Tag Archives: reviews

Dune: House Atreides

Julianus reviews Dune: House Atreides by Brian Herbert and Kevin J Anderson in the Bkwyrm archive.

This is, of course, a prequel to Frank Herbert’s classic saga, written by his son. You really have to feel for Brian here, since he really can’t win as he sets himself to add on to one of the most complex and beloved novels of the century. As far as I’m concerned Frank Herbert himself never really did a proper job on his own sequels, so what hope do we have here?

Set about forty years before the events of Dune, this is basically a collection of interconnected narratives about the characters it that book and how they got where they were. Leto Atreides is a teenager being sent to an allied world for his education, Vladimir Harkonnen is thin (!) but still his familiar decadent self, Shaddam is an impatient Crown Prince, and the Bene Gesserit are just beginning to arrange the conception of Jessica. There is no real plot holding all this together, just threads leading to the start of the original novel.

The real problem here is that despite all the best efforts the whole book just feels wrong. Many of the events seem quite outlandish, the characters are way too familiar with secrets that were/will be hidden from them in Dune, and worst of all they talk wrong. In Frank’s novel we were transported to a milieu that was far removed from our own where people had very different attitudes and manners. Brian and Kevin make them talk like Americans and they even use catch-phrases like “think outside the box!”

If you’re a Dune fanatic you will probably want to read this, but I’d suggest you borrow a copy and save your money for something better.

Find this book at Amazon, Abebooks, or Powell’s

Jezebel

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Jezebel: The Untold Story of the Bible’s Harlot Queen by Lesley Hazleton.

Hazleton has been a journalist and a psychologist in Israel, and she puts both sets of experience to good use in Jezebel, an exploration of the historical figure behind the woman who is the supposed villain of the biblical book of Kings. The great Scarlet Woman of the Old Testament proves to be a very effective focus for viewing the cultures and politics of the ancient near east, and the development of Hebrew monotheism.

Although the book is very pleasant and speedy reading, the author musters a great deal of the latest archaeology and comparative ancient literature to provide persuasive reconstructions of the people and places from the biblical account. The Tyrian princess Isha-Baal (i.e. Jezebel) emerges from this book as a figure whose integrity is evident in the Bible despite the efforts of its redactors, and the court dynamics of the vanished city of Jezreel create a paradigm for “culture wars” in subsequent ages.

To all this, Halzleton adds her own experiences of visiting various sites where the story of Kings is supposed to have occurred, a device which helps her to tie reflections about gender, power politics, and religious fanaticism in ancient Israel together with the same topics in modernity. [via]

Dreamtime Is Upon Us

Phil Hine reviews Dreamtime Is Upon Us, The Second Annual Report of the Association of Autonomous Astronauts, in the Bkwyrm archive.

The AAA is a worldwide network dedicated to local, community-based space exploration programs. Dreamtime is Upon Us is the second annual report of what the various AAA groups have been doing in order to further their goals. My initial impression was that of ‘anarcho-situationists in space’ but the AAA is much more than that. Particularly intriguing is Luther Blissett’s contribution “Sex in Space” and the XXX Foundation’s $1 million prize offered to the first privately-funded group to send a craft into sub-orbital space (about 60 miles up) and engage in sexual intercourse! Also of note is the report from Raido AAA who tell us that commercial ‘space tourism’ is being predicted by 2010 and that the Catholic Church is looking forwards to meeting with aliens – in order to convert them to Christianity!

If you’re interested in space, but depressed by the thought that the final frontier has been already sewn up by the military-industrial combine, the AAA offers several alternative directions. Get Dreamtime is Upon Us and get with the program!

Note: this and other annual reports are available on ASAN’s annual reports page.

The Order of the Solar Temple

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews The Order of the Solar Temple: The Temple of Death, edited by James R Lewis.

There is little durable literature on the Order of the Solar Temple in English, but the group’s nature and catastrophic demise is extremely important to understanding the situation of minority religions and occult groups in the Francophone world. Over seventy members of this society, constituting the greater part of its core membership, murdered each other and suicided in a few ritual events over the course of three years in the mid-1990s.

Many of the authors in this volume of collected papers evaluate the inevitable comparisons–even drawn by Solar Temple members themselves–with the nearly contemporaneous Branch Davidian massacre in Texas, as well as the later Heaven’s Gate UFO cult suicides and the earlier People’s Temple of Jim Jones. Ultimately, such comparisons or contrasts are unenlightening because even these better-known groups are poorly understood; and in the absence of further supporting detail, the authors seem to be passing judgment on the basis of superficial media representations. In other respects, it’s difficult to generalize about this fairly diverse group of papers.

There is some predictable redundancy among chapters all written in parallel; each reestablishes the basic scenario of the deaths of the members and their discovery, but each emphasizes different aspects of the Solar Temple culture and organization. Papers that stand out for their particular usefulness include Jean-Francois Meyer’s 1993 (i.e. pre-“Transit”) study of the society, Susan Palmer’s analysis using Mary Douglas’ religious purity model, George Chryssides’ discussion of the original sources for Solar Temple teachings, and Henrik Bogdan’s account of the ceremonial rituals of the Temple.

The second paper in the volume, written by Massimo Introvigne for CESNUR in 1995, provides an impressively clear summary of the history of neo-Templarism as a context for the Solar Temple, and raises a number of questions regarding agency and responsibility surrounding the deaths which have yet to be decisively answered, and perhaps never will be. Contrasting with Introvigne’s clarity, the penultimate paper, Marc Labelle on “The Ordre du Temple Solaire and the Quest for the Absolute Sun,” is an attempt to explain the Solar Temple teachings, but culminates in a stretch of unintelligible metaphysical prose that seems to be purely Labelle’s own.

The book also helpfully furnishes the reader with two primary documents: the “Testaments” released by the leadership of the Solar Temple on the occasion of their primary “Transit,” and the ritual text for a ceremony of initiation. [via]

Drawing Down the Moon

Bkwyrm reviews Drawing Down the Moon: Witches, Druids, Goddess-Worshippers, and Other Pagans in America Today by Margot Adler in the Bkwyrm archive.

First written in the late seventies, updated in 1986, this book has become a classic. It details Adler’s journey through much of the world’s Pagan community, and contains interviews and observations. A reference work more than a workbook or instruction book, it can be found on many Pagan shelves. It is out of date by a long shot, but still an interesting work. Some folks don’t like it, as it accurately depicts some of the dissensions in the community over issues such as theology, philosophy, and ethics.

Publishing Note: The 1995 edition has some tremendously annoying typeface mistakes, with line after line blurry, bolded, or in italics for no reason at all. The new 1997 edition appears to be free of these mistakes.

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Logicomix

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Logicomix: An Epic Search for Truth by Apostolos Doxiadis and Christos H Papadimitriou, ill by Alecos Papadatos and Annie Di Donna.

Logicomix is a genre-defying graphic novel, a metafictional (the authors insist on the logical term “self-referential”) biography of the logician Bertrand Russell, bringing him face-to-face with other champions and challengers of logic in the first half of the 20th century–whether they really met or not. A recurrent conundrum presents the close relationship between madness and the discipline of logic, and putting Russell’s account into a speech that he gave in the US in 1939 places the essential questions in the context of decisions about war and peace. A 21st-century frame story is set in Athens, thus alluding to the ancient foundations of logical thought, as well as the dramatic form of tragedy, to which author Doxiadis (but not Papadimitriou) refers Russell’s saga.

As the authors are at pains to point out, this book is not a primer on logic in comic form, nor is it really about logic as such. It is about the people who are driven to pursue this line of inquiry, and the stresses and rewards involved with it. At the same time, the story can and should be inspirational to anyone who might want to look into the discipline. I was a little disappointed that the apparent dead-end of Gödel’s incompleteness theorem was allowed to stand as a terminus of axiomatic logic as a whole, with only the algorithmic enterprises of Turing and Von Neumann as a coda. As a fan of G. Spencer-Brown’s Laws of Form, I know that the trail didn’t end there, and I would have relished some other pointers. But to give the authors their due, they did accomplish their stated goal to tell a story with a beginning, middle, and end–even if the end was “incompleteness.” (Contrast a story that was complete at endlessness.) And they did a good job of it too.

Considering how much of the story necessarily takes place in speech — both to communicate abstractions, and because the two chief framing devices are conversation and lecture — there is really a lot to look at in this book. The artists have rendered all of the historical figures and situations in a streamlined but serious style that amplifies all of the emotional coloration involved with the tale. The book reads amazingly quickly: it’s a fat tome, but if you’re a reader like me, it will be over far too quickly, forcing you to look for a dissimilar sequel in something like Gödel’s Proof or Fuller’s Critical Path. [via]

Dark Knights of the Solar Cross

Phil Hine reviews Dark Knights of the Solar Cross by Geoffrey Basil Smith in the Bkwyrm archives.

In this fascinating little book Geoffrey Basil Smith sets out to untangle the roots of modern occult movements. Beginning with a look at Benjamin Creme’s “Maitreya” movement, he launches into an exploration of the beginnings of the Theosophical Society and its offshoots. He then goes on to explore the unfolding of the Rosicrucian organisations, particularly the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn and the Ordo Templis Orientis. Mr. Smith manages to deal with a most convoluted subject with a precise brevity of phrase which is to be applauded. Anyone interested in the history of modern occultism will find this a worthy addition to their library.