Mike’s Prattle


Marion Zimmer Bradley – The Planet Savers, “The Waterfall;” John Varley “The Ophiuchi Hotline;” Roger Zelazny “The Salvation of Faust;” Return to Castle Wolfenstein; Aleister Crowley – The Book of Thoth

Posted by Mike on November 23, 2009

I’ve been reading a lot lately, it’s actually pretty easy to get into the mood when you start hitting gold and starting with this installment I have definitely hit a rhythm. The Planet Savers is the very very first Marion Zimmer Bradley Darkover book, a series that is very large and one which I’ve never seemed to find much consensus on as to how good it really is. What it basically turned out to be was something of a mountain climbing adventure as a group of humans and Darkover natives attempt to find a cure for a periodic disease on the planet. As it turns out the protagonist is hiding something of a mystery in his own being that actually turns out to be fairly fascinating in the end. I expected to like this a lot less than I ended up which bodes well for later books in the series. It’s definitely a product of the time period or at least the influence of the classic age of science fiction when not everything had to be some sort of deep psychological and layered manifesto, and sometimes I tend to appreciate that. “The Waterfall” was a short story thrown in the same omnibus from a bit later down the line, 76-ish, that was a bit of witchery in a way and kind of creepy as a member of Darkovan nobility seduces a guard on an escapade, which doesn’t work out too well for the guard in the end.

I have to claim “The Ophiuchi Hotline” as the book that really started my reading in earnest. In fact I’m not totally sure I hadn’t read the book in my childhood as it gave me some deja vu and I know I did read quite a bit of Varley back then, probably before I more fully understood the adult themes in his writing, such as the Gaean trilogy. Ophiuchi is the first novel in the Eight Worlds series following a half to a full dozen short stories and it’s about at this time that Varley’s writing is peaking like noone’s business. The whole series really does strike me as a viable future universe where things are so advanced that human sexuality is totally different and cloning abundant (and actually doesn’t even seem particularly dated today). It starts with the protagonist in jail and facing execution for cloning crimes only to be broken out by a shady politician who needs her for research. Deaths are abundant and through the book the protag becomes more than just one operating person. In many ways this is the book that threads together a lot of the Eight Worlds concepts, such as the symbiotes that live in the rings of Saturn; the large underground environments found under the surface of Pluto; the Ophiuchi Hotline itself, a transmission from a different star that’s been feeding humanity most of its future technology for quite some time and has just sent an invoice for its services; and the outer solar system hunt for black holes, the primary means of generating energy for a humanity that has been ousted from its planet by gas giant-based invaders. I’ve since gone on to read the next several stories that all concentrate on some of these specifically (not to mention even characters from the book) so it’s all on my mind. It was impossible not to rocket through the book it was so good, a credit to Varley’s smooth and measured prose. No wonder he was one of the great writers of the 70s and 80s and now I seem to be in the peak of the work and it’s like one home run after another. Few writers are this good on novel #1.

The Zelazny story is a short work based on the Faust myth, basically Faust wanting out of his deal and the resulting state of affairs. I found it a touch confusing but it was colorfully rendered. Wouldn’t have picked it up had it not been in an anthology another Leiber story was in.

And a short step to video games. Wolfenstein, of course, was one of the very early first person shooters, in fact I seem to remember playing the very original even before it was a FPS way back when. Return is an Xbox title and for both the Xbox and the 360 probably the most primitive game I own, somewhere betweem, say, Quake 4/Doom 3 and the previous games in those series. It was fun enough, sure, like most of these games, but the graphics seemed very dated and for once distracting. Course I got to play through some of this with the nephews so it’ll be a bit more memorable than it might have been otherwise. And it managed to unlock the previous Wolfenstein 3D when I finished it so that might be fun later. Oh and I should mention it was terribly easy, even the bosses were little problem.

And finally, Crowley’s Book of Thoth, his latter work on his own tarot set which, for some reason, tends to scare a lot of people, even including people who use other tarots and for some reason I just don’t get why. Maybe I’m just getting too skeptical about this stuff to think of it in terms of Ouija poltergeists and such. Book of Thoth is terribly advanced though, definitely past my ability to truly get what I could out of the book. As it is with most western occultism, everything is couched in symbols, often symbols within symbols, so it definitely read as graduate work, not to mention every few pages saying something like “this can only be truly understood by the most advanced members of the OTO.” Whatever you might say about Crowley he had an almost genius level understanding of a dozen world occult schools to the point where he was synthesizing them into one system, which is something very prevalent in his tarot. In just one card one might encounter tantric, Greek mystery school, kabbalah, alchemic and several other concepts all meshed into one card. Everything has meaning, the colors, the directions, facial expressions, you name it. Of course the issues that held me up as a previous Golden Dawn student are his embellishments on the system based on his Book of Law experiences and the whole change of an Aeon paradigm, which struck me as needing an extraordinary amount of faith to go on, but that’s the thing about Crowley in general, you study him enough and you’re likely to gain surprising and revelationary insights on symbols that show his teachings to be a lot more subtle and well thought out that one might have originally thought. I’m just at the point now where I’d rather be living my life than being embroiled in such intense esoteric work, which strikes me as totally all consuming at this point and nearly as faith based as any other religion.


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