Tag Archives: book

The Delights of Anna

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews The Delights of Anna by John Colleton.

Colleton The Delights of Anna

This eleventh installment of the 14-book “John Colleton” series of erotic pseudo-memoirs has for its settings Charleston, Madrid, and Rome. I’ve previously read only the second and the seventh books, which made the early chapters of this one a little bewildering for me. They do take for granted a fair amount of prior character relationships, and narrator Beuaregard “Bill” Benton seems disinclined to supply context rather than witticisms. He does occasionally fill in details retrospectively–often with block text that looks like it might be quoting earlier books.

This short book is not psychologically profound, nor morally responsible. In The Pleasures of Cloris, Bill had already shown a lack of confidence in his abilities as a writer, and that note is sustained here, nine books later. In addition, he declares, “As must be evident by now, I am not comfortable with myself. I am bothered always by conflicting loyalties, mixed emotions, mixed emissions” (127). I can’t say that I judge his adventures admirable, but I do find them entertaining.

Stars of Black

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Stars of Black: Contemplations upon the Pale King by Julian M Miles.

Miles Stars of Black

Stars of Black is a self-published collection of weird horror short stories by Julian M. Miles. Although the jacket copy also refers to Ambrose Bierce, it’s clear that this cycle is rooted in the four seminal jauniste stories by Robert W. Chambers from The King in Yellow. Chambers’ tales have their geographic orientations to America and France, but Miles works with characters who are chiefly English, and typically in England.

These stories have an internal consistency, and in a few cases there are actually allusions between them, but there is no direct contiguity of plot or character. Still, this makes for a tighter and more rationally integrated set of tales than one usually encounters in the jauniste tradition. Although the stories have a fairly wide-ranging historical scope, the ones set in the twenty-first century generally engage a premise according to which clandestine agencies are urgently concerned to suppress circulation of the play The King in Yellow, because of its hazard to society as a whole. Some of the stories most connected to this conceit are “Tatters,” “House of Sorrows,” “Vade Mecum,” “Perfidious Counsel,” “Heart’s Abyss,” and “Storm Warning.”

Miles avoids any influence of the mutation of jauniste lore in fantasy-horror gaming, although he alludes to it once, when the heavy metal musician of “Implosion” works through “a load of stuff from a games company who seemed to have the goods on all of it. I read through the lot, as soon as they arrived, and thought it was all a bit trite: not even remotely what I was looking for” (156).

There are two stories that are outliers, being more directly concerned with the extra-terrene realm of Carcosa itself, without any framing in quotidian reality. “Thirteen of the Clock” is a very short piece that seems to integrate the King in Yellow lore with Edgar Allan Poe’s “Masque of the Red Death.” “The Last King” is the penultimate and longest selection in the volume, and it enlarges in great detail on the doom of Carcosa and its King. The style here reminds me more of Clark Ashton Smith’s otherworldly brocades than the enigmatic weird of Chambers (or the spare parable of Bierce), and I’m glad that this story was positioned at the end of the book so that it didn’t influence my reading of the others. On its own, it’s an interesting and somewhat satisfying read, but I would have found it distracting as an implicit context for the other, subtler work in this collection.

This book, more than any other I’ve read, works to affirm a specific mythos, as opposed to a more generalized mood, mechanism, or menace of the Pale King. Cassilda and Camilla do not appear, but the women of Carcosa all share that C initial. Is it merely a lunar hieroglyph? Or does the voiceless velar stop establish a class for which “Kupris … the Greek or Syrian Aphrodite-Venus, is the outstanding example in Theogony” (AC, “The God-Letters” in MWT)? Stars of Black is obscure but easy to obtain, and worth the bother.

McReady was a figure from some forgotten myth, a looming, bronze statue that held life and walked.

—John W Campbell, Who Goes There?

Hermetic quote Campbell Who myth

Learning to Die in the Anthropocene

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Learning to Die in the Anthropocene: Reflections on the End of a Civilization by Roy Scranton.

Scranton Learning to Die in the Anthropocene

The short treatise Learning to Die in the Anthropocene: Reflections on the End of a Civilization is pulled together from earlier articles and presentations by Roy Scranton, but it does cohere as a single piece. I found the title irresistible: not only does it evoke the deep philosophical tradition of “learning to die,” but the indefinite article in the subtitle serves as a hopeful reminder that our civilization is not the first, and with luck, won’t be the last.

Scranton is not sanguine about prospects for addressing the anthropogenic degradation of climate. He recognizes the socio-economic operations of the current global system as inherently unsustainable and incapable of effective reform. His chapter on “Carbon Politics” points up the attractiveness and the futility of protest-based efforts to inspire political change with respect to the energetic-material basis of our societies. This analysis is paired with “The Compulsion of Strife,” which traces the war and vengeance inherent in the origins of carbon politics, as well as imminent in the demise of civic structures.

Finally, his “New Enlightenment” calls for an embrace of the humanities, in order to maintain the memory of the dead. If we who will inevitably die are to have a further future, it will depend on our participation with the dead in systems of culture. This sort of humanism is needed in order to transcend the fear and aggression that our networked world propagates with nearly instantaneous speed through the nodes of our individual lives.

The book is bracketed by sections both called “Coming Home.” In the introduction, Scranton is coming home to the US, to witness in the devastation of New Orleans by Hurricane Katrina the same phenomena he had seen in Baghdad in the wake of Operation Shock and Awe. In the coda, he gestures to a mystical homecoming, in which we realize our identity with the fundamental mechanisms of change and perpetuation, under the figure of light.

To all the monsters hiding in this world, I hope the children will skin you alive. To the children in the world, let no one say you can’t make your monsters bleed.

—Cassandra Khaw, Hammers on Bone

Hermetic quote Khaw Hammers bleed

My definition of good management is the achievement of objectives through the manipulation of others.

—Jon Taffer, Raise the Bar

Vision of Tarot

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Vision of Tarot by Piers Anthony.

Anthony Vision of Tarot

This second volume of Anthony’s Tarot trilogy is mainly made up of episodes powered by the exo-planet’s mysterious “Animations,” providing a curious course in comparative religion. There are episodes treating Buddhism, Vodou (elliptically via syncretistic religion on an alien world), and the initiatory mysteries of ancient Egypt. A secular two-chapter arc focuses on the protagonist’s college, with a set of recollections of his student career and a return visit in the future. This pair of chapters seem to have been derived from Anthony’s own experiences at Goddard College, and they sit awkwardly in the future history that the books have provided so far.

Four out of the eleven chapters treat the history of Christianity, with an unusually perspicacious reading of the fourth chapter of the Gospel of John, a fair measure of “shaggy god story” in which Anthony’s hero strangely usurps the role of John the Baptist, and some not entirely faithful rehearsals from such visionary literature as Langland’s Vision of Piers Plowman, Dante’s Divine Comedy, Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, and Milton’s Paradise Lost. The book’s hero is a liberal Christian with a strong streak of skepticism, and so this section of the book, as much as any, has him addressing his own religious preconceptions.

After all of that, I began to harbor doubts that there will be a satisfying development of the plot in the frame of Planet Tarot and its society. The Animation concept seems to be largely a device for Anthony to supply himself with a narrative sandbox for discussing social issues and history of religions. In a prefatory note, he writes, “this segment is unified around the social and religious theme,” so perhaps the resolution of the main plot in the next book will supply the coherence that the first two have lacked.

This book definitely had a few high points. The alien sexual ethics of the Nath were cleverly developed, and I especially enjoyed the ritual ordeals under the Sphinx at Giza. The Christian material was about equal measures of hits and misses, but I’m not at all discouraged from moving on to the third and final volume.

Strange Stars

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Strange Stars: David Bowie, Pop Music, and the Decade Sci-Fi Exploded by Jason Heller.

Heller Strange Stars

Strange Stars is a study of genre in 1970s mass culture, specifically science fiction in the dialogues among various media: music and printed literature, film, and television. Mostly, the influence runs from the literature to music, often through the other media, but there are significant reversals and loops.

The book is organized chronologically, with a chapter for each year from 1970 through 1979, and bracketing chapters for the late 60s and the 80s and beyond. David Bowie’s journey from the folksy rock of “Space Oddity” to the new-wave-infused “Ashes to Ashes” supplies something like a narrative framework, but much of the book consists of a sprawling inventory of any music or musicians engaged with science fiction. Despite “Pop Music” in the subtitle, the treatment is in no way confined to a Top-40 milieu. Prog, metal, glam, krautrock, funk, and disco were all key subgenres in the proliferation of sci-fi notions through music.

I read much of this book with the other hand driving the YouTube search on my computer, since it cites a fair amount of music previously obscure to me. I think that’s an optimal way to read this sort of music criticism, which demands a multi-media sort of engagement for full appreciation.

Strange Stars includes frequent discussions of the sci-fi sleeve art for music records, a topic that could justify an entire book of its own, and none of the actual images are reproduced. Heller aptly observes that the most iconic sci-fi album image of the era was the guitar ships of Boston (1976), a record which had nothing at all science-fictional about its lyrics or musical style. He suggests that the fact represented a watershed moment, when sci-fi packaging became a modish selling point as opposed to a hazardous design option (137). Certainly, with the release of Star Wars shortly thereafter, the trend was consolidated.

Heller has done an impressive job of sleuthing out webs of personal association as well as artistic influence. Next to Bowie, perhaps the second most conspicuous figure in the book is science fiction author and sometime musician Michael Moorcock, whose enthusiasms and lyrics, starting in the Ladbroke Grove bohemian scene of the late 60s, were perpetuated through his collaboration with Hawkwind, Blue Öyster Cult, and others.

I’m not sure that the rigorously chronological scheme that Heller used here makes for the most compelling reading experience. It imposes a need to leap around quite widely-separated developments in different musical genres and sometimes leads to a feeling of choppiness and atomization. In his acknowledgments, Heller credits his editor Ryan Harrington for transforming this work to narrative history rather than an “encyclopedia,” and traces of that original sort of reference-work composition persist in the finished book. Still, readers like me who forage for sub-cultural lore will find this book eminently satisfying.

The White Wolf

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Michael Moorcock’s Elric Vol 3: The White Wolf by Julien Blondel, Jean-Luc Cano, Julien Telo, and Robin Recht.

Moorcock Blondel Cano Recht Telo Elric The White Wolf

Elric: The White Wolf is the third of the 21st-century French comics adaptations of Michael Moorcock’s anti-heroic sword-and-sorcery saga. The first two came out within a year of each other–at least their English translations did, in 2014 and 2015. But there was a wait of more than three years between the second and the third. I had been deeply impressed by the first two, and I’m happy to report that the third measures up nicely.

This volume does lack a foreword (the first two had them from Moorcock and Alan Moore) and for some inexplicable reason, publisher Titan Comics changed the design of the hardcover spine, so that it is not uniform with the earlier volumes. I’m very glad that the publisher is keeping these in a large page-format, rather than attempting to reduce them to American comics-sized pages.

The art is still highly imaginative and effective, and the writing continues to reinvent the Elric story in ways that depart from Moorcock’s original telling while only intensifying its underlying spirit. For anyone familiar with the original books, this volume of the graphic series will deliver a real sucker punch of a surprise ending! I hope that whatever trouble delayed this third number has been resolved, and that the fourth will follow apace.