What feature do mystical experience, near-death experience, and alien abduction share? According to this fascinating book, all of these disparate expe...moreWhat feature do mystical experience, near-death experience, and alien abduction share? According to this fascinating book, all of these disparate experiences may be accompanied by a release of dimethyltryptamine (DMT, a potent psychedelic compound related to serotonin, melatonin, and psilocybin) from the pineal gland. Interestingly, this substance is also found in scores of different New World plants and has been used in many indigenous South American cultures as a pharmaceutical adjunct to shamanic practices. Intrepid psychiatrist and researcher Dr. Rick Strassman navigated the byzantine bureaucracies of the FDA and the DEA in order to conduct the first psychedelic research on human beings in two decades and lived to tell the tale, much to the satisfaction of psychonauts like yours truly.
This book serves multiple functions: it provides an introduction to the chemical DMT and to the anatomy and physiology of the pineal gland, an overview of the literature on human psychedelic research and an outline for future instances of the same, a template for the process of human psychedelic research design, a database of first-person experiences of large doses of intravenous DMT, speculations on the nature of consciousness and reality, and caveats about future research with psychedelic substances. As noted in the title for this review, the book provides fascinating reading on all these levels. It is rare that I've read a nonfiction book that held my attention so easily; the fact that I devoured a book that covered so much intellectual ground in such a brief time speaks volumes as to the quality of Strassman's writing. He follows the tried and true method of writers past—summarize what you plan to say, say it, and summarize what you've said. For some reviewers his prose was too pedantic or workmanlike, but for me it was perfect. He managed to convey a sense of scientific detachment while at the same time exhibiting a profound sensitivity both to the needs of his subjects and also to the needs of his readers, even as he described the saline flush used to clean out the IV lines. Strassman does not approach the subject matter glibly and avoids coming to any easy conclusions; in fact, his own sense of discomfort with the direction the research takes (i.e., the repeat encounters of test subjects with "other beings" that don't seem hallucinatory in the least) cemented my respect for him as a researcher and an author.
Anyone interested in altered states of consciousness, whether natural or substance-induced, would do well to read this book. Dr. Strassman should be thanked for returning a sense of respectability to an area of scientific research that was effectively "lost" for a generation.(less)
What an impressive debut novel! Altered Carbon takes the best kind of science fiction--big ideas in a modified world, described subtly and ellipticall...moreWhat an impressive debut novel! Altered Carbon takes the best kind of science fiction--big ideas in a modified world, described subtly and elliptically, as in a painting, rather than through endless exposition--and marries it seamlessly to the tropes of the hard-boiled, film noir, knight-in-tarnished-armor, detective story. Definitely deserving of the PKD Award! Can't wait to read more by Morgan.(less)
Our thoughts are clay, they are moulded with the changes of the days; --when we are resting they are good; under fire, they are dead. Fields of craters within and without. - p. 271
Another reviewer had this to say, and I completely agree: "I think All Quiet on the Western Front should be compulsory reading for every leader who has ever considered going to war. The fact that the book is eighty years old and deals with events which took place nearly a century ago does not make its message any less valid today." Maybe this implicit threat to war-making and war-makers is why this book was banned by the Third Reich. Surprising that it hasn't been banned more often, honestly, especially in our days of war without end, amen.
The silence spreads. I talk and must talk. So I speak to him and to say to him: "Comrade, I did not want to kill you. If you jumped in here again, I would not do it, if you would be sensible too. But you were only an idea to me before, an abstraction that lived in my mind and called forth its appropriate response. It was that abstraction I stabbed. But now, for the first time, I see you are a man like me. I thought of your hand-grenades, of your bayonet, of your rifle; now I see your wife and your face and our fellowship. Forgive me, comrade. We always see it too late. Why do they never tell us that you are poor devils like us, that your mothers are just as anxious as ours, and that we have the same fear of death, and the same dying and the same agony--Forgive me comrade; how could you be my enemy? If we threw away these rifles and this uniform you could be my brother just like Kat and Albert. Take twenty years of my life, comrade, and stand up--take more, for I do not know what I can even attempt to do with it now." p. 223
A man cannot realize that above such shattered bodies there are still human faces in which life goes on its daily round. And this is only one hospital, one single station; there are hundreds of thousands in Germany, hundreds of thousands in France, hundreds of thousands in Russia. How senseless is everything that can ever be written, done, or thought, when such things are possible. It must be all lies and of no account when the culture of a thousand years could not prevent this stream of blood from being poured out, these torture-chambers in their hundreds of thousands. A hospital alone shows what war is.
I am young, I am twenty years old; yet I know nothing of life but despair, death, fear, and fatuous superficiality cast over an abyss of sorrow. I see how peoples are set against one another, and in silence, unknowingly, foolishly, obediently, innocently slay one another. I see that the keenest brains of the world invent weapons and words to make it yet more refined and enduring. And all men of my age, here and over there, throughout the whole world see these things; all my generation is experiencing these things with me. What would our fathers do if we suddenly stood up and came before them and proffered our accounts? What do they expect of us if a time ever comes when the war is over? Through the years our business has been killing; --it was our first calling in life. Our knowledge of life is limited to death. What will happen afterwards? And what shall come out of us? - pp. 263-4
Because I inadvertently started reading in media res, I'm not sure what to think about this graphic novel in which black rings of power bring various...moreBecause I inadvertently started reading in media res, I'm not sure what to think about this graphic novel in which black rings of power bring various DC superheroes (including the Spectre--ridiculous!) back from the grave as "Black Lantern" zombies. Perhaps in the context of what came before and what follows, this makes more sense and is more enjoyable, but it doesn't do much as a stand-alone volume. Sadly, this is the only portion of the saga that the local library network owns, and so I'll only get to experience it on its own terms.(less)
This book is the complement to the movie of the same name, and so it is a challenge to review this book outside that context. Experiencing the two med...moreThis book is the complement to the movie of the same name, and so it is a challenge to review this book outside that context. Experiencing the two media interpretations of the same story back-to-back elevates my estimation of both halves; the whole is definitely bigger than the parts in this case. I would give the combination a rating of three stars ("liked it"). On their own merits, the film and the graphic novel are both flawed. Aesthetically, the film was the better of the two (with some quite breathtaking imagery).
My complaints about the artwork in the graphic novel are summed up by another reviewer. Other reviewers have compared the artist's work to Goya, but I thought he over-relied on full-page monochromatic imagery. The convoluted plot makes a bit more sense in the graphic novel than it did in the film, which is admittedly not saying much. (less)
A fantastic graphic novel for adults and children ten and up, Ghostopolis combines skeleton warriors, mummy squirrels, and other crazy (and well-rende...moreA fantastic graphic novel for adults and children ten and up, Ghostopolis combines skeleton warriors, mummy squirrels, and other crazy (and well-rendered) creatures with serious reflections on family, mortality, love, and redemption. I suspected this would be a wonderful book by the time I was twenty pages in, and I was not let down. Highly recommended to kids and parents alike.(less)
Brown's opening paragraph sums up the contemporary metapredicament nicely:
The future has never looked brighter or more bleak. Never before in human hi
...moreBrown's opening paragraph sums up the contemporary metapredicament nicely:
The future has never looked brighter or more bleak. Never before in human history has there been so much cause for both hope and alarm. We are living in a world of increasing uncertainty, and each day brings new reasons for both celebration and concern. Are we headed toward a glistening new world of technological marvels and wonders or own extinction?
Unfortunately, Brown doesn't have quite the interviewing chops necessary to rise the bar he sets with this introduction and the title. Which is not to say that this isn't an interesting read. It was interesting, enraging, thought-provoking, challenging, and even funny. That Brown managed to score interviews with many of these luminaries—including Noam Chomsky, George Carlin, Robert Anton Wilson, Douglas Rushkoff, Clifford Pickover, Bruce Sterling, Ray Kurzweil, Alex Grey, and Kary Mullis—is impressive in itself, and he is a brave/stupid enough interviewer to ask questions about psychedelics and alien abduction to Chomsky. He asks similar (and sometimes exactly the same) questions to different interviewees and usually in the same order. This allows the reader to compare the different worldviews articulated by the interviewees, I guess, but by the end of the book it was coming across as canned and tedious technique. Luckily, the range of personalities encountered and ideas explored was vast, with lots of intelligence and clarity of thought, but little overarching agreement, about topics as diverse as our contemporary media ecology, ecological collapse, artificial intelligence, advanced robotics, the Singularity, psychedelics, alien abductions, spiritual transformation, and the existence of God. (less)
I can see where other reviewers are coming from when they describe this book as "pretentious," but I won't go that far. There is some substance here (...moreI can see where other reviewers are coming from when they describe this book as "pretentious," but I won't go that far. There is some substance here (dharmic, gnostic, and alchemical themes in particular), and so the book's exaggerated air of self-importance is not completely (just mostly!) unwarranted. (less)
In an essay he wrote to introduce his own work in the anthology New American Poets of the Golden Gate (1984), Gilbert pointed to the spareness of his work: “I am by nature drawn to exigence, compression, selection,” he wrote. “One of the special pleasures in poetry for me is accomplishing a lot with the least means possible.” - The Poetry Foundation
About Gilbert's work, the poet James Dickey said, "He takes himself away to a place more inward than is safe to go; from that awful silence and tightening, he returns to us poems of savage compassion." - Poets.org
That's the scoop on Jack Gilbert's poetry. "Compression." "Accomplishing a lot with the least means possible." "Savage compassion." I had no idea who he was when my wife gave me this book for Valentine's Day over a decade ago, and twelve years on I still really don't know much about him other than that his poetry is mind-blowing. I don't know anything about poetry, other than that it doesn't have to rhyme. I have written reams of doggerel (of course!) but my experience with good poetry is limited to some of these titles and the poems we had to read in high school. But I read somewhere that Emily Dickinson had this to say about poetry: "If I read a book and it makes my whole body so cold no fire can ever warm me, I know that is poetry. If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry. These are the only ways I know it. Is there any other way?" I don't know if there is another way to recognize poetry, but I do know that Gilbert's poems literally made me feel as if the top of my head were taken off. Mind-blowing indeed. And I couldn't say much, technically at least, about what I dug about these poems. A carefully selected, single word or cadence that stops the mind? (less)
With the two words, "hey, wait..." two young lives are changed forever. A haunting look at shattering consequences and shattered dreams. Excellent, al...moreWith the two words, "hey, wait..." two young lives are changed forever. A haunting look at shattering consequences and shattered dreams. Excellent, almost wordless comic, drawn and plotted in Jason's inimitable style, with a less than fully satisfying (or sensible, at least to me) conclusion. (Ok, I get the bus scene--it's the pages before that have me befuddled.)(less)
I vaguely remember reading this book and presenting a report on it in 8th grade, although I couldn't have told you much about it apart from what happe...moreI vaguely remember reading this book and presenting a report on it in 8th grade, although I couldn't have told you much about it apart from what happens in the first chapter, when Zane kills Death and has to assume the mantle of the Grim Reaper. (As my wife noted last night, it's like a grimmer version of The Santa Clause.) I had wanted to read the rest of Anthony's "Incarnations of Immortality" series at the time but didn't for various and sundry reasons.
Fast forward 27 years. (Yikes! Speaking of pale horses...) At a recent Saturday "buy 1, get 1 free" sale at the FriendShop I found sombunall of the volumes in the series, and thought, "What the heck? It's only a buck," which, as it turns out, is not an attitude usually associated with fine literature. As I have been plodding through quite a few heavy tomes of late, I figured that now would be the perfect time to fulfill my adolescent wish and read this series, which ostensibly deals with similarly heavy subjects but in a disposable mass market format. The first volume, the book presently being reviewed, proved to be as quick a read as I remembered, and though the novel clocks in at 303 pages (plus a twenty-page authors' note at the end), I was able to devour it in a few hours of sustained reading. (One of the good things about jury duty, I guess.) It was a fun read, with a few memorable passages and some interesting, if not too profound, musings on morality and mortality. If this is the best of the series, as other Goodreaders have claimed, I am unsure whether or not I will finish the other five volumes, but I am certainly going to give it a try. Hopefully it won't take nearly three decades this time around.