The War Amongst the Angels

The Michael Moorcock series continues with a look at the concluding book in the Second Ether Trilogy.

Raw Feed (1998): The War Amongst the Angels: An Autobiographical Story, Michael Moorcock, 1996.War Amongst the Angels 

Moorcock, when venturing outside the straightforward fantasy novel format of his Elric and von Bek series with their straightforward plots, grows on you with his psychedelic, initially incomprehensible plots in this, the culmination of the trilogy beginning with Blood then Fabulous Harbors and in his Multiverse comic book series which retells and expands on the trilogy.

A cynic would view Moorcock’s multiverse with its theoretically endless variations on certain characters, archetypes, plots, symbols as a lazy excuse to constantly recycle the same stories or an inability to collapse the story potentials of an idea via the act of observation, i.e. writing, into an artistic statement.

However, after awhile, the variations (complicated by the non-linearity of time in Moorcock’s Multiverse) become hypnotic. Continue reading “The War Amongst the Angels”

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The Revenger’s Tragedy

The Jacobean drama series, and the best is the last.

The Revenger’s Tragedy was not written by Cyril Tourner but Thomas Middleton.

This was news to me until I bestirred myself into making a very rare appearance at a theater.

It was a community production in a small theater, but I had to go. It’s my favorite Jacobean drama and performed seldom. (The Duchess of Malfi is the usually performed Jacobean drama.)

In the program notes, it was noted that local professor Peter Murray had established Middleton’s authorship.

Which I hadn’t heard. I knew Murray. He was the professor I had for Shakespeare though not Jacobean drama.

Murray was a chemist who took up English literature after being injured in a lab accident. He was also a former technical writer who was very particular about how your papers were written and final essay exams that had all of us pondering half an hour before we even began writing.

Peter B. Murray also wrote Shakespeare’s Imagined Persons: Psychology of Role-Playing and Acting. I think, though I haven’t read the book, he incorporated some quite useful background material he gave us on the medieval and Renaissance context of Shakespeare’s plays. (For instance, the Hamlet you see is not the Hamlet its first audience saw. To them, human vengeance is not to be sought. And you definitely should not be taking the word of a ghost about things.)

It turns out, besides actually seeing The Revenger’s Tragedy performed, there was something else notable in the performance.

In the cast was one Sara Jane Olson, I think she played the Duchess, who was something of a revenger herself.

Sara Jane Olson was, I’m sorry to say, a North Dakotan gone bad and a wanted terrorist. In 1974, she was a member of the Symbionese Liberation Army and participated in a bank robbery and attempt to blow up some police cars.

And then she disappeared to become housewife, a neighborhood fixture, and community actor, until 1999 when the long arm of the law caught up with her.

You don’t have to check the local theater listings to check out the play. Repo Man director Alec Cox did a modernized movie version which isn’t too bad. It has Doctor Who actor Chris Eccleston as Vindici (so IMDB list’s the name, it’s Vindice in the play).

I’m not the only fan of the play.

For his essay in Kim Newman and Stephen Jones Horror: Another 100 Best Books, Robert Silverberg chose The Revenger’s Tragedy.

Raw Feed (1990): The Revenger’s Tragedy, Cyril Tourner [really Thomas Middleton], 1967, 1971.Revenger's Tragedy

“Introduction”, Brian Gibbons — This is the first critical work I’ve read on this, my favorite, Jacobean play. It mostly concerns the dispute over authorship, the use of motifs drawn from the Dance of Death, and Tourneur’s use of comedy. Gibbons places the play in the farcical Greek tradition of comedy. This I found interesting. What I, as a modern reader, see as very sarcastic and malicious may, in fact, have been intended to be much broader, more slapstick (certainly less punny than Shakespeare) than we generally think. I don’t know enough to have an informed opinion one way or another. It’s just one example of what a reader’s background brings to a work, for better or worse, regardless of the author’s intent. And, of course, another example of the endless debate in literary criticism (at least when literary critics didn’t devote themselves to “signifiers”) is what degree of supremacy the author’s intent should have in interpretation.

 

This is the second (maybe the third) time I’ve read The Revenger’s Tragedy, my favorite, Jacobean tragedy.  Continue reading “The Revenger’s Tragedy”

The Disciples of Cthulhu

The Lovecraft series and now we’re getting into Lovecraftian authors rather than the Gentleman from Providence.

Raw Feed (2005): The Disciples of Cthulhu, ed. Edward P. Berglund, 1976.Disciples of Cthulhu

“Editor’s Foreword”, Edward P. Berglund — Brief summation of the various waves of H. P. Lovecraft imitators.

“Introduction”, Robert Bloch — Bloch talks about how the reputation of his old mentor, H. P. Lovecraft, has been on the ascendant unlike the celebrated mainstream authors of 1929 the year Lovecraft’s “The Call of Cthulhu” was actually published. He talks briefly about the religion/cult of Lovecraft of which he is one of the oldest members.

The Fairground Horror”, Brain Lumley — In his biography of Lovecraft, S. T. Joshi singled out Brian Lumley as symbolizing the worst of the Lovecraft imitators. I have a fond spot for Lumley though.  After being introduced by a friend to Lumley’s first two Titus Crow books (the best ones of the series), I read all the Lovecraft fiction I could find thereby filling in the gaps from reading a lot of his short stories earlier but none of Lovecraft’s novels. However, this biter-bitten story simply seemed, with its Cthulhu idol in a carnival funhouse, a takeoff on the Hazel Heald — H. P. Lovecraft story “The Horror in the Museum“. Lumley also seems determined, as Joshi noted, to work in as many references as possible to names in Lovecraft’s work.

The Silence of Erika Zann”, James Wade — Certainly not written in H. P. Lovecraft’s style and not using any elements of the Cthulhu Mythos, this story doesn’t really work. Basically, it’s about the daughter of Erich Zann, as in Lovecraft’s “The Music of Erich Zann“, encountering an extra-dimensional entity called to Earth by the strange properties of her psychedelic rock music (the story is set in a psychedelic club in San Francisco). The combination of too-explicit prose with, paradoxically, too vague of an explanation, doesn’t work. Continue reading “The Disciples of Cthulhu”

The Massacre of Mankind

Before reading Stephen Baxter’s The Massacre of Mankind, the sequel to H. G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds, I decided to read Wells’ novel again after 21 years.

I’m glad I did.

My initial claim, that English civilization is destroyed in the course of a long weekend, is glib and deceptive. The novel does not take place over a bank holiday weekend, and English civilization is, of course, not destroyed. The narrator of the book presents a history for a nation that still survives. However, the main action of the novel does occur starting Friday, when the Martians first use the Heat Ray, and goes through Monday when the Martians attack London. British society dissolves into a mob temporarily.

I’d also forgotten that part of the book is taken from the unnamed narrator’s brother, Frank. It is Frank that flees London when the Martians approach and whose experiences provide the memorable line: “It was the beginning of the rout of civilization, of the massacre of mankind.”

And this time I picked up on the apprehension, what we might term “post-traumatic stress disorder” the narrator is left with at the end of the story. Of man, the unnamed narrator says about the invasion:

 . . . it has robbed us of that serene confidence in the future which is the most fruitful source of decadence …

But the scars of memory are not just on general humanity. The narrator says he no longer loves to look at the night sky.

Looking at London, he no longer sees it the same:

I go to London and see the busy multitudes in Fleet Street and the Strand, and it comes across my mind that they are but the ghosts of the past, haunting the streets that I have seen silent and wretched, going to and fro, phantasms in a dead city, the mockery of life in a galvanised body.

I also wonder if the flooding from streams and rivers caused by the Martian red weed were partially inspired by Richard Jefferies’ After London and its giant lake in central England after the fall of industrial civilization.

This one came from NetGalley, and, of course, I jumped at the chance to review it.

Review: The Massacre of Mankind, Stephen Baxter, 2017.Massacre of Mankind

You still ain’t seeing it clearly. The Martians, you know, would say they are doing us a favor. Lifting us up, as if we made a chimp smart as a college professor. And who’s to say, by their lights, they are wrong? And – pain? What of it? You clever-clogs keep telling me the Martians are above us mere mortals. Perhaps, with their heads detached from their bodies, they are above pain as above pleasure. And what need they care about the pain they inflict on us? And more’n we care about the pain of the animal in the slaughterhouse – or the tree we cut down. To recoil from this is hypocritical – d’ye see?

That’s Bert Cook, merely called “the artilleryman” in Walter Jenkins’ Narratives of the Martian Wars. Jenkins is the man we know as the unnamed narrator of H. G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds. Cook isn’t the only one to complain Jenkins misrepresented him in his account of the 1907 Martian invasion. That’s the year Baxter, after consulting the astronomical clues in Wells’ story and Wells scholars, places the time of Wells’ novel.

Julie Elphinstone, the narrator of this novel and a reporter presenting us a history of the Second Martian War, isn’t too pleased with Jenkins’ depiction of her either, but at least she got a name and ended up married, briefly, to Jenkins’ brother, the Frank who supplies the London detail in Wells’ novel. Continue reading “The Massacre of Mankind”

Stealing Other People’s Homework: Network theory may explain the vulnerability of medieval human settlements to the Black Death pandemic

No, it has nothing to do with books, but the Black Death has long fascinated me.

Complexity Digest

Epidemics can spread across large regions becoming pandemics by flowing along transportation and social networks. Two network attributes, transitivity (when a node is connected to two other nodes that are also directly connected between them) and centrality (the number and intensity of connections with the other nodes in the network), are widely associated with the dynamics of transmission of pathogens. Here we investigate how network centrality and transitivity influence vulnerability to diseases of human populations by examining one of the most devastating pandemic in human history, the fourteenth century plague pandemic called Black Death. We found that, after controlling for the city spatial location and the disease arrival time, cities with higher values of both centrality and transitivity were more severely affected by the plague. A simulation study indicates that this association was due to central cities with high transitivity undergo more exogenous re-infections. Our study provides an easy method…

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Cosmic Trigger III

The Robert Anton Wilson series concludes.

Raw Feed (2004): Cosmic Trigger III: My Life After Death, Robert Anton Wilson, 1995, 2004.Cosmic Trigger III

This book was as thought provoking and informative as its predecessor and used the same mélange of philosophy, observation, science, and autobiography (though less of that this time).

Here one of the central organizing idea is the championing of multivariant logic (which I was interested to learn predates fuzzy logic and goes back to at least John von Neumann) over true/false Aristotelian logic.

I see a couple of problems with this championing — not the first time I’ve seen this idea proposed, one of the developers of fuzzy logic technology wrote similar silly missionary tracts on its political value though Wilson does delve into the area of politics as deeply here — of multilogic. First, how do you assign value to the values between true and false though, of course, Wilson would argue the same about the values of true and false themselves and, second, in the realm of law and administration, multivalue logic has many problems and little value (though you could argue pardons are a form of multivariant logic in criminal justice).

Other ideas are the Holy Blood, Holy Grail/Priory of Sion conspiracy, the realness of fakes (as in art forgeries) and the fakeness of genuine (fiat money) as exemplified by the Orson Welles’ film F For Fake (Wilson is a fan of Welles), and the value of General Semantics in reorganizing our thinking into realizing there are many mental maps which have different amounts of utility given the context, a context, Wilson argues, that is often culturally induced.

Adherence to E-Prime in writing accounts for Wilson’s fast, effective prose dealing with complicated matters, and General Semantics probably has some useful utility in reminding us of the cognitive traps we can fall in though some of it is banal truth albeit truth that we need reminding of.

Wilson devotes a whole chapter that is somewhat convincing in showing Carl Sagan to being a sloppy, unfair hack in denouncing Immanuel Velikovsky. Even noted astronomer Robert Jastrow notes Velikovsky seems to have understood gravity more than Sagan. He even goes some ways to convincing me that Wilhelm Reich was unfairly libeled. Certainly, I would be against burning his books, which did happen after he was arrested, even if they were crank science. (Though Wilson is somewhat guilty of assuming that just because a person has done good scientific work in a number of areas means that work they were attacked for was valid.)

He does make some valid points about how some professional skeptics engage in bad thinking and name calling and are dogmatic. He is right to point out that science sometimes simply doesn’t even try to confirm outrageous new theories. However, I think there are reasons for that apart from scientific conservatism (a good thing) and government coercion and even fear of not gaining tenure. Time and money are limited. Why waste both disproving a pretty likely false theory? It won’t add to knowledge or your reputation.

Wilson defends Shakespeare against his modern detractors though he, typically for Wilson, refuses to endorse Harold Bloom’s idea that he is the greatest writer ever and only say that he appears to be so given his current mixture of literary knowledge and ignorance. He rightly point out that Shakespeare’s detractors simply hate him because of his race and sex and haven’t shown any heirs to his title.

Wilson seems to largely ignore the question of utility in his philosophy. He talks about it when discussing scientific theories of physics that contradict the world of our senses. He states we all see reality through different masks, masks determined by a variety of factors including culture and biology, and that different masks work in different contexts. Continue reading “Cosmic Trigger III”

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 “Nature’s God”