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An interesting weekend

Posted by Mike on March 26, 2012

Since September 2011, I’ve had a mostly consistent output of art. The total is about 45 pieces, although a few of them are related to a larger project. When you’re in the middle of this kind of inspiration it’s kind of hard to imagine falling out of the pattern, but it looks to some extent like I’ve reached a bit of an impasse. I tend to recognize an impasse when I have a few more incomplete pieces than I usually do.

I’ve set something of a mini project for myself, which is a series of 11 by 14s of the Hebrew letters. It’s sort of an interesting combination of combining the letter, what the letter means and then the use of color. I finished Aleph last month but have been a bit stuck on Beth. The motif for Beth was to do a house lit from the inside so that the glow leaks through the windows, however I wanted a brick house so working on the lighting got a bit tricky. I’m also trying to subtly bring the Magician into this without making it a tarot card, but I’m starting to approach the limits of my technical skills in some areas.

Anyway, part of why I really wanted to go into this weekend and work through some of the blocks was a response to what’s going on in the Golden Dawn community. I spent a lot of the last decade mostly lurking in the community and trying to learn from the more experienced and over the last few months I’ve tried my hand at a few Golden Dawn book reviews. Most of the visible voices in the community are at the adept level (unless the voice is pretend in the first place), so I thought it might be useful to review some books from a greener perspective. I wrote one on Christopher’s self initiation book and another on Pat Zalewski’s major release, but I was pretty shocked at the responses to my review of Nick Farrell’s new book. Well maybe for a few seconds.

I’m no stranger to reviewing, I spent almost a decade reviewing albums in magazines like Exposé, Audion, Melodie e Dissonanze and others. Then I started Olfactory Rescue Service which is possibly the world’s leading English language incense resource. In fact I just finished reviewing a line self-titled the “King of Incense” line by a company who also sent people over to the blog to rave about them.

Over time you just kind of learn to get the review out and then move on. In my opinion there really is no Golden Dawn flame war.  A wise man once said you can judge them by their fruits. On one side you have someone writing books and blog entries that survey a wide range of Golden Dawn topics that contribute to our process and knowledge and on the other side you have someone whose energy goes largely to photoshopping and character assassination. Case closed right?

Destruction is needed sometimes to tear down the old structures. Those to whom it has fallen to bring out the sword aren’t likely enjoying this. So I thought it would be a good time now that my contribution to all that is done to get back into the spirit of creativity. Photos will be forthcoming at my gallery.

Finally, I wanted to plug what looks to be a tremendous book, Peregrin Wildoak’s By Names and Images. In those rare cases where I’m asked what the Golden Dawn is about, I’ve always found it difficult to recommend just one book, but based on what I’ve read in that second link, I can imagine it won’t be long before this will be the de facto introductory guide to the system. Wildoak has run a terrific, balanced and informative blog for years, so if anybody reading this is interested in wondering what the Golden Dawn is all about, go pick up a copy. There’s a lot of good magicians in the community but perhaps not so many great writers; this one checks both boxes.

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Posted in Books, Esoteric | 3 Comments »

Life after the computer crash

Posted by Mike on March 3, 2012

It’s nice having a little money, it’s had something of a boomerang effect. I bought a new home computer yesterday. Naturally it didn’t go smoothly, Office 2010 crashed on installation so I spent at least 30m with a tech getting it fixed. And there’s also a problem with some of the menus which I’m going to have to wrangle with Dell about. But now I’m very happy, but I’m realizing one of the great things about not actually having a computer since December is the task list ahead of me. I’m at that point in life where I need to divest myself of stuff. You know sending old books to Amazon and selling off some music on ebay, my guess is 2012 in part will be working on all of this.

On the other hand my first task was to get an art gallery up. I had posted a few of my older pieces on this blog, but they distort in this format, at least on some computers. So I’ve created a deviantart gallery here:

http://goldendawnart.deviantart.com

I’m missing about eight pieces I want to put up within the time period of what is up there, and I also have six newer ones. There’s a handful of minor things I probably won’t upload and then there are the really large pieces I’m doing as part of my personal temple that created a large mosaic that I’ll have to put up when I’m finished with them as a whole. Seriously the only enemy is time with all of this.

I also plan to split this blog up again so I can have a dedicated blog on the occult, kinda like I spun off Olfactory Rescue Service for incense, but this will follow the deviantart gallery. I just started doing a series of 11x14s of the Hebrew letters as well that I’m really excited about.

There are an incredible amount of really high quality occult books being released and reissued in the last few years. It occured to me after I got in a rather large haul the other day that we’re witnessing some of the most important work coming out on the Golden Dawn, possibly since the Regardie books. First of all anyone interested in the Golden Dawn can not be without Pat Zalewski’s Golden Dawn Rituals and Commentaries. There is almost a book’s worth of information on the Neophyte ritual alone and it demonstrates quite clearly the depth that came out of the Whare Ra temple. I’m not sure how long the book will be available, but I’m even thinking about getting one of the hardbacks. I wrote a review of it on Amazon but to be sure, I’m not even close to the type of understanding in it and hope to learn from it the rest of my life. I enjoyed Pat’s book on alchemy as well, although there’s no doubt I’ll have to read it again at some point.

The Rosicrucian Order of the Golden Dawn’s reissue series that includes said mentioned alchemy book is also amazing, I just got in the tarot and alchemy books in the series. I’ve had Case’s Tarot book for years but it’s great to have his early work (including the two volumes of Early Writings that came too).

William Gray – The Ladder of Lights is one of those in the “I can’t believe I didn’t have this yet” category. But of all these books the one that is truly kicking my ass right now is Nick Farrell’s King Over the Water. I’ll talk more about it when I finish, but I think this one’s a game changer. One of the things that attracted me to the system in the first place was it’s true lack of an individual “name,” possibly the reason I keep Crowley stuff around for reference and not much more. So to see this history written in a way that shows the system shining even despite the failings of human beings – that’s the Golden Dawn I know. That system doesn’t have sacred cows or personalities bigger than itself, it’s a work in evolution.

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Night Shade and Subterranean Presses

Posted by Mike on July 9, 2010

There have been lots of posts lately on Night Shade, several authors calling them out for royalties not paid and communications not effected, then Night Shade apologizing and then SFWA putting them on a year’s probation. Naturally it’s a shame, the way the authors are getting treated, but also because Night Shade really does some tremendous work. I’ve thought about posting on several occasions because I also think they’ve dropped the ball in some circumstances on the way they treat their customers (not only myself but what I’ve seen on their forums), however, in the end I don’t feel these things were nearly as heinous as all this recent news.

So to be constructive, from a purchaser standpoint, let’s talk about who gets it right: Subterranean Press. With this fantastic outfit, I never have to worry about when I’m going to see a book. Delays are continually reported in detail. I’ve had problems with orders fulfilled immediately. All my communication with them is answered promptly, I don’t think I’ve ever seen an e-mail go unanswered for longer than 48 hours (and most if not all were answered within 24 hours). They maintain a consistent and informative list that tells you about all their new projects as soon as they’re feasible. And they too do absolutely beautiful work. Plus you also see long relationships with many authors, undoubtedly the results of being honorable.

So clearly it CAN be done.

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Larry Niven “Wait It Out,” “There Is A Tide,” “Death By Ecstacy;” Vernor Vinge “The Blabber;” Paolo Bacigalupi – “The Calorie Man;” George R. R. Martin – Dreamsongs Vol. 1; Jeff VanderMeer – Shriek: An Afterword; Laird Barron – “Hour of the Cyclops;” Adam-Troy Castro – Tangled Strings; Richard L. Tierney & G. Arthur Rahman – “The Wedding of Sheila-Na-Gog”

Posted by Mike on June 29, 2010

Well this post should push me a little closer to what I’ve currently finished reading than usual. Read the rest of this entry »

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Richard K. Morgan – Broken Angels; Ian McDonald “Towards Kilimanjaro,” “Tendeléo’s Story;” Jeff VanderMeer – “The Festival of the Freshwater Squid,” “Exhibit H: Torn Pages Discovered in the Vest Pocket of an Unidentified Tourist,” “Corpse Mouth and Spore Nose,” “The Machine;” Caitlin R. Kiernan – “Escape Artist;” “Stoker’s Mistress;” “To This Water (Johnstown, Pennsylvania 1889),” “Giants in the Earth;” Jack Vance – The Brave, Free Men; The Asutra

Posted by Mike on June 17, 2010

The usual, more book notes, way behind… Read the rest of this entry »

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Charles L. Grant ed. – Shadows; Paul Kane/Marie O’Regan ed. – Hellbound Hearts; Brian Aldiss – Moment of Eclipse; Fritz Leiber – “The Moriarty Gambit;” Manly Wade Wellman “But Our Hero Was Not Dead;” Robert Bloch “The Dynamics of an Asteroid;”

Posted by Mike on May 20, 2010

And even more books… Read the rest of this entry »

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Crackdown; Two Worlds; Condemned: Criminal Origins; Sacred 2; Jack Vance – The Anome (The Faceless Man); P. C. Hodgell – “A Matter of Honor,” “Child of Darkness”

Posted by Mike on May 18, 2010

Alright, time for another muddled series of prattle notes – I see I’m getting way behind but find these help spur my memory later down the line when I need it… Read the rest of this entry »

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Caitlin R. Kiernan – Five of Cups, Gene Wolfe “The Cat,” “The Map;” John Holbrook (Jack) Vance – The View from Chickweed’s Window; James Tiptree Jr. – Tales of the Quintana Roo; Gordon Dickson – “Act of Creation,” “The Warrior;” Sheila Finch – The Guild of Xenolinguists

Posted by Mike on April 15, 2010

Trying to catch up here before I drown…more reading notes. Read the rest of this entry »

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Adam-Troy Castro – Vossoff and Nimmitz (collection), The Funeral March of the Marionettes;” George R. R. Martin “Weekend in a War Zone,” “Nor the Many-Colored Fires of a Star Ring;” “Ursula K. Le Guin “April in Paris,” “The Masters,” “Darkness Box,” “The Word of Unbinding,” “The Rule of Names;” Larry Niven “Intent to Deceive,” “Grendel;” Lewis Shiner “Tinker’s Damn;” Ellen Kushner “Red-Cloak”

Posted by Mike on March 16, 2010

Alright, time to remember more reading stuff, I think I’m always about three weeks behind, which often means I’ll forget. Anyway, this groups starts with a couple books/several stories that are part or perhaps part of Adam-Troy Castro’s AI Source Universe. The first book is a series of stories that were printed in Science Fiction Age in the late 90s that were all an attempt to mine Douglas Adams or Robert Sheckley territory, that is stuff I don’t tend to read all that often. I probably don’t mention it much but there’s a whole crazy Virgo logic behind what I read that’s probably a bit too complicated to go into (since it’s a given it’s crazy anyway) but it roughly has to do with award books, sometimes authors I really like I discover from this chart, sometimes books that have nothing to do with either, parts of series, a smattering of non fiction. But I do like to read lots of stuff chronologically, maybe I have the weird idea I might learn something about writing mechanics via development or something, I have no idea.

Anyway the Vossoff and Nimmitz stories are a lark, a self-professed bumbling super villain and his idiot sidekick, linked as it goes via the former’s ex wife and the latter’s now wife, anyway most of the stories start due to the machinations of the former and they almost all end hilariously and badly. They were fun and easy to read, but as such a style goes, more of a lark than anything meaty. The other novella, however, was a Hugo and or Nebula finalist and was much more interesting, as an alien dance ritual that ends in suicide surprises the audience and one man in particular when a human joins the ritual. Was quite clever and attempted to do one of the things I think SF does best – clashing cultures.

The two Martin stories here are perhaps minor, the former something of a thematic predecessor to the Michael Shea book I wrote about a few weeks ago, about a guy who spends a weekend buying his way into a real war and the smashup that occurs due to his personal instability. “Star Ring” is the second of two in that universe, you know the whole “Stargate” thing rife in science fiction, except this is about a scientific crew investigating a ring that leads to nowhere basically, sheer blackness. I liked the construction of this one quite a bit and it, as always, kept the focus on the human experience.

The Le Guin stories are all very early work, well within her first 10 shorts. A sorcerer in April in Paris waves his hands and manages one by one to summon people out of time and in doing so the story makes an interesting statement on the loneliness of the outsider. “The Masters” is a fairly typical story about an anti-scientific future society and the rebel trying to discover forbidden knowledge, it’s a definitely an age old story probably told better elsewhere. “Darkness Box” is a neat little fantasy about what seems to be somewhat typical high fantasy characters stuck in time. The final two are the precursors to the Earthsea series, one about a wizard imprisoned who ends up only discovering one way out and the latter about a village’s wizard and the secrets he embodies as a second wizard shows up on a ship. While both seem a bit tried now, I kind of doubt they were so much when they were written. Anyway this early it seemed to me that the shorts were a lot more enjoyable than Le Guin’s first few novels, but now I’m up to the first Earthsea (which I probably read as a kid and have totally forgotten), so undoubtedly I’m now at the beginning of a long string of classics.

The Niven duo continue the Known Space series, the former a short piece reflecting on an early version of a robotic restaurant and what happened when it stopped working right. The latter, another in the Beowulf Shaeffer series about an alien kidnapping (although perhaps the puzzling out of who the Grendel is in this story is part of its subtlelty as it didn’t quite end up being the alien). This latter one finished the Neutron Star collection up.

Lewis Shiner’s “Tinker’s Damn” is online somewhere and I believe is his second published piece, kind of a typical science fiction story about building an artificial intelligence and the tragedy that occurs when they try to make it “love.” I ended up liking the story quite a bit, but can see why this didn’t make the Collected Stories volume.

And finally, Ellen Kushner’s “Red Cloak” the first in her Riverside series of books and shorts, this one a very short piece that has a very Leiber-ian flair as the couple (who assert their personalities very quickly and efficiently in this piece) decide to go for a drink in the evening only for the swordsman to be virtually challenged to a duel. Quite looking forward to the rest of this series if something so viginette-sized can end up being so strong.

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Kage Baker “Black Smoker;” Michael Shea “The Extra,” The Extra; Caitlin R. Kiernan “Between the Flatirons and the Deep Green Sea,” “The Comedy of St. Jehanne d’Arc,” “Hoar Isis,” “Tears Seven Times Salt;” Larry Niven “The Handicapped,” A Gift from Earth; Jack Womack – Ambient

Posted by Mike on March 4, 2010

I read the Kage Baker short not long after she passed away, and in fact I’ve started Mendoza in Hollywood where I left off as well. I’d always meant to get back to the Company sequence, but was spurred on by Baker’s unfortunate death. Black Smoker’s quite good too, picking up the story of Company operative Kalugin relating a story about a future virus from a submarine that’s trapped below water. I believe this one later got incorporated into The Children of the Company as part of a larger narrative, but I started reading the shorts well before this happened and still intent to try to mix everything up chronologically.

Michael Shea’s been writing short stories since the late 70s but has been rather short on novels. He did a fun Dying Earth/Cugel sequel in the early 70s, which was a foreshadowing of his own erractically published Nifft trilogy, but even that first Nifft book is more like a fix up book, despite that it’s really one of the greatest fantasy books of all time. I mean that, I adore the whole Nifft trilogy and it’s very much why I’ve been a Shea fan since.  There was also the near novella length Lovecraft sequel The Color Out of Time (which shows up in the big Autopsy collection and is way more Shea than Lovecraft), as well as a standalone called In Yana, The Touch of Undying, which I’ve nearly held myself back on. But other than all these there hasn’t been any more novel length stories until, surprisingly, now. Back in the day, Shea wrote a neat little story called “The Extra” (or “The X-tra”), it’s the story of a near future where the down and out are given a chance to make money by becoming expendable extras in an alien invasion movie, all they have to do is stay alive against all odds in a vicious onslaught created by creative movie makers. The short’s tight and really well done, and it’s quite a surprise to find out that Tor picked up an expansion of this story (apparently into a trilogy) as a series. The first book was released a few weeks ago, one I immediately picked up. The new book carries over the main idea and a couple characters from the first book (the two buddies if you will) but other than that the whole thing is completely rewritten, with a number of other characters added in and a much more expanded and thought out future world, as well as telling a good deal of story from the movie maker perspective.

Anyway it’s Shea as populist which is something I’d never seen before and given his adeptness in handling different styles over the years, it’s not a surprise he’s done well with this thriller. Perhaps the commonality here is, well, Shea loves (or fears) his spiders, a theme you see in The A’Rak and The Colour Out of Time and the aliens invading in this future movie are created spiders who are loaded onto a set along with 100s of extras and who are let loose on what are a bunch of rather poor individuals hoping to survive and maybe make a future life for themselves. It’s got all the hallmarks of a great movie, fast paced, lots of buddy buddy jabber, a romantic interest, lots of explosions, impossible odds, and of course a hoard of spiders that have the ability to paralyze the extras and suck them dry. In the end I really was looking forward to the upcoming sequel as this was an idea well worth expanding on. And hopefully this will be optioned pretty soon as it deftly handles the irony of Hollywoood without sinking into preaching. Quite frankly I’m pretty excited Shea was handed a deal like this and long may he continue.

I continue my chronological excursion into the work of Caitlin R. Kiernan, whose story in Lovecraft Unbound so impressed me, and indeed these few stories are quite good for early work, and they show a knack for a unique style and prose that I think will easily propel me through an increasingly impressive bibliography. Both Flatirons and Hoar Isis are post apocalyptic near futures, the former set in the Rockies, now part of a seaside, with scavengers as protagonists. The latter is set place in a frozen Chicago, where a lonely girl tries to stay alive and it roughly follows part of the Isis and Osiris myth in an unusual way. “St. Jehanne d’Arc” is set place in White Wolf’s vampire role playing game mythos and tells an alternate history where Joan is manipulated by the world’s undead-influenced politics. And “Tears” reflects a slightly Lovecratian like transformation as a goth girl obsessed with fish and water looks back on the creepy and prophetic words of her grandmother as she takes a journey into the underworld.

The next group of Niven stories continues, chronologically, his future history and I think it’s really at this point they take a level up and get a lot more interesting. “The Handicapped” is a great short once again featuring a favorite theme of mine, encountering new alien life that’s completely different and almost incomprehensible to human kind, in this case what appears to be a sentient life form that can’t move. As it turns out it fits nicely into the whole scheme of the history, as the protagonists try to figure out how evolution would have led a race to this type of dead end. A Gift from Earth is a novel which came from the serial Slowboat Cargo about one of Earth’s future colonies that has turned into a dictatorship of a smaller, powerful group over the rest of its colonists. Naturally the protagonist comes across a group of secret rebels at a party and during a raid ends up motivated to rescue members of this party. However the man has a secret ability, from childhood, that makes the impossible task possible and leads to a number of break ins and escapes that are tautly plotted. This does seem to be early enough to be slightly problematic in the character department, that is most of these people are drawn lightly, the motivation of the protagonists are somewhat glossed over, and the female characters don’t particularly ring true as real people (especially the protagonist’s first erotic encounter whose motivation is later explained along the lines of “I do this to keep the spirits of the rebels up” or some such nonsense). But as a novel I thought it was a lot more gripping that Ptavvs and Protector and more consistent. You can see the peak to Ringworld quite clearly at this point.

I was fairly knocked out by the first book in Jack Womack’s Dryco series, a number of books that posit a pretty awful future United States that seems to reflect the current news almost presciently, where the power ends up residing in the hands of corporations and the recent history seems to show what happens when the capitalists end up getting what they want (well that’s my interpretation, Womack isn’t quite so explicit). The protagonist here is the bodyguard of the head of Dryco, the world’s biggest corporation who is behind the power behind the world and controls everything from the President to future countries. Things become complicated when the head of Dryco comes up with a plan for his bodyguard to knock off his father and when the attempt is set up, things go badly and the protag makes his escape with his romantic experience. There’s some great twists in this and a number of fascinating sequences where a history of the world not only is explicated in the near future but explains events ranging back as far as  the Gospels. It’s easy to see why there are more books in this series, it’s a fascinating universe that shows its political and social sides quite well. I’m looking forward to the rest. And for once this had at least one or two future dialects that were almost poetic in their rendering and very creative. Definitely a bold debut.

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