A Case of Conscience

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews A Case of Conscience by James Blish.

Blish A Case of Conscience

Although it was the first to be written, author Blish classed his A Case of Conscience as the third of a trilogy. It is the third in terms of chronological setting, although the three do not have a continuous plot, and the mid-21st-century A Case of Conscience could not, in fact, follow after the events described in the 20th-century Devil’s Day. The three books of the trilogy are joined by theme, rather than plot. They each enigmatically address the question of whether “secular knowledge” leads inevitably toward supernatural evil. 

As a piece of thoughtful Golden Age science fiction, A Case of Conscience includes what now stands as an alternate history for the second half of the 20th century. Blish projected a “shelter economy” in which the threat of nuclear war drove all the wealthier countries literally underground, creating an economically committed but psycho-socially unsustainable troglodyte civilization composed of city-states under a UN aegis.

But the core dilemma of the book has to do with humanity’s first contact with an alien intelligence. FTL interstellar travel has been recently invented, and the exoplanet of Lithia has been found to harbor a race of intelligent bipedal reptiloids with utopian social and material harmony, and no god-notions at all. The principal characters of the novel are the four members of the first exploratory team to Lithia, to which is added the Lithian Egtverchi, brought back to Earth as an egg. More than half of the narrative centers on the Jesuit exo-biologist Ramon Ruiz-Sanchez.

There are two plot arcs in the book, with the first taking place on Lithia, and the second on Earth. The Lithian part–culminating in the joint decision of the exploratory team regarding future human relations with Lithia–was originally a stand-alone short story, and many reviewers seem to prefer it, and to be uncomfortable with the transition to the second arc. The second part is to Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land as King Kong is to Tarzan

The most artful feature of the novel is an ending that ties both plot arcs together, and justifies the supernaturalist dogmas of the Jesuit father without violating the materialist presuppositions of the other characters. Ultimately, though, no matter how sympathetically drawn Ruiz-Sanchez might be, I found his intricately stabilized doctrines to be unsound, and ludicrously based on an unwarranted privileging of humanity, to say nothing of their wrongheaded affirmation of what Jan Assman calls the Mosaic distinction, elevated this time to the far reaches of outer space.

The Great Game

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Scarlet Traces: The Great Game by Ian Edginton, illustrated by D’Israeli.

Edginton  D'Israeli Scarlet Traces The Great Game

This sequel to Scarlet Traces is more conclusive and satisfying than the original. In this volume, the Earth-Mars war (or more accurately, the British-Martian war) reaches its climax. Two characters–a hero and a villain–from the first volume provide continuity of plot as well as setting. The protagonist in The Great Game is a woman photojournalist, who infiltrates an interplanetary military expedition in order to find out what’s really happening on the Martian front. The art is consistent with the first volume, although artist d’Israeli has gone all in for CGI modeling techniques in the interim, with rewarding results for architecture, spaceship design, and so forth. Particularly in the final sections of the story, it seemed like the facial expressions of shock and horror got really extreme.

And the Ass Saw the Angel

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews And the Ass Saw the Angel by Nick Cave.

Cave And The Ass Saw The Angel

I’ve encountered few narrators more unreliable than Euchrid Eucrow, the principal voice of And the Ass Saw the Angel. He’s a congenital mute who is able to recount his first minutes of life at the age of 28. He claims divine inspiration far more often than he indicates the manner of its onset. He is unschooled and untraveled, yet he exhibits a wide and erudite diction, not to mention a striking ear for poetry; but if you can suspend your disbelief for that much, he is a treat to read–trenchant, funny, and ugly-beautiful. 

Plot-wise, there’s not much to commend here. Euchrid tells his whole life story, and the circumstances of his death are gradually illuminated by it. An omniscient third-person narrator provides a meager diet of supplementary details from outside Euchrid’s knowledge. The book’s epilogue is an obvious necessity, just covering the last open patch on the canvas that the story occupies. 

The religious themes of the book are provocative and intense. God is behind everything, and theologies of different depths are offered by the opportunist preacher Abie Poe, the Ukulite sect that founded and runs the town, and Euchrid himself. There are a handful of mystical experiences, although meteorological phenomena are God’s loudest voice.

This novel will not be engaging for those who avoid the blasphemous, the sordid, the violent, the vulgar, the decrepit, the delusional, or the degenerate. It breeds maggots and stinks of cheap liquor. It hates a lot, although it loves just enough to bring fuel to that hatred.

Zarathustra’s Dionysian Modernism

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Zarathustra’s Dionysian Modernism by Robert Gooding-Williams.

Gooding-Williams Zarathustra's Dionysian Modernism

Gooding-Williams offers an extremely thorough and considered reading of Nietzsche’s Also Sprach Zarathustra. As the title indicates, he favors a modernist understanding that stresses an effort to innovate and progress beyond received intellectual and moral frameworks. He confronts and contradicts Paul de Man’s perlocutionary pessimism in the body of his text, while also providing extensive annotations that position Gooding-Williams’s conclusions relative to a vast field of secondary literature.

Throughout his analyses, Gooding-Williams emphasizes the ambivalence and doubt involved with Zarathustra’s aspirations (and thus Nietzsche’s ambitions). He offers the stutter as a key attribute of the text, with incomplete repetitions halting desired advances. And yet he brings out the persistently future-oriented aspect of Zarathustra’s project, along with Nietzsche’s desire to interrupt the repetition of an exhausted Platonic-Christian value system.

The analysis of the doctrine of eternal recurrence makes up a substantial portion of the study. Gooding-Williams helpfully proposes to distinguish among the different forms of recurrence as approached in the context of the “Three Metamorphoses” sketched at the outset of Zarathustra: thus the Camel’s idea of recurrence differs from that of the Lion, which is not the same as the Child’s idea of eternal recurrence. I found a similar disaggregation of the concept of “redemption” to be somewhat less clear–his jargon of redemption1, redemption2, etc. tended to get in the way of his meaning.

Overall, Zarathustra’s Dionysian Modernism provides an insightful and highly coherent approach to this monumental work of imaginative philosophy.

Call for submissions to Magick, Music, and Ritual for 2020

Today I am announcing the 2020 call for submissions for Magick, Music and Ritual 15, the next anthology album of tracks by artists inspired by or who incorporate ritual and magick in their work. These anthology albums help promote artists to the audience of the Hermetic Library and beyond. These albums raise awareness about the connection between ritual, music and magick. And, they are a mass of awesome fun.

Magick, Music and Ritual 15 will be the 2020 release from the Anthology Project. The deadline for submissions to the 2020 anthology album is September 30th, 2020. Be sure to stay tuned to the blog, social media, and the pages for the Hermetic Library anthology project for reminders and updates along the way.

Hermetic Library Call for Submissions to Magick, Music and Ritual

 

Deadline for submissions is September 30th, 20120. Release is planned around the anniversary of the Hermetic Library’s birth on Dec 3rd, 1996.

Be sure to read through the terms and conditions for artist submissions to an anthology album (which includes some new and more specific information about acceptable file formats), and after that if you have any questions, comments or wish to contribute to this project; contact the librarian.

There are three new things to consider this year that are different than previous calls for submissions. First, this year I am asking for at least two tracks from each participant; one for the public issue Magick, Music and Ritual 15, and a second track for a private issue of This Is Not An Hermetic Library Anthology Album -2 for Patrons and Subscribers. Second, if I do not get enough participation this year, I will only release a private issue for Patrons and Subscribers with what submissions I do get. Third, if I am blessed with more submissions than necessary for a reasonable size anthology issue, I will be keeping the extra submissions for future releases, whereas previously I would use all suitable submissions, as many as possible, and not keep any in an ongoing reserve submissions pool for future issues.

Please consider joining Hermetic Library in promoting your work by contributing to this benefit anthology album project. All proceeds from album sales will support the library to help cover hosting costs, materials acquisitions, and other expenses.

 

Check out all the previously released anthology albums, help spread the word about the Hermetic Library anthology project, and let those you think may be interested know about this new opportunity to participate.

 

Cover Artwork and Design

If you would like to make a proposal for the artwork and design of this anthology, please get in touch! Take a gander at all the other covers and consider joining the illustrious artists who have participated with their work on those anthologies.

Patron and Subscriber-Only EP

This year, in addition to the public issue, I will be creating a Patron and Subscriber-only EP as a special additional perk for those people who are ongoing Patrons of Hermetic Library on Patreon or have subscribed to Hermetic Library on Bandcamp. This will be alternate tracks on an exclusive album that will be released in addition to the anthology.

Bonus Download Submissions

If you are creating something else, and would like to be included in the anthology download as a bonus, let me know. I’m open to bonus artwork, essay, articles and … well, anything that can be included in a digital download!

Become a Patron or Subscriber

The best ways to add anthology releases and this upcoming Hermetic Library album to your personal music collection is to become an ongoing Patron at Patreon or Subscriber at Bandcamp. Patrons and Subscribers will each be offered a gratis download code for each new release while they are active in addition to other patronage rewards they may receive, and that ends up being the most cost effective way to get these albums. New Patrons and Subscribers get immediate access to a back catalog release, which means a full album when they sign up, and another when the new anthology is released. Consider becoming a Patron today!