The devils of Paris would not shut up. They declaimed as they came, in a hundred languages, they hissed and howled descriptions of their hadal cities, and beat their claws on the sigils they wore, of the houses of the pit, and they shouted rather too often to those they hunted and killed that it was from Hell that they came, and so that everyone should be terrified.

China Miéville, The Last Days of New Paris: A Novel [Bookshop, Amazon, Publisher]

Hermetic quote Miéville The Last Days of New Paris the devils of Paris would not shut up

Ubik

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Ubik [Bookshop, Amazon, Publisher] by Philip K Dick.

Dick Ubik

Ubik is easily one of my favorite PKD novels: less lauded but more tightly composed than VALIS, it too makes pervasive but subtle use of Gnostic themes throughout. In his self-exegetical notes, Dick paired Ubik with The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch as stories grounded in the mechanism of the Eucharist. (In Three Stigmata the Eucharist is averse or malign–a sort of interplanetary Black Mass.) The initial science-fictional concept in Ubik is that of the “moratorium,” a medico-funerary facility that arrests brain deterioration in fresh corpses, so that the “dead” can be milked for small amounts of further interaction with their survivors; all of which opens up the question of the subjective experience of such “death,” not to mention all death, and perhaps life as well.

The characters are unusually clear, lacking the amorphousness that Dick’s psychological approach often inflicts on his protagonists, and this feature may well have been a function of his onetime development of this story as a prospective film treatment. In my dream universe, David Cronenberg has already directed a production of Ubik!

Eyes of the Storm

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Bone: Eyes of the Storm [Bookshop, Amazon, Publisher] by Jeff Smith, book 3 of the Bone series.

Smith Bone Eyes of the Storm

This third collection of Bone comics is the first that I have read in its original black-and-white format. I read the two previous volumes in the colorized editions from the Scholastic GRAFIX imprint. While I respect author/artist Smith for realizing his vision in the independent black-and-white comics market, and at the hazard of offending purist afficianados, I have to say that the comic is more attractive, readable, and compelling with the high-quality colors of the later reprints. 

As far as the story goes, it takes a major turn in this segment: the “serious” fantasy plot about the political history of the valley, and the roles of Rose and Thorn in that history are revealed, along with more detail about their foes. None of these revelations should come as any great surprise to the attentive reader, though, and none of them are in any way contrary to fantasy conventions. All of this plot explication comes at a price, which is that of considerably less comedy. There is still a humorous parallel narrative about the Bone brothers’ return to the Barrel-Haven tavern, and the development of Fone Bone’s poetic talents continues amusingly on page 120. But on the whole, there is more action and intrigue, and less of the wry humor that was so characteristic of the earlier books.

The “Moby Bone” dream episode is supposed to be a highlight of this volume, and it certainly did its job well enough. But I thought it paled next to the more elaborate and involved dream sequences in Sim’s Cerebus

The final page advises readers that we have reached the “End of Part One.” Even though the plot proper seems still to be barely getting off the ground, this does seem like a reasonable point to pause.

The Thirty-Nine Steps

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews The Thirty-Nine Steps [Bookshop (Penguin), Amazon (Birlinn), Publisher (Penguin), Publisher (Birlinn)] by John Buchan.

Buchan The Thirty-Nine Steps

Far and away the most printed and read of John Buchan’s novels, The Thirty-Nine Steps was also made into three different films and a feature-length television adaptation, along with adaptations into other media. First published in 1915 while Buchan was working for the British War Propaganda Bureau, it is set in England and Scotland on the eve of World War I. The protagonist Richard Hannay is informed of an alleged international conspiracy, and then must flee both the conspirators and the police, since he has been framed in the murder of his informant.

Buchan classed the story as a “shocker” and it pioneered the use of tropes that have become staples of the “thriller” and “suspense” categories in entertainment, principally that of the fugitive hero. The telling is very fast-paced, over ten chapters that I think I read in a total of four or five sittings. It keeps its narrative tension right up to the final page, with a mere three sentences of denouement.

The book has hardly any women characters with proper names and none with repeat appearances. Hannay says, “A man of my sort, who has travelled about the world in rough places, gets on perfectly well with two classes, what you may call the upper and the lower. … But what fellows like me don’t understand is the great comfortable, satisfied middle-class world, the folks that live in villas and suburbs” (97). His capacities are tied into this sort of alternating social adaptability and dysphoria. I don’t doubt that many “comfortable, satisfied middle-class” readers have derived excitement over the last century from reading of Hannay’s mingling with both the elite and the impoverished in this story, and that those readers have largely been men.

Like the scientist, the true occultist learns by his own experience, built upon the recorded previous experience of others.

William Walker Atkinson and Lon Milo DuQuette, The Astral World [Amazon]

Hermetic quote Atkinson DuQuette The Astral World true occultist learns by his own experience built upon the recorded previous experience of others

The Great Cow Race

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Bone: The Great Cow Race [Bookshop, Amazon, Publisher] by Jeff Smith, book 2 of the Bone series.

Smith Bone The Great Cow Race

This second collection of Bone comics advances the overall plot with the same leisurely pace of the first volume. I think I’m very glad to be reading these as anthologies, rather than following them as a monthly comic. This volume has more and better slapstick than the first, and Fone Bone’s romantic affection for Thorn is elevated into a proper dilemma. For sheer comedy, the best moment is probably the unravelling of Phoney Bone’s scheme on page 73.

In “Lonesome Road” (the fifth chapter of this book, #11 of the original series?), a three-page dialoge between Rose and Lucius provides a very full synopsis of the state of the intrigue–from the human perspective. I can certainly see how such a review would have been important in the original serial, but it’s helpful even in the current format. There are four intersecting worlds here: the Boneville Bones in exile (Fone, Phoney, and Smiley), the humans (Thorn, Gran’ma Ben, Lucius, villagers and fairgoers), the animals (possums, Ted the bug), and the monsters (red dragon, rat creatures). 

In any event, this book solidifies the promise of the first volume and settles into what I’m now confident will be a series worth the continuing read.