Witches of Lychford

Paul Cornell’s Witches of Lychford starts out weakly, with what felt like a complex fictional world only superficial developed and told in a rather pedestrian way. I had to go back and check to be sure this wasn’t intended to be a YA novel. But, it develops some fun. It’s kind of like an episode of Buffy, but without the effervescent dialog. The overall story is about a small town facing a big box retailer’s attempt to move in, but this happens in a town with both a paranormal history and a band of nascent defenders, further the big box campaign turns out to be orchestrated by the Big Bad. The titular witches, although not explicitly itemized, interestingly to me, includes a witch, a skeptical new age shop owner, and a new vicar. There’s some interesting themes about finding various faiths in the face of catastrophe and evil. Half way through I wouldn’t have been interested in the sequel, but in the end I enjoyed this enough to be curious. All in all, Witches of Lychford is not as engrossing or developed or thoughtful as Heuvelt’s HEX by lateral comparison, but it was a good enough for a bit of quick escapism.

Paul Cornell Witches of Lychford

I made 28 highlights.

Theoretical Animals

I picked up Gary J Shipley’s Theoretical Animals because a quote from something else Shipley wrote related to Cyclonopedia Studies came up in a conversation so I wanted to check out a full work by him. I got this one because it was an inexpensive short ebook. This turns out to be literary performance art; it has merits but also isn’t for everyone. In editing something, I suppose, there’s a choice whether to fine tune and sharpen the story into a concise narrative or to go the other way and obfuscate and bloat the shit out of it. Don’t get me wrong, both have merits; but Shipley picked and stayed his particular course for this one. For this story, with interesting reflections for me of Farmer’s Riverworld in that there’s a kind of artificial stream of humanity stuck in a mysterious situation, Shipley went for obfuscation. There was lots of interesting turns of phrase, though the vocabulary was not dense; but the story, for me, got lost in a generally unsuccessful experimental outcome. On the other hand, this may be of timely interest to those watching the remake of Westworld, as it has a certain trippy theme of who’s a real human among those stuck in an artificial world … but with more cannibalism and bodies floating in the waters of this Lethean hellscape.

Gary J Shipley Theoretical Animals

I made 89 highlights.

The Assassin’s Road

I’d actually read Kazuo Koike’s and Goseki Kojima’s The Assassin’s Road, volume 1 of Lone Wolf and Cub, with a cover by Frank Miller, back in the late 80’s. I had a friend that introduced me to Frank Miller’s Dark Knight, and ended up checking this out as well, probably due to the cover; but I’d also actually already seen one of the Lone Wolf and Cub movies years before.

I was trying to think of a good way to describe the main character in Kazuo Koike’s Lone Wolf and Cub series, and of course it’s pretty obvious to me that there’s a reflection of Dark Knight here, which probably explains the attraction for Frank Miller and perhaps some influence as well. The main character is an über-mench who outsmarts, out-fights, and out-darks everyone he comes to face; and he’s got hidden tricky gadgets. Cub is even a parentless side-kick who sometimes helps out in a minimal and comedic way.

But, either way, whether there’s an overall similarity for you as there is for me, the specifics are the story. The main character is an anti-hero. He doesn’t really start that way, but it sure turns out that way as this volume progresses. He’s a mary-sue of appearing to be an anonymous underdog but turning out to have been a better prepared and better skilled veiled personage than anyone that mistakes his reserve and self-control for weakness instead of cold and tempered steel revenge. He’ll fuck you up, son. He’ll also let you die if you’re a complication or not worth his notice, so that sucks for you. He’s a right shit at only putting effort into getting to his goal, and you’re in the way today which means it’s your time to die. He’ll stand by while that happens because you’re not important to his story. You got what you deserved, apparently, for being meaningless in his scheme of things.

I don’t know if the language in the original Japanese was compelling, but it’s pretty minimal and not a reason to pick this series up. The story is good, the art is better, but the dialog is underwhelming in translation. The dialog services the story and plot, but that’s about all. It’s not literature, at least, not in English as it appears here.

The art is surprisingly minimal and folksy, but really does something amazing about providing details of environment and expressions; simplicity that provides complexity. There’s plenty of those peculiar moments of non-action action that I love much in other Japanese art and anime, and seems only to be found delivered with confidence there.

All in all, a worthy reputation was earned by this work of art, and I find myself with renewed interest in the following volumes, which I didn’t ever read, as well as not only my beloved Kurosawa movies, but also interest in even re-approaching things like Sakai’s Usagi Yojimbo, which I also read one volume of and then lost interest, I know not why.

Where is this Eight Gates of Deceit? Looks like a ritual! I want to go to there. Someone needs to write this ritual so I can go to it.

Koike Lone Wolf and Cub 1 Eight Gates of Deceit

Hey, I wonder if O-nibawan (meaning Spy, or “government-employed undercover agents established by the 8th Tokugawa shogun, Tokugawa Yoshimune (1684–1751). They are sometimes described as ‘ninja’.”) is where Obi-wan Kenobi’s name comes from?

Koike Lone Wolf and Cub 1 O-niwaban

Koike Lone Wolf and Cub 1

Her Scales Shine Like Music

Pleasant language pleasantly written, with a few pleasant word surprises, and an interesting future world built quickly in Her Scales Shine Like Music, a short by Rajnar Vajra, was worth reading, though the very end left me slightly underwhelmed as it didn’t feel quite right to me. Seemed to me that the very end would have been more interesting and thought provoking and possibly poignant if ………(spoiler: hover over to reveal)……………….. so as to leave me feeling and wondering more than it did.

Rajnar Vajra Her Scales Shine Like Music

I made 4 highlights and noted 2 errors.

The Sons of Osiris

The idea behind this little ebook-only release is pretty awesome. This little ebook-only release is a fucking embarrassment. This ebook is part of a series Weiser Books put out a few years ago that was a combination of re-packaged, but notable and not readily available, public domain material selected by Lon Milo DuQuette and several Freemasonic side-degrees selected from a private collection, each with a little intro essay by DuQuette. But, it is completely plain that whomever was responsible for producing these at Weiser Books didn’t even bother to so much as glance at the text between simply running source pages through an OCR and quickly pasting the unchecked output into the template for the series.

I picked up several of these, mentioned them on the library blog when they came out, but I have not read any of them after slogging my way through a couple that revealed the trouble was endemic to the series, not just one book in it. I only made three highlights in The Sons of Osiris: A Side Degree. Two were errors that made me laugh aloud, and the third was a particular point in DuQuette’s introductory essay that is of note. This specific book isn’t unreadable, but it is so riddled with enough errors that it hurts to read.

First off, they didn’t even fill in the placeholder text on the copyright page. I mean: they didn’t minimally put in even that much effort.

Originally published as (or excerpted from) [insert original author, title, publisher, and year]

In the introduction, which I presume was not written for this book specifically, and vaguely recall appears as the introduction in another side-degree issue in this series, Lon writes:

What is of primary importance is that the master key to the initiatory method itself becomes a permanently installed fixture in the individual. Once we have learned the process of becoming something greater than we are, we can and eventually will, apply that same alchemy to ourselves to achieve the supreme attainment.

Now this has to be a curious statement that has stuck with me and percolated. The suggestion here seems that it isn’t the Mysteries, the specific content of an initiation, that matters so much as the experience of mystery and the internalizing the overall initiatory process as a lesson. It’s not the content, but the experience of the structure; and internalizing that meta-level of initiation. Lon said something in one of his in-person classes that struck me similarly as an odd thing when, I don’t have my notes at hand at the moment to be more clear or to phrase this how he said it, he suggested that learning the Kabbalah was about getting the ego self out of the way with busy work so it didn’t get in the way of the Work. That and this seem to me to be similar. Isn’t it odd in ostensibly extolling Kabbalah in a class about Kabbalah, Lon says learning Kabbalah isn’t about Kabbalah per se and in talking about initiation Lon says initiation isn’t about the initiation or the particular symbol and meaning system internal to the initiation per se; rather, both are about the meta-level effect of either giving the self busy work so it doesn’t get in the way or of having the experience of the initiatory method which one can internalize. The latter reminds me of something I’ve been known to say about the initiation experience being a way to become comfortable with the uncomfortable experience of not knowing, meaning that there’s a meta-level benefit to the experience (which, I’ve suggested, one wouldn’t get from just a reading of the script or, moreover, ever get from the experience if one read the script beforehand); but, there’s more to this that that. If I ever do an interview for the library with Lon, this will be something I’d love to discuss with him. But, it’s something, if even the only, I’ve felt was a great takeaway from this book and I’ve had in my thoughts ever since.

Then, buried under the bulk of not-at-all amusing textual and formatting errors, I still laugh when I think about Zeus and his “frank incense”.

ZEUS.—“Now spray him with the frank incense of the gods.”

I see and hear Laurence Olivier in full Clash of the Titans costume booming this line out and it just totally cracks me up. Another thing that I imagine from this is some awesome Rocky Horror style audience participation in these side degrees. There’s a little voice in the audience of my imagination that calls back “Don’t laugh!” or “Don’t call me Frank, Shirley!” or something each time I recall this mistake in the text.

Weiser Books hasn’t even corrected a mistake in the Amazon detail text, and this ebook was released in 2012. It’s been like that for years. Obviously, no one has looked at this either, so, you know, par for the course.

Lon Milo DuQuette Sons of Osiris Amazon detail

Apparently no one gives enough of a crap to fix even that, flapping in the wind for all who might otherwise be tempted into purchasing the book to see, let alone to have done it well in the first place. Furthermore as far as I can tell there’s never been an update to the text of the book itself either. A quick glance at the current “Look Inside!” for this book displays this exact same error I highlighted still on the first pages. I can’t bring myself to look further lest I relive the horror because, it turns out by page one of the preview text, it’s even worse than I remember. They didn’t even fill in the copyright year placeholder for their own cover!

Lon Milo DuQuette Sons of Osiris look inside

This is just an awful disappointment, and as much as the source material could be of fun for people to read; there is no way I can recommend this book to anyone. And, unfortunately, this is not the only book I read in the series with egregious errors. There’s another book in the series with many more errors than this one. I’m embarrassed for Weiser Books and embarrassed for Lon Milo DuQuette as his name is attached to this series.

Wish I had access to the source material, in the private collection from which this was curated, so I could put it up on the library because I’d actually proofread it. These side degree rituals are actually of interest both in and of themselves but also something that local bodies of Whatever∴ Whatever∴ & The Other Thing∴ could put on for fun and enjoyment in a local body or something.

But, no. Don’t bother with this edition unless you’ve a strong stomach for dealing with extremely distracting copyediting errors.

Lon Milo DuQuette Sons of Osiris

I made only 3 highlights, all mentioned above, and submitted 60 corrections.

Lost Horizon

I’ve seen the Lost Horizon movies, both 1937 and 1973 versions at least a couple times, but for some reason I’d not picked up James Hilton’s actual 1933 novel. I was very pleasantly surprised.

Of course, this is a classic that introduces mysterious Shangri-La. The book’s framing story sets up the sense of verisimilitude for the narrative in a fun way, provides an instant sense of discovering something through the obscuring mists of memory. The framing story also gives a good sense of longing for what was lost and the sense that the quest is ongoing for everyone, to some degree, no matter how lightly touched by the experience. I felt there was an noir quality to it. There’s essentially a detective story here that unravels a mystery but I was surprised how amusing I found the dialog in places.

I was a bit uncomfortable with the main protagonist and another plot element fulfilling the white saviour trope twice. And there’s an under-developed escape from sexism in the coda that feels like a bit of a let down to me. I mean, it’s a solid story per se, but I guess I feel it doesn’t really rise above the time it was written in some particular aspects. In others, such as the voice and tone of narration and dialog, I felt surprised by how modern it felt to me in spite of being written over 80 years ago.

The philosophical underpinning of Shangri-La should be amusing to those familiar with other quasi-religious abbeys, and while it doesn’t dive into “Fais ce que veulx” territory, there’s another different sense here of interest to those, like me, who ever wondered on which word the emphasis falls in the phrase “all things in moderation”.

“If I were to put it into a very few words, my dear sir, I should say that our prevalent belief is in moderation. We inculcate the virtue of avoiding excess of all lands—even including, if you will pardon the paradox, excess of virtue itself. In the valley which you have seen, and in which there are several thousand inhabitants living under the control of our order, we have found that the principle makes for a considerable degree of happiness. We rule with moderate strictness, and in return we are satisfied with moderate obedience. And I think I can claim that our people are moderately sober, moderately chaste, and moderately honest.”

and

“I can only add that our community has various faiths and usages, but we are most of us moderately heretical about them.”

Lost Horizon is a good casual read, but becomes a welcome addition to the list of remote mountain / travel spirituals with Franz Hartmann’s earlier (both in terms of being written in 1910 and in having been read by me just recently) With The Adepts, perhaps John Uri Lloyd’s 1897 Etidorhpa and, no doubt, plenty others that come to mind, more or less contemporary, such as René Daumal’s unfinished 1959 Mount Analogue and Alejandro Jodorowsky’s 1973 The Holy Mountain.

James Hilton Lost Horizon

I found a lot of interest here as I made 152 highlights.

Nightmare Abbey

As I read Thomas Love Peacock’s Nightmare Abbey, published in 1818, I kept seeing this story in my mind’s eye as a darker Dahl, Tim Burton stop action, Fallen London thingy. It felt like one of those modern period pieces. Surprisingly modern to the point of seeming anachronistic to the setting and the period in which it was actually written.

I quite enjoyed the story for itself but also I went a bit highlight crazy on this one because of all the fun thoughts Peacock had about his Romantic friends and milieu, especially Percy Bysshe Shelley, Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley & al.

There’s a wonderful sense of bedroom farce absurdity here with the comedy of slamming doors in the face of attempts by the main characters to hook up in some combination, though amusingly the idea of a plural arrangement as a solution to the conundrum is actually contemplated, though dismissed. The whole is only more delicious in that it hides a glimpse of how contemporary society, and Peacock, saw the Shelleys.

I enjoyed the author having a fun poke at friends, society and culture around him. And, there are plenty of amusing little digs at the aspirational political science of the age, which at that time was quite heavily flavoured with active and contemporary Illuminati and Rosicrucian groups.

“He began to devour romances and German tragedies, and, by the recommendation of Mr Flosky, to pore over ponderous tomes of transcendental philosophy, which reconciled him to the labour of studying them by their mystical jargon and necromantic imagery. In the congenial solitude of Nightmare Abbey, the distempered ideas of metaphysical romance and romantic metaphysics had ample time and space to germinate into a fertile crop of chimeras, which rapidly shot up into vigorous and abundant vegetation.

He now became troubled with the passion for reforming the world. He built many castles in the air, and peopled them with secret tribunals, and bands of illuminati, who were always the imaginary instruments of his projected regeneration of the human species. As he intended to institute a perfect republic, he invested himself with absolute sovereignty over these mystical dispensers of liberty. He slept with Horrid Mysteries under his pillow, and dreamed of venerable eleutherarchs and ghastly confederates holding midnight conventions in subterranean caves.”

And there is some solid satire about the method of groups like Weishaupt’s Illuminati, which was a contemporary movement when this was written, in spreading the Enlightenment through authoritarian, even paternal, means and structures.

“Knowledge is power; it is in the hands of a few, who employ it to mislead the many, for their own selfish purposes of aggrandisement and appropriation. What if it were in the hands of a few who should employ it to lead the many? What if it were universal, and the multitude were enlightened? No. The many must be always in leading-strings; but let them have wise and honest conductors.”

Of course, the spreading Enlightenment triggered much larger and less controlled revolution ultimately than such organizations could actually manage. But, for those interested in such things as I am, there is plenty of material like this in the rest of the work to find this an amusing and enjoyable experience.

I picked up the free version of Thomas Love Peacock’s Nightmare Abbey, so I didn’t get the advantage of reading a critical essay about the allegorical nature of the characters. You should get a critical edition, or do some reading online, to get the full flavour of the biting satire and commentary.

Thomas Love Peacock Nightmare Abbey

I made 180 highlights and submitted only 15 corrections, mostly formatting issues.