Category Archives: 2000-09
What happens when Mega City 1′s coldest, fiercest lawman comes in contact with the galaxy’s coldest, fiercest alien? A winning combination for a story. This graphic novel is not an attempt to say that Mega City 1 somehow exists in the past history of the Alien movies; that would be absurd. But why not take a creature from a popular movie series and drop it into a different mythos? It’s fun.
We begin with a citizen stuck in a traffic jam, desperate to get to hospital because he knows he’s going to die. It’s how he’s going to die that’s the surprising part – at least for the Judges, and those unfamiliar with the Alien movies. The creature bursts from its host’s chest and is on the loose, rapidly growing to adulthood. Where did it come from? How did the man get impregnated? Are there any more of the creatures? The answers come from an old foe of Dredd’s – someone he banished to the Cursed Earth, but who eventually found his way on to a starship. And now he’s brought something back to Earth.
“Incubus” is the name given to the Alien species here. It’s the first time I’ve heard it called this, and it’s a perfect fit, when you consider the historical meaning of the term: a spirit that comes to your bed in the middle of the night and has sex with you against you will. Not dissimilar to a run-in with a face-hugger. And after all, the Alien uses the human host as an incubator.
Incubus was first published as a four-issue comic, and can also now be obtained as a graphic novel. A highly enjoyable rollercoaster ride for fans of either Alien or Dredd. A mixture that’s likely to create a few new fans on opposite sides.
The new Dredd movie resurrected my interest this old comic book anti-hero from my childhood. In the late 21st century, America is a radiaoctive ruin known as the Cursed Earth. In the middle of this wasteland lie three vast sealed cities, one of which is Mega City 1. It’s an overpopulated dystopia of technology and squalour, where unemployment rates are high and crime runs rampant. Order is maintained by the Judges, police officers who act as arresting officer, judge, jury, and sometimes executioner. Crime is far too big a problem for the time-consuming procedures of democracy and trial-by-jury. These elite trained and heavily armoured Judges patrol the streets on bikes (known as Lawmasters). Their main weapon is a side-arm (Lawgiver) that is capable of being switched to a variety of firing modes, including “hi-ex” (high explosive). Judge Dredd is the fiercest and most uncompomising Judge of them all, utterly devoted to keeping the law. In the 30+ years of this character’s existence, from his origin in the early issues of the 2000 AD comic in the late 1970s, no one has yet seen his face (a boundary overstepped thoughtlessly in the the Stallone movie). All that is visible beneath his dark helmet visor is a permanent scowl – an expression that never changes. Fans of the comic will love the new movie, as it maintains the authenticity of the character to a tee.
Judge Dredd is basically a fascist and a fundamentalist in his thinking – traits that would ordinarily cause us to hate a character. But there is just something about Dredd that makes you root for him, and I’m not sure what it is. For whatever reason, the character has endured phenomenally. Perhaps it has something to do with the appeal of westerns. Dredd is basically the sheriff, and there are few, if any, romanticised outlaws in his world. People fit very obvious categories of good and evil. Law-breakers are greedy, murderous, and trigger-happy, while the Judges are an uncompromising force protecting civilisation. They represent a definition of good that is not weak and gentle and fawning. Although Mega City 1 is essentially a police state (which is not the most desirable thing), it’s the sort of place that we know would be hell on earth without the Judges. I’m reminded of the quote: “Evil reigns when good men do nothing.” I think we love Judge Dredd because he represents form of ethics that is happy to justify kicking your ass into next week without a qualm of conscience. Dredd is Lex Talionis, the jaw of the jungle, manifested on the side of civilisation rather than against it.
This volume contains repints of the earliest Dredd stories. There are over 300 pages of short stand-alone tales and multi-issue serials to enjoy, from the first years of 2000 AD. There’s so much material that you inevitably forget a great deal of it quickly after reading. A main highlight is the Robot War, which introduced the frequently recurring character of Walter. We also meet Judge Giant for the first time, graduating from the Academy. And Dredd encounters his clone brother Rico. Highly enjoyable reading, and merely the tip of the iceberg. There are at eighteen subsequent volumes, not to mention many graphic novels in the Dredd universe.
I’ve given less-than-glowing reviews of the first two Dexter novels. You might wonder why I keep returning for more. The fact is, I love the TV series, and I miss it between seasons. So this is the next best thing – except Lindsay’s Dexter is not quite the same as the on-screen Dexter. I saw that in the previous books, and the trend continues here.
The hook of the character, for me, is the personal identification with the human tendency to project a fake identity – or at least the inability to be completely transparent with people. Dexter may hide himself because he has a lust to kill, but all of us have dark sides, to one extent or another. Dexter provides a sounding board for exploring that side of human nature – albeit in an overly dramatic fashion.
Dexter refers to his nastier tendencies as his “Dark Passenger.” I always understood this as his way of personifying an aspect of his own psyche. But in this third novel, Lindsay has decided that it’s actually sort of demonic entity that he carries around with him. What?! This strikes me as the most colossal blunder that an author could make – ripping the very heart and soul out of what makes the character appealing. Dexter is now no longer a man we can relate to as someone strugging with metaphorical “inner demons.” He’s infested with a real demon. So now we can’t relate to him at all. Now’s he a victim of something outside of his control – just the way that Christians blame the devil for the things they don’t like about human nature.
Anyway, in the story, Dexter’s Dark Passenger leaves him because it is scared off by a bigger demon, and Dexter is left as a shell of his former self – realising that so much of his identity depending on having the demon in the first place. Worse still, Dexter becomes a teacher of his girlfriend’s two children, Astor and Cody, who have Dark Passengers of their own. Cody can sense the bad guy supernaturally, and can also sense when Dexter’s “shadow” (as he calls it) returns to him. This is a complete nosedive from intelligent psychology to Christian-inspired superstition. It’s hard for me to see how this will get any better in the subsequent books.
In fairness, if you leave your brain at the door and just read this as a trashy horror novel, it’s moderately entertaining. But the television series (now in its seventh season) has utterly eclipsed the novels in terms of good storytelling.
What an unfortunate title for an autobiography. Makes the book look like a how-to manual for the sexually inadequate. It’s hard to know what the marketing people were thinking, when they decided on that choice of words. You wouldn’t catch me walking up to a bookseller to pay for it. No, I got hold of this as an ebook.
My own interest in reading this volume comes from my fascination with understanding human sexuality – both the light and dark aspects. Society today has a very permissive attitude to pornography, except in religious circles. Although I am not remotely religious, I do tend to see porn as counter-productive to maintaining a healthy mind. In defence of this, I offer the increasingly fetishistic and downright abusive trends in pornography; essentially, woman is treated like a human ashtray. So it was highly interesting for me to get the inside story from one of the industry’s most popular stars, Jenna Jameson.
Jenna’s story confirmed my views. The porn industry is largely run by unethical and abusive men, who treat the actresses like whores (and call them the same). The word “whore” was a particular sore spot for Jenna; she would go berzerk if anyone called her that name. “Well,” I thought, “what do you expect when you’ve allowed your body to be abused by lots of men, for finanial gain?” Porn is basically prostitution with a camera running.
Insight into the industry was secondary to the main theme of the book, which is Jenna’s life story. In summary, it’s a catalogue of bad relationship choices, bad career choices, drug addiction, and hard living. I had some sympathy for Jenna’s teenage years when, in her naivety, she fell in with a bad crowd, and ended up getting raped. But no one forced her to make the many choices in life that led to her facing much suffering. Some of her sexual ethics are bizarre, to say the least. She’ll be talking about how much in love she is with a particular guy, and they move in together, and the next thing you know she’s falling in love with a woman, and having sex with her, while seemingly oblivious to this being infidelity – presumably because it’s not another man. On a side-note, gossip-mongers will lap up the sexual shennanigans that Jenna reveals between herself and various stars, including Bruce Willis, Nicholas Cage, Sylvester Stallone, Tommy Lee, Marilyn Manson. Later in the book she’s in a happy relationship with a guy, and no longer acting in porn, when an old boss compels her to fulfill an old contract and make one more movie. Instead of finding a way to get out of this, she goes ahead and makes the movie. Well, her boyfriend goes ballistic, naturally. I thought, “What did you expect, Jenna? You had sex with another man. This tends to be what happens when you cheat on your boyfriend.” The book ends on a happy note with her marriage to Jay Grdina. I was sceptical. While reading, I suspected this was not a happily-ever-after fairy tale ending, but just a peak on the rollercoaster of her life. And sure, enough, when I checked Wikipedia, the marriage finished in 2006.
It’s difficult to know what Jenna Jameson hoped to achieve in producing this book. It’s not really a damning critique of the industry, just the recollection of an unusual life – one that she doesn’t regret living. The problem is that such a book is counter-productive to her status as a porn star. First of all, the sort of men who objectify Jenna Jameson as a porn star are not the sort of men who would care about what she has to say. She’s just an ashtray to them. Those few who do decide to read her story will find that it steals the magic out of her larger-than-life projected image, by humanising her. So, who is this book for? I’m not sure, really. I could understand this sort of book if the author was trying to make a break from her past and create a new identity for herself, but that’s not the case. To her credit, Jenna Jameson, for whatever reason, chose to reveal a great deal of herself; it takes guts to be that vulnerable.
The book is co-written with Neil Strauss. As with most celebrity autobiographies, I suspect it is entirely ghostwritten by him, but hopefully the material is accurate. In regard to my particular aim of getting the inside dope on the porn instustry, the book was long-winded and far too detailed. For instance, I had no interest whatsoever in reading a catalogue of high school crushes from her old teenage diary. Still, if you can be bothered to wade through the fluff, the book makes an interesting psychological study of the porn industry, albeit from the perspective of one person.
I have quite an extensive knowledge of Christianity, but I thought it was high time that I educated myself on other world religions. A broad knowledgebase is essential in helping us to discern truth from error. But few of us have the time to study masses of information about many fields of inquiry. In the matter of religion specifically, I was instantly attracted by this book’s size (123 pages, illustrated) and the breadth of subject matter covered.
Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism and Sikhism are all covered in some detail, going into the history, basic beliefs, and culture of each religion. Around 16 large-format, heavily illustrated pages are devoted to each religion. Double-page spreads are also given over to the lesser players in today’s religious climate: Zoroastrianism, Confucianism, Taoism, Shinto, the Bahai Faith, etc. Finally, modern religious movements are covered.
This was the perfect book to fill a particular hole in my knowledge. It’s aimed at schools, but the information is by no means dumbed down. Highly recommended for readers who want to get a feel for world religions fast.
I was attracted to this book by its subtitle: “Punk Rock, Monster Movies & the Truth About Reality.” The odd combination of spirituality and mundanity appealed to me because I have a profound distrust of the kind of spiritual teacher who puts on a pretense of living on some higher wavelength of reality. I used to read a lot of David Icke, and much as I now disagree with many of his views, I still love the down-to-earth “spirituality with balls” attitude that he maintains. He was never ashamed to get pissed off, to swear in public, to trample on tradition, and to question authority.
In the same regard, Brad Warner didn’t disappoint. I smiled when the author poured scorn on all the pomp and ceremony that is attached to Buddhism, without losing sight of the value of the philosophy itself. And I found Zen Buddhism to be surprisingly agreeable.
The universe desires to perceive itself and to think about itself and you are born out of this desire. The universe wants to experience itself from the point of view of a tree, and so there are trees. The universe wants to feel what it’s like to be a rock, and so there are rocks. The universe wants to know what it’s like to be a famous Austrian body-builder cum film star and so there is Arnie. We don’t know that rocks and trees have an idea of “self,” and it doesn’t matter one way or the other. But we do know that human beings like you and me and Arnie believe in the existence of “self.” And this belief is the root of all of our problems.
Some might view the above assertsions as absurd, but I completely get the idea of duality as an expression of a more fundamental non-duality. In Eastern terms, I could say that I believe in the Advaita branch of Hinduism. But I’m damned if I can see any fundamental difference between Advaita and Zen – except that Zen has an emphasis on meditation as the principle means to enlightenment.
The type of meditation advocated in Zen Buddhism is pleasantly basic. It’s called “zazen” and it’s basically all about sitting still. There is no requirement for mantas, or specialised technique. The purpose of zazen is to open yourself to your true self. Given enough practice, it is claimed that we will be confronted with everything we’ve repressed.
There’s a really interesting chapter where the author makes a strong case against the idea of seeking enlightenment through psychoactive drugs. Another where he shows the error of belief in reincarnation. For the most part, I found my own views echoed and reinforced throughout the book. But the one chapter where I learned something new and important was “The World of Demons.” This was an alarmingly honest discourse on human nature – especially its nasty side, and how we should relate to that socially unacceptable part of ourselves. This chapter was so good that I went back and read it a second time, after finishing the book.
This is one of the more important books I’ve read in recent years. I don’t know that I would call myself a Zen Buddhist, but I am definitely keen to try zazen, even merely as a means of daily centering myself. It’s something I’ve always neglected, perhaps to my detriment.
Uniquely, I’m someone who first read The God Delusion as a Christian and now I’ve read it for a second time as an ex-Christian. In my first reading, the book didn’t convince me to abandon my faith. Looking back on my original review, I still concur with many of the points I raised in criticism of it. You see, I was no idiot as a Christian. And this is part of the problem with Dawkins’s book: his tone, from the get-go, is that you’re a moron if you believe in God. He characterises the most profound dilemma of my life as foolishness.
Dawkins does not get why people gravitate to religion. He has never understood the view that human nature is broken. This is the driving force that causes people to seek salvation, redemption, spiritual awakening, etc. The feeling that there is something incomplete or malfunctional in man, such as “original sin.” When a religion addresses this need, that is why people flock to it. And this deep psychological attachment then becomes the reason why the religionist cannot be reasoned with. I now believe the view of human nature as “fallen” to be erroneous, but this key issue is not even addressed by Dawkins’s book and it is the very cornerstone of religion.
The God Delusion can basically be split into two parts, each comprising roughly fifty percent of the volume. In the first half, Dawkins makes the argument against God from an evolutionary perspective – the view that complex things are always formed out of simpler things. This is the basis from which Dawkins argues that God, if he exists, must have been something incredibly simple, because a vastly complex God would have required a creator, in the same manner that the theist argues the universe requires a creator. In arguing this way, Dawkins simply does not get what is meant, philosophically, by the idea of a “first cause” or an “uncaused cause.” It is a reference to something wholely outside of the constraints of space-time, something formless and timeless that encompasses all that is in the material realm – something wholely other. I confess that, as a Christian, I gave up on the book at this halfway point, because Dawkins failed to make his case in laying the groundwork.
The second half of the book is mostly concerned with slamming religion as a force for evil. Much of what Dawkins says is true, and a torch should definitely be shone on it all. The trouble is, the Christian is not overly concerned with the atrocities done by others, or the horrors done in the past in the name of Christ. The Christian sees his religion as a personal relationship with God, and his only concern is his own standing before God. And if the Christian feels that his religion is beneficial force in his own life, that’s primarily what matters. A great deal of what Dawkins says will sit in the mind of the Christian reader as a huge ad hominem argument against religion that will have no effect.
One very controversial moment in the book was Dawkins’s suggestion that it might be a good idea to prevent parents raising their children in a religion, on the grounds that such indoctrination is a form of child abuse. I don’t know which is scarier: the idea of parents controlling the education of their own children, or the state dictating it.
The God Delusion only scratches the surface of the problem of religion. The tone and content serve as little more than an effort at mutual atheist backslapping. An expert in evolutionary biology, who attempts to tackle a bigger subject that inevitably strays into philosophy and metaphysics, only reveals how out of his depth he is.
In fairness, I’ve concentrated on the negatives, but there’s a lot in this book that is good. It’s just not nearly good enough.
Christopher Hitchens, recently deceased, was one of the most well known defenders of atheism, and probably needs no introduction. He was a lively and passionate speaker, able to put religion in its place with sharp wit and a startling economy of words. Never one to back down from a fight, he displayed a fierce disregard for any heckling from debaters or audiences. He never attacked religion from an overly intellectual philosophical point of view, but made his case against it on the grounds of a thorough knowledge of the horror that religion has been responsible for throughout mankind’s history. All of this made him, in my estimation, the most popular and entertaining atheist to listen to. Hard to compare him to Dawkins, since they each have a different area of expertise.
God Is Not Great is extremely useful as a catalogue of religious atrocity. Atheists will undoubtedly nod their approval of Hitchens’ presentation throughout the book. Only the most utterly brainwashed Christian or Muslim could failed to be embarrassed at the crimes done in the name of their respective religions. But the astute believer will respond, “You can’t judge a religion itself by the behaviour of its followers.” Is there merit to this objection? To an extent, yes. Hitchens appears to be making an ad hominem argument. I think Hitchens would argue that the sheer extent of the bad behaviour testifies to the destructive nature of the idea itself. These are not mere isolated occurances of evil, but appear to be stimulated by the ideas themselves. As the subtitle of the book says: “How religion poisons everything.”
This is true, but but the key question, which Hitchens does not really tackle is this: is the poison really within religion itself, or is it within people? Hitchens’s stance reminds me of the way that people have tried to condemn violent films and videogames as stimulating violent behaviour, when the truth is that the aggressive tendencies already exist within us, which is why we enjoy those kinds of entertainments. Same with pornography. Porn is bad, it is argued, becuase it stimulates sexual thoughts. No. Sexual thoughts exists, as comedian Bill Hicks put it, because of “having a dick.” Hence we have porn. Likewise, Hitchens argues, religion is bad because it turns people bad. On the contrary, the badness and the stupidity are a part of the human makeup. Religion is merely the tool that is used to express that badness and stupidity. The real accusation must be levelled at the selfish ambitions of those who reign at the top of all religious power structures. And the blame also lies at the stupidity of the common man for failing to see when he is being conned. I would put it like this: “People are stupid, therefore religion succeeds,” rather than “Religion poisons everything.”
Hitchens insists on dropping the capital “G” from the word God throughout the book, which is disappointing to me. I’m no fan of religion, but there is philosophical merit to the idea of God, whether understood deistically or pantheistically. There is nothing poisonous about metaphysics. My personal favourite term for the creative agent of the universe is the Infinite, and I always spell it with a capital “I”, purely in reference to its metaphysical nature. And I do not think of the Infinite as a transcendental entity, like the monotheistic religions.
The most disappointing aspect of the book was the slightly hypocritical note on which it closes. After earlier praising pluralism and free speech, Hitchens finishes by saying that we need a new Enlightenment and religion must be excluded from all discussion. How tyrannical of him to decide that for us all. Organised religion might one day die of its own accord, but I doubt that will bring an end to organised stupidity and intolerance. Those unfortunate human traits will simply find a new means of expression.
Hitchens’ critique of religion is, for the most part, valid. It just doesn’t quite reach the heart of the matter. God Is Not Great is a very useful book. An important catalogue of the misuse of religion throughout history.
I have a liking for stories that go places where most authors fear to tread. If the author is insightful and courageous, you end up with fiction that tells the truth about life. My last outing into this territory was Stephen King’s Rage, a tale about a student who holds his classmates at gunpoint. Emily Maguire’s Taming the Beast is a story about another school-related taboo: the forbidden sexual relationship between teacher and student.
Sarah Clark is a fourteen-year-old girl who feels like a bit of a misfit; her English teacher, Daniel Carr, is thirty-eight and is married with a daughter. Recognising Sarah’s intelligence, he pays her special attention, loaning her books. They spend lunch-times together, having private discussions, alone in his classroom. Then one day he makes a move on her, and she accepts. A passionate secret love affair develops, where they both can’t get enough of each other. On Mr. Carr’s side, there is a lot of conflicting emotion: the fear of Sarah’s naivety getting them caught, the guilt over what they are doing, the fear of losing his wife and daughter. Disturbingly, the sexual relationship between Daniel and Sarah becomes violent at times, but they both seem addicted to each other regardless. Central to the book’s theme is the metaphor of “the beast with two backs” – when two people become like one organism, and cannot be satisfied when apart, no matter how badly they treat each other. Recognising the destructive nature of their relationship, Mr Carr breaks it off, resigns from his job, and moves himself and his family to another town far away. Sarah is heartbroken.
All this takes place in a few chapters at the beginning of the book. The majority of the story concerns Sarah in her early twenties. She has become excessively sexually promiscuous, having hundreds of previous lovers in an attempt to recapture what she lost with Daniel. But no one will do. Then, out of nowhere, he reappears in her life, divorced and available. And both of them still want each other. This time the relationship becomes even more destructive and violent than before. But the two seem powerless to resist. Caught in the crossfire is Sarah’s longsuffering best friend Jamie, who has been besotted with Sarah since she was a girl.
What I got from this book was a portrait of a completely self-absorbed woman – one whose view of sex is intirely about me, me, me. Everyone exists to serve her. She even seduces Jamie, despite the fact that he is a husband and father. All around her is the emotional wreckage of the people she has vampirically drained. And central to her “psychosis” is that age-old bullshit story of finding “The One” – the idea that there’s one special person you’re meant to be with and no one else will do, and to be alone is to be incomplete. The thing is, what I’m seeing in the story is not what the author intended. By all appearances, the author defends the idea of finding The One. She just wants to replace the romantic stereotype of this age-old tale with something raw and animalistic. Frankly, I’m not convinced. In the real world, people enter sexual relationships, and for a while it’s exciting, even obsessional, but after time the sex becomes familiar. Love isn’t this monstrous thing that drains so much from people that it almost kills them. What planet are you on, Maguire?
The genuine insight of Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita is absent here. All I see is a piece of pretentious melodrama with added shock value. This was the story of a self-absorbed little tart with delusions of profundity. Emily Maguire attempts to out-Nabokov Nabokov, but hasn’t got what it takes.
After reading so many deep and taxing non-fiction books lately, I happened to be in the mood for some pulp fiction. What better than a good ol’ unpretentious B-movie-style alien invasion story. That’s what I thought Dean Koontz’s The Taking was supposed to be. I’ve read enough Koontz to know his penchant for melodrama, but I thought I could stomach it, as long as the story was interesting.
We begin with a woman, Molly, waking up in the middle of the night, witness to a bizarre torrent of luminous rain. She quickly learns that this is happening everywhere in the world, and she fears that it is the precursor to something more dreadful. A Lovecraftian apocalypse ensues, filled with otherworldly flora and fauna, and events so bizarre that reality itself appears to be coming apart at the seams. While many of the happenings seem more occult than extraterrestrial, our protagonist makes much of the famous Arthur C. Clarke quote about how the technology of a sufficiently advanced alien culture would be indistinguishable from magic.
As an author myself, there are certain well-known missteps in storytelling that are best avoided. Koontz, to my astonishment, blunders right into them. The first one applies to science fiction and fantasy, where liberties are frequently taken with the laws of physics: any story that fails to establish its own rules about what is possible and impossible is going to be devoid of suspense, because literally anything can happen at any moment to help or hinder the protagonist. In the worst examples of this (and this is the second storytelling blunder), some unexpected happening occurs to get the protagonist out of a tough spot, rather than the protagonist using his own ingenuity. And would you believe it? Good grief, Koontz relies on this very thing. In fact, the heroes walk their way through most of the book, protected by some unseen otherworldly force.
The protagonists are typical Koontz archetypes that he has used over and over again in his books: impossibly noble-minded pure-of-heart characters with ne’er a perverse thought crossing their minds, tainted only by some dark event in their pasts that they have had to overcome. Who but the most self-deluded can relate to these melodramatic caricatures of human beings? Furthermore, the characters glide through through their extreme circumstances with barely a dent to their sanity. It’s like reading Lovecraft with all the madness removed; it doesn’t work.
The book is just over three hundred pages long. It should have been less than two hundred. As it stands, the prose is utterly dripping with unnecessary flowery metaphors and pretentious twaddle. Here’s an example from the beginning of chapter forty:
The mystery of evil is too deep to be illuminated by the light of reason, and likewise the basement of the church, while no more than twelve feet in depth, presented to Molly a blackness as perfect as that you might find gazing outward to the starless void beyond the farthest edge of the universe.
Please! It’s one thing to write artistically; quite another to try and show off. At times, I found myself speed-reading through Koontz’s metaphorical rambles. Oddly, I don’t recall any of his other books being quite so heavy in this regard.
[SPOILER ALERT!] I don’t normally do spoilers, but this one’s too juicy to pass up. Reviews of this book promised a surprise ending. You’ll never guess what it is. After telling a story that looks like the Devil unleashing the kingdom of hell upon Earth (while the author attempts to convince us its an ET invasion), the big reveal in the final pages is … oh, it really was the Devil after all! And so, an already sub-standard War of the Worlds retelling takes a final nose-dive into pseudo-Christian quackery.
In fairness, I experienced a certain degree of enjoyment reading this book, but frankly, a writer of Koontz’s experience ought to know better than to indulge in all the things I’ve mentioned. The fans deserve more. These days, he appears to be little more than a hack writer, churning out book after book, sometimes two per year, using the same old tired formula. Well, this is one reader exiting the Koontz train. No more, thank you.
My interest in books on psychic phenomena lies in the fact that I’ve had personal experience. First as someone who witnessed a genuine demonstration of psychokinesis, and then as someone who decided to go after the elusive proof by figuring out how to do it for myself (and getting results). I first heard of Dean Radin from the documentary What the Bleep Do We Know!? Sadly, he was confined to the DVD extras, but after listening to him, I felt he was the most impressive voice of all the interviewees (the less said about J.Z. Knight, aka Ramtha, the better). It’s worth tracking down the extended cut (Down the Rabbit Hole), where Radin takes his rightful place within the film itself.
Radin is currently Laboratory Director at the Institute of Noetic Sciences, California, and has been involved in parapsychological research at various universities for over two decades. At Stanford Research Institute he was part of the then classified US Government “Stargate” program, which investigated psychic phenomena. I would say his credential are in order. But the real question is, does his book come up with the goods?
In my opinion, this is the book to read on psychic phenomena, for both the open-minded skeptic and the psychic dabbler seeking a little more confidence. God knows, the world is awash with “psychic” frauds; it’s about time we had a book by a believer who is prepared to be rigorous and dispassionate with the empirical data.
Pitting my own conversations with skeptics against the historical information in this book, I can only conclude that when the skeptic says, “There’s no evidence,” this is more of a blind materialistic assumption than a statement of fact based on informed opinion. Across the 20th century, there is a wealth of statistical information in favour of the reality of psychic phenomena. The trouble with validating psychic phenomena seems to stem more from the fact that the observed effects are not large enough for many people to make the necessary paradigm shift regarding how the universe works. There is still an unfortunate philosophical materialism in the minds of scientists, which hasn’t yet been eroded by the assertions of quantum physics.
The majority of skeptics mischaracterise psychic abilities as “magic powers,” and when no magic (to their preconceived standard) is forthcoming, everything psychic is then characterised as ridiculous. But the real focus of this book is not power of any kind, but the deepening of our understanding of the nature of the relationship between mind and matter, something that is by no means well understood – except in the faulty presuppositions of the materialists, who suppose the mind to be nothing more than a product of the physical brain, and ultimately an illusion.
The book includes much data on intuition, telepathy, psychokinesis, presentiment. You won’t find anything on levitating objects, but you will find curious statistics on the outcomes of dice throws. There are some startling experiments on random number generators and their correlation to major world events like 9/11. At times the book is a little monotonous, simply giving example after example, but such repetition is justified in a topic as controversial as this.
Those interested in learning psychic abilities will not find any instruction sets in here. That’s not the focus of the book. Radin’s aim is clearly to effect some change for the better in a scientific community that is still stuck in the wrong paradigm. Entangled Minds is an important work. I can’t comprehend how any rational-minded skeptic could fail to be impressed with Radin’s handling of the topic.
Michael W. Ford calls himself a “Luciferian.” What this means, and how it differs from “Satanist,” is not easy to nail down. Equally difficult to answer definitively is the question: “What is Luciferianism?” Briefly, I think it is fair to say that a Luciferian is someone who finds greater relevance in the meaning of Lucifer (light-bearer) than Satan (adversary). There is certainly no evidence of a belief system of any significant scale called “Luciferianism” (despite what conspiracy theorists would assert). Furthermore, Ford’s own “Luciferian Magickal Order,” the Order of Phosphorous, is not the only contender; there is also the Ordo Luciferis, Ordo Luciferi, Temple of the Dark Sun, Neo-Luciferian Church.
The title of the book under review is an inversion (of sorts) of the Hebrew name of God in the Old Testament, rendered either as JHVH or YHWH. Y and J are the same in Hebrew, as are V and W. The language contains no vowels, so there is often some guessing required as to the correct pronunciation of words; hence we have Jehovah and Yahweh. Written backwards we get HVHJ. Where Ford comes up with HVHI is not explained, nor is any clue given as to how to pronounce this “name.”
Liber HVHI is a modern grimoire, drawing upon the myths of various past cultures, with a particular emphasis on Ahriman of Zoroastrianism. Also central to the book is the Qlippoth, a variation of the Tree of Life glyph from the Hebrew Cabala. Much of the historial material was so unfamiliar to me, and communicated with such brevity, that it was impossible to digest coherently. I also failed to grasp the reason for the importance Ford’s approach to magic. I understand myths as approximations to truth, which is why myths are always evolving over time, or outliving their usefulness. Ford’s insistence on the use of ancient myth strikes me as backward. It’s like learning astronomy, but refusing to let go of Ptolemy’s geocentric universe. In reading Liber HVHI, I was reminded of Anton LaVey’s opening statement in the preface to The Satanic Bible:
This book was written because, with very few exceptions, every tract and paper, every “secret” grimoire, all the “great works” on the subject of magic, are nothing more than sanctimonious fraud – guilt-ridden ramblings and esoteric gibberish by chroniclers of magical lore unable or unwilling to present an objective view on the subject.
And yet occasionally Liber HVHI struck a note of brilliance, as Ford communicated a rare insight, one hard to grasp by those unfamiliar to the Left-Hand Path. These flashes are what kept me reading, but they were few and far between. The material of worth in this volume would have filled a pamphlet. The book makes occasional references to a previous work of Ford’s, Luciferian Witchcraft. Perhaps I would have gained a little more out of Liber HVHI if I had started with the other one, but somehow I doubt it. There is a clarity to modern occult writers like Anton LaVey and Michael Aquino that is sadly lacking here.
Readers whose only knowledge of Satanism comes from Christian pulpits and media sensationalism could be forgiven for thinking that this book is some dangerous occult grimoire. In fact, I imagine the title and cover design were picked to elicit that very response, much to the amusement of real Satanists. The term “The Satanic Scriptures” is purely an oxymoron, for the idea of scriptural dogma is the antithesis of what Satanism is about. Satanism is a philosophy of individualism, and being an individual necessitates being an adversary to societal (i.e. Christian) norms. Hence, Satanists embrace “Satan” as a symbol of their defiance. It should be noted that Satanists come in all shapes and sizes, from theists who view Satan as a literal God, to atheists who only make use of the Fallen Angel’s symbolic relevance. Peter H. Gilmore, High Priest of the Church of Satan, is firmly rooted in the latter category.
The Church of Satan was formed in 1966 by Anton LaVey, who authored The Satanic Bible (1969) and four other works. Upon his death in 1997, management of the organisation passed to LaVey’s long-time friend Gilmore. During his time as a member of the church, Gilmore contributed essays to the organisation’s magazine The Black Flame. Many of these essays (with some modifications) make up the bulk of The Satanic Scriptures.
There are a wide variety of subjects covered: reflections on life as an individualist; Satanic perspectives on world events such as 9/11 and Columbine; defence of accusations of Satanic Ritual Abuse (dubbed the Satanic Panic); fascism; eugenics; asthetics; music; even light-hearted reflections on old-time monster movies. On of my favourite essays was entitled “Intellectual Black Holes,” concerning individuals who enter into conversation/debate with no other motive but to suck the life out of you (particularly relevant to me in light of my frequent controversial blogging).
Towards the end are a number of essays that are chiefly concerned with what a Satanist should aspire to be, and what sort of person the Church of Satan wishes to attract (as well as those it wishes to repel). These essays might cause some people to view Gilmore as being a bit self-important, but I actually found this to be a refreshingly different from the typical “Come and join us, everyone” attitude of Christianity. Clearly Gilmore is not playing the power-through-numbers game. He has a clear agenda of separating the wheat from the chaff, managing the Church of Satan as an elitist organisation where only a particular kind of person need apply. The Church of Satan is also one of the very few “religions” that understands the need for pluralism in society: Satanism for those who are natually inclined to be individualists, leaders, pioneers, and orthodox religions for those who wish to follow the herd.
The book finishes with a short section entitled “Rituals,” which includes a Satanic wedding ceremony and a Satanic funeral. If you can wrap your head around the idea of saying “Hail Satan!” while knowing you don’t believe in a literal devil, these rituals actually represent refreshing realism. The wedding ceremony conveys genuine meaning while jettisoning everything that is pretentious or melodramatic from a traditional church wedding. Likewise, the funeral is a celebration of a person’s past life, rather than a sanctimonious prattling about a hypothetical heaven.
Where do I stand, since I’ve been speaking so highly of Satanism? Well, I’m not a Satanist. Satanism, for me, represents one avenue of many for gaining insight. I don’t see it as something that I can use to form a total worldview, but I do see it as something that can be studied critically to help me become more self-realised. The Satanic Scriptures is recommended reading for anyone who wishes to learn a little something about “man the animal” from an unusal angle.
In my review of the first Dexter book, I stated that I had no interest in reading another, being a little disappointed with it in comparison to the excellent television series. Well, I got tired waiting for season three to come out on DVD, and I really needed my Dexter fix, so I thought, What the hell. While season one is a fairly faithful adaptation of Lindsay’s Darkly Dreaming Dexter, season two doesn’t follow Dearly Devoted Dexter. There are some strong overlaps in terms of the story arc, such as Sergeant Doakes stalking Dexter and Dexter’s sister Deborah forming a relationship with an FBI agent who becomes involved with their main case. It’s clear the series writer(s) were familiar with the book, but chose to go in a very different direction with the main story.
The thrust of the book is the hunt for a serial killer who is targetting specific individuals, abducting them, cutting off their arms, legs, lips and eyelids, cauterising the wounds, then placing them (still alive) in front of a mirror, for the police to find the insanely screaming remains of a human being. Who is this madman? What’s the connection between the victims? These are the questions that Dexter and team must answer before the body count rises. What makes things interesting is, of course, Dexter’s own dark nature thrown into the mix. And when Sergeant Doakes is abducted, this would appear to remove a major thorn from Dexter’s side, but would the Code of Harry be satisfied to leave things as they are?
The book held my interest for the duration of its length, but the ending was a real let-down, and is really my only gripe. All the detective work is swept adide as Dexter makes a lucky guess, leading him to the psychopath. A crude storytelling shortcut, especially for a crime novel, where real intricate detective work is what satisfies the reader. I think the television writers wisely went their own way this time, because the second series took the Dexter character into more dramatic and interesting territory, fleshing out a much more complex drama between Dexter and Doakes, as well as introducing a love interest for Dexter who turns out to be just as misanthopic as Dexter, in her own way. Once again, the series outdoes the book. Dearly Devoted Dexter is worth a read and is certainly above average. If it weren’t for the ending, I would rate it higher. There are currently four Dexter books in print. I might be back for more. We’ll see.