Category Archives: 1980-89
This book is a transcript of several conversations that took place between Joseph Campbell, an expert on mythology, and Bill Moyers, journalist. Campbell compares myths across cultures, looking for similarities, in an attempt to show us the importance of myth as man’s way of understanding his relationship to the world in which he finds himself. In essence, if a particular myth reappears in different cultures and epochs, chances are it represents a universal truth about mankind.
Myth is essentially a means of modelling reality using symbols. And when you think about, that’s exactly what science is, too. This point was not covered by Campbell, which I thought was a startling omission – perhaps left out because he does not share this view. Campbell laments modern man’s lack of meaningful myths, whereas I see science as the modern myth unrealised. Man cannot escape myth, because all attempts to explain reality are done by modelling the universe. And even in science, our models change over time as we learn new things that cast old assertions into disfavour – just as the old gods are now replaced my more meaningful symbols of forces in natures: electricity and atmospheric pressure in place of Thor, the god of thunder, for instance. Sadly, this insight, which I personally find vital to my worldview, was not covered.
Even so, I was mesmesised by the breadth of Campbell’s knowledge and his ability to articule it without preparation, when prompted by questions. The book covers so much ground that it’s hard for me to pin down exactly what I got out of it, but it was definitely a unique and special read. Of particular interest to me was the notion that the modern man finds mythological significance in movies and television dramas. When I look back at old films and TV series that have endured in my mind as favourites, this is definitely true. Some of my favourites are Mad Max, The Prisoner, Blake’s 7, The Tripods, Forever Knight. The common denominator in all of these is the man who finds himself as an outsider, an individualist, a non-joiner, for reasons that are varied. There is the man who becomes a loner because of his brokenness, the secret agent who refuses to have his will broken, the cold realist who is not quite one of the good guys, the group of boys who fight against a brainwashed society, the vampire who attempts to better himself and conquer his nature. It’s not so much that myths were deliberately built into these fictions; only that it’s possible to draw mythological significance from them. Take Forever Knight, for instance. To many, it’s a tacky story about a vampire cop. To me, it’s about a man who is striving to be fully human – to conquer the beast (his vampire nature) within. He has done awful things in the past, but he remains ever cheerful. Tacky or not, this myth speaks powerfully to me as a human being, because it symbolically mirrors my own strivings.
When talking around the question of what life is all about, Campbell regularly employs the phrase “Follow your bliss,” which really stuck with me. It captures perfectly my own feelings about how the meaning of life is not one thing in particular, but consists in making of life whatever we want to make of it. A multiplicity of potential experience is open to us, but we can only follow one course. It makes the most sense, then, to follow the course that brings you the greatest sense of fulfillment: follow your bliss.
I hold a personal philosophy that I’ve developed through much study over a period of years. It could loosely be called non-dualism or pantheism. I’m always amazed when I read a book and discover that the author totally gets where I’m coming from, using certain words and phrases that reveal his inner depth. This was the case in the final chapter of The Power of Myth, entitled “Masks of Eternity.”
If you’re the sort of one-dimensional rationalist who is stuck with an entirely scientific outlook, presuming that ancient man’s beliefs were just exercises in silliness, you need to read this book. These interviews were also released as a six-part television series (now available on DVD), which might be an even richer way to enjoy them. However, the book does contain more content than the series. The Power of Myth is a book unlike any I’ve read.
The story is set in a slightly Blade Runner-esqe future. New York is a sealed city. Not physically sealed, but in the Orwellian sense – a place of constant ID checks, where the rich (known as Owners) can feel safe in their tower blocks and where aliens (illegals) are hunted down and expelled or killed. The sky is abuzz with jet-rotors, people walk the streets in masks because the air is dirty. It’s not what we would call normal life, but it’s normal to the citizens because it’s all they’ve ever known – until, that is, a rich family known as the Allbrights gets hold of a permit to fly to a place known as O-Zone, where they intend to have a New Year’s party. O-Zone is an abandoned city where nuclear waste was once stored in underground caverns. Due to a leak, the whole area became contaminated. Now, many years later, it is believed that no one lives in O-Zone. The Allbrights and their friends fly there in their jet-rotors, and discover that they are not alone.
The book is really about how this trip changes the Owners. They begin the story as incredible cowards, but by the end some of them are transformed – to the point where they cannot regard their heavily controlled indoor lives of luxury in quite the same way. Central to the story is the kidnapping of a young alien by an Owner, and the kidnapping of a young Owner by a group of aliens. This allows the author to explore the themes of racial prejudice, culture, wealth, poverty, freedom. You can tell this is a book written by a travel author. The mode of transport by jet-rotor allows Theroux to provide commentary on landscapes and cultures that are probably mirrors of some of his own experiences. We go from the extravagant waste of New York City to the poverty of Africa, and other locales. A great deal of the book is spent inside the heads of the protagonists, examining their motivations and attitudes. If you care about the author’s subtext, you’ll get a lot from this book, but if you’re looking for an exciting sci-fi story, you’ll likely be disappointed. There’s not really much drama in the story, and that’s its chief weakness. I get the feeling that Theroux had things he wanted to say, and he constructed a loose narrative around this desire.
Interesting novel, but much too long and drawn out for what little drama unfolds across its five-hundred pages.
The first book ever to be written on the subject of satanic ritual abuse (SRA) was Michelle Remembers in 1980, co-written by Michelle Smith and her psychiatrist Lawrence Pazder. Over a period of one year, Pazder records hundreds of sessions where Smith allegedly recovers repressed memories of herself as a five-year-old undergoing a prolonged period of ritual abuse at the hands of a satanic cult. She is tortured, sexually abused, locked in a cage, witness to murders, and painted in the blood of sacrifice victims. At one point, a Satanist sews horns and a tail into Smith’s flesh. The scars left by this surgery would have proved invaluable in authenticating the account, but there is no such evidence on Smith’s adult body.
The ceremonies were gory and bizarre, and bore no relation to the rituals of the Church of Satan. Nevertheless, Pazder wastes no time in naming this specific organisation as the perpetrator of Smith’s abuse. He also states, in total ignorance of known facts: “The Church of Satan is a worldwide organization. It’s actually older than the Christian Church.” Pazder was forced to withdraw his assertion of the Church of Satan’s involvement after the book’s publication, when Anton LaVey threatened to sue for libel.
As the story progresses, it becomes clear that Smith’s idea of Satanism suffers from the same faulty assumptions as Doreen Irvine’s account (see From Witchcraft to Christ); she depicts Satanists as worshippers of the literal devil of the Bible. The rituals are filled with pointless, nonsensical, sinister elements, and horror movie trappings, including at one point the appearance of a monstrous spider crawling across the altar cloth and a vampire bat with claw-tipped wings perched on the altar’s edge. In the final quarter of the book, Satan makes regular appearances in the flesh. And Smith’s depiction of him is an all-out horror movie cliché, right down to the horns on his head and the claws on his hands. Curiously, he has a pig’s snout and sports a tail that occasionally shape-shifts into a snake. Fire sprouts from his back. Amusingly, Satan insists on continually speaking in rhyming verse throughout the account:
The knife is ready. It is time to begin.
It has been poisoned and sharpened very thin.
I confess that when I began reading this book, I seriously considered that this child might have been the victim of some deeply unethical occult group. But by the time I finished, the entire tale had made a nosedive into total religious farce. In addition to enduring the devil’s bad poetry, Smith witnesses heads spinning, just like Linda Blair in the movie The Exorcist (1973). Jesus, the Virgin Mary, and the Archangel Michael appear to Smith at various points during her dark days in the ritual chamber. Absurdly, Mary sprinkles her sentences with French, which would not have been her native language, nor is it Smith’s. The two authors’ combined depiction of Satanism seems to be a fusion of their own Catholic prejudices and Pazder’s past encounters with unusual religion from when he was working and living in Africa in the 1960s. He goes as far as drawing this comparison himself in the book. It’s hard to see how Pazder maintained any credibility with his peers after publishing this unconscionable mix of psychiatry and superstition as fact.
It also turns out that some of Smith’s claims are provably false beyond reasonable doubt. Early in the story, she is allegedly involved in a car crash that is staged to look like an accident, as a means of the Satanists getting rid of a dead body. Conveniently, it happened so long ago that police and hospital records of the event were destroyed at the time of Smith’s therapy. However, Pazder overlooked the fact that it’s possible to check the newspaper records in library archives. No such incident was reported around the time indicated by Smith’s testimony.
The book features a photograph of a mausoleum at Ross Bay cemetery, at which a ritual allegedly took place. However, when this building is snapped from different angle (as another photographer has demonstrated), the mausoleum is revealed to be within eyeshot of suburban houses. Maybe the Satanists used one of Doreen Irvine’s invisibility spells!
Towards the end of the book there is an eighty-one-day non-stop ceremony. Yearbooks from Smith’s elementary school have revealed no indication of her being missing for a lengthy period of time.
There are many more problems with Smith’s account that I could raise, but these examples suffice to destroy her credibility. All that remains is to determine whether she is delusional or an outright liar. The coherency and detail in her account causes me to side with the latter.
Even without the evidence against Smith and Pazder, the simple fact that nothing can be corroborated ought to raise warning bells in the minds of readers. But many people have never made the mental effort to learn what criteria they ought to use in determining truth from falsehood. People tend to believe things if they merely feel true, or if they simply want to believe. The ability to believe claims in the absence of evidence is how witch-hunts are born. And in this instance, that’s exactly what happened.
Michelle Remembers opened the floodgates for countless reports of satanic ritual abuse. Pazder was considered to be an expert. He became involved in the Cult Crime Impact Network and lectured to police agencies about SRA during the late 1980s. By September 1990 he had been consulted in more than a thousand ritual abuse cases.
Closure of the Satanic Panic finally came with the publication of the Lanning Report (1991) by the FBI. Three hundred cases of multi-victim, multi-offender SRA were examined and no physical evidence of abuse could be found. Aside from the occasional unethical pseudo-Satanist, there was no evidence whatsoever of any underground occult organisation engaging in SRA. This document can be read in full on the internet. Conspiracy theorists still like to keep the phenomenon alive. I read this in an online forum: “The Lanning Report is load of pig shit, if you ask me. Written by the same people it claims ‘do not exist.’” Of course, the conspiracy theorist doesn’t require actual evidence of the FBI’s involvement in a cover-up; the mere suspicion of it is enough to warrant belief.
During the years of the Panic, the lives of many law-abiding Satanists (and other non-satanic occultists) were subjected to the judgements of a dangerously ignorant population (including its law enforcement) that was feeding on a diet of sensationalist propaganda.
By contrast, the uncovering of real, verified, widespread child abuse within the Catholic Church has to be one of the most spectacular reversals of expectation in history, as we discover that real evil lies within those who masquerade as the good, rather than those who merely enjoy the glamour of sinister symbolism.
The Satanic Panic must never happen again. That will only be possible through the widespread triumph of reason over superstition.
At first glance, the title of this book could easily be misunderstood as a statement about the pointlessness of philosophy. But the true meaning is the complete opposite; notice the curious absence of a question mark. This is a book about who needs philosophy, not a question of whether or not we do.
The opening chapter was excellent. It was a clear, rational discussion of why an interest in philosophy is important for everyone. Every person has a philosophy, whether they think they do or not. It is the driving force behind your actions. The question is not whether you possess a personal philosophy, but whether you are conscious of it. And if you are unconscious of it – if you have never asked yourself, “Why do I believe what I believe?” – then it is driving your life without you realising it.
I had high hopes for this book, because Rand’s philosophy of Objectivism was highly influential on Anton LaVey (author of The Satanic Bible), who was highly influential on me. But after the first chapter, things became a bit of a mixed bag throughout the book. What I had hoped would follow was a thorough dissection of the important philosophical bases, such as whether the universe is all mind or all matter (idealism versus materialism). Instead, very little time is devoted to this, and the book becomes a collection of random essays with little in the way of common structure or logical direction.
Rand is definitely a highly rational person, but her brevity and preachy tone sometimes made her arguments difficult to follow. A recurring message throughout the book is anti-altuism, to the degree that it is portrayed as something close to the greatest evil of the current age. Her chief enemy, who is referenced often and somewhat obsessively, is Immanuel Kant. She makes good points, but it’s hard to get on board with all of her thinking, because she never stops to properly explain what it is that Kant asserts.
Rand denounces “idealism” (the view that mind is the primary reality and matter an illusion) far too quickly and unconvincingly. She is a materialist; she’s big on industrialisation and capitalism; has an alarmingly low view of those who take an interest in ecology. I couldn’t understand how anyone could malign those who are interested in saving the planet. There’s a lot of political philosophy in the book.
On epistemology, Rand asserts that man’s grasp of truth is objective – that, once found, a perceived truth is absolute. As such, she has little appreciation of the forward motion of knowledge throughout history, and the manner in which newly discovered contexts of enquiry (like quantum theory in the present age) make us reassess our notions about what we once thought was objectively true.
Another downside of the book was that several chapters were written as responses to influental books that were published around the time of writing. For a contemporary reader, who has little interest in past battles, these chapters would perhaps have been better written with a postitive voice directed at the reader, rather than an antagonistic voice directed at another writer.
On the plus side, it’s clear that Rand is a very rational person, and much as I disagree with some of the bases of her philosophy, I know I got something good out of reading this volume.
I’m always interested in filling in gaps in my knowledge, and evolutionary biology is a big one. For many years I was a believer in creationism, but since abandoning Christianity, I am more open to the idea of evolution (since I’m no longer being simply told what to believe).
I approached this book believing in evolution but doubting the precise mechanism by which it is claimed to work (natural selection). My objection is based on the fact that evolution has never been simulated in a computer. It’s supposed to be an automatic, non-conscious process, and yet we can’t replicate it artificially. Why? Time to learn from the experts.
Well, I didn’t get an answer to my question. I was delighted to read that Dawkins had taken it upon himself to attempt to simulate evolution on his little 64K computer (this was the 1980s, remember). He claims to have created insect-like creatures that he terms “biomorphs.” Unfortunately, he doesn’t explain the argorithms that he used to achieve that. I am left to wonder how much of his results were more akin to faces in the cloud than to actual complexity that gives an organism a definite survival edge. Certainly, Dawkins’s program has never been superceded by a better one that shows the principle of natural selection operating on a bigger scale.
Nevertheless, evolution happens; no question about it. Dawkins provides brilliant and very engaging accounts of the development of the eye and echolocation in bats. He expertly debunks creationist objections, explaining how cumulative selection works – nothing like a tornado blowing through a junkyard and creating a Rolls Royce by random chance.
The book unfortunately begins to falter about halfway through and continues plunging to the finish (at least for the lay reader), as it tackles the finer points of evolutionary theory, delving into obscure areas with the titles punctuationism, Lamarckism and taxonomy. He can be long-winded at times, and needlessly arrogant. I could stand the arrogance if he really was as right as he thinks he is, but when he strays out of his field of expertise into metaphysics, he’s completely inept. He has no concept of time other than as a forward-moving arrow, and so, when he thinks of the idea of God, he can only describe him/it as a highly complex organism needing a creator of its own. You can’t tackle metaphysics without delving into philosophy. Dawkins’s unexamined assumption of “materialism” doesn’t cut it.
In the end, I gained some valuable knowledge about evolution, but my main contention was only reinforced. How can you say natural selection is an unconscious process when the organisms doing the the evolving are conscious?
And what is consciousness? The Blind Watchmaker would have benefitted from a chapter on consciousness, discussing the theories on what it is, specifically whether it is an emergent product of evolution, or a metaphysical precursor to the evolutionary process. For reasons that are too lengthy to go into here, I side with the latter. Unfortunately, one may specialise in evolutionary biology, while knowing little or nothing about psychology and metaphysics. This lays the basis for making hugely wrong conclusions, when diverse fields of enquiry overlap. Nevertheless, The Blind Watchmaker is recommended reading.
In 1978, Peter J. Carroll co-founded a magical order called the Illuminates of Thanateros (IOT), deriving its name from the two Greek gods Thanatos (death) and Eros (sexual love). Liber Null and Psychonaut are two books, collected here in one volume, which are aimed at the newcomer to the organisation, as well as those seeking entry, and those pursuing their own individual magical path. The books explain the fundamentals of Carroll’s brand of occultism, which he calls “chaos magic.” His two primary influences are, by his own admission, Aleister Crowley and Austin O. Spare. Carroll describes his order as a “satrap of the Illuminati.” Conspiracy theorists will have a field day with that one.
“Chaos” is a term that Carroll uses as a substitute for what a philosopher might call God, or what I, in my own personal vocabulary call the Infinite. Chaos is the ground zero of everything that exists. It is a useful term, because it removes any notion that the Infinite is a personal being, or is in any way sypmathetic to the human condition. “Gnosis” is the term used to describe a state of no-mind gained through the use of trance. “Kia” denotes the basis of consciousness, the essence of which is will and perception. These are just some of the terms employed in the IOT’s lexicon.
This book really hit the spot, in terms of what a reader like myself hopes to obtain from reading a magical text: fresh insights and new angles that I might be able to integrate into my own personal understanding of the universe. The book was a treasure trove in this regard. It was especially exciting in light of my own experiments in psychokinesis. Carroll’s system not only accommodates such phemonena, but mirrors the very techniques I’ve already discovered trough trial and error, and suggests avenues for improvement. Those who pursue psychic abilities from a purely scientific perspective are missing out, in my opinion.
So often a magical text is concerned with personal development and influencing others – what the LaVeyan system calls “lesser magic.” Refreshingly, Carroll is chiefly preoccupied with “greater magic” – acts of a genuinely paranormal nature. He describes a interesting technique using personal “sigils” – where a desire is written down in words, and the words are then visually reconstructed into a “glyph of desire.” I have nothing to say, presently, on whether such a technique works, but it certainly was interesting.
I was by no means in agreement with everything that Carroll asserts, especially in regard to reincarnation. There was the bold assertion that a magician could carry his life forward into a new body, by means of a particular visualisation at the moment of his death. Unless Carroll himself has all the memories of a past life and can demonstrate this, how on earth could such a claim be proven?
Nevertheless, this was a thoroughly engrossing read, full of insight. I finished it wanting to read it all over again.
In this, the final Starstormers adventure, our heroes Vawn, Makenzi, Ispex and Tsu crashland their ship on Volcano. While waiting for their parents to rescue them, they must contend with the planet’s strange semi-sentient vegetation and bizarre animal life. Their “magical” friends from the previous adventure, the veils of Moloch, show up to lend a helping hand. Before long, their old nemesis the Octopus Emperor makes an appearance. The Starstormers, accustomed to running, decide to make a final stand against the ruler of Tyrannopolis.
With the exception of the first volume, the rest of the Starstormers saga has been fairly mediocre, including this final episode. That said, I found myself always captivated by the characters, if not the stories themselves. I think children, who are much more forgiving of plot-holes and unoriginality, will have a great fondness for the saga. It was my own childhood memories of volume 1 that led me to take this nostalgia trip in the first place, and I’m glad I did. I can’t help thinking it might have made a great little children’s TV series, given a chance.
Volcano provides decisive closure to the saga. Farewell, Starstormers. It’s been fun.
What truth-seeker’s library would be complete without A Brief History of Time, the famous physics book that became a best-seller with the general public. I approached this volume as a lay reader, having quite a poor knowledge of physics (sadly, I failed my GCSE Science back in school).
The book opens brilliantly, with an easily digestible chapter on how our cosmology has evolved over time, from the Greek philosophers to the present day. Next we learn about the interrelationship between space and time, how we discovered that both are not fixed and absolute, but flexible. We move to the discovery that the universe itself is expanding, and how this points to an event in the distant past that we call the Big Bang. After all this great stuff, unfortunately the book starts to slowly slip out of my control. By the time I’m hitting the chapter on black holes (about mid-way through the book), I’m eighty-percent lost. I continued ploughing my way to the finish line, not understanding most of what I was reading, but keeping by eye out for digestible tidbits – which did show up occasionally.
There’s nothing actually wrong with this book, other than the fact that there seems to be some confusion about who the intended readership is. I find it amusing that the author pauses to define the word “ellipse” in an early chapter, when several chapters later he is blinding us with terms like “quantum fluctuation.” It’s difficult to see how a book of this nature gained such popularity with lay readers, other than some very effective marketing. It’s really aimed at physics students.
Even so, as a lay reader, I gained an invaluable deeper appreciation of the nature of space-time, one which complements and enhances my own philosophical understanding of the universe. The Big Bang is not “something out of nothing,” as theists commonly misunderstand. It is all the energy of the universe compressed to infinity – where form and duration collapse, becoming an infinite all or one. There is something very profound about the nature of energy, as something that cannot be created or destroyed, when we consider that “God” (whatever that is) cannot be created or destroyed. The Big Bang is also the point at which the laws of physics cease to function. Materialistic atheists should take note that this is providing a very large clue about the limits of science in its capacity to ever provide us with a total worldview.
Regarding the mathematical complexity of much of the book, I also gained an appreciation of just how much of what science asserts is highly theoretical and subject to error. Great changes in theory frequently occur at a level far beyond my understanding of physics. But it is safe to say that the fundamentals are here to stay.
A hard read, but well worth it.
Once again the Starstormers – four children in a home-made junkyard spaceship – blast off into space to escape the onslaught of the Octopus Emperor. Their ship, barely holding together, crashlands on a planet known as Moloch (interesting term, if you’ve read the Bible). Upon exiting the ship, they find themselves in a jungle filled with all manner of Earthlike creatures, although mutated beyond recognition – and many of them hostile. Makenzi and Tsu take on the role of learning to hunt for food, while Ispex concerns himself with locating metals with which to repair the ship. Vawn starts hearing voices in her head, discovering that there is a vast intelligence in their midst. The Starstormers eventually learn that they are not on the planet itself but have crashed into a doughnut-shaped satellite that was placed in orbit – a structure made by mankind as an environment suitable for life, but upon which life has now run amuck. And the Starstormers must restore balance.
One question occurred to me: if you crash through the outer shell of the satellite into its Earthlike atmosphere, how do you avoid evacuating the entire atmosphere into space? Well, let’s just say, if you’ve read volumes 1 to 3 of Starstormers, Fisk isn’t terribly concerned with major plot holes or wacky science. In children’s literature anything goes; it shouldn’t, but it often does. Is it sloppy storytelling? Of course. Should a writer know better than to say to himself, “Ah, kids never notice that sort of stuff”? Yes, he should. Does it ruin the book? For an eight-year-old, probably not. And so, Fisk gets away with it.
I’ve had fun on this nostalgia trip so far, but with volume 4, I’ve started to get impatient and bored. The strength of the book is in the humourous interactions between the characters. It’s just a pity Fisk couldn’t come up with better story material. I’m on the home straight now, so I’ll probably read the final volume, Volcano, just for the sake of completeness.
There are five adventures in the Starstormers children’s space opera, and it has taken me a over year to locate copies of them all. This third adventure, Catfang, finally completes my set. The books are rare and hard to find on eBay, but judging by the amount of search requests my previous two reviews have generated, they are fondly remembered. I was very pleased with the first adventure, not so enamoured with the second, but something just keeps me reading. In part, I guess I’m revisiting my childhood and completing some unfinished business. But the books do hold a certain silly charm for me, even as an adult. The characters of Vawn, Ispex, Tsu and Makenzi (and not forgetting the robot, Shambles) all have their individual quirks, and the interactions between them are frequently funny.
The plots of the stories require a massive suspension of disbelief. If adventures one and two seemed unbelievable, Fisk really goes into overdrive with Catfang. At the end of book two, the Starstormers have escaped the clutches of the Octopus Emperor and are on the run in space. They now discover a stowaway on board: a cat. They name it Fang. Now, I won’t spoil the story by telling you what strange things the crew end up doing with this cat; all I will say is, “Fisk, what have you been smoking!” Because the antics in this book could only seem logical to an author floating several feet above his keyboard. But you know what? I just went with it and I had fun. And I’ll probably finish the series in due course.
Occasionally, a Christian friend who knows that I’ve abandoned Christianity will try to “help” me in a nice sort of way (and sometimes in a not so nice sort of way, but that’s another story). I had one of the nice experiences yesterday, when someone gave me a small book to read called The Resurrection – Fact or Fiction? by Richard Bewes. I decided to read it carefully, just to see if I had anything new to learn on the subject of the validity of Christianity.
The author begins with a short chapter called “Just Supposing” in which he describes a conversation with a man who feels sorry for Christians, i.e. wasting your lives on an afterlife pipedream. This was excuse for the author to present a “what if you’re wrong?” argument, i.e. there’s a God you’ve ignored your whole life that you’ll have to deal with. This chapter was pointless, and was a hairsbreadth away from the emotionally manipulative fear-mongering that is characteristic of religion.
The author’s brief argument for the historical reliability of the Gospel accounts relies on noting how closely Matthew, Mark, Luke and John resemble each other. He makes no mention of the fact that it’s actually Matthew, Mark, and Luke that are similar, and John is quite different. He claims that since three different people, Matthew, Mark and Luke (if those were the authors) individually told the same account with a high degree of overlap, then the account must be true. He doesn’t mention the highly plausible theory that Matthew, Mark and Luke are all sourced from a single earlier document known by scholars as Proto-Mark, which could equally account for the accuracy, regardless of how genuine or otherwise Proto-Mark was.
The author admits that the earliest fragment of any New Testament book is a piece of John dating from around 125 AD, ninety-five years after the alleged resurrection of Christ, and yet he is happy to state that we possess eyewitness accounts of the resurrection. Let me illustrate the problem. Imagine I were taking the stand in a court case and said, “I have an eyewitness account that the deed was done.” When asked to present this eyewitness account, I would then have to say, “Well, Fred saw it happen, but he didn’t write anything down for twenty years. And I only have someone else’s say-so that it was Fred who wrote it. And I don’t actually have what Fred wrote. What he wrote is long gone. Oh, but somebody else copied it before it was destroyed. No, I don’t have that copy either, but I have another one – or a piece of it anyway. This was from 95 years after Fred witnessed the deed. There you go: your eyewitness account.” I would be laughed out of court! Christians ought not to be making this outrageous statement about eyewitness accounts when they are continually relying on second-hand information.
From this point on, the author assumes his readers are on the same page and that every word of the Gospel accounts can be taken as truth. The Bible says the tomb of Jesus was empty, so it must be true. The Bible says that people saw Jesus afterwards, so this must be true. This is called evidence for the resurrection, and it is the only “evidence” presented. The author goes on to say, “Not even the smallest dent would have been made upon the world unless the disciples had been changed.” He’s saying the resurrection must have happened, because it changed the world. In other words, Christianity must be true, because if it weren’t it couldn’t have grown so big. Well, how about the impact of other major world religions? The impact of Islam is nothing to be sniffed at, for instance. Also, no mention is made of such factors as Emperor Constantine declaring Christianity to be the state religion of Rome in the 4th century. I think that might have had something to do with Christianity’s expansion across the world.
The author mentions the writings of Jewish historian Josephus as further evidence of Jesus as a historical character. Josephus wrote The Antiquities of the Jews in the late 1st century, and the volume states:
Now there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man; for he was a doer of wonderful works, a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure. He drew over to him both many of the Jews and many of the Gentiles. He was [the] Christ. And when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men amongst us, had condemned him to the cross, those that loved him at the first did not forsake him; for he appeared to them alive again the third day; as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him. And the tribe of Christians, so named from him, are not extinct at this day.
The authenticity of the above passage been disputed since the 17th century, and by the mid 18th century the consensus view was that it had at a minimum been altered by Christian scribes, and possibly was outright forgery. Think about it. We’re reading a Jewish historian admitting that Jesus was the Christ, and Jews do not believe that Jesus is the Christ, otherwise they would be Christians, wouldn’t they? Something smells off. Yet it doesn’t stop Richard Bewes, with his personal agenda, from quoting Josephus and completely disregarding the consensus view of historians on the matter.
Instead of using the available space in the book to provide detailed arguments, the author wastes space by accusing non-Christian readers of having a moral barrier to Christianity. He says it’s not a matter of evidence but a matter of willingness, because we may find the idea of converting to Christianity upsetting. In reality, the Christian is as suspectible as the non-Christian in being swayed by his personal desires. How about people who convert to Christianity for purely emotional reasons, in the absence of evidence? When a belief system is demanding your mind, body and soul, evidence is paramount. Smart people, Christian or otherwise, rule their emotions and don’t allow themselves to be ruled by them.
Doubting Thomas gets the limelight towards the end of the book, Thomas being the man who would not believe the resurrection unless he saw Jesus for himself. The author’s argument is that Thomas should have been able to trust the words of the people he had been living among, those who witnessed the risen Christ. And to us, he likewise says: “The reports of the original first-hand witnesses are enough for faith.” Oh yeah, that would be those first-hand witnesses that we don’t have.
The final page of the book is headed “Check the facts!” and is a list of Bible verses from the New Testament. I think it’s fair to say that the only evidence for the resurrection of Jesus are the writings of the New Testament. Beyond that there is nothing. Are the Gospel accounts real history? That’s the big question, isn’t it? I have yet to hear a convincing argument that they are history. There is certainly no corroborating evidence from other 1st century sources to say that Jesus was a real person. And there’s even a case for the view that the story of Jesus is a retelling of a much older myth of life, death and rebirth. History is full of such saviour God stories which have high degrees of overlap. Even the Old Testament account of Joseph appears to have remarkable similaries to the account of Jesus’ life.
The Resurrection – Fact or Fiction? is a borderline dishonest book, presenting flimsy arguments that bear no weight when scrutinised. The Christian who uses a book like this can walk away feeling that his faith has been strengthened, as long as he doesn’t think too deeply about statements like “We have eyewitness accounts of the resurrection.”
Volume 1 of the Starstormers saga ended with our heroes, Vawn, Ispex, Makenzi and Tsu, reunited with their parents on the colony of Epsilon Cool. Unwittingly they brought the evil Octopus Emperor – a being made entirely of a dust-like substance – along for the ride. Worse still, we learn that one of the Starstormers is a traitor, secretly in league with the Emperor in return for seeing their parents again.
Volume 2 begins with the Octopus Emperor enslaving the Starstormers and their parents and bringing them to his homeworld of dust. The youngsters manage to trick the Emperor and escape in their home-made spacecraft, but they must leave their parents behind. Wandering the stars, they come across a vast deserted starship. Curious, they dock and board, only to learn that the ship is heading straight for the sun. They panic. Why? Good question. Four children who were smart enough to build their own spaceship are apparently too dumb to realise that they can simply undock and fly away. When they finally do realise and attempt to take-off, they’re too dumb to uncouple the docking mechanism, and they assume the larger ship’s gravity is too strong. Oh, brother.
When the kids are finally on their way again, they head for the Octopus homeworld and make a stab at rescuing their parents. The title, Sunburst, is a reference to the encounter with the ghost ship, but this is really only a mini-adventure of 40 pages occupying the centre of this 120-page book. The rest of the volume is concerned with the Octopus Emperor.
The general gist of what I’m saying would lead you to believe I hated this book. Actually, I quite enjoyed it, and read it in a couple of days. Elements of the plot are poorly thought out, some of the writing is sloppy; Nicholas Fisk may well have written the Starstormers saga purely as a money-spinner. Normally I crucify a book like this. Instead, I find I want to chase up the remaining three volumes. The adventure, as a whole, is a fairly decent pulp space opera for kids. I’m into nostalgia in a big way at the moment, and reading Starstormers gives me the same feeling I got reading the likes of the Eagle comic as a kid. Bite-sized throwaway stories; such things have their place.
I remember buying this book from a mail-order school book club when I was about eight years old, although I was so uninterested in reading as a child that I probably didn’t consume the book till I was about thirteen, when the reading bug finally bit me. Now, over twenty years later, I’m being bitten by the nostalgia bug, so here we go again …
Four children, Vawn, Ispex, Tsu and Makenzi live in a boarding school on Earth, while their parents are busy building a colony on the planet Epsilon Cool. It has been years since they last saw their parents and more before they ever will. Bored and frustrated, they come up with the crazy scheme of building their own spaceship out of parts salvaged from a spacecraft junkyard. They name their ship Starstormer and blast off. Weeks later, soaring through space on route to Epsilon Cool, they come across an ancient colony ship from earth called the Conqueror. The inhabitants have developed a strange religion, worshipping the “Glorious Ones,” whoever they are. Ispex is first to figure out that there is great peril here for the Starstormers.
I thoroughly enjoyed this novel. It’s clear from the beginning that the story requires a tremendous suspension of disbelief, what with kids building a spaceship, but once you accept that, you can get on with enjoying the tale. The four children have diverse character traits that make for interesting drama. I had one worry, initially, about a particular moral stance taken by the book: I didn’t like the way the author had one of the kids resorting to fraud in order to obtain spaceship parts. But the surprise ending casts a new light on the character’s actions. The ending leaves much unexplored, and feels like a cliffhanger from a multi-part drama. And indeed, there are five volumes in the Starstormers saga, each around one hundred pages. I’ve already found and purchased volume 2 on eBay.
An excellent children’s space adventure.
Strontium Dog was one of my favourite characters from the pages of the weekly British sci-fi comic 2000 A.D., which originated in the early 1980s and continues to flourish today. I read the comic erratically in my youth, so until now I’ve only been scratching the surface of the amount of Strontium Dog strips that have been published. In fact, you could say I’m still only scratching the surface, since this mammoth 330-page tome is merely one of four.
The comic is set in the 22nd century, some years after an atomic war on earth – a war that left many people mutated because of a radioactive isotope in the fallout called Strontium 90. Fear of mutants became the new racism among “norms.” Mutants lived in poverty, unable to get jobs. As a solution, the government offered one job to all mutants – a job that no norm would take: Search-Destroy Agent. SD Agents are bounty hunters, scouring the galaxy for the the worst of humanity – sometimes to arrest and sometimes to terminate. But the public don’t call the bounty hunters SD Agents; they call them Strontium Dogs.
Johnny Alpha is one. His mutation left him with the ability to see into men’s minds. He also carries an assortment of weaponry, including a blaster that can fire bullets through solid matter, set to detonate at a specific range, and a range of bombs that can manipulate time itself. Johnny works with a partner, Wulf, a viking warrior from the past.
The stories are wild and wacky, even going as far as sending Johnny on a mission to earth’s past, to bring back Hitler to pay for his crimes against humanity. The one thing I noticed, as an adult, reading this stuff, is how unafraid the writer was to wreak havoc. Often, the innocent are slaughtered along with the guilty, with reckless abandon. If memory serves, I think that’s something you would rarely see in 2000 A.D.‘s 1980s rival The Eagle. Heroes were also allowed to have a darker side, seen in Johnny’s willingness to fulfill a contract without asking too many questions about the target.
The writing credits in this volume go to T.B. Grover and Alan Grant (I’m assuming T.B. Grover is a pseudonym for John Wagner). Both writers are highly imaginative. Carlos Ezquerra quickly finds his feet as the principal artist. (I think this trio are also responsible for a lot of early Judge Dredd, too.) The only place the volume falters is with the inclusion of a few Strontium Dog strips that came from 2000 A.D. annuals of the period. These were written and illustrated by outsiders, and are amateur by comparison. But I guess they had to be included for the sake of completeness.
I wasn’t awed by Strontium Dog, but it was an entertaining and imaginative set of stories, worth reading.
I read James Herbert regularly as a teenager, and hardly ever after that. My one regret between then and now is that I never read Domain, partly because it was the third book in a trilogy of which I had read the first two (The Rats and Lair), and partly because the book belongs to my favourite sub-genre: post apocalypse.
Domain was written in the 1980s and is set in the same political climate, where it seemed that nuclear war might really happen. I can remember the vague anxiety associated with the time, even though I was a child. Back then, it always seemed like World War III would be a battle between the USA and Russia. How times change. The book is set in London and gets straight down to business with five nuclear missiles decimating the city. Most people above ground perish in the inital blast. For those more fortunate, the most convenient haven is the nearest tube station – get as far underground as possible before the nuclear fallout arrives. Unfortunately, there’s another threat lurking below: rats. Not regular rats, but a mutant strain throught to have been wiped out in the previous book. Instead, they have been hiding underground, breeding. Some of these rats are as big as dogs. And they’re as mean as rabid dogs. The people who took refuge don’t stand a chance.
The story is mostly told from the perspective of Steve Culver, a helicopter pilot, who is lucky enough to find himself in the company of a Government executive, a man called Dealey, when the bombs fall. Dealey is, unfortunately, blinded by the flash, and he needs Culver’s help to get to a secret Government fallout shelter that he knows about. From there, the story follows one survival escapade after another: battling the rats, battling floodwaters, battling rats in the floodwaters, battling people-gone-bad, battling more rats, etc. I started off enjoying the novel, but after a while I started to get the impression that there really wasn’t much of a story to tell. Towards the end, I was truly sickened by tunnel after door after tunnel after door.
I felt further frustrated by Herbert’s manner of storytelling. He’s quite verbose, tossing in unnecessary words and being vaguely repetitious:
He hacked their pink bodies, ignoring their faint cries, striking, pummelling, crushing their tiny bones, making sure each one was dead, beating any small movement from them, shredding them from existence, sundering them of all form, of any shape.
What is intended as dramatic is padded out to such a degree that all I can feel whilst reading it is tired and impatient. The story is further padded out with lines of dialogue between the characters that often serve no purpose except to slow everything down and bulk up the page-count. Many of the characters themselves are cardboard cut-outs. In one scene, there were several survivors travelling, and four of the men felt completely interchangeable to me; it didn’t matter who spoke. With the exception of Culver and Dealey, I couldn’t tell the difference between the men.
It’s not all bad. The novel does have its moments. From the sublime …
Ignore the old woman sitting on the floor rocking her blood-covered head backwards and forwards. Forget about the kid clinging to his mother, yelling for her to take out the horrible pieces of glass from his hands. Don’t look at the man leaning against the wall vomiting black blood. Help one and you had to help eveybody. Help everybody and you were finished. Just help yourself.
“Those people this morning didn’t look desparate. They looked as if they were enjoying themselves.”
“Let’s just say we’ve been knocked back a few thousand years to a time when other tribes are the enemy and certain breeds of animal are dangerous. We got through it then, we’ll do it again.”
To the ridiculous …
Sharon opened the door a fraction, just enough for her slim body to slide through, the tips of her breasts brushing against the edge.
As a teenager, I might have detected a degree of eroticism in the above paragraph. Now it reads like pure cheese to me. Sharon, a survivor among a group holed up inside a cinema, is heading to the toilet in the middle of the night. Every time Herbert deviates from the central group of survivors, you know he’s simply setting up a predicable scene where he gets to revel in death and destruction. Predictably enough, a horny bloke follows the girl, intent on raping her, and the rats break in and eat them both.
I recall generally enjoying Herbert’s novels as a teenager, but always feeling there was something a little cold about them in comparison to the likes of Stephen King. Almost two decades later, I can now put some words to those feelings. I think Herbert is purely a career writer, uninterested in creating art, just looking to earn a wage. I think he has an idea about what he thinks his target audience wants, and he simply aims to fill the gap. That’s why most of the books I’ve read by him have a typical and unnecessary sex scene. That’s why there’s so much gratuitous violence and gore. That’s why the characters are like puppets moved along a stage. Herbert’s books are product rather than art.
My frustration with this book boils down to this: I’m not as easy to please as I was when I was a teenager. Well, now that I’ve read the book that I always regretted not reading, I can finally put the ghost of James Herbert to rest.