Tag Archives: T Polyphilus

2010: Odyssey Two

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews 2010: Odyssey Two [Amazon, Bookshop, Publisher, Local Library] by Arthur C Clarke, book 2 of the Space Odyssey series.

Clarke 2010 Odyssey Two

Arthur C. Clarke’s “Odyssey sequence” straddles strangely the media of cinema features and text novels. 2001: A Space Odyssey was plotted by the author in collaboration with filmmaker Stanley Kubrick and then written in dialogue with the production of the movie. The mutually-informing parallel products were not identical; a few significant differences separated their plots. Clarke’s book 2010: Odyssey Two is a sequel to the 2001 movie. In every case where narrative continuity forces him to choose, he follows the film. No doubt he was motivated by the hope (fulfilled in 1984) that 2010 would also be a movie, and he wanted to make the book digestible into a screenplay without extra retconning.

In fairness, it’s likely that many more people saw the 2001 movie than read the novel. So the choice made sense for their sake as potential 2010 readers also. Still, it creates some strangeness for a 21st-century reader now approaching the books as a series.

After reading 2001 and detecting an esoteric pattern in its structure, I wondered if there would be similar references and effects in the next book. I believe there are. The most conspicuous of these is the title shared by the final section and its last chapter: “Lucifer Rising.” While it seems unlikely that Clarke took this title from the 1972 avant-garde film by Kenneth Anger, they may have had some occult inspiration in common. Another echo of magick was in the title of the second section “Tsien” (the name of the Chinese spaceship in the story) after the onetime GALCIT rocketry colleague of Jack Parsons in Pasadena.

The central character of 2010 is Heywood Floyd, the protagonist of the early lunar “TMA-1” section of 2001. Understood via a Rosicrucian-Thelemite template, Floyd is an astronaut-initiate who becomes an adept by means of his 2010 adventure to Jupiter, in a mission to recover the lost Discovery and to advance human knowledge regarding the great black monolith at the Lagrange-1 point in the Jupiter-Io system. The Star Child who had been Dave Bowman serves as a magus of the ineffable gods, giving a Word to humanity, who struggle to comprehend it.

Floyd’s 2010 expedition is a joint USSR-USA undertaking, which had become historically impossible before the end of the 20th century. But Clarke could duck any plot adjustments for those political eventualities in the next book 2061: Odyssey Three, which he managed to write a few years prior to the end of the Soviet Union. Of greater concern to Clarke was accounting for scientific developments, especially the 1979 disclosures from the probe Voyager.

Although the pacing and voice of 2010 are very similar to those of 2001, I thought the effect of the second book was much different than the first. Bowman’s ascension had been awfully lonely. The crew of the Leontov, by contrast, produce two marriages, and they witness the appearance of a new “companion” on an astronomical scale, and even the solitary Star Child redeems an old friend in 2010.

Although I know that the set-up in the first two books differs enough from the reality of our 21st century that 2061 will tell an impossible tale, I am looking forward to the first book of the sequence that we haven’t already caught up with on the calendar.

The Dreaming City

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews The Dreaming City [Amazon, Bookshop, Publisher, Local Library] by Julien Blondel, Jean-Luc Cano, and Julien Telo, foreword by Jean-Pierre Dionnet, vol 4 of the Elric series.

Blondel Cano Telo The Dreaming City Elric

This newly-released (in English) fourth volume completes the “first cycle” of Julien Blondel’s bandes dessinées adaptation of Michael Moorcock’s Elric stories. Blondel takes a lot of liberties with the original texts–something on the level of a typical cinematic adaptation of a novel–but his choices are generally very good and have reportedly met with Moorcock’s own approval. One of the biggest changes was introduced at the end of the third volume and is central to this one. . . . . . . . [hover over to reveal spoilers] . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

I like the gloomy, shadow-heavy art by Telo in this book, but some of the compositions are hard to “read” in narrative terms, especially during the climactic confrontation among Elric, Cymoril, and Yrkoon. In some panels for example, I didn’t know which of the rune-swords is being shown: is that Stormbringer or Mournblade? These stumbles “work” impressionistically, reflecting Elric’s own confusion, but they are still a little frustrating for the reader.

The foreword by Jean-Pierre Dionnet (co-founder of Métal hurlant, who asks that you read his essay after The Dreaming City to which it is prefaced) is the least of these in the series, but like the others it contains some piquant autobiographical reflections and musings on international culture and the role of fantasy. It does include one amusing double-translation through French: the Moorcock novel “Here’s the Man” (i.e. Behold the Man, which is the biblical ecce homo).

The claim to have finished a cycle of the larger saga is a fair one here. Most of the story threads have been tied off, if not ruthlessly cut and burned, by this point. The issuance of these volumes has been at a pretty leisurely pace, and I hope that they continue without an even longer intermission than the ones before.

The Gone-Away World

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews The Gone-Away World [Amazon, Bookshop, Publisher, Local Library] by Nick Harkaway.

Harkaway The Gone-Away World

Although I came to this novel on the basis of my appreciation of a later work by the same author, it made an eerily good match for the most recent feature film I enjoyed. If you liked the martial arts action, twisted humor, melodramatic pathos, and reality-warping mindfuckery of Everything, Everywhere, All at Once, you might find that Nick Harkaway’s doorstop 2008 first novel actually delivers a kindred experience.

The Gone-Away World contains about half a dozen major anagnorises or revelatory plot pivots, each with perfectly adequate narrative preparation and often outright foreshadowing. After getting caught with my pants down by a couple of these, I got really vigilant, paying special attention to what the story hadn’t told me at that point, and my effort was rewarded with being able to anticipate the next big surprise by maybe two or three pages. Then as I kept on reading, feeling pleased with myself, I got surprised again! (Well, I sort of saw that coming.) And again! (OMG, how could I fail to have seen that coming!) It was like losing a sparring bout.

The semi-fantastic post-apocalyptic setting is definitely sui generis (although comparisons others have made to Vonnegut have some merit), and it took me a few of the book’s longish chapters to get comfortable with the narrative framing. But even before that point I found the prose fast-moving and congenial.

There’s possibly an allegory here, certainly a parable. I had to wonder if Harkaway named “FOX”–“the gunk … inFOrmationally eXtra-saturated” (259) that stabilizes reality after the Go Away War has totally disrupted it– as a conscious poke at US propaganda media. The book takes aim at even bigger troubles, though, if you want to read it that way. The repeated tacit references to Andromeda in the final arc were poignant.

On the whole, I liked this novel a lot and found it to be a lively ride. It fell a little short of the tremendously high esteem I have for Harkaway’s Gnomon, but that’s hardly grounds to dismiss it. It is perhaps, as I’ve seen some suggest, more accessible than the later book, while still delivering a considerable taste of what the writer has to offer.

Against the Machine

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Against the Machine: Being Human in the Age of the Electronic Mob [Amazon, Bookshop (Random House new edition), Publisher (Random House new edition), Local Library] by Lee Siegel.

Siegel Against the Machine

I made two errors in selecting this book to read. First, I confused the author with the other Lee Siegel, Indologist and novelist, who I thought could have some interesting things to say on this topic, as any contemporary intellectual might. This Lee Siegel is however a journalist, reviewer, and culture critic with a history of work at Slate and prominent US print periodicals. Second, I failed to notice that the book was published in 2008, making it as much a matter of historical interest as contemporary analysis, with respect to circumstances on the internet. It was slightly prior to the first Avatar movie–which it instances in discussing the increasingly immersive qualities of media, after a rather puzzling and factually dubious digression about the effects of “method acting” on media culture (114).

Still, without much in the way of overt prognostication, the book was in some respects prescient. The “Electronic Mob” of the subtitle mostly predated the (today still steeply increasing) usage of “Twitter mob,” as that platform was then in its infancy and didn’t even rate a mention. Instead, the cutting-edge internet landscape in this book consists of now-matured (if not in some cases decrepit) platforms such as MySpace, YouTube (not yet acquired by Google), Second Life (now relevant as a de facto Metaverse beta trial?), eBay, and Match.com.

Seigel positions himself squarely against “Internet boosterism” that trivializes the social and cultural hazards of the ‘net while advancing claims for it to enhance freedom, democracy, “self expression,” and choice. He remarks convenience as the sole genuine benefit of ‘net use. He has a cast of “booster” futurologists and pundits whom he excoriates, and these include Alvin Toffler, Stuart Brand, David Brooks, and Malcolm Gladwell, all of whom are fair marks I think. But he seems to err in targeting Douglas Rushkoff–a conspicuous critic of ‘net “social media”–confusing some of Rushkoff’s diagnoses of internet culture with blithe endorsements. (On p. 84 Siegel doesn’t allow for the possibility that Rushkoff’s “eerie mechanistic idiom” and “outlandishness” might have been calculated to produce the negative reaction towards ‘net indoctrination that Siegel experienced reading it!) Like the old-line cyberpunk Rushkoff, Siegel objects to “the commodifying of ideas and emotions behind hyperbole about liberating avenues of fantasy and play” in characterizations of the internet (36).

He claims that the 20th-century broadcast media which addressed the masses were not yet the “mass culture for the first time” manifested in an internet which surrenders itself to the banalities of sensationalism, hyperbole, and fraud (74-9). He wants to draw a bright line where ‘net-driven culture leaves behind merited fame in favor of “viral” popularity, and he objects to the ubiquitous metaphor: “It depresses me to equate illness with success even in a quotation” (105). Ruminating on the internet devaluation of expertise in culture, Siegel uses medicine as his counterpoint: “That’s why you never hear about the Internet causing a ‘revolution’ in law or medicine … Professions and trades require training. You could not have the equivalent of Jay Rosen creating ‘citizen heart surgeons'” (139). He thought medicine was immune to the assault on expertise! And now a non-metaphoric pandemic virus has killed millions, many of whom refused the preventive measures supplied by establishment medicine, in favor of “doing their own research” on the internet.

Ever so briefly, Siegel brushes up against the hazard of epistemic closure, where “users customize their news sources so they only read news that suits their own interests and tastes” (109), which a reader might be tempted to dismiss as a mere extension of the general human failing of confirmation bias. He misses how this failing can become catastrophic when covertly reified through Google page rank, Facebook feed algorithms, and other subtle devices of surveillance capitalism. Indeed, the surveillance dimension escapes him altogether, and he doesn’t acknowledge the rational, defensive role of internet anonymity in the face of unregulated corporate control.

Against the Machine places a premium on its exploration of the subjective isolation of the ‘net user, with introspective passages about what it is like for Siegel to sit down at his computer and what it is that he is doing and trying to do when he interacts with the ‘net there. As a professional writer, it seems he was unable to perceive the extent–even in 2008–that the main interface for ‘net users had shifted from laptop to smartphone. The nowhere of the internet is now more everywhere than before. When he contrasts the transactional, ulterior nature of internet experience with the exploratory nature of a walk in the park or browsing in a bookstore (174-5), he seems not to have imagined that the internet could so colonize the quotidian that the walker in the park would be listening to a podcast, or the bookstore shopper checking her phone for a recommendation she had read online. (Nor does he seem to have experienced the aleatory pleasure–no matter how contrived–of “surfing” the ‘net!)

This book-length essay interestingly complements the recent and widely-hailed article in The Atlantic by Jonathan Haidt, “Why the Past Ten Years of American Life Have Been Uniquely Stupid.” Haidt’s piece is a retrospective on the damage done by social media, justifying and amplifying many of Siegel’s indictments, such as those regarding “virality,” the commodification of private life, the erosion of social institutions, and the magnification of hate and outrage. Haidt, like Rushkoff but unlike Siegel, also pays particular attention to consequences for the children of the 21st century, for whom the ‘net has been an inescapable ingredient of social and emotional development. Another point emphasized by Haidt (which Siegel touches far more incidentally) is the fact that ‘net discourse overrepresents the whitest, most affluent, and most ideologically rigid (whether “conservative” or “progressive”) participants.

No one encountering even just the title of Siegel’s book should expect anything other than a jeremiad. His defense of inherited media institutions (despite their complicity in the internet developments he decries) often makes him seem like a reactionary, and some of his arguments are a bit muddled. But most of his concerns have been borne out by the dismal developments of the last decade and a half, and the book is written thoughtfully enough that almost any given paragraph could be meat for earnest intellectual argument. Despite it being not at all the book I had thought I was reserving at my local public library, I thought it was still worth my time to read.

The Algebraist

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews The Algebraist [Amazon, Bookshop, Local Library] by Iain M Banks.

Banks The Algebraist

The Algebraist is a full-bore space opera with a galactic setting, plenty of exotic alien intelligences, interstellar warfare, political intrigue, espionage, melodrama, and a surprisingly generous helping of slapstick. It is divided into six chapters of about eighty pages each, but these are not component novellas. It’s very much a single novel with a unified arc from start to finish.

The far future described here takes place long after the “Arteria Collapse” that broke up the wormhole-networked galactic community. The focus is on the particularly remote Urlubis system. This peripheral locale is still subject to the Mercatoria, which imposes its multiracial but highly authoritarian hierarchies across much of the galaxy, along with a crusade against autonomous AI.

Humans are both old and relatively new to galactic polity, since a-humans (“advanced” or abducted) had spread quite widely after being collected earlier by other starfaring races. R-humans (“remainder”) from Earth did eventually join these “prepped” populations. The story’s protagonist is a human “seer,” part of a research institution dedicated to learning from a somewhat standoffish race of gas-giant planet “Dwellers” who are among the oldest and most widespread of interstellar sentients.

This freestanding novel was my first read in the works of Iain Banks, whose science fiction is most identified with his series The Culture. I liked it a great deal, and I will certainly wade into The Culture on the strength of this book.

Decoding the Enochian Secrets

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Decoding the Enochian Secrets: God’s Most Holy Book to Mankind as Received by Dr. John Dee from Angelic Messengers [Amazon, Bookshop, Publisher, Local Library] by John DeSalvo.

DeSalvo Decoding Enochian Secrets

The highlight of this relatively recent (2011) volume on angelic magic is the first complete publication of the last remaining element of John Dee’s Enochian corpus as delivered to him by spirits through the mediumship of Edward Kelley, i.e. Liber Logaeth, a.k.a. the “Book of Enoch.” Author John DeSalvo provides that text in the form of scanned facsimiles from the British Library. This Appendix B is more than half of the book.

Decoding the Enochian Secrets starts with a couple of chapters regarding the biblical person of Enoch and the ancient (“apocryphal”) Book of Enoch, with some inquiry into their connections with the Dee and Kelley materials. While I was intrigued by the idea that DeSalvo might come up with something new on this front, as he certainly gives it more sustained attention than most authors on the topic, he’s not able to muster anything beyond broad thematic similarities between ancient and early modern “Enochian” lore. He also supplies a high-level summary of the Dee and Kelley evocations, repeatedly quoting passages from the diaries that describe Kelley being struck and lit by radiant beams from the stone.

DeSalvo’s commendable attention to primary materials does result in an editorial clarification of the forty-nine tables of Liber Logaeth, including the “missing” forty-ninth. He emphasizes that Dee’s diaries identify the express purpose of the Calls to be assisting with the understanding of how to operate these tables, also that the angels enjoined Dee not to do that work until receiving further commands–which were never delivered.

Nevertheless, the recommendations here for contemporary practice are surprisingly conventional, and very much in the mode of Crowley and Regardie (the only 20th-century magicians DeSalvo mentions). His method for “meditation” on the aethyrs prescribes the lesser pentagram ritual for opening and closing, and includes goetic-style prayer and “license to depart” both marked as “optional.”

I agree with DeSalvo’s view that original versions of these tables were probably all inscribed by Dee while the entranced Kelley was dictating them. (All but one of the surviving tables are in Kelley’s hand, evidently copied from Dee’s.) He makes the credible and intriguing suggestion that these originals might survive, perhaps even in the British Library, subject to misattribution or faulty cataloging.

DeSalvo speculates that Liber Logaeth was received by Dee, but embargoed by the angels because it is intended to serve as a device of the “end times.” He suggests that his work in issuing this book is part of that instrumentality, even connecting it with “2012 being the end date of the Mayan calendar” (73). On this front, he willfully ignores the chiliastic dimension of Crowley’s The Vision & the Voice, and seems to mistake the immanentization of the eschaton for its “imminentization.”

This book tries to straddle the gap between a popular introduction to Enochian magic and a more specialized defense of DeSalvo’s own theories and excavation of sources. I would only recommend it for the latter, since there are other and better options for the former.

Flight from Nevèrÿon

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Flight from Nevèrÿon [Amazon, Publisher, Local Library] by Samuel R Delany, part of the Return to Nevèrÿon series.

Delany Flight from Neveryon

The third volume of Delany’s Nevèrÿon stories was supposed to be his last, although there is a fourth book in the trilogy. Flight from Nevèrÿon has three numbered sections, the third of which consists of two appendices and makes up half the book.

I read and enjoyed the putative body text of “The Tale of Fog and Granite” and “The Mummer’s Tale,” both of which built on the the characters and settings of Delany’s previous stories, within the established fictional context of the antediluvian realm of Nevèrÿon, while carrying forward a project of postmodern theorizing embedded in the narratives.

The acme of the book, though, and perhaps of the whole series, was longest piece, “Appendix A: The Tale of Plagues and Carnivals, or, Some Informal Remarks toward the Modular Calculus, Part Five.” This part features a complete Nevèrÿon story centered around an AIDS-like plague and the social responses it provokes. Interleaved with that story are several other registers of writing, including lightly fictionalized anecdotes from Delany’s own life, a running account of his gay junky acquaintance “Joey,” tail-devouring criticism of the book in hand by the imaginary academic S. L. Kermit, and a closing note about the public health facts of AIDS as they were understood at the time of writing in mid-1984.

In addition to the intended reflections of 1980s New York in Nevèrÿon, Appendix A brings up occasional irruptions of Nevèrÿon in 1980s New York. But my favorite passage of “Plagues and Carnivals” was section 9.6, detailing relations between the Mummer and the Master of the academy. In these seven pages (261-7) Delany tacitly supplies an interpretive frame for the canon of Classical Greek philosophy from Heraclitus through Plato. It’s an impressive feat and delightful for the informed reader.

“Clearly the Nevèrÿon series is a model of late twentieth-century (mostly urban) America. The question is, of course: What kind of model is it?” (377) The far shorter Appendix B collapses into the more “factual” and explicatory matter of the author’s reflections on the three volumes, answers to readers about the nature of the “modular calculus,” citation of sources and inspirations, theory of semiotics/semiology grounding Delany’s writing, and a list of Delany’s corrections to the three books then in print–when he thought that the work was “complete.”

Solomon’s Memory Palace

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Solomon’s Memory Palace: A Freemason’s Guide to the Ancient Art of Memoria Verborum [Amazon, Bookshop, Publisher, Local Library] by Bob W Lingerfelt.

Lingerfelt Solomon's Memory Palace

In my book A Bishop’s Advice there is a chapter on memorization for purposes of religious ceremony. There, as in other presentations I have made on memorization of O.T.O. ritual, I avoided discussions of the classical and renaissance “arts of memory,” although I have made extensive study of them elsewhere. I don’t see those techniques as essential for our ritualists, and they seemed perhaps sufficiently exotic to distract from the other points I was making with respect to ritual memorization. I was, however, very interested to read the recent book by Bob W. Lingerfelt, Solomon’s Memory Palace, which is a brief instructional volume for Freemasons on the very subject of applying traditional techniques of locative memory to the memorization of ritual.

While Lingerfelt is clearly well read in the traditional sources and modern scholarship for ars memoriae, his tone is not at all academic. The approach is colloquial and practical, and often at pains to clarify the sort of dated English diction that pervades Masonic ritual texts. He is a Nebraska Mason, and his book makes it implicitly clear that his jurisdiction places a greater emphasis on ritual secrecy (and consequently memorization) than many do, including today’s United Grand Lodge of England. While the introduction of the book seeks to offer it to other readers in addition to Masons, the text was quite evidently written for the benefit of Lingerfelt’s Masonic brethren throughout. That said, anyone engaged in the memorization of liturgy, scripture, or other texts should be able to apply his advice on the memorization method sometimes called “memory palaces.”

Specific instructions on the technique are amplified with a fair amount of other useful and valid advice regarding memorization, and the author’s “Closing Thoughts” speculate productively on the potential thaumaturgy involved in the development of memory, and its role in traditions of fraternal initiation. Three appendices are more illustrative than procedural, and very much grounded in the details of Masonic ritual.

I feel I can earnestly recommend Solomon’s Memory Palace to my Thelemic coreligionists in MMM and EGC.

The Price You Pay

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews The Price You Pay [Amazon, Bookshop, Publisher, Local Library] by Aidan Truhen.

Truhen The Price You Pay

The Price You Pay is entirely in the first person voice of Jack Price (pun intended and explicitly emphasized) and his immediate interlocutors, present tense, all internal monologue and external dialogue with not a quotation mark in sight, not even that em-dash alternative, and never a “he said.” Simple paragraph breaks and sparing direct address do all the heavy lifting of speaker identification, and they do it well.

Where plot is concerned, the book is a clear if remote descendant of John Buchan’s seminal “thriller” The Thirty-Nine Steps, although set in the 21st century with an elite coke dealer protagonist and a lot more collateral damage (also, no war propaganda). To the episodic man-on-the-run structure are added extra helpings of violence, plus the energy and ambivalent misanthropy of an early Chuck Pahluniuk novel.

“I am a fucking asymmetric criminal startup. I got limited expertise in criminal strategic warfare. I hotdesk and I outsource and I franchise but what I mostly have is a core concept, forward momentum and the unassailable fact that I’m crazier than a fibreglass hairball.” (73)

I don’t think this book has any socially redeeming value other than being twisted and funny as hell.

Cult and Controversy

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Cult and Controversy: The Worship of the Eucharist Outside Mass [Amazon, Bookshop, Publisher, Local Library] by Nathan Mitchell, Studies in the Reformed Rites of the Catholic Church, Vol 4.

Mitchell Cult and Controversy

When I started reading this 1981 study in Roman Catholic liturgy and ritual praxis, I expected it to be chiefly concerned to contextualize and interpret the 1973 Vatican Decree on “Holy Communion and Worship of the Eucharist Outside Mass,” which supplied regular liturgical forms for administration of the Eucharist to the sick, viaticum, processions and benedictions with the Eucharist, “forty hours” devotions, and Eucharistic congresses, all in light of the Second Vatican Council. While that concern is certainly present here, the book happily has a much wider scope and ambition to review without prejudice popular customs and official sanctions attaching to the Eucharist outside the liturgy of the Mass.

The first half of the book is concerned with ancient and medieval contexts. Ultimately, the traditional practices are classed under four heads: 1) Administering the sacrament in ministerial visits to the sick or dying, 2) Processions displaying the host, 3) Stationary exhibition of the host, and 4) Use of the reserved host as an instrument of benediction (163 ff.). Early chapters discuss cultural and liturgical developments that fueled the worship of the consecrated species, which only became possible once the Eucharist had transformed from a “holy meal to sacred food.”

The second part (“Reforms”) is concerned with modern developments, including both the Tridentine era and the developments since Vatican II. There is particular attention given to the US American context, where the sort of practices discussed in this book “provided a ‘distinctive badge of identity’ for a Catholic minority in an overwhelmingly Protestant country” (335). “Theological roots” make for a surprisingly minor element of the overall treatment, and the summative synthesis and evaluation draws heavily on both secular psychology (notably that of Erik Erikson) and philosophy (Paul Ricoeur).

My peculiar perspective on this material caused me to take note of such items as the 17th-century Congregation of Rites making an injunction against “placing relics or statues on the altar of exposition” (205), which naturally put me in mind of the contradictory command from Liber Legis III:22. While I had little use for the bits of Christian theology in this book, its study of the long-term interactions of culture, institutions, and liturgy around Eucharistic practice was definitely worth my attention.