may mutants

and here are some links from the past week or so

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Curious about what the hell is actually going on in Nigeria and how kidnapping schoolgirls comes about? Check out this excellent backgrounding piece about Nigeria from a year ago, situating it in the wider war for the Sahel, among other things, and picking that everything was about to turn to shit.

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Wanna control your online data? Easy. Get an open source web server to run at home, and host all the apps you are using yourself, instead of leeching all your data away.

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Why we fear Google. Interesting open letter from a German business leader about the control and influence Google has.

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Is there any evidence rational argument changes people’s minds? Fascinating think piece.

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Extraordinary rendition of US citizens on US soil still legal, and Supreme Court refuses to hear case about it. Chris Hedges reporting about the literal slide to fascism in the USA; military can grab you and hold you indefinitely without due process.

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Oculus and Facebook want to build a billion person virtual reality massive multiplayer online game.

Just take a second to grok that.

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The IPCC’s reports were diluted under political pressure from the main fossil fuel powers.

Think about that. The IPCC warnings are already pretty damn terrifying, and this is the deliberately toned down justify doing nothing version.

 

Reading Feb/March 2014

Missed a month. I doubt anyone noticed.

 

A Life Decoded – Craig Venter

Autobiography by Venter, the scientist who led the team which sequenced the human genome, and is now the only scientist since Louis Pasteur who has his own research institute and enough funding to do whatever he wants. Fascinating insight into the process of big science – the pressures and corruption in both government and private funding – the truly other world billionaires exist in – big pharma being evil, etc. (Venter has been right at the heart of gene patenting issues, since he has identified more genes and synthesised more DNA than anyone else.) It is also an extreme introduction to the state of the art in biotechnology, as he explains what they did and how they did it (which involved inventing techniques and methods etc – forefront of science type stuff.)

Venter himself is an intense, interesting guy. Seems to deal with life crises by going on reckless dangerous boat adventures and achieving epiphanies. Definitely framed by his experiences as a medic in Vietnam. One of the people alive right now to watch, as what he does next has genuinely potential to change the world forever. Currently he is trying to synthesise life in the lab, and create custom bacteria to do useful things.

Richard Yates – Tao Lin

I didn’t finish this tale of a dysfunctional relationship between deeply dysfunctional people. The book reads like Tao Lin is probably mentally ill, and at least autistic. (So did the last one of his I read a few years back, Eeeee Eee Eeee, which I liked a lot more.) Unique prose and sensibility. Occasionally quite funny. But this one was ultimately broken and not giving enough back.

Mockingjay – Suzanne Clark

Last of the Hunger Games books, first I read, as I didn’t feel like waiting for two years and two more movies to find out how it ends. Fast easy enjoyable read. Bloody and surprising. Jennifer Lawrence nails Katniss. Definitely pleased this is mainstream, as it raises enough issues about mediated society and social control etc to make people think a little.

The Charwoman’s Shadow – Lord Dunsany

A classical fairy-tale style novel from Dunsany, steeped in old-fashioned magic and a bygone era. Gorgeously told, simple and wise. The magician is something else; a truly disturbing rendering of an archetype. He looms over the whole story, and at the end, we realise it was his all along.

ReOrient: Global Economy in the Asian Age – Andre Gunder-Frank

Had been meaning to read this for about 15 years. Economic historian argues persuasively that there has been a global economic system for hundreds if not thousands of years, which was always centred on Asia except for the blip of the past two hundred years. Further, he argues that the West’s recent success was not due to Western exceptionalism – ie not due to our values talents or character, in the process demolishing the axiomatic framework of most pillars of western social theory (Marx, Weber, etc) – but rather to the macro scale forces of the global economic system. Excellent stuff. Summation of a life’s work. Gunder-Frank probably died too soon after this came out to really push it as far as it deserves to go. The historical analysis is essential to any serious student of the world, and what is going on.

The Four Hour Body – Tim Ferriss

Life hacking to the extreme. There’s a lot in this volume, and yeah, it seems quite major changes and improvements are possible with surprisingly little effort, but the real value is the underlying philosophy of the Minimum Effective Dose, and finding out what that is for whatever it is your goals are, and just doing that. Definitely recommended for anyone into hacking their diet, fitness, health, etc.

Total I Ching – Stephen Karcher

Kind of the ultimate I Ching book from my favourite interpreter of the I Ching. Great. Though really just opens a window into another culture and world, and makes one realise how vast, complex and coherent it is, and how much further one would have to travel to really grasp it.

Enochian Vision Magick – Lon Milo DuQuette

DuQuette’s introduction to Enochian magic (part of the magical system channelled via angelic communication by Dr John Dee and Edward Kelley several hundred years ago.) Grounded, lucid, practical.

The Vision and the Voice – Aleister Crowley

Crowley’s account of performing the Enochian Aethyrs while travelling through North African desert in the early 1900s. Eye-opening.

Poor Charlie’s Almanac – Charles Munger

Sort of legendary book of business and life advice from the guy who is silent investment partner to Warren Buffet. Haven’t quite got to the meat of it yet, but definitely a sharp, if dry, mind.

[untitled]

First read through of the draft of the non-fiction book I wrote late last year which I’m not really talking much about. Pleasingly solid.

The Ebony Tower – John Fowles

Short novel. Astoundingly good piece of fiction addressing big questions about life and art and relationships and meaning and love and the intensities we experience along the way. This ranks way up there as a prose work. Highly recommended.

 

free fantasy giveaway: Eddison’s Zimiamvia

So longtime readers will know I am something of a nerd in general, and a fantasy nerd in particular.

My favourite fantasy author is E.R.Eddison. He was pre-Tolkien (and indeed, the only thing they could compare Tolkien to), and wrote great demented parallel-worlds, time-distortion, hi-concept philosophical-exploration through fantastical imaginative literature, back when there was no conceptual roadmap for what he was doing; ultimately it is pure Art. His prose is astounding, deeply affected, and not always easy. There is really nothing else like him. He is, as they say, the shit. He gets it like no one else and taps an unearthly vein of joyous wonder.

I have one copy to give away of his epic masterwork Zimiamvia trilogy – comprising Mistress of Mistresses, A Fish Dinner in Memison (aka the best fantasy novel I have ever read), and The Mezentian Gate (the most complete version of this unfinished novel) – in an annotated edition containing over a hundred pages of scholarly notes. It is the best available edition of Zimiamvia.

If you want it, post in the next few days explaining why you will treasure this. It helps if you are in NZ, but maybe not essential.

Reading January 2014

A slow start to the year…

Falling Man – Don DeLillo

Nah.

I have had a mixed run with DeLillo. Underworld seemed brilliant to me. Years later I got half way White Noise then gave up on it until someone told me they thought Don DeLillo was really funny, which confused me, so I picked it up again and saw that it was meant to be funny, though I didn’t think it was funny, and finished it.

Falling Man attempts to grapple with the fallout from 9/11 on the American psyche. Which is admittedly a huge endeavour. But mostly it devolves into DeLillo’s empty characters having empty dialogue and empty interactions which leave all sorts of room for implication but ultimately doesn’t satisfy.

I suspect this will be the last DeLillo I read. (Though Cronenberg’s film of Cosmopolis was interesting.)

The Unfoldment – Neil Kramer

Autodidact spiritualist gives his take on what is happening. Interesting in that it grapples with the modern world as a whole – politics, economics, conspiracy, spiritual malaise – and the forces that keep us down, locked into a false model of reality, as well as providing a relatively functional take on personal spiritual development. Interesting, would probably speak to a younger generation raised on internet research and weird documentaries (and how freaky is it to say that!) Bought it on the strength of this fantastic interview he did on Occult of Personality, which from my perspective remains much meatier and more interesting than the book.

The Sheltering Sky – Paul Bowles

Wow. Paul Bowles is an amazingly talented writer. His grasp of the nuance of human interaction is startlingly precise. Here again, Morocco looms – almost the major character – as an intoxicating and alien otherworld, one which has shaped and inspired so many writers (Gysin, Burroughs, Shah.) Sort of an existential horror novel, the bleakness and meaningless and loneliness of existence writ large; when love is all that holds us together, what happens when that love frays? Who are we? What are we? An extraordinary, beautiful and disquieting book.

The Sheltering Sky is probably better than his later novel Let It Come Down. And I wrote a song about Let It Come Down. Both, along with his short story A Distant Episode, have the same arc; entering into an alien landscape and utterly losing oneself with nightmarish consequences.

The Fool: The Jersey Devil – Andrew Mayer

Novella in beta, so probably shouldn’t comment on it, just logging for my own records.

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Have also been reading a bunch of short stories from various collections.

reading December 2013

 

Last of the year…

Jerusalem – Guy Delisle

Cartoon diary of a French guy spending a year living in Jerusalem while his wife works for Doctors With Borders (he has done similar ones for Pyongyang, Burma, and Shenzen, which are all worthy and have been reviewed elsewhere on this blog.) Jerusalem is a strange strange place with multitudes of complex layers. The religious history and sites – and people who believe in it – all crammed together. And the surreality of modern life amid insane politics, the separation wall, violence and lies. Intense, fascinating, full of insights and observations. A charming journey; valuable if you want an experience of living in the place without having to live there.

Half the Blood of Brooklyn – Charlie Huston

Early Huston novel, kind of noir vampire stuff, tight and gritty and rockets along, but much less interesting than his excellent non-genre later stuff (Sleepless, Skinner.)

Satantango – Laszlo Krasznahorkai

Jeepers. Extraordinary Hungarian novel from the 1980s. Sort of classifiable as “reality examined to the point of madness”. Intense, dark, powerful, challenging, exhilirating. Krasznahorkai’s sentences are super long and take a while to get the hang of, but once in the prose drowns you cheerily in the endless rain and mud. A bleak apocalyptic-esque tale, an abandoned industrial estate in the countryside, and the hangers on who remain, and their chance at salvation… except it isn’t and never was. A grimy view of what people are with all the varnish removed, a superb revelation of what human is. Yet also challenging and transcendent in places, too.

Bela Tarr famously adapted this into a long slow film of the same name. I need to see it now, since I love Tarr, and cannot imagine this being filmed in any conventional fashion, and the prose is so intensely interior to the characters and their way of seeing. (Tarr also adapted Krasznahorkai’s ‘The Melancholy of Resistance’ into Werckmiester Harmonies, which is still a favourite film, so I will definitely need to track that book down, too.)

On Looking – Alexandra Horowitz

Charming miscellany, an intellectual chocolate sampler. The author walks around the block with eleven different “experts”, to learn about how they experience the same place. The experts range from a toddler, a dog, an insect specialist, an architect, a geologist, a blind person, a sound engineer, and so on, and the walks serve as a launching point for many whimsical tangents. Lightweight fun on the theme of perception, and how we limit our perception and experience.

 

***Statistics***

So apparently I have read 63 books so far this year, at least that I have blogged, not counting all the stuff I skim as research and general browsing, and a bunch of comics. 32 non-fiction, 31 fiction. Which is a better balance than I would usually expect. Has been a bit more random quick reading genre fiction this year. So it goes.

top 3’s of 2013

 

…or a half assed year in review just while it occurs to me off the top of my head and before they crop up everywhere; I am pretty culturally out of sync so this will be stuff I encountered this year maybe rather than was definitely released this year.

 

Film

1. The Act of Killing

Perhaps the most astounding, powerful and indescribable documentary – and film in general – I have ever seen. Reviewed back here. Incredible. See it.

2. War Witch (Rebelle)

Phenomenal film about a young girl forced into becoming a child soldier in Africa. And then it goes deeply weird, entering another magical yet completely grounded African reality. Wonderful, intense, bizarre.

3. John Dies at the End

Ridiculous amounts of fun from Don Coscarelli. Not actually sure when this came out but I saw it early this year. Really really fun. Reviewed back here.

 

TV

1. John From Cincinnati

Stoner surfer mystic madness. Possibly the best thing ever. Ten episodes of sheer joy. See it.

2. I think Game of Thrones is the only other thing I have watched.

 

Books

Ouch. Now this will be challenging. These are probably the three that have stayed with me and formed the basis of multiple conversations.

1. Exterminate All the Brutes – Sven Lindqvist

Incredible and unsettling account of the Western colonial expansion and genocide of Africa; and so much more. Reviewed in detail here.

2. The God Problem – Howard Bloom

Bloom is perhaps the most multidisciplinary genius thinker out there, and this is his magnum opus; a synthesis of human exploration and insight into the nature of the universe and its workings, told as a rollicking story through a historical anthropological historical scientific humanistic philosophical biological conceptual &c blend, with remarkable verve and vigour. Epic learnings.

3. Lee Kuan Yew: The Grand Master Speaks

Singapore’s eminent respected genius leader’s take on pretty much everything that matters about the current state of play in world affairs. An absolute masterclass in what is going on, from someone who knows all the key decision makers, and has been wildly successful at negotiating power at the highest levels for forty years, all in under 200 pages.

 

Music

1. 3 Organic Experiences – Aglaia

Ambient. Lush. Beautiful.

2. Ambiant Otaku – Tetsu Inoue

Ambient. Serene. Beautiful.

3. Toucan Stubbs.

Don’t know that they have released anything. Most interesting live act in Wellington at the moment. Multi-instrumentalist folk duo doing… things. Live. Wonderful things, in strange places.

 

reading November 2013

been reading heaps of Wellington/history stuff as research;

finally finished The God Problem – Howard Bloom, which is an astoundingly brilliant history of ideas and science and raises more questions than it answers. Essential reading for intelligent folks.

Skinner – Charlie Huston

Really excellent. Huston’s last couple (this and the similarly excellent Sleepless) are exploring conceptual terrain familiar to readers of say William Gibson and Warren Ellis, but Huston is smarter and a better writer telling better stories. Skinner is a thriller that deals with the complexity of the world right now extremely intelligently; fast paced, gripping, and on point. The characters are interesting and disturbing. Really good all round. Definitely recommended, along with Sleepless.

Magic of the North Gate – Josephine McCarthy

McCarthy is the most interesting writer on magic to have emerged in the past few years, pretty much because she is obviously writing from 30+ years of experience. This one focuses on working with the land, but has all kinds of fascinating asides.

Got about 120 pages into Unspeakable Secrets of the Aro Valley – Danyl McLachlan before giving up. Sort of funny, but couldn’t quite bring myself to care, despite it being sort-of set within a couple of blocks of where I live and a couple of characters being sort-of based on people I know or sort-of know. :/  No idea how it would read to someone who didn’t live here etc. Sort of glad it exists though.

reading October 2013

 

The Ocean at the End of the Road – Neil Gaiman

Hadn’t felt moved to read any Gaiman since American Gods, which felt like his masterwork in prose, possibly because he went very YA. Ocean is the first aimed at adults in quite a while. It is  really nice, subtle, supple and warm. Ageless and satisfying, a grown up fairytale. Somehow comfortable and unchallenging though.

The Enchantments of Flesh and Spirit – Storm Constantine

Somehow Constantine had never really came on my radar despite having written lots of books. Read this fairly randomly; it is the first of the Wraeththu books. Wraeththu are post-human, post-gender androgyne hermaphrodites (though seemingly exclusively evolved from males), who are very into their fairly different sexuality, as well as having weird magical type powers. The books explores their society as it expands and develops while humanity falls away. Really surprising how transgressive and challenging this was – and must have been more so in the 80’s – and that it is not more famous than it is. Lavishly sensual prose, all about the decor, not the story. Not literary greatness but certainly visionary, inventive and deeply weird.

From Third World to First: The Singapore Story – Lee Kuan Yew

Biography of a nation as much as of the man. Lee Kuan Yew led Singapore for 35 years – during which time they went essentially from being a third world country to a first world country – and still retains a great deal of influence. He relates the nuts and bolts of what they did, how and why, and how it panned out. It is a veritable masterclass in power, politics and pragmatism. He also tells you what he thinks of more or less every major world leader and what they were like to deal with. All up an extraordinary story, fascinating on many levels, and (along with his interview based book The Grand Master Speaks) highly recommended to anyone interested in politics and power.

This Book Is Full Of Spiders – David Wong

Sequel to John Dies At The End, which I haven’t read, but which is still pretty much the most entertaining movie I have seen all year and you should see it. In this sequel, which rockets along, our hallucinating smartass munter heroes go up against a not-quite-zombie apocalypse that may be mostly their own fault. Retarded, hilarious, occasionally quite demented, and easily the most incisive and worthwhile commentary on zombie-culture.

If you are or ever were a hallucinating smartass munter, you will love this.

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Now most of the way through The God Problem – Howard Bloom, which is likely the most dazzling history of ideas and thought and science I have ever read, while remaining totally gripping and entertaining reading, and you should buy it and read it now.

Been reading a whole bunch of books about Wellington and NZ history as research.

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In other media, seem to have run out of steam on Battlestar Galactica midway through the second season. Just don’t seem much to care what happens to anyone.

And watched the magnificent delirious wonderfulness that is John From Cincinnati, which has become one of my all time favourite TV shows ever, naturally canned after one season. Ten episodes of unique hilarious mindfuck bliss, rather difficult to describe. Find this and see it. You will be delighted you did.

 

reading September 2013

Stealing Fire From the Gods – James Bonnet

Very much in the Jungian side of archetypal story analysis, building from Joseph Campbell et al but generating a quite remarkably comprehensive model of the nature of story. A hell of a lot in it, perhaps my favourite of these kinds of books* (though hi recency bias), along with The Seven Basic Plots; though I suspect this one is a great deal more practical. Something I will return to. Though also, he crams a lot of high concept stuff into not many pages, and if you don’t already have a solid grounding in Jung/Campbell etc it may be a bit much.

* On the whole I get more out of ones focused on story as a whole rather than script-focused story-structure books, as I don’t think film really matters per se, and the modern era of film introduces many artificial limitations into the nature of stories told; whereas stories themselves, and why we tell them, do matter; story is an essence which pours itself into many forms.

Shoninki: the secret teachings of the ninja: the 17th century manual on the art of concealment – Natori Masazumi

Comes across as strangely humorous several centuries later. I guess if you were raised as a cold-war kid the levels of paranoia and subterfuge around spying that seem normal are high. This ninja manual is oddly genteel, though has its moments of insight.

Magic For Beginners – Kelly Link

Joyously wonderful fresh and weird short stories. Deliriously delightful. The title story in particular is extraordinary. Her voice is idiosyncratic and lively and her stories are very weird, and not always successful, but those that are win so hard it is frightening.

Brain Magick – Philip Farber

NLP, neuropsychology and magick rolled into one, with a particular focus on invocation, by one of the most lucid explorers of these realms. Found it a fun and easy read, but I am primed for these areas.

Stranger Things Happen – Kelly Link

Earlier short story collection from Link. Still enjoying them. Which is an achievement, since short fiction is not my medium, and for me to read two books by anyone in a row is pretty rare. A real and definite original.

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In other media, watched Season One of Battlestar Galactica. Really enjoyed the pilot and first episode. Descended into episodic malarkey and hokey-ness a wee bit, but still pretty solid. A curious blend of SF and fantasy/metaphysical elements, saddled with some heavy handed commentary on the war on terror which plays more absurdly now than it would have at the time it came out. Will probably keep going with it, since the finale made a right mess of things. And yes, Tamsyn, the music is amazing.

 

Reading August 2013

Has been a juicy range of thought provoking stuff this month.

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Lee Kuan Yew: The Grand Master Speaks

Lee Kuan Yew led Singapore for 31 years, during which time it went from being a third world country to a first world country. He is seemingly the most respected and smartest statesman alive. This book, arranged out of interviews with him, addresses his thoughts on the issues facing the modern world and its future: the US, China, US-China relations, India, Fundamentalist Islam, Globalisation, etc. Lots of exceptionally sharp insight, very highly recommended if you are interested in what is going on in the world.

23 Things They Don’t Tell You About Capitalism – Ha Joon Chang

Some pretty interesting stuff. Most striking was the claim that the internet has changed the world less than the washing machine. The washing machine freed up masses of work hours, allowed women to enter the workforce, and eliminated an entire class of domestic servants, whereas the internet is just a different delivery mechanism for many of the same things. Also, there is no such thing as a free market; rather, we accept the legitimacy of certain regulations so totally that we don’t see them. And also, wages in rich countries are determined more by immigration control than anything else – obvious when pointed out, but not obvious until then.

The Driver – Mandasue Heller

Hard to explain how I came to read this. British crime thriller set on a council estate among unemployed stoners. Easy to read but pretty empty, like bad TV or a bad movie, though with some reasonably astute character observation.

Quintessence – David Walton

Whimsical SF/F set in an alternate Elizabethan age. The Protestant Reformation is about to happen, and a ship returns from the Western edge of a flat Earth, with reports of a wondrous island. Very inventive creatures, lots of fun, light entertainment.

Cypherpunks: Freedom and the Future of the Internet – Julian Assange, Jacob Applebaum, Andy Muller-Maguhn, Jeremie Zimmerman

Highly relevant punchy call to arms dealing with online surveillance, privacy, freedom, and infrastructure; a conversation between Assange and some fairly clued up hackers. One notable quote, in light of the GCSB bill:

Intercepting all metadata means you have to build a system that physically intercepts all data and then throws everything but the metadata away. But such a system cannot be trusted. There’s no way to determine whether it is in fact intercepting and storing all data without having highly skilled engineers with authorization to go in and check out precisely what is going on, and there’s no political will to grant access.

Gets pretty techy but still lots for the casual interested reader.

Sex at Dawn: the Prehistoric Origins of Modern Sexuality – Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jetha

Highly entertaining, delivers some well-needed shit-kicking-out-of to evolutionary psychology. Essential thesis is that agriculture changed everything, and that for the millions of years before that, humanity more likely lived in egalitarian hunter gatherer bands who would have shared everything, including sex, such that most adults would have had multiple sexual relationships at any one time.

The Resurrectionist – E B Hudspeth

What an odd book. A brief faux-biography of a turn of the century doctor with some weird theories, combined with a reprint of his purported masterwork, extensive anatomical (skeletons, muscles, etc) cross sections of mythical creatures.

 

currently on: Stealing Fire From The Gods – James Bonnet. Which is one of those sort of “here is the archetypal secret underlying storytelling books”. Interesting so far.

 

Still looking to get back to The God Problem.

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