Reading 2012; volume 4

Consulting – Alan Weiss

Actually I forget the title, but it is a book about setting up a consulting business, and seems pretty sound.

Low Magick: It’s all in your head, you just have no idea how big your head is – lon Milo Duquette

Duquette is charming and funny and a wee bit scary. He recounts tales of his life and practice as a modern magician (of the summoning demons variety rather than rabbits out of hats) with verve and humour. Will be fascinating and entertaining for non-specialists, and very valuable for specialists, as there is a deceptive amount of experience in the stories.

Planetary / Freakangels – Warren Ellis

Randomly came across the final volumes of these series I had been reading years ago and completed them. Whee. Planetary, in particular, was a stretch into memory.

Magical Knowledge, volume 1, Foundations – Josephine McCarthy

Straight up no-bullshit experienced practitioner lets rip. The kind of book that is all too rare in a field of repetitious and conflated wank.

Future Science – Max Brockman (ed)

Curation of cutting edge scientists you’ve never heard of introducing their work to a general audience for the first time. Interesting enough, skimmed it.

Solving Tough Problems – Adam Kahane

Kahane wound up helping post-Apartheid South Africa come together and talk about their future, and ended up going from there to become a super-facilitator helping conflicting groups of people solve tough problems. This is a short book in which he shares his insights into the process – and also what makes problems complex, and how to approach each element of that complexity. Extremely worthwhile.

Language the Cultural Tool – Daniel Everett

Everett’s research with the Piraha and other Amazon tribes grounds the strongest challenge yet to Chomskyan linguistics and grammar’s notion of language as innate. Really interesting, vital if you have an interest in the area. Also pretty approachable for non-specialists interested in how we think and who we are.

The Story of Earth: The First 4.5 Billion Years – Robert Hazen

A biography of Earth from a geological time perspective. Really fun and lively telling. Argues minerals and life co-evolved, since life created the oxygen required for minerals to arise, and then life co-opted minerals to build itself better bodies. But that is a sideshow to the dazzling patina of Earth unfolding across the macro-scale.

This Will Make You Smarter – John Brockman (ed)

This year’s EDGE question features very many smart scientists and others answering the question “What shorthand abstraction or scientific concept would add to anyone’s mental toolkit?” Lots of fun and interesting stuff in here. Recommended. Heartening, in a way, how much of it was familiar to my own rants, while still lots of novelty.

Little, Big – John Crowley

I am a little in awe of what Crowley attempts and achieves. He has firmly entered  my personal pantheon of great writers (and is the only one of them still alive). His monumental-dwarfs-most-other-literature Aegypt quartet I have ranted about in previous of these posts.

Little, Big is a standalone fantasy novel from the early 80s- albeit one which boasts a front cover blurb quote from Ursula Le Guin saying that it singlehandedly calls for a redefinition of fantasy. And indeed it does; certainly it bears none of the usual trappings one calls to mind at the word “fantasy” these days. (Aegypt continues this development.)

Crowley more than transcends genre. This is pure literature, pure story, pure magic woven. I don’t really know where to begin describing it – I feel like almost any narrative description would just be wildly inaccurate. At heart perhaps a faerie tale, in the best possibly sense. Lovely, bizarre, wondrous, unique, deeply thoughtful, immaculately written, and yeah, again, woven with magic and a deep understanding of story and how we make meaning, and more. A joy and treasure.

 

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Other than that, read a little Chekov (who really is quite lovely), probably skimmed other things in abundance…

Living in the Homogocene

Just while we are on podcasts, this Seminar About Long Term Thinking by Charles C Mann has the highest signal to noise ratio of anything I have encountered in quite a while. He draws fascinating connections and flow on effects from the interactions and flows of people and objects in an interconnected world over the past few centuries.

His argument is that we are seeing a gradual but dramatic homogenization of Earth on a biological and ecological level through human actions since Colombus which is having massive effects.

From the bacteria that came with the West to decimate the Americas leading to a change in how humans existed in relation to the environment on that continent leading to a measurable change in global carbon levels and the ‘mini ice age’ that followed, through to the risks of the rubber industry being wiped out in a span of months today, to the effects of potatoes going West on European political stability, and maize and sweet potato entering into China leading to new areas being farmed which led to soil run off raising rivers that caused a hundred years of devastating flooding, and the fact of African’s higher immunity to malaria prompting the economic motivation and reality of slavery, it is a really deeply interesting perspective on how the interconnections and transfers between elements of the world create massive unpredictable changes.

Bits of that may sound familiar, but trust me, he is finding deeply fascinating and novel patterns in the data. Big big recommendation.