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.


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)

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.

internet addiction (filters part 4)

Two months into the internet restriction protocol, here is a report.

The short version? It is great, a clear and definite improvement.

I have more time, more focus, and am getting more done. Of course, I have made other changes in my life which help with that, but this is definitely a factor, and a big one.

I am noticing old habits creep back a little – I check email more than I need to, that is for sure, though I do not touch my busiest account. Unsure if it is confidence that the habit is broken, or that it is just habit reasserting itself, and that I need to formally rededicate myself to the protocol. Writing this post is part of figuring that out.

Some longer rambling observations:

There is something weirdly addictive about the sense of power and control that comes with the internet, and using a computer in general.

For example, clearing my email inbox after a week away. I make decisions, little decisions, reading some, deleting others. Moving things around. Controlling the little world of my desktop. Arranging files. It as as if I am doing something real. And I am, in a little way. Organising information so it is where it needs to be for what I want to do next is an adjunct of organising my physical space to be the way it needs to be. Useful to the extent that it is necessary – creating a functional environment – but negative when it becomes obsessive or redundant – as with OCD cleaning.

On the days I access the internet, I want to check again, an hour after I just checked. Even though most of what was there for the last week was not essential. There is something addictive. Research indicates that irregular reinforcement schedules – never knowing when you are going to get another hit of whatever you are addicted to – is the most addictive timing, and email is that par excellence.

Once a week re-exposure to the flood of trivial information Facebook provides is addictive in its own way. It is easy. It never ends, the page will scroll down forever. Not quite a sugar hit. Not quite food. More conscious than breathing. Popcorn? Moreish even when you don’t want or need more. Even when it is rarely any better than it is, rarely rates more than a vague “Oh?” It turns out I have missed a couple of incidents in my wider community, but nothing it feels catastrophic to have missed; and surely some announcements of insight or life redirection have slipped by unnoticed.

(The one cheat I allow myself with Facebook is to occasionally log in just to send someone a message if it is the only way to get hold of them, but not look at anything else. I think directly communicating with people, and the ability to do that, is such a powerful thing it is odd to limit the ability to act on it when it is a conscious choice; the difference is in not checking obsessively for a reply, or just in case. There are many avenues of communication, and perhaps a thirty second phone call is the answer to many prolonged email waits.)

So I need to shore up the habits and restate the boundaries. It is about using the internet more consciously, and I feel like I have managed that. It is a powerful resource and tool, the trick is to corral it to just that; the danger is it can be an endless drift of youtube clips and pointless linkbait lists and sort of vaguely interesting articles, a gossip magazine collectively edited by your friends.

The biggest challenge in a way is finding something else to do. It is almost embarrassing. The internet is such an easy default. It is our generations television. Instead of just sitting down mindlessly with the remote and starting to flick, we sit down mindlessly in front of the internet and start to click.

I have watched more media – am I just replacing internet with TV downloaded from the internet? Certainly, discovering live streaming of the cricket world cup sucked some time. I am reading less at the moment since I am writing, so that is out as a distraction.

So yeah. Interesting and useful so far, will be an ongoing process of tweaking the protocol and observing the feedback.

internet restriction protocol (or Filters: Part Three)


Time and attention are two of the most precious resources we have, and the always on internet is one of the worst things for draining and disrupting those resources. (This is something I have been thinking about for a few years now.)  Most of the great thinkers, innovators and so on of the past had one thing in common – their ability to focus on what they were doing for hours at a time. This type of thinking is crucial to certain types of breakthrough and productive work. (I have a faint terror that the current generation will never even develop this capacity for extended focus.)

So I am embarking upon an internet restriction protocol. This is based on the observations I made a few years ago when I went and lived at the beach without internet, television or phone, and came to town only once a week at which point I checked email etc, and my dissatisfaction with my current experience of online mediated reality.

The protocol is essentially this: I am going to stop checking my email and social media accounts except for one day a week – Fridays. (I will likely check my business email address more regularly.) Within the protocol I am allowed to use the internet consciously, as a tool, in recognition of how embedded it is in life. (eg) internet banking, buying stuff, research, Skypeing. But then get offline once I am done using it as a tool.

The key is to avoid general browsing and mindless clicking on things that leads to more clicking. I like the idea of checking my /mutants list on Twitter once a week for an hour as my information gathering phase.

The goal is to be offline as much as possible; to shift that fundamental practice, to realign my sense ratios, and re-engage more consciously with the world. After spending a week lying under trees at Kiwiburn, I realised again that I don’t miss most of the online world. I acknowledge it is somehow important, but hypothesise that this importance can be successfully and accurately valued within the confines of one day a week.

I suspect that one day a week is enough to stay informed/connected in terms of email and social media. If anything really important happens I assume someone will call or txt.

I do plan to spend some of the time freed up hanging out with people in meatspace, pursuing a better quality of connection.

I anticipate getting more done in general, writing more in particular, and being happier overall.

I may blog from time to time about the results of this experiment in attention and filtering. I invite anyone else who feels inclined to join in the experiment.

Einstein on the prison of the senses


‘A human being is part of a whole, called by us “universe”, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separated from the rest… a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.’

– Albert Einstein.

Buckminster Fuller on changing perspective


“Repeatedly, on different occasions, as I gazed heavenward at the celestial orbs, I struggled to perceive myself as looking “out” instead of “up”.

It worked.

Suddenly, on a drive in the Mojave Desert, there came a moment as sun and horizon began to merge, when I really was looking out from the surface of Spaceship Earth. I found myself feeling for the first time a passenger on a great sphere hurtling through the cosmos. Venus was just coming into view, and the nearly full moon was at the eastern horizon. Sun, moon and planet described the great arc of the ecliptic. At that instant I knew the location of poles and Equator. I felt a sense of place, of proper relation, that I had never known before.

My awareness of the world, the whole universe, was revolutionized, transfigured, in an instant. For the first time, my felt experience of reality was coinciding with what my intellect had long known to be true. It was an initiation, a rite of passage. I felt for the first time a citizen of the cosmos. I was no longer tied to a language-conditioned flat earth.

And there was a sense of communion with all humanity, with all living things, in the knowledge that we were all related through one common center, earth’s center of gravity, all passengers on an infinitely precious star-faring vessel.

I know others who have shared the same experience. It is joyous, in that something old is suddenly seen in a new light. It is awesome, because it affords a glimpse at a reality far grander than we have been conditioned to perceive. And it is sobering, because it reveals how deeply conditioned (mesmerized, if you will) we can all be by habitual patterns of language and thought.”


– From Fuller’s Earth – Buckminster Fuller


birthday mutants


The mental side effects of travelling into space. Interesting historical survey of the break-off phenomenon.

The myth of AI. Jaron Lanier being interestingly iconoclastic again. Watch or read at the link.

I want to go little deeper in it by proposing that the biggest threat of AI is probably the one that’s due to AI not actually existing, to the idea being a fraud, or at least such a poorly constructed idea that it’s phony. In other words, what I’m proposing is that if AI was a real thing, then it probably would be less of a threat to us than it is as a fake thing.

Retired US army general, author of “Why We Lost”, explaining the truth about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

We did not understand the enemy, a guerrilla network embedded in a quarrelsome, suspicious civilian population. We didn’t understand our own forces, which are built for rapid, decisive conventional operations, not lingering, ill-defined counterinsurgencies. We’re made for Desert Storm, not Vietnam. As a general, I got it wrong. Like my peers, I argued to stay the course, to persist and persist, to “clear/hold/build” even as the “hold” stage stretched for months, and then years, with decades beckoning. We backed ourselves season by season into a long-term counterinsurgency in Iraq, then compounded it by doing likewise in Afghanistan. The American people had never signed up for that.

The future of autonomous weaponry – the ethics of bombs that pick their own targets.


sunday mutants 6-10-14


Half the world’s wildlife has died off in the past 40 years.

I don’t even really know where to go from there. That this isn’t screamed on every street corner and causing a shut down of our entire society as we stop and have a hard think about what we are doing tells you that yes we are the bad guys.

As a related one, here is a funding campaign for a doco about the relationship between the Parsi and the vultures which is a fascinating example of our interdependence with nature. When nature dies, we lose too.

* “The largest ever fleet of robotic submarines is setting of from the Isles of Scilly to explore the ocean depths.” – just in case you forgot you were living in the future.

* ISIS selling Iraq’s artifacts on black market

* The Amazon/Hachette battle and politics. Definitely an interesting read for those following this one.

* This is just weird. Scientology and Nation of Islam unite to stop killing in Ferguson?

Though it is pretty hard to imagine Scientology caring about poor clients.

Check out this astounding interview with L Ron Hubbard jr, who details the early days of Scientology, and effectively calls out what works as black magic, and the rest as blackmail and extortion. I can pretty much guarantee it will be the wildest thing you read this week.

* Sexual consent app good2go launches. Definitely interesting, though kinda weird as it logs the yesses and identities…

* Turning down the lights can turn down your emotions.

“Whether you are feeling really good or really bad, emotions are felt more intensely when the ambient lighting is brighter, according to recent research.

Since many decisions are made under strong lighting conditions, turning down the lights may help you make less emotional decisions.”

* An uh-oh moment in the great uncontrolled experiment with our technology and our minds

” For the first time, neuroscientists have found that people who use multiple devices simultaneously have lower gray-matter density in an area of the brain associated with cognitive and emotional control (Loh & Kanai, 2014).”



late july mutants

Now this is kind of mind-blowing: Global wildlife decline driving slave labor, organized crime.

“Global decline of wildlife populations is driving increases in violent conflicts, organized crime and child labor around the world, according to a policy paper led by researchers at the University of California, Berkeley.”

Good Amazon: Amazon is making a pilot for a TV show based on Philip K Dick’s The Man in The High Castle.

Bad Amazon: about 900 writers have joined a campaign against Amazon’s treatment of Hachette. This is an interesting flashpoint in the future of publishing.

The times they are a-changing. The editorial board of the New York Times just came out for marijuana reform in America.

“It has been more than 40 years since Congress passed the current ban on marijuana, inflicting great harm on society just to prohibit a substance far less dangerous than alcohol.

The federal government should repeal the ban on marijuana.”

Oh and also, California passed a bill to legalise complementary currencies.

This one is probably the must-read of the batch, and one I will return to when I have a bit more brain focus: Evgeny Morozov on algorythmic regulation. Kinda the convergence point of smart-everything, big data, and social control.

What’s New In Social Science? EDGE curated, 10 speakers, 6 hours of video,  58000 word PDF, all free, “focusing on the state of the art of what the social sciences have to tell us about human nature”.

Saw the excellent doco “Jodorowsky’s Dune” yesterday, about the greatest movie almost made. In synchronicity, came across this quote about Frank Herbert and Dune:

Frank went on to tell me that much of the premise of Dune — the magic spice (spores) that allowed the bending of space (tripping), the giant worms (maggots digesting mushrooms), the eyes of the Freman (the cerulean blue of Psilocybe mushrooms), the mysticism of the female spiritual warriors, the Bene Gesserits (influenced by tales of Maria Sabina and the sacred mushroom cults of Mexico) — came from his perception of the fungal life cycle, and his imagination was stimulated through his experiences with the use of magic mushrooms.

Buy your own giant plush Ebola Virus toy. No, seriously.




And Earth just had its hottest June ever, boosted by hottest ocean temperatures.

Hmm. That may be enough for an hour and half of trawling, have a few long pieces queued up to read still…


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