going offline

Righto. It is time once again to refocus energy and attention on writing, and cut away distractions.

I will be basically offline for the next however long while writing the new draft of Mosaic.

What this means:

  • I am not reading your blog
  • I am not checking facebook or twitter
  • I may blog occasionally, and do an hour of mutants trawling.
  • I will check email occasionally.
  • If you want me to know something, tell me. Txt or direct email.
  • I will actually be available in meatspace to interact. Just not online.

Cheers.

 

Reading 2012, vol 1

 

Kept getting behind on keeping this updated and now we are halfway through the year. (Of course you care what I am reading. Yes. Of course.)

Has been lots of fantasy, as it was easy to read to fill time on set, and I guess doubling as research while preparing to rewrite Mosaic. And lots of business related stuff. And all sorts of weirdness as research for various things. Also bought a bunch of books online that it will be nice to get to someday.

 

Black Gods – CL Moore

Early fantasy short stories featuring the same female lead character which form a loose sequence. Very romantic and dark, striking journeys into strange otherworlds. (If Rhiannon is out there, you need to read this, as Jirel of Joiry will doubtless come to hold a special place in your heart.)

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms – NK Jemisin

Recent fantasy. Quite different from anything else I have read. Really “chick-fantasy”, in terms of its wish fulfillment angle, as opposed to the more usual masculine wish-fulfilment patterns. Probably (intentionally) quite Freudian. Really easy to read and page turny, but fairly empty by the end.

Soul Mountain – Gao Xingian

Chinese Nobel prize winner. Two narrative streams, one first person, one second person. Actually didn’t finish this, as it required more focus than reading on set allowed. Pretty odd.

The Education of Millionaires – Michael Ellsberg

Dude went off and interviewed a clutch of millionaires and billionaires who never went to university, and found out what they did, draws lessons from it. Interesting and useful.

The Secret History of Moscow – Ekaterina Sedia

Quite peculiar urbanish fantasy set in contemporary Russia. Obvious comparisons to Gaiman’s Neverwhere while being entirely its own thing. Stark and strange and fantastical, delving into a different mythology and history, with an ending that was suprising and moving.

SPIN selling – Neil Rackham

The largest study ever of sales. At the time anyway. Supposedly classic best book on selling ever. Pretty fascinating revealing of the psychology of sales and the underlying decision making process.

Tranceformations – Bandler and Grinder

Somehow I had never read this despite having it for years. Very much the NLP/hypnosis crossover book. Lots of NLP is in fact hypnosis by another name, as they owe much to Milton Erickson, but the way they go about it is a different kettle of fish.

Prime Chaos – Phil Hine

Classic of chaos magic. A rare reread.
Do the Work – Steven Pressfield

Short punchy self helpy thing I read on a recommendation, as a comparison with one of my nonfiction drafts. Alright.

Shade the Changing Man by Peter Milligan,

Reread a couple of trades of this classic series by Milligan, which is still really good, and pretty wild. When the lead character’s main power is madness, I’m not even going to try and describe what it is about, other than ripping American culture a new ass.

(Also randomly read a couple of his Hellblazer trades, wherein Constantine gets married. Fun times.)

Paladin of Souls – Lois McMaster Bujold

World Fantasy Award winner. Sumptuous, romantic, high fantasy. Lead character is a middle aged woman, which is pretty unusual. Uses the genre very intelligently to tell a good story, with a different sort of perspective and manner.

Onward to our Noble Deaths – Shigeri Mizuki

Autobiographical comic about the Japanese war experience in WWII. Sounds like being in the Japanese military sucked. Punchline is the dude’s unit going on a (fairly strategically unnecessary) suicide charge on some island in the Pacific. Many of them somehow survived. They were then forced to go on another suicide charge, as it had already been reported that their unit had completed a suicide charge, and they were officially dead. This happened to the cartoonist’s unit – he only lived to tell the story by being in hospital with malaria at the time, and therefore not being already reported dead.

The Light of the I – Georg Kuhlewind

Obscure Hungarian philosopher writing about meditation. Quiet genius.

The Name of the Wind – Patrick Rothfuss

One of the most loved fantasy epics of recent years, deservedly so. One of the best one of these in a hell of a long time. Very much at the masculine wish fulfillment end of things, as we follow the main character become the most badass motherfucker ever, but classy, humane, and smart. Lots of fun.

The Queen’s Conjurer - Benjamin Woolley

A freaking excellent biography of Dr John Dee, all around Renaissance man and advisor at times to Queen Elizabeth I, and Emperor Rudolf. Exceptional realisation of the times, their complexity and madness. Despite having largely been written out of history due to his involvement with magic, Dee was at the forefront of thought, contributing to many disciplines, and was incidentally one of the co-discovers of the Nova which demonstrated the previous model of reality was indeed broken.

50 Prosperity Classics.

Skimmed it. Basically condenses books into a few pages, which does seem a better idea than reading all the books in question.

How To See Fairies – Ramsey Dukes

The inimitable Ramsey Dukes’ latest is a manual on how to develop psychic powers. Still working through it ;)
The Exegesis of Philip K Dick

Absolute grade-A hardcore mindcrack. After the visionary experiences Dick had in 1974, which he wrote about in Valis and other books, Dick wrote around 10000 pages trying to work out what the hell was going on, Various experiences continued happening, too. This is about a thousand pages of it, edited together. Epic, amazing, wonderful. Have really only scratched the surface, but it is all generally fascinating and mindblowing, and occasionally really rather sad. Will be something to own and cherish and dive into at random, I suspect.

The Very Best of Fantasy & Science Fiction,

Their 60th anniversary best-of. A pretty damn solid collection. Biggest find: Ted Chiang.

The Real Frank Zappa Book by Frank Zappa.

Entertaining but inessential, didn’t finish. Weird how everyone else in his life seems weirder than him, the King of Weird.

Reinventing the Sacred – Stuart Kaufman

Mostly a skim. Interesting enough. Is what it sounds like, bridging science and sacred.

The Truth About Stories – Thomas King

Native (canadian) indian storyteller delivers lectures about the nature of story, and specifically, the various constructions of Indian identity via story over time since contact with the white man. Exceptional use of form to demonstrate content; a treasure.

Prisons We Choose to Live Inside – Doris Lessing

Set of lectures which uses history and social psychology as a leaping off point to examine human nature. Pretty interesting.

Ecstasies: Deciphering the Witches Sabbath – Carlo Ginzburg

Wow. Now this is some deep academic pointy-head-ness. Exhaustively researched, makes a tangled argument (something like) that the persecution of witches in the middle ages evolved out of persecution of Jews and lepers, with the crimes attributed slowly shifting; but that during the witch trials, a whole bunch of interesting stuff comes to light; the uniformity of confessions was due to the torture and the manual followed, but within that, often what is revealed were genuine local traditions in many places; these, plus other stuff, over time gives rise to a sense of a thousand years or so continuity of folk magic practices and beliefs, which initially seem to track back to a celtic origin, but digging further, he sees as an evolution from an essence of Eurasian shamanic practices. Wongo. Hard going but worthy if the subject area grabs you.

Seven For a Secret – Elizabeth Bear

Short novel. Piece of shit. Grabbed from library at a whim to check out the author. Werewolves, vampires, alternate history… competent prose but totally uninteresting.

Making Good – Billy Parish, Dev Aujla

Inspirational business book about making companies that make a difference, and finding a non-evil green sustainable niche, ethically. Good shit. Very right on and right now.

The Three Halves of Ino Moxo – Cesar Calvo

Hoo-ah. Dizzying poetic book about ayahuasca; one of the most extraordinarily structured things I have ever encountered, multiple overlapping threads and timelines, as stories and meta-stories revolve, and come together, eventually to staggering effect. Uses a tale of a quest to visit a legendary shaman in the jungle for his teachings as the format for a tale told in the structure of an ayahuasca session over one evening. Or something. Deeply weird and disorienting for most of the ride, but ultimately magnificent in the most surprising way, illuminating a very different culture and mindset, not to mention the world of ayahuasca itself. (Nonfiction, if that wasn’t clear.)

Nobody Move – Denis Johnson

After winning the National Book Award for his epic last book (Tree of Smoke), Johnson kicks back with a taut deadpan crime noir. I have collected a few of his books, oddly this was the first I read. Funny and tight, but crime is just not my genre.

Te Wheke – Rangimarie Turuki Pere

Ancient Maori wisdom revealed. Nice.

Trail of the Hawk - Cornelius van Dorp

Folks from NZ take pounamu to various american indian tribes, possibly as fulfilment of ancient indian prophecy. Um. Unusual. Interesting that people are out there doing this kind of thing, though.

In Search of the Southern Serpent – Hamish Miller, Barry Brailsford

More outré than my usual taste. Specific research. The guy that mapped major energy lines across the UK and Europe came to NZ a bunch, hooked up with a guy that knows Maori legends and history, and went off to see what he could find here, dowsing NZ power spots. Again, interesting that these people are out there.

Currently on:

Voice of the Fire – Alan Moore

Finally getting around to this! Hard going but truly extraordinary visionary prose.

Coming soon, probably:

A World Without Time – Palle Yourgrau. Which looks incredible.

 

 

I also feel like I have read lots of bits of stuff as research – eg, Stolen Continent, Wayfinders, etc.,and maybe forgotten some stuff entirely…

sunday mutants

been a while

 

Grant Morrison just got given an MBE. There is so much awesome, yet so much wrong, in that statement. I guess the Queen never read the Invisibles.

THC seems pretty good at curing some cancers. I was told this anecdotally a while back. Now here is a random webpage saying it too.

Adam Curtis’ history of counterinsurgency. Stellar as ever.

Malcolm Gladwell Unmasked. Pretty brutal take-down of Malcolm Gladwell as a big-corporate shill.

From Jamais Cascio’s 9 meditations on complexity

8. The only way to reduce and resolve the complexity of a given situation is to reduce its level of interconnection with other systems; doing so, however, can undermine the value or power of the given system, and will alter the systems to which it was once connected.

9. In other words, the opposite of “complex” is not “simple,” the opposite of”complex” is “isolated.”

Over on Twitter, Nils Gilman nails a heckuva question:

The effective delivery of social services has been the cornerstone of the “performance legitimacy” of modern states. (1/2)

The critical political question of our time is: how can the state justify the loyalty of its citizens in a post-welfare state world? (2/2)

and John Robb notes

The hilarious part about the Greek default is that its total debt (public and private) is only 170% of GDP. In the US, it is 370%.

And finally, a friendly reminder from the Great Beast 666 himself:

Why should you study and practice Magick? Because you can’t help doing it, and you had better do it well than badly. – Aleister Crowley

 

That’s all for now.

 

the haka as a hymn to Egyptian-Sun-God Ra

 

One of the things about reading lots of weird shit is you come across some weird shit.

Anyhow. Any New Zealander, and a good chunk of the world, will know the haka performed by the All Blacks: Ka Mate. It is variously claimed to attributed to Te Rauparaha, or as being much older, but one that he pulled out of his hat at a particular moment now enshrined in story.

The usual translation is something like;

Tis death! ‘tis death! (or: I may die) ’Tis life! ‘tis life! (or: I may live)

’Tis death! ‘tis death! ’Tis life! ‘tis life!

This is the hairy man

Who brought the sun and caused it to shine

A step upward, another step upward!

A step upward, another… the Sun shines!

(When I was a kid we had a tea towel with a haka translation on it, I remember more about he hairy man, and it seeming pretty weird as a thing for the All Blacks to sing.)

Anyway. So in something weird I was reading I came across a reference to the work of Professor Barry Fells, who ended up tracing lots of ancient language stuff, and more or less arguing that lots of Polynesian languages were descended from ancient Egyptian/Libyan dialects.

In his rendering of the haka via ancient linguisticky stuff, it would translate as:

It is fulfilled, it is fulfilled, Ra has risen, Ra has risen!

It is fulfilled, it is fulfilled, Ra has risen, Ra has risen!

This is the resurrection from the dead. Ascending, ascending,

From out of the abyss. Give light unto us. Cause the Sun to rise!

To rise up! To shine! Rise up, leap up O Ra!

 

Which just strikes me as way cooler.

I mean, seriously, the notion that everyone in this country knows by heart a hymn to an Egyptian sun-God, that rocks.

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(It works better as an invocation of Ra, doesn’t it?)

((Our rugby team has a six thousand year old sun god in our corner, fools. No wonder you don’t stand a chance.))

Fells’ work is not accepted in the mainstream AFAIK, and I haven’t read the original. Just noting it as an awesome orthagonal piece of weirdness.

Review: Prometheus

 

Very pretty in 3D. Some excellent design work.

Undermined by crushing stupidity, que sera sera blockbuster. Every time an element is introduced it lands with a palpable thump that says this will matter soon. Almost nothing the characters did derived from character, just a need for the plot to have something particular happen right then, even if it meant incoherent inconsistent dumb.

Story arc fun on the way out as questions are raised – and I realise this is overwhelmingly my favourite portion of any narrative, when the mystery is in full flight but no answers in sight; this is also part of why my favourite works of fantasy are so precisely because they never lose that sense of mystery, suspension and wonder – but sadly the story is fairly disengaging by the end. Though, in a sense, the questions it was asking on the surface would be very difficult to answer satisfactorily in any medium, let alone the structural limitations of a blockbuster.

Possibly amazing symbolism going on beneath the stupid – spoiler heavy article well worth reading – but personally it doesn’t feel worth the effort to mine for it, since so much else failed. For me, a mark of quality in art requires a certain comprehensiveness, a wholeness of vision and delivery, lacking here.

Enjoyable for Hollywood, but swiftly forgettable.

rewatching Firefly

Firefly is one of my favourite TV shows ever. (I haven’t really watched much TV in the past decade, but even so.)

Recently I rewatched it, along with the film sequel, Serenity. For the past many many years, I have very rarely rewatched films, or reread books, and it is especially odd to rewatch a show. There is so much stuff out there, and in general I feel like I get most things pretty well first time. No particular reason to rewatch it, other than it just turned up in the flat, and a sort of influx of procrastination.

It is still really good. The core characters and performances are wonderful, with some spectacular guest turns. The story is open ended and dark and so full of potential. It really is a crime against television – what a weird concept, right there! – that this show was murdered by the studio.

The biggest difference on rewatching is the absence of tension. I know what is going on, who dies when, etc. This leads to much more innate deconstruction of the structure and hows of the thing. TV episodes can be a little thin, though they rocket by at the time; the dynamics of character tension demanded by the long format get a bit cyclic/repetitive, but then so does life.

Strait’s Kaylee is awesome. Summer Glau’s performance as River is actually fairly remarkable. Baldwin’s Jayne is funnier and dumber than I remember, and the dynamic of everyone dealing with a dumb but dangerous guy is fascinating. And the captain plays a little darker and more psychopathic than I remember; at least it is deeply gray, and foreshadows the moral vacuum Whedon explored in Dollhouse.

Seeing Serenity straight after the series, rather than after a gap of several years, was interesting. The look is so different (everyone is tanned!), as well as the feel. So much left unanswered.

The use of language is a real delight, and spills over into daily life. They just talk so damn cool. Why isn’t everyone talking like this? And I had forgotten where “shiny” entered my lexicon.

Hnmm. I suspect that rather than having anything much to say, I am typing this rather than doing something else.

But yeah. It holds up, and is well worth it if you have never had the pleasure.

In which I ramble about music for the first time in ages.

 

 

* The band I have listened to most in the past year or so is the Dutch group Within Temptation. This sort of surprises me, as I simultaneously grasp their deep silliness and total awesomeness. They are a kind of overblown symphonic gothic pop metal. I got into them late, via the superb live album Black Symphony. That is the obvious place to start, but parts of their latest album, The Unforgiving, have grown on me in a big way, and is what I want to point at. Initially I was disappointed with it as it seemed to have moved away from the symphonic side to a way more commercial/generic disco-pop feel - for some reason I get Pat Benatar 80s attitude magnified by a million with awesome production values out of it – when it comes together it is weirdly awesome, and should be mainstream huge.

This is the first single off it, Faster.

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* After the weird consolidation album following losing their singer, in which they tried out multiple vocalists, The Gathering have released a couple of free to download teaser tracks from their upcoming album. As ever, they are going in a new direction; these are both long, epic, kinda Floyd/prog/post-rock sprawling whatevers, while being entirely that something else that has evolved out of their process, that would probably actually appeal to people. Here is Meltdown. Here is Heroes For Ghosts.

 

(Happily, The Gathering’s phenomenal ex-vocalist Anneke van Giersbergen’s new solo album, her third, Everything is Changing, shows her finding her feet with her new band, and is the first one that is genuinely good/worth a look for non-rabid fans, sorta happy driving indie poppy guitar prettiness with, as ever, astounding vocals.)

 

* I rediscovered Blackstar’s neglected album, 1997′s Barbed Wire Soul. Blackstar were what most of the guys from Carcass went off to do. They are essentially an incredibly technical competent group of musos who know better playing awesome genius swaggering sleazy bluesy riffy fun hard rock, with Jeff Walker growling over the top; think like what Grinderman would have been if they were remotely interesting, happening a decade earlier. The whole album is solid.

Here is a random track off it.

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* Some kind of instrumental hip hop mix tape from some guy called Clams Casino. It is awesome. No idea where I got hold of it. (Serendipitous googling reveals apparently he has just released another one.)

 

* Locally, the most interesting thing that has emerged live lately is the avant-garde post-punk outfit All Seeing Hand. Click for their album, free. Well worth seeing live; their shows are shows.

 

In other news, I now have borrowed a bass, and a bass amp, and look forward to terrorising the neighbourhood with low frequency noise.