Monday, 5 August 2013

Review of Monsanto vs The World: Monsanto, GMOs and Our Genetically Modified Future, by Jason Louv

Monsanto vs The World: Monsanto, GMOs and Our Genetically Modified Future, by Jason Louv. Pub. Ultracuture,,
Book mini site:
11,000+ words, $3.02 ebook, $4.49 paperback

This is a cross between a book review and some propaganda for the resistance to Monsanto, which this book is a part of. As such, I shall treat the book as a set of resources for information and action.

It opens with a thorough breakdown of the appallingly corrupt arrangement that President Obama signed into law in March 2013, which can enable the planting of GM crops even against judicial rulings.

Then we are introduced to Monsanto, their history of producing weedkillers and the infamous defoliant weapon Agent Orange. The death statistics, both Vietnamese and American from the latter make grisly reading. Louv mentions the generous campaign donations Monsanto made to a variety of political campaigns.

Louv then introduces genetic modification, focusing on the most controversial kind, transgenic, where genes from widely differing organisms are combined, such as animal or bacterial genes being introduced into plants. Some of the failures of the exalted claims made for transgenics are mentioned.

One of the more sinister aspects of GM crops from the point of view of human health (which, as we shall see, is not the only issue with GMOs) is the introduction of herbicide resistance genes, making crops resistant to herbicides used to kill the weeds around them. This means that more herbicide chemicals will get into the food chain, and into our bodies. Unlike the crop, we won't have the gene to resist the toxin, so we will get toxic effects. There are apparently already reports of this happening, as well as trials which show carcinogenic effects from Monsanto's herbicides.

A possible threat, this time to agriculture and the ecosystem at large, is gene transfer, in which GM genes migrate into other organisms, such as herbicide-resistance genes appearing in weeds which grow in fields of traditionally-produced crops.

Even with apparently benign crops, there are great dangers. Once a farmer has stopped using the seed from last year's harvest and is dependent on some company for the higher-performance seeds he is now using - which will be sterile, so he has to buy them every year - he is in hock for all time. This is of the most worrying aspects of the GMO world. An example is Golden Rice, a GM rice variety engineered to produce large quantities of Vitamin A. Critics 'have suggested that the benefits of Golden Rice are minor compared to the threat posed to farmers who will have to submit to the policies of the seeds' patent holders'

In light of Monsanto's persecution of opponents and investigators ( is just one example) their acquisition of notorious mercenary outfit Blackwater is particularly chilling. As more than one commentator has noted, this is getting like a badly-scripted dystopian SF film.

Louv looks at the toxicity to wildlife of Monsanto's agri-poisons. One issue which has helped bring the entire Monsanto mess into the public eye is their pushing of neonicotinoid insecticides, which overwhelming evidence links to the mass die-offs of bees in recent years. This horrific threat has even raised the ire of Putin's Russia:

Monsanto's arrogant rapacity is given another creepy post-apocalyptic twist by the announcement that bee-size drones are being developed which may be used as pollinators in place of bees when the latter become extinct. 'Daddy, what happened to the honey bees?' 'We poisoned them, son.'

Louv covers some features of third-world resistance to biotech, including the Indian farmer suicides, and moves on to the 'revolving door' between government and biotech companies. He references the studies showing that GM crops do not produce the promised great yields, and examines the evidence that GMOs could cause direct harm to those eating them.

There is little hard evidence for such harm, but even if GMOs were shown to be completely harmless in themselves that would not vitiate one bit the host of other reasons for subjecting them to much stricter control, not to mention clipping the wings of arrogant companies who care nothing for farmers or the environment.

The book gives advice on avoiding eating GMOs. For a pocket-size list of companies to avoid, check out 

Like I said at the beginning, this is not just a book review, and as such I have nothing negative to say about any book that contributes positively to the struggle against the rapists of the ecosystem. I would though respectfully suggest to Mr Louv that he start to offer the ebook version free of charge, so it can fulfil more widely its function as a resource for agitprop. Further, I'd suggest that he treat the book as a continually-evolving document, almost like a wiki, where contributors can help update the information in it by sending in links to news items, protest events and so on, keeping up to date with the latest horrors. That could become a resource for people fighting legal battles against the Monsta.

Hopefully, this little book will have some impact on the appalling ignorance of the US public. Europe and the third world have so far led the world in protest. This just shows the power of American media - the public have been tranquillized by lies. Come on, America wake up and catch up!

Considering the issues from the point of view of what outcome would be best, what we have to remember is that our opponents do have some right on their side. Some aspect of what they are doing is good. So people will recognize that and, even discounting the believe-anything-idiot level of public approval, there are also informed positions of approval of genetic manipulation.

There can be little doubt that GM has some great potentials. This means that people will support it with intelligence and passion. Which means we have to consider what we are working towards here, not just shoot from the hip on the basis of revulsion at Monsanto's rapacious, irresponsible behaviour.

For example, let's take a look at the best-known use of a transgenic organism - the production of human insulin. Before GM, diabetics had to use pig insulin, with all the problems that injecting a protein from another mammal can cause. Then the present system was devised, in which human insulin genes are snipped out from the human genome and transplanted into the bacterium E. coli. This bacterial-human combination produces perfectly good 'human' insulin. Would anyone want to go back to the bad old days of pig insulin?

Of course, adding a human gene to a bacterium which is going to be kept in a fermenting flask all its life is not the same as producing a transgenic plant which will then be sown out in the world, for the ecosystem to take its chances with. Therefore any problems with transgenicity are a matter of context, not the fundamentals of the technology itself.

The problem then comes down to the behaviour of biotech companies. Extreme secrecy and aggressive sneakiness, let alone the acquisition of private armies, argues that they are up to no good, on a very large scale. They need drastically restricting, and it does seem that our elected governments cannot be relied upon to do that job, if we look at how easily Obama signed away the rights of the American public.

On the other hand, a government powerful enough to bring them down right now would be a very scary organism.

We have to rely on overwhelming public opposition, prolonged and trenchant. Total, unbending insistence by the vast majority of the population might just give weak and nominally-democratic governments like USA the balls to bring GM under strict, publicly-accountable control.

What models do we have for this level of public outrage? What kind of baseline attitude might give the public a chance of forcing their governments to instigate proper controls? I think we are looking at an attitude of disgust, the sort of utter, visceral loathing that most people reserve for death camps. That emotion will probably quite naturally follow continued exposure of the behaviour of rogue biotech firms. That might just give us a chance of living in a world where most of the global food supply is neither contaminated nor owned by 2 or 3 companies, a world where bees still exist, a world where farmers can save their own seed for next year. A world where the ecosystem has a future.

No!Monsta! : Say NO! to the Monsta!

Saturday, 4 May 2013

Review of a pointless film

The Wicker Tree

I've just seen a film so crap my companion and I just ended up laughing at it. So I thought it was worth reviewing on that basis. And to warn off any fans of the genuine article.

The reason I got this film was because it's supposed to be a sequel to 'The Wicker Man'. I am of course referring to the original 1973 film, not the American remake, which I have vowed never to see, because it can only be a cheap and tawdry imitation of a truly great film. So I felt like I had to watch this, even though it was, apparently, widely rated as rubbish.

And, make no mistake, the nay-sayers were right - it is a steaming pile of cack.

The laird in this film runs a nuclear power station. He is descended from Lord Summerisle, but that's the nearest this film gets to having any Wicker Man DNA in it. His poorly-managed nuclear site has rendered the village sterile, and sacrifices are conducted to restore fertility. The stupid villagers, instead of lynching this creep, take part in elaborate rituals in which two American missionaries are captured. The young man is fucked then eaten and the young woman feted as May Queen then stuffed and mounted. There is more than one mention of Celtic religion, so this film can be taken as an egregious and pathetic insult to the latter.

The depiction of living heathenism is sloppy and half-hearted. This is a film that doesn't know what it wants to be. Unlike in the original WM, where the horror is not the point, in this film it almost is, except there's really no point at all. The village conspiracy seems to be modelled on the excellent Hot Fuzz, and there is an element of schlocky absurdity which shows the influence of the OTT-to-the-point-of-silly element in modern horror films since Evil Dead. In other words, it could have made a reasonable OTT comedy, but its nerve fails on the couple of occasions when it gets near that edge. Like a mildly hilarious moment involving a dead cat, and a super-tacky virtuoso performance of the 50s christo-schmaltz hit song 'Deck of Cards'.

Oh yes, the music. The original WM is a feast of beguiling traditional and neo-traditional folk that holds together a depiction of another world. It is a truly astonishing use of music which succeeds in creating a different reality. The Wicker Tree? The music is mostly rubbish, and they obviously didn't spend much on it.

They didn't even bother thinking the plot through. At the end we realise that the seed of the captured missionary has succeeded in impregnating the woman who seduced him. So it was only the men who were sterile. Wow, the women could have avoided the considerable trouble of capturing and killing a couple of good looking missionaries and instead simply had a night out at a club in a neighbouring town. Then gone home and lynched the self-confessed Mr Burns character.Yes, he actually compares himself to that archetype of banal evil. Give me strength.

Thursday, 2 May 2013

Review of The Eye With Which the Universe Beholds Itself, by Ian Sales.
Book 2 of Sales's Apollo Quartet.

In another parallel universe, the space programme kept going. Via the chance discovery of an alien artefact on Mars, mankind is given the key to interstellar travel. A colony is set up on an exo-planet named Earth Two.

Elliott is a veteran spaceman, the only human ever to have gone to Mars and to have seen the alien disc in place. He is selected, via a labyrinth of government secrecy, to join a mission to Earth Two when the colony has a serious problem.

We are still in the same world as the first book, Adrift in the Sea of Rains (see my review at ), and indeed still in the same time-frame. But a secret has been kept: only one man has ever seen the only known evidence of alien life.

From the opening lines, Sales sets up the protagonist's driving motivations. He is leaving a loving wife for... what?:
'This time, when he returns home he knows she will have left him for good.'

This is a man to whom space exploration is the be-all of his life. And maybe the end-all too:
'There is nowhere else he would rather be.
'He has missed this-the freedom of freefall, the sense of purpose that comes from following mission checklists, the purpose that comes from following mission checklists, the constant marvel of human engineering, the desperate desire to find a place for humanity in an implacable and indifferent universe.'

The Eye of the title is of course humankind; but is it humankind alone? That is what Elliott would know.

The narrative runs a present-time journey to Earth Two, in parallel with flashbacks to Elliott's original Mars mission. The alien-physics-derived Serpo engine is run from a Rock, a near-Earth asteroid towed to the Lagrange point between Earth and Moon. The world on that Rock is what Sales really excels at, the descriptions of humans functioning in deep space. I don't think I've read any other fiction that comes near in this respect.

The style generated by the mix of effective space exploration with what reads like 1970s tech is almost a 70s version of Steampunk: these are people doing amazing things with old-fashioned, clunky technology.

This technological mix is then juxtaposed with the alien tech. In the first book we had the Bell, weird salvaged Nazi technology. In this one, we have the Serpo engine. This is perhaps less outré than the parallel-universe-spanning Bell, but the story is by no means less exciting. I enjoyed Adrift..., but I prefer this volume.

Small complaints department: There's something odd about the font sizing in the Kindle edition - the characters are at least two sizes smaller than those on 'Adrift on the Sea of Rains', and every other Kindle file I have.
(There's also a typo - 'vaccum'; I know, the process of proofreading self-published books never ends.)

This book really works. Buy it for the same reasons I recommended Adrift..., only more so.

Thursday, 25 April 2013

Kurt Schwitters in Britain

Exhibition at Tate Britain, till 12th May.

I've always liked collages, the usage of ephemera and trash as elements of new compositions. Schwitters' is one of the names associated with this art from the beginning. So that was all I knew about this man's art. And there is more to it, much more, as this exhibition demonstrates.

First, a few notes on the early collages.

Corrugated cardboard that forms staircases, pitted wood becomes distant vague rooms, suggesting murky future places; so much is happening with w such humble materials. Tram tickets, newspaper scraps picked up in the street, removed from the context of the pavement, become tiny intimate windows. An eye gazes out of faded newsprint. Chocolate wrappers, numbers which have lost their meaning, disposable items; the mind is making sense of modern life's profligacy in terms of their form the dreams they trigger, so they become tickets to other mental places.

Proto-psychedelia, hallucinations in ephemera. A copper coin in a picture becomes the head of a person stooping to look at another picture.

In 1937 the Nazis used Schwitters' art as an example of Degenerate Art. What praise, from such Untermenschen. Nothing like militant morons to give you new perspectives. On a not unrelated theme, see - 'Untitled ( opened by customs)'.

Then abstract seascapes. Storm. A foil cap casts a solid shadow. A flower appears out of broken green glass.

Schwitters' concept of Merz - derived from the German word Kommerz - extends the collage principle into more dimensions. This art does fine in an internment camp, his home in Britain for a while. Merz plays with the stupidity of consumerism. This art has rough edges; it is not slick; it is anti-consumerist, therefore immensely relevant now as the delusions of plenty we've been brought up on shift down a gear. Merz is potentially magical art.

Then there is his (in)famous sound piece - Ursonate. One version of this can be found at

And finally... the sublime Merzbarn. Indescribable. Go to this, there are a couple of weeks left. 

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Review of Albion Dreaming: A popular history of LSD in Britain, by Andy Roberts

Like most bibliophiles, I have a massive pile of books to read, some of which richly deserve  reviewing. I might just be catching up...

This review seemed historically appropriate, since the 70th anniversary of the first ever LSD trip happened just the other day.

Albion Dreaming: A popular history of LSD in Britain, by Andy Roberts

I met Andy Roberts at the Breaking Convention conference in 2011, where I was delivering a talk on psychedelics in magic. He thrust this book into my hands, and I'm glad he did.

A number of worthwhile books have been written about the US experience of LSD; Roberts's goal for the book is to give a British perspective on the rise of acid. From the blurb: ''Albion Dreaming' traces the drug's complex history from its arrival in Britain during 1952 through its use in psychotherapy, the secret military experiments at Porton Down and the British hippie movement's extensive use of the powerful chemical.'

The American military uses have been well covered; Roberts recounts tales of British soldiers "hallucinating for Queen and country" in early Porton Down experiments. The psychotherapy phase of LSD is dealt with in depth, tracing the history of doctors and medical centres where the drug was prescribed. My late auntie, a wonderful woman who suffered from a disabling level of asthma all her life, was treated (unsuccessfully) with acid some time in the 50s; Roberts follows up a fair few experimental treatments for illnesses no-one would associate with psychedelic therapy these days.

The biggest base of usage was of course the 'counter-culture' of the 60s-70s. This is dealt with in a balanced way, neither attempting to hide the disasters nor downplaying the positive effects LSD had on vast numbers of people. On page 92 he writes:

'To the early LSD users the new drug signified unconditional love for other human beings and for planet Earth. It was this possibility of personal and planetary salvation that initially drove the LSD culture and which led eventually to its users becoming involved in a wide variety of transpersonal and ecological belief systems.'

That belief system of unconditional love for other people is of course one of the traps of psychedelic consciousness; no-one can sustain such a state for long, and attempts to do so sometimes broke people. The degradation of that idealism into self-destructiveness is clearly seen in some of the documents of that era. I shall eventually get round to reviewing a particularly poignant example, the novel 'Be Not Content' by William Craddock, re-released by novelist Rudy Rucker.

By the early 70s I'm sharing some of the memories. The 1971 Glastonbury Fair, summed up by Mick Farren: 'We might as well have been in the sixth or even twenty-sixth century as we told tall travellers' tales of intoxication, of outwitting the law, of lights in the sky, lost continents, the lies of government collective triumphs and personal stupidity, while the music of past, present and future roared from the pyramid stage.'

Another great anecdote concerns Inspector Lee (no, not William Burroughs' alter ego, but the one of the main cops in the Operation Julie squad!), who, after the bust, went to visit psychedelic psychiatrist Ronnie Laing and campaigner Steve Abrams. 'A bizarre night of heavy drinking ensued... Lee allegedly handed in his resignation the same day.'

Roberts's attitude to LSD is one of near-incredulity at the nonsense that has been written about it:
'The idea of LSD had grown out of all proportion to the substance itself and had, for the majority of society, become a demon, a barbarian at the doors of everyday consciousness and normality. ... How the British establishment has dealt with LSD is a prima facie example of a society's inability to deal intelligently and consistently with consciousness-changing drugs.'

Coming up to (near) the present day, Roberts discusses the reports on drug harm commissioned by the government from the Medical Research Council and top experts in the field, and the flagrant disregard for fact shown by successive governments. 'If fact and experience are to be ignored over ignorance and prejudice then society will continue to reap the dubious rewards of a disenfranchised youth who know from their own experience that, if used carefully, most drugs are not particularly dangerous.'

Yes, humankind is a stoned animal, absolutely no doubt about that. Most cultures in the past have dealt with these powerful substances by socializing them. There is something particularly hysterical and brittle in our mainstream culture that seems to make that impossible. Brittle, like the world is going to break if people stop believing the dominant nonsense. Can we give this hysteria a name? How about 'conditioned fear'? You know who you are, Daily Mail feature writers.

Finally, if anyone should harbour any doubts as to Andy Roberts's depth of research, let it be known that he quotes personal emails from Owsley. Enough said.

For a much longer review, check out

Monday, 8 April 2013

Review of a novel, Harvest by Jim Crace

Harvest by Jim Crace.

I got this book (from my local library, blessings be upon the remains of that fine service!) because the review promised a vivid depiction of life in a poor village on the cusp of the Enclosures. In the early modern era, fields which had been granted in common under ancient rights to graze were stolen by the wealthy to farm sheep, and this background runs under everything happening in this novel.

This will no doubt sound familiar to the modern reader, but Harvest is not an overtly political tale. The protagonist Walter tells of the final seven days in the life of the village. Starting with a mushroom-intoxicated prank that goes wrong, and the arrival of three strangers who raise a rough dwelling and light a fire before dawn, thereby making use of ancient squatters' rights, we see the social fabric of the village come apart.

The writing is excellent in the way it shows the tensions between the law and the feelings of the villagers. And the sheer richness of the sensory environment has been called, with good reason, hallucinatory. The details are astonishing to a modern person; have you any idea how the design of a plough works, or how it feels to use one? I didn't either.

Highly recommended for those who want to know what life used to be like. Who want to know a lost and vanished world.

Monday, 25 February 2013

The Lost Delights of Hitchhiking

I saw a poster the other day advertising hitchhiking. It was in Leeds University, where I was spending a day for the Viking Society Student conference. It was the first reference I've seen to hitching in many a year.

Hitching was one of the mainstays of my life for years. It got me around the UK, and to a lesser extent, France. It enabled me to have a lifestyle split between three cities for a few years. One of my best hitches was from Sheffield in Yorkshire to Redruth in Cornwall in seven hours. Admittedly, I didn't do that all on my own; my companion was my girlfriend, who sported beautiful, long red hair.

Sometimes, people went out of their way to give me a better lift, miles out of their way. Other times, magic happened. The first time I went to Oxford was on impulse, to visit a friend who'd recently moved there, whose address I didn't even possess, though I did know the name of the road. The final lift actually dropped me off on that road. I knocked on a door on a hunch; a woman answered and told me I was probably looking for the people across the road. It was indeed my friend's house.

Sometimes it got a little dangerous. On one occasion, our driver slammed on the brakes in the third lane of the motorway, apropos nothing we could see. 'Oops,' he said. 'I thought I saw something...' The rest of his statement was a mumble out of which we picked the words 'liquid lunch.' We then realised what the smell in the car was: seemingly, his hallucinogen of choice was gin.

Then there were the two lads who picked my friend and me up under a bridge by the M4, about 4 a.m. 'Where are you going?'
'Cardiff.' They looked at each other and said 'Why not? We'll take you there.'
It gradually dawned on us that this was a joyride, the car and the journey both taken on a whim. The Top Ten hit 'Young, Gifted and Black' played on the radio. The lads sang along to it, with the words 'Young, gifted and white.' They took us to Cardiff.

One occasion taught me about the physiology of freezing. A winter nighttime lift from Watford Gap was from a physiologist who was an expert in lethal hypothermia.

Another provided some rare entertainment, the kind you can't get otherwise. Waiting in the snow outside Southampton, I was picked up in a station wagon. I was carrying a rucksack, and the driver invited me to drop it in the back, on top of a long parcel wrapped in blankets. As we got underway, it turned out that the driver worked for an undertaker's firm. He had just driven back from France, and the bundle in the back was the corpse of an English client returning home. I asked him if it was OK that my rucksack was on top of the body. 'No problem,' he said. 'It's not going to bother him.'

I was heading for Leeds. He was going to turn off the M1 onto the M18, which would have been no use to me, so I was expecting to be dropped off at Woodall Service Station on the M1, before he turned off. He went one better and got on his CB rig. Remember Citizen Band Radio, and its brief few years of popularity? Anyway, he got me a lift, from Woodall to Leeds. I wish I could remember his 'handle'.

My new driver was a woman, who said she would never have picked anyone up off the roadside - the fact that contact had been made by CB made her feel much more secure about giving me a lift. 

All of those years of hitching, I often thought how I'd like to give something back, once I started driving. But there have been so few opportunities in the last couple of decades. Hitch hiking has gone out of fashion. I've given almost no lifts in the 20+ years I've been driving. You just don't see the small queues of hopefuls at the exit road of every motorway service station, or major slip road. 

Why? How did this happen? Maybe it was media reports of evil psycho-drivers/hitchers. Maybe it was the 'fuck-you-I'm-all-right' culture of the Thatcher years that leached the last natural generosity out of the British. Maybe it was a whole slew of factors. But it has definitely gone out of fashion, and I think we've lost something. The low cost, the adventure, the many-sided environmental soundness, the positive cultural impact of  intelligently sharing resources.

That last example, the lift I gained through a driver's CV communication, gave me hope for a future style of hitching, where passenger met driver through modern media. The internet is the obvious heir to that kind of one-to-one contact, and should be much better as a medium for doing it.

So how many people get lifts via online networks? I tried    for a list of rides over the next month, free rides like back in the day, just inside UK. The number that came up: 0. So I tried UK-France. 0. Maybe I'm not being adventurous enough; UK-Romania: 0. The same for the next 6 countries. So I removed the free-ride stipulation and tried again: same. Not impressive. is a multilingual site with a lot of info about hitchhiking events worldwide and an activist attitude. It's got a lot of articles. But I couldn't find any way to arrange lifts - maybe they're inside members' forums and chat rooms.  looks more promising, but it was closed for repairs. 

Smartphones seem like the obvious basis for flexible travel communications. offer an app for Android phones, so GPS helps you find a lift. This of course is only as worthwhile as the number of subscribers it has, but it's the kind of thing that offers hope. If enough people take this kind of thing up, it could offer something which has many of the good qualities of the old style hitchhiking but with more safety, and maybe more predictability.

That's a big 'if' though. Seems like there's some way to go before getting a lift is as common as it used to be, before it's a part of the culture again.

Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Surely Tesco is not like a tumour?

At various times in my life, I have taught biology.

This is something of how growth happens: Cells grow and reproduce to form tissues. Then, surrounded by other cells, they stop reproducing. This is called contact inhibition. They have reproduced exactly as much as is necessary for the health of the overall body.

Unless they're cancer cells. The latter have no contact inhibition, and so they go on a reproductive spree which may kill the organism.

Briefly, let us pursue an analogy. A large group of people - say a 'society' or a 'nation' is the body. A company is a cell or group of cells.

Wouldn't it be good if companies had contact inhibition, if they stopped growing when they'd reached optimum size for the overall system?

Maybe some do. Some certainly don't.

One that comes to mind is the gigantic UK grocery chain Tesco. In most parts of this country, unless you live at the bottom of a deep valley you can probably look out of your window right now and see a branch. Tesco does not want one, or two, or even three outlets in each major population centre in the country. It seems to have an insatiable hunger for displacing all competition whatsoever from smaller businesses.

Tesco is destroying local shops. It seems like their shareholders will never rest until there is not a single corner shop in the land without their logo over it.

Surely, surely, the mighty Tesco cannot be compared to a tumour in the body of the UK?

I just had to get that out of my system.

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

William S. Burroughs exhibition: All out of time and into space.

William S. Burroughs exhibition: All out of time and into space. At the October Gallery, Bloomsbury.

The first time I spoke with William Burroughs was in 1994, the year after he'd announced his IOT membership. It was a phone introduction. Bob Williams called him and handed me to the phone. At some point, I asked him what he was working on. 'Painting,' he said. 'I paint with a toilet plunger. It saves time.'

Two years later, I met William Burroughs, at his home in Lawrence, Kansas. By then, Bob Williams had gone into space for the last time, and his widow Stephanie and their close friend Douglas took me there. So I finally got to see the paintings. Toilet plungers was only one part of it; he was painting and collaging with a vast range of objects. He was seeking allies, life-forms, in the aleatoric bumps and pits and scrolls of squashed ink, gunshot holes, burn marks.

He found them; his artwork is alive with non-human sentiences, some of them parts of people or culture, many of them more puzzling and weirder still.

And some more familiar: 'Radiant Cat' is just that; 'The Last Rocket Out' is the outline of a phallus; a spray-made silhouette of a handgun seems to shoot (toxic) dust in 'Spoor of the fungus on a whispering South Wind.'

I shan't describe the pieces in detail, the gallery's own people do that better than I can. Rather, I shall rush to publish this in the hope it is not too late for some of my readers to get along to it before Saturday (16th Feb). It is very special.  

Wednesday, 6 February 2013

Review of IMAGINAL REALITY by Aaron B. Daniels

IMAGINAL REALITY (Volume One: Journey to the Voids. Volume Two: Voidcraft) by Aaron B. Daniels, Ph.D. with Laura M. Daniels, M.Ac.

I have taken my time to review this book because it has given me so much to think about. Jaded habitué of the magical scene that I am, I am seldom impressed by anything I read these days, but this did it.

There are three main ideas that stand out for me: The Eight Voids that surround our experience of selfhood; the centrality of the structure of moment to moment experience - the 'structure of the now'; and the idea that magic is something much more universal than magicians normally give it credit for.

The declared philosophical attitude of the book is described as existentialist, nihilist and mystical. This sounds like a funny mixture, but it works very well in discussing the limits of what we actually know. The starting point of what we know is what the author refers to as the 'structure of the moment' - that's how to make an existentialist statement with no fixed belief, and it points to a great  refreshing of mystical language, away from the swamplands of religious ideology. 

This picture is expanded into the eight Voids which surround our sense of self. These Voids serve as almost-constant reminders to re-examine what we think we are. They are the frayed edges of our selfhood, where everything is broken and scary. They open us up to terror and disorientation, and the possibility of magic.

For reasons I can only assume are due to the physical form of the book, Imaginal Reality is divided into two volumes. It doesn't feel like it needs to be - neither would make a satisfactory read on their own. Volume One, Journey to the Voids discusses the first four Voids: Immediacy, Undifferentiation, Madness and Chaos.

Volume Two: Voidcraft deals with the other four: Nothingness, Meaninglessness, Freedom/ Responsibility and Change /Finitude.

It also puts forward in a chapter heading the concept 'That Voodoo that We All Do'. This is Daniels's thesis that every human action is intentional, implying a whole pattern of wishing and desiring that assumes the existence of magic. In other words, magic is not something unusual and special, but is the very basis of our day to day worlds. I quote:

'The premise of this work is that we all yearn for and do magic.'

'Left at odds with the very sublimity that animates every moment, we displace the resulting hunger for a sense of the magical onto other goals, addictions, and distractions. The magic we perform every day hides beneath the countless explanations we foist onto life. In the face of these convincing yet empty explanations, we have turned 'magic' into an exception, a collection of superstitions, a historical backwater, and a cinematic spectacle rather than the very fabric of life as lived.'

In that attitude to magic, Daniels has gone beyond the basic chaos magical model of magic as what we can call 'psychic powers'. So this book could be described as the most iconoclastic magical book ever. This is not the first time I've come across the notion that every action is magical, but it's the first time I've seen it outside of silly newage* or ill thought-through hippie drivel.

Another related strand of thought in this book concerns ethics: every act implies a set of values, which we are trying to manifest in the world, therefore 'Ethics is the highest form of magic'.

What are the limitations of this book? I think the feature of it that will put more people off than any other is its psychotherapy-influenced language. While I'm not putting down that discipline - like anything else in life, it has excellences and bullshit, and more of the latter - I am reminded of a couple I used to work magic with in my early days. They attempted to centre their magic around deep psychotherapy; it was an extreme example of the 'you must feel your pain before you can be happy' approach. With those two people, I think there was too much focus on feeling the pain, and it put me off that model of magic. 

Dr Daniels does admit that, for him, the psychotherapy process is addictive, and he is obviously conscious of the way that influences his writing.

The book is laced with highly technical terms from philosophy and psychotherapy. Did I understand everything that was written? In the main, I think so. But getting to the Appendix, which defines dozens of terms, I realise some of the definitions would require another evening of reading round to get the full sense of the term.

In conclusion, I wholeheartedly recommend this book to anyone engaged in magic or mysticism and who wants to really think about what they are doing.

A final observation: the chapter heading 'All Sex Acts are Sex Magic' put me in mind of a rumour I heard of a certain Tory grandee who, when orgasming during oral sex, yelled 'Death to the miners!'

newage* : noun derived from New Age. Rhymes with sewage.

Thursday, 31 January 2013

Review of Adrift on the Sea of Rains, by Ian Sales

Adrift in the Sea of Rains, by Ian Sales

This is a work of 'hard SF', which is to say there are no thoroughly unscientific bases to the weirdness in it. No monsters, no inexplicable events, no disorientating postmodern flourishes. Hard SF tends to be a subgenre which defines itself by what it isn't.

I grew up reading that sort of thing, but also developed a taste for the fantastic and whimsical. So I may not even have stumbled across this extraordinary novelette but for the fact I know the author: Mr Sales was a founder member of the Sheffield SF and Fantasy Writers' Group, which I still go along to.

The story is set in a parallel reality and concerns a small group of astronauts and scientists stranded in a tiny lunar base when the earth is wrecked by nuclear war. The hope they increasingly seldom dare admit to is that they will be able to shift into another parallel universe in which the earth is still alive. The tale opens amidst their attempts to do this by means of the Bell, a piece of ultra-weird technology salvaged from the Nazis at the end of WW2.

It surely cannot be a spoiler to tell you that they do of course eventually succeed. To reveal any more would be a major spoiler.

What is extraordinary about 'Adrift...' is the sensory vividness of the space environment. I have never felt so physically present on the Moon or in a cramped spacecraft.

We learn details such as how it feels to walk in 1/6 of earth's gravity, the sequence for taking off an A7LB (a kind of spacesuit, to folks like you and me), the cordite smell of the regolith dust on your space gear. All of this is contrasted with the mundane details of quasi-military routines; shift handover protocols, clipboards and microwave ovens exist in front of an alien landscape.

A couple of samples of the writing:
'...his own breath an amniotic susurrus within the confines of his helmet.'
'...he sees the blanket-like folds of mountains, grey upon grey, and a plain of the same lack of colour, all painted with scalpel-edged shadows.'

'Adrift...' is the first of a series, Sales's 'Apollo Quartet'. The second volume, 'The Eye With Which The Universe Beholds Itself', just came out. I shall buy it.

If you like any kind of SF, buy this book. It's only £2.56 on Kindle, which is the sole present edition.

Thursday, 24 January 2013

Review of Book of Baphomet

The Book of Baphomet by Nikki Wyrd and Julian Vayne

If you've heard this particular god-name, then you've very likely asked: What is Baphomet? Which of the many answers to that question you find the most appealing may depend on whether you identify as a Thelemite, a Satanist, a Chaos Magician. Or even a Templar. 

This book seems to have set out to cover all those bases, and a few you're unlikely to have thought of. And it does a very good job indeed.

The Book of Baphomet erupts with ideas and this review would become much too long if I mentioned a third of them, but the biggest theme is perhaps: Considerations of human life on the biggest scale and the smallest. The big questions: Nature. Wilderness. Responsibility. The nature of our identification with affinity groups and the question of what community means, within our species and including others.

Rich ideas of blending 'nature' with human technology such as control systems bring hope, by pointing towards an integrated vision of the future. We would be 'allowing the rest of the living world access to our tools... we create conditions for true embodied consciousness of our world. Baphomet...'

Then we have a superb alternative history of Baphomet. These sections build from Baphomet's various wrinkles of history and myth something approaching a coherent story. The figure of the God/dess emerges from the ground of magico-religious culture.

This is where we get to what might be the real triumph of the book: the tales told herein bridge science, magic, mysticism, history, psychology and political myth. Here we have all the elements which could make up a new and better religion. Since it seems that humans can't do without religion, it is good when narratives emerge that join up all these different threads of human experience. Who knows, maybe such a constellation of ideas will help displace the current crop of religions, which do not seem to be doing a very good job of maximizing human hope or even survival.

This book is also a good production, a nice physical object. I got a Kindle last year; it has provided me with dozens of free books, is the perfect format for reading papers downloaded from the various academies, but nothing can replace the feel of a real paper book, especially one produced with such care.

Oh, one final quote-thought for the day: 'Witchcraft is a cult of ecstasy.' If they only knew it. 

Check out Nikki's interview with Andrieh Vitimus at