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