago I called that
Barack Obama will, and needs to, win the election to demonstrate to America that they can still be great. Electing a black president just forty years after segregation ended will help wash away the sour taste of Bush.
Today, the choice is even simpler. Does America want a future? Does it want the world to have a future?
Peak oil, climate change, the multi-polar world of emergent China, the festering hotspots of the Middle East. Who does America choose to guide them through this?
Choose death and ignorance, a dream long since turned sick and nightmarish. Or choose life, integrity and sanity.
(Also: if we end up with Bush vs Clinton, again, this in itself is a defacto vote for disaster and the replacement of the West as world leader. Both represent the system, and the system will fail to respond in time. Trump just represents a will to death. Sanders seems legitimately the only hope for the US to have continued relevance (as anything other than a feared maniacal warmonger in the global ‘hood) and reform itself, and it is frankly a miracle he has emerged.
The terror, of course, is that in the US system, the guy with the most money usually wins. And guess who that is.)

The TPPA, New Zealand, and Sovereignty

The TPPA is a “trade deal” negotiated in secret that the leaked chapters reveal goes far beyond trade. Once signed, the TPPA will be extremely difficult to exit.

The key issue is sovereignty. Leaks reveal the TPPA will override the ability of nations who sign to determine their own laws, and open them up to massive lawsuits from foreign corporations if they do.

New Zealand has a very particular history with sovereignty, which allows a simple one sentence objection to the TPPA to be phrased:

The TPPA does for New Zealand sovereignty what the Treaty of Waitangi did for Maori sovereignty.

ie it cheats us out of it by stealth without our intending to give it away.

This I think communicates the situation in a way that all New Zealanders should grasp somewhat viscerally.

“Free trade” at the cost of sovereignty – our right to make decisions for ourselves – is far too expensive.

NZ should refuse to sign the TPPA.

At the least the government should make the TPPA’s text available to citizens so they can decide for themselves. (Appropriate, as it may be the last chance we get to decide something for ourselves.)

Since our leaders will not do that, New Zealanders should, frankly, actively engage their right to civil disobedience to communicate with our leaders that we do not want a deal on these terms. Because sovereignty and freedom are too important to give up without a fight.


the NZ flag debate


So far I have avoided comment on this because I think it is a giant waste of time. But now I think I can express why in a single sentence.

The only good time, and the only good reason, for New Zealand to change our flag is when we become a republic.

It is that simple.

Presently there is no good reason, no compelling reason, no necessity to change our flag.

The consultation process has been a bad joke, and the four “options” are uninspiring to say the least. It is not worth changing the flag to one of those designs for no particular reason, or “branding”. The resurgent Red Peak design at least looks like a flag, but why bother changing to that, even if we were allowed to?

However, when we someday become a republic, it will be entirely appropriate to select a new flag as befits a mature country celebrating its identity and independence. That flag will have meaning.

NZIFF 2015 in review

Belief: The Possession of Janet Moses

Fascinating and disturbing re-enactment of the accidental murder of a Wainuiomata woman by her Maori family as they tried to lift a curse from her. Even handed doco leaves the reality of things open – the crux really is belief, what we believe to be true, and how that allows us to act – there is no doubt the family genuinely believed what they were doing was for the best. The film is really about putting you in the room with the extended family for five days as they stamp and chant and try to drive the spirit out. Intense, probably essential viewing for New Zealanders, and anyone interested in the clash between traditional/spiritual beliefs and the modern world. (From the director Q&A there is definitely more to the story, but this holds up.) Also works as a straight up horror movie about people going insane.


Shot in one take, starting at about four in the morning, as a young women meets some guys at a club and things end up going in a very unexpected direction. Really solid and enjoyable. Big recommendation; try to avoid spoilers.

Inherent Vice

Stoned surfer private investigator in the 1970s takes a shaggy dog trip through the conspiracy haze of the day. Adapted from a Pynchon novel, lots of fun and very well done but not really having a discernable point.

The Colour of Pomegranates

Famous 1969 Russian/Armenian film. A sort of impressionistic/symbolic biography of an artist that unfortunately pretty much plays like the most excessive and pretentious student art film of all time. Punishingly bad with a few striking images.

The Assassin

Chinese period piece about a female assassin in 7th Century or so China. Looked pretty great, didn’t really seem that interested in telling its story, extremely stylish and very enjoyable however.

Alice Cares

Doco about trialling Alice, a robot with AI in it, to hang out with elderly people with dementia both as companionship and to help keep track of their lives for them. As proof of concept, it works. Alice has a realistic face and expressions, and talks well enough and naturally enough and follows up enough that a relatively normal conversation is possible. She can look things up online and remember information and help people do exercises. This is like an early cellphone, in terms of AI, so we are heading in this direction. Still somehow uncanny and discomforting conceptually. You are left wanting there to be more going on in Alice herself, and it is somehow off that there isn’t, once you have bonded with her a little. A necessary glimpse of our changing world and what is coming. Big big recommendation.

10000 Years Later

CGI animation, set 10000 years after present day. More of a kids movie than I expected. The story is trite and the characterisation lacking, but its environmental etc themes are apt. overall, pretty cheeseball with some excellent design. Would recommend watching it with the sound off and your own soundtrack and improvise your own story.

Embrace of the Serpent

Awesome. Mostly black and white film about two explorers, one following the journals of the other, travelling in the jungle in search of ayahuasca, and their encounters with the same shaman across time. The film is based on real accounts, including that of Richard Evans Schultes, who, among other things, introduced magic mushrooms to the West. Gets very surreal. But yeah wonderful and huge recommendation if this sounds remotely your kind of thing.

The Look of Silence

Companion piece to The Act of Killing (which was my film of the year of 2013, and remains the most striking and necessary film I have seen in years), returning to Indonesia and the aftermath of the mass killings of the 1960s. This film follows Adi as he seeks to engage with the men who murdered his brother, among a million others, and offer them forgiveness.

This screening had a Q&A with Joshua Oppenheimer, the director, which was fabulous.

I don’t really know what to say other than these two films are totally necessary and about the highest example of the documentary art, especially in terms of their real world impact; they have opened a dialogue for change within Indonesia that continues to gain momentum.

Tale of Tales

Inconsistent, opulent, byzantine melange of fairy tales with dark and unexpected twists. Totally worth a look, though somehow unsatisfying as a whole.

Cemetery of Splendor

Woo. The way Apichatpong Weerasethakul (director of Uncle Boonme Who Can Remember His Past Lives) blends the mundane and the supermundane is an achievement of the greatest artistry. His films are gentle, meandering and bizarre. So strange and lovely, and quietly unsettling. This one is set in a makeshift hospital with soldiers struck down with a sleeping sickness, and follows a woman volunteering there. Somehow from there we drift into a world with looser boundaries. Goddesses stop by for tea. The openness of Thai culture to the spirit world grounds the weirdness. Glorious and not remotely like anything else in film, I will keep going to this guy’s films. Challenging in unexpected ways.

on the dangers of sympathetic magic when choosing one’s national animal

“With no colourful plumage or a beautiful song to attract his mate, the male kiwi has developed the strategy of persistence. He follows her about, grunting. If uninterested, she may run away, or use her greater weight and size to see him off. However, if she is interested, mating takes place, three or more times a night during the peak of activity.”


“The kiwi female calls the shots during mating. If she loses interest she may wander away, leaving the male in an undignified heap on the ground.”


Jupiter Ascending (2015): Review

The Wachowski’s films are not subtle or particularly coherent. They layer on symbolism which gets generally missed. They use too much CGI and write awful dialogue. They have a tendency towards a detrimentally pseudo-scientific mysticism. This doesn’t stop them being great fun and actually trying to communicate something important through the medium of mass-appeal films.

I won’t comment on the plot or story, more the underlying structure.

Jupiter Ascending, essentially, is a gnostic parable about the archon Abraxas – a demonic entity here taking the form of a multi-headed galactic corporate dynasty dedicated to eternal life for itself (a greed paradoxically life-denying by denying death), lies, and profit (selfishness) – which seeded life on Earth for the purpose of profiting by farming its humans and turning them into the elixir that gives eternal life (ie) to feed itself. This, from a certain point of view, is a literal representation of reality, rendered in over the top symbolism. (The Matrix holds a similar pattern, with humans as energy cells feeding a power at a higher remove.) Our task of course is to wake up and free ourselves from this situation and redirect our life energies along fresh channels – or at least grooves not carved out by enslavement to our baser elements.

The world gets redeemed by the reincarnation of an element of Abraxas itself reborn as a human (Abraxas is genetically human – in a nice touch, we are our own demiurgic enslaver) who rejects the Abraxas hive-mind / business as usual, choosing instead to honor its humanity in all its toilet cleaning glory.

Along the way they throw in everything they can think of.  (Anime hair? Check. Ganesha? Check. Genetic werewolves with gravity surfing boots having lots of laser battles? Check. Cute nods to crop circles and alien interference on earth? Check. Princess fantasies? Check. Psychic bees? Check. Reality melting CGI everything? Check. Continual madly overdone design? Check. Villains talking like that? Check. Giant lizards? Check.)

Needless to say, the resulting film is completely bugfuck, and not entirely successful, but none of that matters. It is the imagination of a 12 year old from the 80s gone mad. It is an extremely fun ride ineptly pointing out the possibility of human spiritual transcendence. Approach it with the expectation of great silliness, and the possibility of something deeper for the unconscious to ponder.

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