Recent Reading: 5 Reviews in Brief

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The Unfortunate Expiration of Mr. David S. Sparks by William F. Aicher

Just because you remember it doesn’t mean it happened.”

In this fast-paced sci-fi novel, David Sparks wakes up in a terrifying future. Surveillance, augmented humans and a damaged environment are the norm, though David has no idea how he came to be amongst it. His stream of consciousness is interlaced with memories of an ordinary family life some 100 years earlier, and the drive to keep turning the pages comes from the question: who is David S. Sparks and what is his reality?

This book is full of imaginative technology that gives a varied and colourful illustration of a possible future. It is exciting, action-packed, and potentially divisive. But, like all good sci-fi, it also comes with a warning as to where our obsession with cutting-edge tech and playing God may land us. Continue reading “Recent Reading: 5 Reviews in Brief”

Erin – Robert Dickins

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Erin is a fast-paced novella written by psychonaut and editor, Robert Dickins. It follows protagonist Lije Baillie on an excursion to the Solpsycle festival with his friends, a cocktail of psychedelics, and some excess emotional baggage. Clinging to a warping, increasingly anarchic environment, he feels a darkness surging up within. It is something he isn’t admitting to himself: something only Erin can lead him to.

This book is a vibrant journey. It is a short read, but deceptively deep: something I didn’t fully appreciate until the very end when it left me contemplating. Dickins does a fantastic job of putting the reader right at the centre of the action, and I love his portrayal of a landscape I recognise:

“Grotesque, post-hippy caricatures are enticing me into their booths, trying to sell me sprawling colourful hats and baggy shawls, scratchy bags and day glo sticks. They want me to vanish as well; vanish into a cloudy, indistinguishable mass. But it’s impossible. I am lost and this is who I am…”

There are some laughs, some reflective chill-out moments, and some chaos. But Erin is more than that: it is an experiment in altered consciousness, not only for Lije but for the reader, too. There is a distinct impression that we are caught up in a trip: the gaps in Lije’s experience, a general confusion about the passage of time, and abstract sensory rhythms…

Continue reading “Erin – Robert Dickins”

The Surrogate – Gavin Jefferson

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The Surrogate is a science fiction novella and debut release from author Gavin Jefferson. The setting is a world in which obesity has been eradicated, leaving behind a ‘healthy, beautiful, and promiscuous’ populous. All, that is, except for one man: a man named Ronald Calico, a.k.a. The Surrogate.

This book grabs the reader from the intriguing first scene where we meet an old man (with a much younger public face) boarding a cruiser with his robotic assistant. It is through his eyes that we are shown the way society has developed, and through his conversation that we learn who The Surrogate is and how his unusual career came about.

This is a straight forward read, and a quick one at just 100 or so pages. What amazes me is that in so little space, and without being immediately obvious, Jefferson skilfully poses important questions about the way we interact and, in particular, the way we perceive intimacy. The Surrogate addresses such issues as body image, sexuality, personhood, and the messages filtered down to the masses from powerful decision-makers. I was left contemplating the role direct and diverse human contact plays in our sense of connection, and whether it could be considered endangered as we reach new levels of scientific and technological discovery.

The characters are well-rounded: likeable but realistic, and the ending made me a bit emotional!

There is also a bonus story included in the book called ‘The Collector’, which is a great teaser for Jefferson’s next release ‘Almost Surely’. I am very much looking forward to reading that and more from this author.

The Best Books of 2017

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At the beginning of 2017 I challenged myself to read 28 books this year, which I surpassed by reading 33. It’s not as many as I would like to read ideally, and at this rate my current ‘to read’ list will take about 6 years to get through, but I like to think I go for quality rather than quantity. My ratings would certainly suggest that too: I scored 9 of the 33 books as 5/5, and a further 15 as 4/5. Even the books I scored as 3 were enjoyable reads on the whole, just less remarkable or memorable than others.

Some of these I have written full length reviews of, and those have hyperlinks so you can navigate to them.

Continue reading “The Best Books of 2017”

Noumenautics – Peter Sjöstedt-H (9/10)

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‘One might say that the noumenaut is a philosophical psychonaut – one who navigates through both the human harbour of ideas and out through to the inhuman ocean that is psychedelic consciousness.’

When I saw the subject matter of this collection of essays, I couldn’t wait to read it: so I was thrilled to be sent a free copy in exchange for an honest review. Although it took me a while to read, this was only due to the fact I kept stopping to make notes and contemplate, so it’s safe to say I was not disappointed.

Like most books with a philosophical bent, there is a lot packed into Noumenautics’ 136 pages. It starts out with a discussion on psychedelic phenomena: what the experience of using psychedelics does to our sense of reality and physics, and how we can apply the knowledge gained from it in rational, philosophical thought. It is an area that is surprisingly omitted from most popular notions of philosophy – which may have more to do with our prescribed morality (a topic also covered in the book) than a lack of validity – so I found it fascinating. I am a fan of Aldous Huxley’s book The Doors of Perception, and this reads well as a scrutinising companion.

‘To deny philosophers of mind psychedelic substances is tantamount to denying instruments to musicians.’ Continue reading “Noumenautics – Peter Sjöstedt-H (9/10)”

5 Non-fiction Books that Shaped Me

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I’ve always loved reading non-fiction as much as fiction, and have a particular attraction to all things philosophy and psychology. I always manage to take something away from every book I read and feed it into my worldview, so I thought it would be an interesting exercise to write a little bit about the ones that have had the biggest impact on me over the years. I’ve chosen my top 5, listed in the order I read them.

 

1. Friedrich Nietzsche – Thus Spoke Zarathustra

When I was 15, I wrote an essay on my typewriter called ‘The Personal God’. It wasn’t for school, and it wasn’t really planned out; it just sort of wrote itself. In it, I set out my reasons for believing that God was created subjectively in the minds of men, and that the concept of a mythical overlord was becoming less relevant as we developed as a species. It wasn’t great: I was 15. But it meant that when I saw a documentary about Nietzsche on TV a few months later – the first time I’d ever heard of him – I was immediately drawn to his ideas. I got a copy of Thus Spoke Zarathustra as soon as I could, devoured it, and covered it in pencil notes.

Apart from the opinions on women he expresses in the book, which frankly seem primitive compared to his other musings, there are many themes that made a big impression on me. The will to power, the bowels of existence; herd morality. His succinct descriptions of the suffering that is so very human and rooted in the self. The idea that the only meaning we can create in this absurdity we call life is that which we make for ourselves. His existentialism set my mindset up nicely to understand the ideas of Thelema a couple of years later, and I have continued to return to this book and his others many times. I think there is an appropriate Nietzsche quote for every situation in life.

 

2. C.G. Jung – The Essential

Jung’s psychology has had a profound impact on the way I see the world. Generally, a major criticism of his work is that he was swayed too readily by mystical fancies, yet the very fact he was not afraid to face the metaphysical and the unknown is one of the reasons he appeals to me so much. His thought attempts to bridge the gap between science and religion, the rational and the irrational, and had he been around to see modern developments in neuroscience I think he’d have had a lot more to give.

Science or pseudoscience, Jung’s model of the psyche works very well for me. I use it to analyse my mental states, my dreams, my path to individuation (which is remarkably similar to both alchemy and, at times, taoism), and the way I interact with others. His thoughts on the collective unconscious and personal myth constantly feed into my creative work.

I chose this book as the one that shaped me simply because it is the first one of his I read. I borrowed it from my local library when I was about 16 or 17, and was hooked on Jung’s style straight away. Since then I have been working my way through all of his books, including the stunning Red Book, the full folio version of which sits pride of place on my bookshelf.

Continue reading “5 Non-fiction Books that Shaped Me”

Recent Reading: 5 Reviews in Brief

Book Blogger Review

I haven’t written a review for a little while, because not everything I read gives me enough to say without spoilers. However there are a few books I have read recently that I feel are particularly worthy of mention, so I’ll share them with you here.


Fever Dream – Samantha Schweblin 

This book was nominated for the Man Booker International Prize. It’s a small book, and with less than 200 pages it is readable in one sitting. This also adds to its rather disorientating effect. 

It’s about a woman in hospital, telling the story of how she ended up there to a little boy at her bedside (who may or may not actually be present). The boy is adamant that she is missing a vital detail that could save other lives in the village, if not her own, and tries to guide her towards discovering it. It is a frantic story of motherly love, desperation, and the way we select or reject sound reasoning. 

Fever Dream left me feeling as though I had been given a box of puzzle pieces, that no matter how I tried I could not quite piece together. It stayed with me for a long time, and eventually the point of the book just clicked. One of the reasons I didn’t review this in full is that the pleasure of the book is in figuring out the meaning for yourself.  


Quantum Enigma: Physics Encounters Consciousness – Bruce Rosenblum

I was half expecting this book to be another attempt to shoe-horn quantum physics into someone’s idea of spirituality: there are too many pseudo-scientists out there who either misrepresent quantum theory, or apply it completely out of context. However I have to say I was pleasantly surprised here. 

Quantum Enigma is very readable, yet it successfully explains the roots of quantum theory, its possible applications and the gaps that still exist in our understanding of it. There were some minor annoyances: for example the authors spend far too much time repeating what they are going to show us and how it will blow our minds, but all in all this is the best explanation I have received on the topic, and will no doubt keep referring to it. 


Shark – Will Self

Similar to my feelings on J G Ballard, I have a lot of respect for Will Self, but I can’t say I’ve loved everything he has written. I am still addicted to picking up his books though, because I know they will give me an experience; they will stir something in me, be it joy or disgust.  

Shark is technically the second book in a trilogy, though I don’t believe they need to be read in a particular order. It is a stream of consciousness from multiple points of view, presented as one long paragraph, starting and ending mid-sentence. Although the style is reminiscent of Joyce, this is a whole lot more accessible and flows beautifully. I found it very difficult to put down, not only due to the struggle in finding a natural stopping point, but because I really got into the heads of the characters and their trains of thought. 

Plot-wise, Shark is about a ‘concept house’ identical to that set up by R D Laing in the 60s as an experiment in the treatment of schizophrenia. The doctors are on an accidental acid trip with their patients, which plays with their lucidity and comprehension of their personal situations. One of the patients we get to know is an ex-serviceman, traumatised by the dropping of bombs on Hiroshima and the subsequent shark attacks upon the men of the USS Indianopolis as it sunk. We also see through the eyes of Jeanie/Genie, a drug addict with an overbearing mother; and Kins, a ‘conscientious objector’ during the Second World War. All of these characters have very distinct perspectives, but are cleverly linked. I now can’t wait to read Self’s new book Phone which is the final book in the series.  


The Gift Garden – Kenny Mooney

The Gift Garden is a novelette written by indie author Kenny Mooney. At 80 pages, this is another book that is easily and best read in one sitting. It is a dark and claustrophobic look into one man’s mind: a mind which is apparently unraveling, eating itself away with gloom and distraction. 

The story is set in an apartment, which is the protagonist’s world. We watch him writhe and struggle with abstract elements: the mould in the walls, a tree growing in his garden, and an ethereal female offering fruit. I took the story to be one long metaphor for the protagonist’s mental state, mixed with smatterings of his reality. This is a concept I love, as anyone who reads my fiction will know. 

Although I didn’t quite know what to make of it at first, the fact that The Gift Garden’s mood stuck with me for so long afterwards I believe is the mark of a powerful read.


Astronauts & Other Stories – Ash N Finn

This is a collection of very short stories by fellow WordPress blogger Ash N Finn. There’s a bit of everything here: laughter, sadness, surprise, clever symbolism, and mild horror. Every character is well thought out and has a voice of their own, and every setting is described with skill, so that even in such short segments the reader is fully immersed. 

Although some stayed with me more than others, there isn’t a weak story in this collection. If you enjoy reading in short intense bursts, this book comes highly recommended.  
*****

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