Zoran Zivkovic – The Fourth Circle, Robert Anton Wilson – Sex, Drugs and Magick; Joe R. Lansdale – The Shadows, Kith and Kin, Fritz Leiber “The Ship Sails at Midnight,” “The Enchanted Forest,” “Later Than You Think”
Posted by Mike on October 14, 2009
Zoran Zivkovic’s “The Fourth Circle” was the Serbian’s (I hope I got that right) debut novel in his original language, although it made it as a translation some time after that. It’s a bizarre piecemeal sort of science fiction book that throws together alien races and historical and fictional characters into a soup that progresses like a mystery. It hops around not only from the perspective of the aliens but primarily that of an artificial intelligence and a monastic like figure who works with an artist as they encounter mystery in the symbolism of the circle. Gradually these point of views are mixed in with four different scientists, including Archimedes and Stephen Hawking, including a wild and hilariously outlandish sequence where the immobile Hawking is drawn into a bizarre fantasy of his nurse’s. Later in the book the point of view switches to Sherlock Holmes’ sidekick Dr. Watson, a milieu where strangely enough the author of the Holmes books Arthur Conan Doyle is actually a part of, surmising a slightly different world. All of the pieces come together quite well in the end, nothing particularly surprising from a science fictional point of view but not unsatisfying either. Certainly I look forward to checking out some more of the author’s work as this struck me as wildly imaginative if not quite perfectly realized.
Robert Anton Wilson’s Sex, Drugs and Magick is a 1998 revision of one of his oldest books, which basically acts as survey of mostly psychedelic drugs and how they connect to sex and religious acts through the ages. It contains Wilson’s major strength which is a certain cross-subject way of connecting various strands of esoteric information as well as not taking extreme moralistic stands on any particular subject. Most interesting were the historical surveys of the original Hashishans, the Salem witches and such where some hypotheses are made on what was actually happening with them and what drew down negative authoritarian interests on them and such. Mostly what is concentrated on was the connection of psychedelics and sexual encounters and how these connections were responsible for profound almost Hindu-like religious visions and that this search was largely responsible for the 60s counter culture and for so many people trying to expand their consciousness. Having read a lot of later Wilson work, which while interesting, gets somewhat repetitive at times being that they consist of essays (sometimes the same work in different books), it was interesting to read a non-fiction work that was a lot more meaty. It still seems to me that he often concentrates on the work of the figures he adores (Tim Leary, Aleister Crowley, Buckminster Fuller, Wilhelm Reich etc) to the detriment of others that might add some color to the procedure (he’s the type of guy who once said as far as horror is concerned H. P. Lovecraft was the very best and you don’t need to read anyone else), narrowing down his own vision in a way that seems contrary to his missives about keeping an open mind and not making extreme all or nothing statements, but overall these are issues far less important than the interesting connections he makes, particularly on subjects that still seem vastly taboo in this culture. His consistent observations that scientists have basically abandoned these fields of research is still something I’m in full agreement with and he demonstrates quite well how this hold up has led to a proliferation of false information on a number of subjects, particularly due to the dominance of certain religious beliefs. Thought provoking overall, something Wilson rarely fails at being.
Borrowed the Subterranean collection from Lansdale through the library system. I’d already read one of the substantial novellas in here already (“…Foldout…”) which shortened the read considerably, but I found this to be a much better collection than the previous one I’d read (Bumper Crop). For one thing this contains two stories following Preacher Jebidiah Rains, his character from Dead in the West who seems to have a mission from God to fight supernatural evil in the Wild West of the time. I particularly liked the collection’s final story, “The Gentleman’s Hotel” which has Rains taking on a different group of werewolves which have basically eaten up a small town. But the best story is the novella “White Mule, Spotted Pig” where Lansdale takes your somewhat typical small town idiot as a protagonist who gets an idea to win a mule race to make his fortune which leads him and two sidekicks on a search for a slightly legendary white mule who apparently befriended a pig and only runs when the pig does. No typical surprises here, but I can never get enough of the quasi-redneck patter that goes on between characters and the whole raunchy sort of tone that Lansdale does all too well. Not really a bad story in this one.
Finally started picking up the old Fritz Leiber canon again after quite a while. In fact I think I missed talking about one or two stories previous to these none of which I remember, but I’m somewhere in late 1950 now, a very prolific year for Leiber. “The Ship Sails at Midnight” is a story about a group of self-professed Bohemians who meet a waitress who ends up having a profound influence on their art and lives, only for it to become obvious early in the story that there’s something unearthly about her. “The Enchanted Forest” entails a humanoid named Elven who while trying to escape being hunted by the human race crash lands on a planet that is mostly thorny forest. As he burns his way through the forest on a trajectory to find a city, he ends up running into what seems like the same clearing with two couples who treat him completely differently on each encounter. The reason for it all is something of a psychological experiment on human beings that ends up acting on the humanoid sort of like old faerie stories. “Later Than You Think” is a short piece where a future archaeologist ends up finding intelligent life well in the past. Part theory of the rise and fall of a species, it has one of those almost Twilight Zone like twists at the end, letting you know exactly what species it is the archaeologist found.
Right now I’m still tackling more Leiber and enjoying Lucius Shepard’s Life During Wartime, which just has some incredible prose and description, something of a, perhaps, flawed masterpiece (as a lot of novella turned novels tend to be). But it strikes me in terms of sheer vision to be a lot more resonant than much of what I’ve read lately. The descriptions of Central America are just so vivid they pop off the pages.