Pirate Utopia; or, Adventures in Reviewer Parallax

Purely by accident, I seem to be caught in the 1920s for the next few reviews.

I’m still working on my review of Brian Stableford’s Scientific Romance (with 1914 being the most recent story in the anthology), but that’s going to take a while to make notes and write up.

By I already know what I’m going to say for some books I’ve finished since then.

So, today, we go to the island of Fiume in 1920 and the short-lived Regency of Carnaro, the so-called Pirate Utopia.

I’d heard of that short-lived “country” before on the Roads to the Great War blog. It was the brainchild of Gabriele D’Annunzio, poet, playwright, fighter pilot, war hero, and inventor, in the Regency, of a lot of the symbols later used by the Italian Fascists.

When I again pick up work on my World War One in Fantastic Fiction series, I’ll look more closely at the novella’s elements related to the war, but most of the story takes place post-war. The Regency of Carnaro is one of those European convulsions in the period between the world wars most Americans, including me, are ignorant of since we tend to think only of the Spanish Civil War in that regard.

I’ll probably also read Michael A. Ledeen’s D’Annunzio: The First Duce to see how closely D’Annunzio’s ideas matched Fascism. My sense is not all that closely apart from the political stagecraft Mussolini picked up from D’Annunzio. D’Annunzio seems, at least in this story, way too obsessed with a vision of a new world to be a true fascist. Paul Gottfried’s Fascism: The Career of a Concept only mentions D’Annunzio once.

Speculiction ways in with a more detailed review.

[Update: Fiume, now called Rijecka, wants to be a country again.]

Review: Pirate Utopia, Bruce Sterling, 2016.pirate-utopia

On September 12, 1919, acclaimed Italian war hero and poet Gabriele D’Annunzio stormed the city of Fiume, in what is now with Croatia, with 2,600 veterans of the Italian Army. He was angry that the Treaty of Versailles did not acknowledge Italian claims to the city. Thus the pirate utopia of scavenging weapons depots, more traditional piracy, extortion, free love, syndicalism, women’s suffrage, and casual drug use was born. To say nothing of the daily poetry readings D’Annunzio gave from a balcony, nightly fireworks, and uniforms that inspired many a European political extremist to come. It was a country where music was declared the fundamental principle of the state.

In our world, the fun ended on December 24, 1920 when the Italian navy bombarded D’Annunzio’s palace and declared the existence of the Republic of Fiume, an event known in fascist circles as the “Christmas of Blood”.

Sterling’s book is an alternate history of a sort and a work of “dieselpunk”. The departure from our timeline is the poisoning of Woodrow Wilson at the Paris Peace Conference. And, while it doesn’t really play into the onstage drama, Hitler fatally catches a bullet during a “beer-hall brawl”. Continue reading

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Nature’s God

The Robert Anton Wilson continues while I slowly work on getting some new stuff out.

Incidentally, the new cover design is a clue that Wilson burned through two publishers with this series before the third volume of the series was finally put out.

Raw Feed (1992): Nature’s God: Volume 3 of the Historical Illuminatus Chronicles, Robert Anton Wilson, 1991.Nature's God.jpg

Each of the three novels in this series has a different emphasis, a different style.

The Earth Will Shake was pretty much a straightforward novel with an emphasis on the various warring Illuminati and the meaning of various occult symbols and initiations. That emphasis on symbology and initiation grew more in The Widow’s Son with less character development and a large element of philosophy and humor (in the footnotes especially).

Nature’s God has large dollops of philosophy, mysticism and humor.

I was bored by the ceremony where Maria Babcock and Sigismundo Celine mystically meet out of the body. I also was bored by Maria Babcock’s initiation into the craft of women.

The whole misanthropic and iconoclastic chapter called “The Wilderness Diary of Sigismundo Celine” was interesting to read (and reminded me of Marcus Aurelius Meditations or Robert Heinlein’s The Notebook of Lazarus Long) and even had some things worth thinking about but plot and story screech to a halt during this long segment.  Continue reading

The Widow’s Son

The Robert Anton Wilson series continues.

Raw Feed (1992): The Widow’s Son: Volume 2 of the Historical Illuminatus Chronicles, Robert Anton Wilson, 1985.widows-son

As I recall, when this series (at least the first two books) was published by Bluejay books, it was put out one book right after another. I wonder if this second book was written right after The Earth Will Shake but later revised to include all the footnoted references to books from 1983 and 1984 involving, amongst other things, violent Italian Freemasons and Vatican banking scandals. These facts are the best part of the book, particularly the fictitious philosopher and Wilson alter ego de Selby. De Selby, that strange philosopher of plenumary time (the belief that every nanosecond is the result of all the other nanoseconds before and after — obvious influenced by Wilson study of the implications of Bell’s Theorem in quantum mechanics), constantly bothered by mysterious rappings as he tries to build a time machine (De Selby seems to appear to Sigismundo Celine when he’s imprisoned in the Bastille), an unrequited lover of a lesbian, and a purveyor of strange whimsical statements like all reported sensations (be they ghosts, UFOS, whatever) are real (“patapsychology” that argues that perceptions show reality — objects do really shrink at a distance for instance), that all aesthetic statements (however contradictory) are true descriptors of the speaker’s neurological system, and that King Kong, the Holy Ghost, and photons are all real because the human mind has encountered and endured them — the rest of reality is created by gossip.

De Selby is attacked by critics (one who maintains he is a composite character created by Schrodinger, Einstein, and Groucho Marx amongst others). One critic may even be de Selby under a pen name. And there is the mysterious Dr. Hankopf (with ties to the Knights of Malta and CIA) who, out of Heidelberg, conducts murders and slurs against De Selby and his supporters and, just before his death, seems to have uncovered an even vaster conspiracy. Wilson does a delightful job playing with your mind. Continue reading

The Earth Will Shake

The Robert Anton Wilson series continues.
This book was a surprise after reading Wilson and Robert J Shea’s Illuminatus Trilogy.
This book actually is closer to a regular novel, and Wilson proves he can do characters and plotting like everyone else. He does a nice job on Sigismundo Celine who we see come of age and develop as an illuminatus and a young man, and he’s an engaging character.
Wilson isn’t as raunchy or humorous as is in the Illuminatus Trilogy (though there is humor), and the conspiracy theories don’t come as fast and furious though we got Rossi, Mafia, Carbonari, Jacobites, Alumbrado, and Freemasons in a few pages.
Rather Wilson seems to be devoting himself to the real spiritual meaning behind various secret initiation rites, the psychology being intuitively practiced in them, the common links in the worldview behind many “secret” society philosophies.
And, of course, Wilson is doing his usual job of playing with your mind, driving you to be sceptical of everything: politics, religion, reality.
More reviews of fantastic fiction are indexed by title and author/editor.

Masks of the Illuminati

I’m still working on some new reviews, so I thought I’d start another series of Raw Feeds.

I’m going a long way back on this one — to 1987, and the very first book I decided, mostly as a memory refresher, to write up notes on.

For some reason, Robert Anton Wilson came to mind as needing a series.

I read his Illuminatus Trilogy, co-authored with Robert Shea, but made no notes on it.

Wilson was an interesting figure and acclaimed in various circles including the Boomer counterculture, libertarians, science fiction, occult circles, and gaming since the Illuminatus Trilogy inspired Steve Jackson Games Illuminati game. His wiki page seems accurate given what I’ve read of him.

Wilson, a bit like a modern Charles Fort, preached a sort of “agnosticism about everything”.

Raw Feed (1987): Masks of the Illuminati, Robert Anton Wilson, 1981.masks-of-the-illuminati

Once again Wilson shows amazing erudition of occult/philosophical/conspiratorial/religious quantum matters. As he said, he structured this book like a detective novel.  I’m not sure I liked the final hallucinatory, Joyce-style ending, but it provided final (though there is really no such thing as finality given the philosophy of the book) illumination for Einstein, Joyce and their work. The comparison of Joyce’s writing, relativity theory, and occult systems was interesting.

The book’s main characters are Albert Einstein, James Joyce, and Allister Crowley. Continue reading

A Fire in the Sun

As I work on reviews of new material, you get old stuff.

In this case, it’s the second book in George Alec Effinger’s Budayeen series.

In my usual desultory way, I never have gotten around to reading the third and last book in the series.

This is definitely a Raw Feed. I can see several thematic elements I would be less kindly disposed to these days. But I’m too tired right now to argue with my younger self.

Raw Feed (1989): A Fire in the Sun, George Alec Effinger, 1989.fire-in-the-sun

I liked this book.

It had a black, grim humor about it that glimmered on and off like a knife blade in an alley.

I liked having Mârid Audran back as a policeman. He moves from the uncompromising, somewhat romantic and naïve, character of When Gravity Fails, a character of fierce independence, to an owned creature: property of Friedlander Bey and his conscience. In the process, he finds, refreshingly, a reaffirmation of his Islamic faith, some of his past, and a tentative relationship with his mother.

I liked Audran establishing his friendships again with the characters who abandoned him in When Gravity Fails. Yasmin, Audran’s sex-change lover, was back as was the stupid (comically so — some of the scenes with him serve no function but humor) Fuad Il-Manhous; the ferocious, emotional bartender Chiriga; the perverse, but blackly funny homosexual (and lover of young boys) Saied the Half-Hajiz, the sinister and possibly mad and oddly devout Friedlander Bey (Audran’s patron).

There were new, interesting characters Shaknahyi the policeman and his oddly devout, stripper wife Indihar (who is so conservative she enjoyed being circumcised), the humorous, devoted, intelligent Slava Kumuzu, and the monstrous, perverted Abu Adil and his naively ambitious, sex-toy and personal assistant Umar Abdul-Qawy. (One of the delightful things about this novel is Effinger’s further exploration of his mind-programming moddies showing everything from religious counseling moddies, moddies to do drudge work.)

Abu Adil has a truly sick propensity for moddies recorded off terminally ill people, and mind-rape — moddies recorded off tortured people.) The sleaze is here — slavery, child prostitution, torture — as is references to the Balkanized world of the future as well as Abu Adil and Friedlander Bey’s roles as power brokers.

I, as in the first book, liked the Arab culture and its idiosyncrasies. It is there, however, the book falls down.

The novel is a tale of corruption, double-dealing, and power-broking. However, Effinger never really sets up the cultural, legal, and political rules of his world and that definitely dulls the edge on a tale of corruption and mystery.

Is Audran being corrupt in being on the police payroll as well as Freidlander Bey’s? He is very open about it and gets little by way of social and legal sanctions. Just how much influence do Adil and Bey have? Can they buy their way out of anything? If so why does Adil fear the potential sanction of Islamic clergy? Is there something in Arabic culture that keeps Bey and Adil safe despite their lax security? Is there something in Arabic culture which stops Audran from killing Adil at novel’s end?

Nevertheless, I liked the novel a lot and look forward to what Effinger is going to do in the future with Mârid Audran’s character.

 

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When Gravity Fails; Or, Adventures in Reviewer Perspectives

Alternate perspective on this is supplied by Speculiction who was less impressed than I was.

Raw Feed (1988): When Gravity Fails, George Alec Effinger, 1987.when-gravity-fails

An excellent book that makes me want to read its model Raymond Chandler.

While this book does have the elements of cyberpunk: underworld characters and schemes, a hi-tech polyculture, it has much less of an emphasis on tech though the cybernetic “moddies” and “daddies”, brain plug-ins that alter personality or supply knowledge, are standard cyberpunk gear, and something much like them appears in Swanwick’s Vacuum Flowers.  Personality modification is used to a different, more probable effect than Swanwick.

Orson Scott Card’s blurb about this book being cyberpunk after it grows up is somewhat valid. There is a good deal more real emotion and characterization than in Gibson or Sterling’s work. Literarily, Effinger’s book is every bit as style conscious as Gibson though it is an imitation style.

Marid’s relationship with his friends and lovers and the other colorful denizens of the Budayeen is well-done and one feel’s Marid’s romanticism, rage, disillusionment and eventual realization of just how sleazy his world is. Continue reading

A Gathering of Stars

Raw Feed (1990): A Gathering of Stars: Book Two of The Mechanical Sky, Donald Moffitt, 1990.gathering-of-stars

A wonder filled finish to the series.

The first book concentrates on political intrigue, repression, and biological monstrosities on Mars. This one has a great idea: creating artificial black holes to drag stars around and create a dense, complex solar system capable of being ruled by one ruler. It was an awe inspiring, very convincing idea though I must admit I did, at times, get bogged down in the astrophysical detail. Moffitt used a lot of plausible sounding (to me at least) cosmological theory combined with solid Newtonian mechanics.

I liked many of the other wonders: wooden starships, the comet forests, and the fanatical Assassins.

The old bit of a prince in disguise shows up to make the series a bit formulaic. There is much derring-do, a romance, and a love lost. I liked the enlightened rule of the Sultan of Alpha Centauri and the idea of creating a wandering solar system for all the non-Moslems (and any Moslems that want to come along) including the barely Islamized North Americans.

All in all an enjoyable series with a good combination of action, exotic locales and notion, finely drawn culture, and the great idea of moving around solar systems.

 

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The Crescent Sky

While I work up reviews of Brian Stableford’s  critical anthology Scientific Romance and Bruce Sterling’s Pirate Utopia, I thought I’d start a mini-series on science fiction works that future Islamic futures.

These will be from more innocent days before we realized Islam has become a blood-soaked “revitalization movement“.

Raw Feed (1990): The Crescent Sky: Book One of the Mechanical Sky, Donald Moffit, 1989.crescent-sky

I liked this book. I have something of an idle fascination for sf versions of Arabic culture like Herbert’s Dune books (at least the first of the series) or George Alec Effinger’s Budayeen series. This is one of those books that takes a naive, political innocent and passes him around from side to side (and there are always at least three) in a series of intrigues till our pawn-hero, at the end of the novel’s plot, comes to a bad end in which he’s rescued in the nick of time. It’s a standard plot. There’s even a last minute reprieve from death.
I liked the Arabic color, the Martian desert, the massive genetic engineering. And the plot, for all its formula, works and is exciting. There is grotesquery and, unfortunately (it seems no author can resist), the romantic subplot. Moffitt has thought things through in working out his culture. I found one of the most interesting aspects of the novel was its extrapolation of an Arabic future — a second energy crisis pouring money into Arab coffers which they invest in key industries (including space). Along with demographic destiny (Moslems are outbreeding their competition all over — a timely issue then and now), this vaults Arabs to the top of the world.
An enjoyable book with a plausible future with grotesque, exotic supporting a suspenseful formula plot that wasn’t boring.
More reviews of fantastic fiction are indexed by title and author/editor.