Category Archives: T Polyphilus: Vigorous Food & Divine Madness

Dungeon Solitaire: Labyrinth of Souls

Hermetic Library fellow T Polyphilus reviews Dungeon Solitaire: Labyrinth of Souls by Matthew Lowes.

Matthew Lowes Dungeon Solitaire

Dungeon Solitaire: Labyrinth of Souls is the book-length successor to author Matthew Lowes’ previous game design “Tomb of the Four Kings” (available for free on his website). The original game was playable with a standard pack of playing cards, and it is preserved nearly unchanged as the “basic game” of the “Labyrinth of Souls.” The new game, however, calls for a tarot deck, and the author has collaborated with illustrator Josephe Vandel to create a new deck for it, which includes 10 “extra arcana” or additional trumps.

The rules supplied in Labyrinth of Souls include the basic game (uses 53 cards—a standard playing card deck with a single joker), the expert game (uses 78 cards—a standard tarot deck), the advanced game (uses the 88-card custom deck OR a standard tarot deck plus a ten-sided die), and eight official variants of the advanced game. One of these variants (“Cartomancy”) can be used for divination, and the supplementary “Arcana” and “References” sections provide some useful pointers regarding divinatory meanings for the cards.

I had played “Tomb of the Four Kings” before acquiring this book, and found it to be a quick and fairly difficult solitaire game with a strong narrative element. The expert mode in Labyrinth of Souls expands the game elegantly by adding companions (the tarot page cards), mazes (a new encounter type), blessings, corruptions, and several new magic items. I’ve now played it over a dozen times, and I have yet to win, although I have managed to score: i.e. I have escaped the dungeon with some treasures and companions, but not with the three “heavenly jewels” needed for victory in the expert game. I’m holding off on the advanced game until I score an expert win.

The rules for the various modes of the game are all written quite clearly. The basic game includes a very detailed example of play that was not part of the “Tomb of the Four Kings” rules, and goes a long way toward eliminating any ambiguities in the rules. It gives the reader a very clear idea of game play. An assortment of reference tables and blank recording forms are present for copying and play convenience.

All of the trumps and court cards of the Lowes/Vandel Labyrinth of Souls deck are reproduced at or near full size in black and white throughout the book and especially in the “Arcana” section of the text. These seem to constitute a pretty passable deck, and the designs of the “extra arcana” are certainly interesting, but they just don’t “grab” me aesthetically or symbolically. I have been using the Luis Royo “Dark Tarot” to play the Labyrinth game, and I’m liking it a lot for that purpose. I have not handled a production copy of the Lowes/Vandel deck itself, and I’m unlikely to acquire one. I do like and recommend the rule book and the game, and I would be interested to see other artists’ realizations of the “extra arcana” invented by Lowes. [via]

The Girl Who Raced Fairyland All the Way Home

Hermetic Library fellow T Polyphilus reviews The Girl Who Raced Fairyland All the Way Home by Catherynne M Valente.

Valente The Girl Who Raced Fairyland All the Way Home

The Girl Who Raced Fairyland All the Way Home is the fifth and concluding volume of Catherynne M. Valente’s Fairyland series. I would only recommend it to those who had read the previous books, because the prior investment in the characters is essential in order to appreciate this one. For those who have already taken in the earlier stories, though, this is a very exciting and satisfying wrap-up. It has some real surprises, not the least of which is the admission of September’s adult relatives into Fairyland. It’s clear from this book that Fairyland is not “childish things” to be put away with maturity, but rather a genuine otherworld that answers to human aspirations.

In light of the way this book works out, I wonder about comparing this series to Brook Hansen’s wonderful work The Chess Garden. I think that they have a lot of conceptual common ground, but where The Chess Garden is a rather splendid tragedy, these Fairyland books turn out to be a delightful romance.

There is some meta-discourse in the closing pages where Valente, in her Narrator persona, insists that stories don’t really end, they just stop with greater or lesser amounts of grace. This stop is a graceful one, emphasizing the possibility of continuation without creating the need for it, “without end, but … finished,” as John Crowley’s Endless Things put it. My daughter, to whom I have read all of these Fairyland books aloud, expressed dismay that there might well be no more of them to come. But the Narrator also explicitly invites re-reading, and I think my daughter may well enjoy a return to these years from now. [via]

The Gnostic Notebook: Volume Three: On Plato, the Fourth Dimension, and the Lost Philosophy

Hermetic Library fellow T Polyphilus reviews The Gnostic Notebook: Volume Three: On Plato, the Fourth Dimension, and the Lost Philosophy by Timothy James Lambert.

Lambert The Gnostic Notebook Volume Three

Reviewed on the basis of a complimentary copy received from the author. (Nevertheless, this review contains only my usual biases.)

In this third volume of Timothy James Lambert’s Gnostic Notebook, I was pleasantly surprised to find him executing a version of a project I had contemplated undertaking myself some years ago. To wit: He revisits the theory of matter from Plato’s Timaeus and relates it to the ideas of Buckminster Fuller’s Synergetics (particularly the closest-packing of spheres and consequent formation of polyhedra), all viewed under the influence of esoteric correspondences. Oddly, Lambert doesn’t credit Fuller’s work with closest-packing of spheres, although he does use an evocative quote from Critical Path to illustrate one of the correspondences that he asserts.

Most of Lambert’s text is concerned to ground these ideas in an unlikely textual synthesis of the Genesis creation account and the I Ching. He admits on his final page that he hasn’t provided any narrative to support his claim that the authors of Genesis had the I Ching at their disposal as a key for coding ideas, but he says he’ll be picking up this thread in a later volume. Another tease for future work is the promise (150) that the next book will undertake a reading of the I Ching as chiefly concerned with enlightened human procreation, which would perhaps capitalize on the occasional broad hints at sexual symbolism in volumes II and III of the series so far.

Throughout the book, Lambert intuits and adduces a multi-layered system of correspondences which he insists are “falsifiable” and inductively robust. I didn’t have trouble maintaining my skepticism toward them, however. One point of especial weakness was his “correction” of the traditional meanings of two of the I Ching trigrams on the basis of relationship within a hypothetical octahedron with planetary attributions to the vertices (in turn corresponding to yin and yang hexagram lines). It’s ironic that he takes this revision to indicate the utility of his theory here, as well as suggesting that Hakuin Ekaku (an 18th-century Zen master) composed the “one hand clapping” koan specifically to serve as a clue to this supposed secret (132-5).

There is constant reference to an astrological diagram, “an image which I call the tree of life” (76, fig. 69), which is not the Etz Chaim of the qabalah. It has the planets in a central column, ranging from Earth at the bottom, up through the days of the week from Sol (Sunday) to Saturn (Saturday). While this arrangement is useful for his exposition of the Genesis creation story, he makes an unjustified pivot at the book’s end to assert that it maps on to the sat chakras of esoteric human anatomy. The result is one that I personally consider “falsified” on the basis of esoteric instruction I’ve received, as well as my personal practice.

Despite the “Fourth Dimension” in the title and some discussion in the early parts of the book, there was disappointingly little hypergeometry here. And while Lambert has promised to revisit Salvador Dali’s Crucifixion (Corpus Hypercubus), he intends to do so in the context of the Platonic-Christian connection, rather than that of hypergeometry. This volume was as long as the previous two put together, but held my attention less efficiently. Perhaps a more magisterial tone would better suit the material than Lambert’s chatty exploratory approach? Yet these are titled as a “Notebook,” and the style reflects that: a tentative groping on the page for the content that will deserve to be summed up in the exposition of a “divine system.” [via]

Card Games Around the World

Hermetic Library fellow T Polyphilus reviews Card Games Around the World by Sid Sackson.

Sid Sackson Card Games Around the World

This little compendium of card game rules is the work of pioneering game designer Sid Sackson. Most of these will not be found in the usual editions of Hoyle’s. They are arranged regionally: Asia, Europe, more Europe, Britain, Latin America, and the US, with a final section of four original games, two of them by Sackson. The rules are all clear and playable, and there are some diagrams where needed, but most games pass without them.

Of the traditional games, I have played nearly all of the US games, and very few of the others. Ones I haven’t played that interest me most are the French games Piquet and Ecarte, the peg-scored game of Cribbage (now enjoying something of a renaissance), and Casino, which I had heard mentioned, but never imagined to play in the way that the rules run.

Among the new games, I am not much tempted by the Sackson offerings, which are both themed simulations of a sort: Card Football and Card Stock Market. But Ronald Corn’s Buried Treasure is intriguing, and Claude Soucie’s microgame Divide and Conquer looks even better. [via]

The Rose Cross and the Age of Reason

Hermetic Library fellow T Polyphilus reviews The Rose Cross and the Age of Reason by Christopher McIntosh.

Christopher McIntosh The Rose Cross and the Age of Reason

McIntosh’s monograph on esoteric initiatory societies in Enlightenment Germany is an invaluable study that dissolves ideological caricatures on the basis of intriguing historical evidence. It is important reading for any latter-day illuminatus. [via]

Showman Killer: Heartless Hero

Hermetic Library fellow T Polyphilus reviews Showman Killer: Heartless Hero by Alexandro Jodorowsky, illustrated by Nicolas Fructus, translated by Ivanka Hannenberger.

Alexandro Jodorowsky Showman Killer Heartless Hero

Heartless Hero is the first volume of the Showman Killer series of graphic novels, which seem to be Alejandro Jodorowsky’s most recent published work in English. (The French original was issued in 2010.) Although this story doesn’t have any narrative continuity with the Incal/Metabarons/etc., Jodorowsky is still telling the same kind of story: an anti-hero taking on a galactic empire, with mystical portents. The protagonist here is the titular “Showman Killer,” an invulnerable assassin capable of destroying armies in the blink of an eye. This first volume recounts his creation, his independence from the scientist who engineered him, and his mercenary ambitions. He is drawn into intrigue for the throne of the Omnimonarch, and encounters a mysterious woman who has visited his dreams.

There is (predictably, given the plot summary above) a lot of violence and gore in this volume, although I suppose some readers might be more bothered by the occasional nudity. Artist Nicholas Fructus has a background in animation, and has worked with luminaries like Druillet and Moebius. His art here is very painterly and effective.” [via]

The Annihilation Score

Hermetic Library fellow T Polyphilus reviews The Annihilation Score: A Laundry Files Novel by Charles Stross.

In my review of the previous Laundry Files novel I accurately speculated that “further volumes will see the role of narrator passed to some junior character.” I did not, however, expect that character to be Dominique “Mo” O’Brien, the wife of the protagonist of the first five volumes. Mo is Bob’s “junior” in the Laundry by a short while, although she is older than him and more intellectually accomplished. This book takes place during their “trial separation,” while their respective sorceries are behaving incompatibly. At first, I wondered if author Stross would sufficiently distinguish Mo’s narrative voice from Bob’s, given the peculiar combination of the Laundry environment: civil service, espionage, and soul-shearing horrors from outside of our universe; but he did succeed.

Where the comedic element of other Laundry books was largely supplied by Bob’s geeky sense of humor, this one managed to offer a wealth of absurd circumstances, centering as it did on an epidemic of superpowers, and the social consequences of villains and vigilantes in “pervert suits.” Unsurprisingly in a book narrated by Mo, the other chief concern was her escalating conflict with the diabolical enchanted violin which has been her professional tool and curse since the first stories of the series.

A key theme of the book is the differences between intelligence work and policing, with much attention paid to the formation of a police culture. Although the book is set in 21st-century England, this American reader could not help but reflect on the currency of the topic relative to our current spate of news about abusive and murderous police behavior. The public dialogue in the US could probably benefit from a conscious consideration of the “Peelian Principles” which have been foundational to the British Commonwealth’s conception of domestic policing since the early 19th century.

Stross is not quite as sharp here in his references to 20th-century occultism as he was in, say, The Fuller Memorandum. In particular, he invests both Aleister Crowley and Austin Osman Spare with musical abilities that the men did not possess. But these are throw-away allusions not intrinsic to the plot.

With this sixth novel (and at least two more projected), have the Laundry Files earned the right to be compared to Harry Potter? Both are supernatural sagas in self-consciously British institutional settings. Rather than Voldemort, Stross presents us with CASE NIGHTMARE GREEN, an incipient “magical singularity” or thaumaturgical armageddon that is a growing threat throughout the series. When The Atrocity Archive was published, I think the idea of a screen version would have seemed pretty far-fetched. Now, I suppose that the BBC should be recycling half of the creative team from Torchwood into work on an episodic Laundry series.